Kyla Giffin | Cowboy Life Editor, Galleria Editor
Mary Rosary Flauta | Arts and Entertainment Editor
In the dining room inside St. Michael’s Catholic Church on Maple Street, Father Van Dinh sat, his fingers interlocked, right hand over left. A Vietnamese immigrant, one could still hear his unmistakable accent as he openly and decisively agreed with one of President Donald Trump’s latest decisions: the ban on refugees.
“Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States,” which Trump passed on Jan. 27, 2017, is an executive order directed towards banning the entrance of all refugees for 120 days, Syrian refugees for an unspecified amount of time, and Iranians, Iraqis, Libyans, Somalis, Sudanese, Syrians, and Yemenis for 90 days.
“President Trump,” Dinh explained, “wants to protect all American[s]…especially…those who come into [the] U.S….to have the freedom of religion and…freedom of speech…[and] make the best of what America has to offer.”
Dinh, who immigrated to the U.S. “for freedom of religion,” said, “Vietnam is a communist country, and so we do not have…any freedom at all…there’s no opportunities for us…to thrive…” Here, though, he describes himself as being “blessed.”
Catherine Munzar’s (grade 11) parents immigrated to the U.S. from Czech Republic when her father got a job here, and the plan was to stay for three years, then return to their homeland.
She sees the current situation differently, compared to Dinh. Speaking on behalf of her parents, Munzar said that “They don’t like banning people because of religion,” feeling that that is exactly what Trump’s decision involves.
In Section 5, part b, his decree reads,” Upon the resumption of USRAP admissions, the Secretary of State, in consultation with the Secretary of Homeland Security, is further directed to make changes, to the extent permitted by law, to prioritize refugee claims made by individuals on the basis of religious-based persecution, provided that the religion of the individual is a minority religion in the individual’s country of nationality.”
It also just so happens that, in Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen, the countries addressed here, Islam is the religion of the majority.
If, therefore, non-Muslim refugees would be favored above Muslim refugees, is it possible that the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment of our Constitution, which allows people the right to create or practice any such religion, is being compromised?
“My opinion on Trump’s policy is that it’s too general and he’s clumping so many people with different circumstances under one general policy or rule, and it’s hurting so many people that don’t deserve to be targeted,” said Leticia Araujo (grade 12). “I get that the country’s safety is important, as it should be, but I feel like he can go about it in a different way, one that targets people who should be targeted.”
Araujo, who immigrated here with her parents from Brazil, describes how her “parents, especially [her] mom, grew up in a poor and dangerous city, and after they had [her] at the age of 17, they wanted to provide themselves and [Araujo] with a better life and better opportunities than they had growing up, away from violence.” Being here has given her and her family hope.
Stated Araujo, “The U.S. does have its problems, but you have a better chance at becoming successful here than there.”
Gail Baluyot (grade 11), from the Philippines, and an anonymous student (grade 12), whose parents are from Nigeria, gave similar reasons for their family coming here.
Said Baluyot, “My dad is here and there’s better job opportunities here. Better opportunities for me than the Philippines.” She came here when she was 11 years old, seven years after her dad had already come to the U.S. During that time, her parents managed a marriage about 8,000 miles apart from one another.
Our anonymous student likewise said that her “parents wanted more job opportunities.” Also, “they always keep on saying that the government is kind of corrupt over there.”
Mario Lopez (grade 12), on the other hand, is a refugee from Mexico, and came here for the chance at a “better education.”
But no matter the slight differences in reasons for coming, what is obvious from talking with these students is that many, if not all, come here for the possibilities promised by a country coined “the Land of Opportunity.” However, the question can be posed: if our President wants to restrict the possibilities afforded to people immigrating here, will that nickname become a misnomer?
This question pushes some people to raise their voices in the political and social atmosphere, and some to believe that they do not have a voice.
Supporting the first statement, Lopez said, “When I arrived in the airport, there was like a protest. There were a lot of people cheering on a lot of the other international flights.”
However, supporting the last statement, Munzar asked, rhetorically, “I mean, does anyone feel like they have a voice?”
Likewise, Araujo stated, “I would say that I don’t feel like I have a voice much…I’m just one voice, but I know one voice can inspire many others and that’s powerful.” Araujo believes that she is “not the type to inspire masses.”
But it must be noted that not having a voice is different than not having something to say. And when given the opportunity, I am pleased to report, our interviewees used it to their full advantage.
And to truly capture the voices of these people, it was important to consider how they saw themselves. When asked about how they identified themselves, students had varying answers, choosing to identify by gender, ethnicity, political standpoint, or, like Lopez said, “as a normal, teenage student.”
The anonymous student, in contrast to Lopez, answered, “I am obviously a girl and it kind of separates me with a lot of opinions, because either way I am a complete minority…and then, it kind of affects on my views…my views are half-Democratic and half-Republican, so I guess I’m a moderator.”
Araujo defines herself in many ways. “I am biracial and of mixed races and ethnicities,” she remarked. “I am Brazilian, African, Indigenous, and Italian. I consider myself female and I’m an agnostic.” An agnostic is one who believes that the existence of a higher power, especially God, cannot be proven, and neither commits themselves to believing in or fully doubting in such a being.
Though one’s perception of themselves is a large part of what makes up their story and their voice, the world through their eyes, and the position that they give themselves or believe they are given, are just as significant.
Lopez, adding on to his previous statement, said as he motioned to his friends, “I just get along with a lot of these guys that are also Mexican. We have a lot of same things in common. We like a lot of the same things.”
Likewise, Araujo feels connected to people because, though “What makes me different is my own personal experience being an immigrant…that is also what brings me closer to others. When I share my story and I hear the stories of other people, we understand one another better.”
Apart from feelings of connectivity within people because of shared background, or even just the ability to empathize, these experiences also have the power of division.
Said Munzar, “I feel slightly disconnected…people assume that…we’re from here…and we’ve never had any, like, financial struggles.” Munzar, who identifies as Eastern European, explained that, “when people think of immigrants, they don’t think of us.”
“Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States” has raised some obvious tensions within our nation. Writing this article, my sole purpose was to be able to chronicle the stories of the refugees and immigrants who, though perhaps indirectly affected by this particular executive order, were impacted nonetheless. However, I also came to find an importance in, not merely the stories, but the act of storytelling, as it is the practice itself which encourages empathy and unity.
At the conclusion of his interview, Dinh declared,“I just pray and hope…for…the better of the people in [the] U.S.” He added, “And if people turned to God, God would make everything right.”
An actor named Peter Forbes once said, “Stories create community, enable us to see through the eyes of other people, and open us to the claims of others.” Perhaps our stories are not our God. But they are our legends. And that is what unites us.
Disclaimer: Mary Rosary Flauta has a personal relationship with Leticia Araujo.
Header credit: Mary Rosary Flauta