Young Immigrants Tell the Story of How They Came Here

The project to capture and preserve the stories of these young immigrants is being directed by three Drake professors from three university departments. Lourdes Gutierrez Najera is an assistant professor of anthropology.

“I’m an immigrant, so this is part of my life’s work,” she says.

Her family came from border towns in Mexico. The things she’s hearing from the students resonate.

“In listening to these stories, I’m just reminded of the resilience of these young people,” she says.

They also hit home for another of the Drake professors, Kevin Lam from the School of Education.

“I came to the U.S. in 1979, when I was about six,” he says. “I came here as a boat person, part of the second wave that left Vietnam.”

Lam’s eyes moisten as he reflects on what the story-sharing project means for him.

“I’ve gotten emotional because at the most basic level it’s a visceral reaction to the experiences that are based on a lot of pain and trauma,” Lam says.

But it takes a non-immigrant, Drake senior Drew Finney from Waukee, to explain why people should listen to the podcasts once they’re posted on-line.

“Because everyone has a different experience in life,” Finney says. “It’s important to understand other people’s perspectives so you’re not stuck in your own bubble.”

Among the goals of this digital exercise in storytelling is to break down stereotypes, to make the debate over immigration more personal. It’s been eight years since Anjana Drukpa arrived in Des Moines from the mountains of Nepal. Her mother was a trained pharmacist, but worked as a laundress to provide for her daughters. One of Drukpa’s sisters works as a translator, another is studying to be a medical assistant. Drukpa is using her story to offer thanks.

“I’ve earned so many recognitions from school,” Drukpa says. “I went to the National Academy of Future Physicians and Medical Scientists this summer at Boston University. We’re just working really hard to make our mom proud for what she has done for us.”

The immigrant podcasts will go up on Sound Cloud, iTunes and a customized web site in September.

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