Immigration Advocacy History Project Reflections

Exhibit open until the end of April in Damen Student Center, 2nd floor

Oral histories are an exercise in compassion. The interviewer must learn to both sit quietly and listen actively in order to make sense of an experience outside of their own. It’s a humbling experience—especially when it comes to the Immigration Advocacy History Project (IAHP).

IAHP began in the aftermath of the 2016 presidential election. Disheartened by, among other things, hateful rhetoric towards immigrants, a cohort of Loyola History Graduate Students decided to document community members doing advocacy work here in Chicago. The group secured funding to do a series of oral history interviews, create an exhibit, and host a speaker.

I came on to the project after the purpose and scope had been set, in the spring of 2018. As the newly-appointed oral historian for the Loyola Oral History Project, I was eager to get some interviewing experience under my belt. Luckily, my schedule allowed for me to do five interviews with four community members, spending around an hour with each.

One interview in particular has stayed with me. On a sunny day in April, I traveled down the red line to the Haitian American Museum of Chicago to talk to its founder and president, Elsie Héctor-Hernández. She welcomed me into the museum space, we enjoyed coffee and pastries together, and she gave me a tour after we finished our nearly two-hour-long interview. She, too, was disheartened by anti-immigration rhetoric. And as a Black woman, she faces daily discrimination beyond her status as an immigrant. She had plenty to say about her challenges, but also shared an uplifting message of perseverance. In the face of it all, she operates a vibrant and community-focused museum in Uptown—one of Chicago’s most diverse neighborhoods.

Her words inspired the name of our exhibit, currently on display on the second floor of Damen Student Center: “Stand Strong on the Side of Righteousness.” This also guided the design process of the exhibit. Beyond being informative, we wanted this exhibit to actually be useful to potential immigration advocates. Keeping the interviewees’ words central to the display, we decided to use quotes from the recordings to answer five central questions:

  1. What is the current immigrant experience?
  2. What is immigration advocacy?
  3. Who is an immigration advocate?
  4. Why be an immigration advocate?
  5. How can I get involved in advocacy?

The hope is that Loyolans will take this information and turn it into actions. Already, our interviewers and interviewees have begun to form a network. At our panel event in the fall, some exchanged contact information and a few attendees asked if they, too, could be interviewed.

With a great effort on the part of our team, and several other departments on campus, we succeeded in bringing Opal Tometi to Loyola for our speaker event. Tometi is a Nigerian-American human rights activist and co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement. We were especially excited to use this as an opportunity to talk about the intersection of race and immigration–an issue that came up in several interviews.

The Immigration Advocacy History Project is meant to inspire compassion, but more than that, it is meant to inspire action. With each step of the project, we have widened our audience and made connections in the community that didn’t exist before. Our hope is that the impact of the project will continue to grow.

If you are interested in learning more about the project, visit http://tinyurl.com/IAHP-2019

If you would like to be interviewed, contact justhistoryloyola@gmail.com

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