immigration + storytelling

 Ramtulai Jalloh '26

Thomas Jefferson once asked, “Shall oppressed humanity find no asylum on this globe?” Some migrants leave their country because they want to work, study, or join family. Others feel they must leave because of poverty, political unrest, ongoing violence, natural disasters, or other serious circumstances. They may have been targeted just because of who they are: their ethnicity, what religion they practice, or their sexuality; or what they do and what they believe. These inhuman conditions- known as push factors- are forcing migrants to flee their foreign nations while their view of the United States is drawing them in, because of pull factors. 

 

War, instability, and poverty. Those were the three factors that pushed my father to leave his home in Sierra Leone, West Africa. In his early twenties, a war broke out between the government and rebel forces. Instead of the rebel forces fighting the government, it seemed like they were only causing destruction among the civilians. All of the people around him, including himself, were losing their homes and family members. At one point, the rebels burnt down his father’s house and his grandmother’s house. As a form of torture, the rebels were going around and cutting off people’s limbs; this was called ‘short-sleeve, long-sleeve’. This was the process by which the rebels came around to different civilians, cutting off either their hands, ‘short-sleeve’, or their arms, ‘long-sleeve’. Those people who got their limbs cut off were called ‘The Amputees’. Also, there was a food shortage going around, which added to the long list of issues going on at the time. Before all of this happened, his life was stable; he was going to school, had enough food to eat, etc. The war then caused his life to turn upside down.

 

 When it is a matter of life or death, you either leave your home for potential safety, or stay and face the consequences. So, he and his little sister headed towards Guinea, a neighboring country. At first, he stayed with other family members. But as time went on, he had to find his own place to stay. Even though he moved away from his home while trying to find safety, Guinea was just another place of disorder and havoc. The word my dad used to describe it was ‘frustrating’. First of all, he was living in a foreign country where he didn’t know many people, whereas in his home town in Sierra Leone he had known almost everybody. Second of all, there was constant harassment and extortion by both the police officers and civilians. It was complete and utter chaos.

 

He ended up staying in Guinea for years because the war was still going on back home in Sierra Leone. The process of planning to make his journey to the US was long and tedious, mainly because of the ongoing amounts of paperwork he had to fill out. Thankfully, he got all of this done and soon headed towards America. Life in America for him could be described in one word: change.

 

The United States is seen by many as a place where dreams come true, and where there are endless opportunities. Unfortunately, while focusing on the upsides, some people seem to not be paying attention to the other issues at hand. During arrival, refugees can be detained. They can then be brought to detention centers, most likely in handcuffs and shackles. Their personal belongings can be taken away, and they probably have to wear a jumpsuit uniform. On top of the possibility of getting detained, there is also a sense of loneliness and isolation due to the loss of their support systems back home. Imagine having to change schools midway through the year, or move across the country away from all the people you know; for refugees, it feels worse than that. Also, once starting to build a new life for themselves, many face racism, xenophobia, and discrimination. There are many stereotypes and misinterpretations about immigrants who come to America. According to Re-Imagining Migration,“Those particularly from Latin America are depicted as “rapists” and “violent criminals and murderers”, whereas those from the Middle East are demonized as “terrorists”.” In addition, characterizing some immigration as legal and other immigration as illegal “recasts many immigrants as criminals whose very presence alone insults American values of individual responsibility and the rule of law” (Re-Imagining Migration). While trying to get to a place where they are safe from any physical harm, they end up in a place where they are still running away from obstacles physically and mentally.

 

Re-Imagining Migration explains,“When we hear about someone else’s experience or read about other people’s perspectives, we are learning.” In an attempt to portray the emotions that people go through leading up to their journey to America, I told my dad’s story through his perspective. Storytelling creates a connection among people, and also between people and ideas. This ultimately means that by listening to these immigration stories, we can correct our perceptions in a way where we lean towards the information from the individual stories themselves and away from the stereotypes told by others around us. This gives us the chance to unite through culture, history, and values, rather than statistics, numbers and misconceptions. Therefore, what I want you to take away from this is to not judge a book by its cover. Instead I want you to open the book and take the time to contemplate what is actually inside.