Sitting in front of a vibrantly multicolored background board, Elliot Vo ’17 started talking to the camera. Hanna Jeong ’17 was behind the camera, attentively listening to Vo tell her story. They are inside the Collaboratory, a retrofitted trailer now on the lawn of College Center. The filming light source lit up the whole space.
Among the topics Vo discussed were experiences as a child of immigrants, her identity as a queer woman of color and the division between Asian and Southeastern Asian communities. After filming this narrative, Jeong will incorporate it into stories of other children of immigration. Together, this footage will form the final product of Our Voices: Children of Immigration Narratives, the latest multi-media project of Creative Arts Across Disciplines (CAAD). Organizers will conduct in-site filming in the Collaboratory on Nov. 17 and 18 from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. The final footage will be shown both at the ALANA Center and in the Collaboratory until Nov. 21.
“The project is a week-long project, and it is divided into phases,” Jeong explained in an emailed statement. “The first step is to collect the narratives from the members of our community. On Tuesday and Wednesday, we will be at the Collaboratory, and we are hoping people can walk in and be filmed and recorded. We have a list of themes and questions that the participants can refer to if they need some guidance. Thursday will be dedicated solely to editing the footages we collected… We are just compiling the footage together…The showing will be movie style.”
“Our Voices” is a part of a series of programs focused on students from immigrant families. Jeong started thinking about a way to create more spaces for these students. “The Children of Immigration Series is something I came up with when I was a program assistant at the ALANA Center in fall 2014…I created it because I saw a lack of space, even within the ALANA community, for students who identify as immigrants/children of immigrants. Being an immigrant is a huge part of my identity that affects me everyday and is something I think about all the time, so it made sense for me to want to bring together a community that share that identity. The first two events of the Children of Immigration Series were focused on community building.”
Vo participated in both events. She recounted, “Last year, there was a series of events and talks on children of immigration. And I’m a child of immigration, so it’s nice to have a place where that kind of dialogue can take place.”
Associate Professor of Sociology Eréndira Rueda has been working with Jeong since the beginning of the programs. She echoed Jeong’s observation about the campus’ lack of conversation of the topic. “When Hanna and I started talking about being children of immigrants last academic year, we noted that we don’t often hear that category of students discussed on campus. There didn’t seem to be much campus programming geared toward students who grew up in immigrant families and that seemed like such a shame, particularly because in office hours I often had such wonderful discussions with students about those experiences and how they shape the way they navigate college, what they aspire to afterwards, what their priorities are, what they miss from home, what they try to recreate at times here and oftentimes what they struggle with as they become young adults trying to figure out what comes next for them after college.”
Having organized two events already, Rueda shared her envisions for the future. “We plan to keep getting feedback from students to see what they’d like to see more of…We can even brainstorm ideas for more funding to bring some folks to campus who specialize in creating podcast type content, such as NPR’s StoryCorp or the Moth in NYC.”
Our Voices is a step toward this future goal. As a multi-media project, it seeks to share and document the lived experiences of children of immigration. Rueda noted, “Vassar looks really different demographically today than it did even 20 years ago and certainly far different from how it started out. It would be nice to have Vassar archives reflect that change in economic and racial/ ethnic demographic.”
She said that this is the case on a national scale as well. “Nationally, racial/ethnic minority populations are growing at a much faster rate than White populations, which is partly driven by immigration trends and partly driven by birth rates among racial/ethnic minorities. It’s important that institutions recognize how those national demographic shifts are reflected within their own walls…In my hometown of Alhambra in the San Gabriel Valley, Latinos/Hispanics made headlines last summer when they became the largest racial/ ethnic group in the state,” Rueda explained.
But ultimately, both Jeong and Rueda agreed that these projects and conversations are highly intimate. Jeong said, “The goal of this project is to bring attention to our community, our voices. We want to share our stories and lived experiences and by doing so, we celebrate ourselves as well as find comfort and strength in hearing each other’s narratives. As for the greater campus, I hope that this project increases the school’s awareness of our existence, that first and second generation immigrants and the lives we lead here are complex and diverse. We want to broaden and challenge the greater narratives that exist at Vassar.”
She concluded, “I want to make it clear I’m not doing this to educate or ‘enrich’ Vassar College, I’m doing this for me, for my community, and for my parents.”