Poughkeepsie, NY- Immigrants at Marist and the subject of immigration is not something typically explored within the student body. On November 8, 2017, in the Henry Hudson Room on 3rd floor of Fontaine at Marist College, the presence of Dan Buzi, Dr. Maria Höen, Anish Kanoria, Ignacio Acevedo, and Renee T. Oni-Eseleh commanded the attention of the student, faculty filled audience.
“I was very moved, by how they struggled their entire lives to obtain what I was given since birth, said Sam Goldman. Goldman was one of three students who was in charge of conducting the fall 2017 Immigration in the Hudson Valley Forum.
The panel at the Immigration Forum for the Hudson Valley consisted of volunteers from Catholic Charities, Rural Migrant Ministry, Mid-Hudson Refugee Solidarity Alliance, Nobody Leaves Mid-Hudson, and further stories from undocumented immigrants. Buzi who works as the program and volunteer coordinator for the Office for New Americans at Catholic Charities Community Services spoke on their services that his organization offers to immigrants. “ I want people to not only be welcomed through our services but in their community,” said Buzi. Dr. Höen and Kanoria together founded Vassar Refugee Solidarity Alliance and Kanoria is the student leader of this initiative. Dr. Höen teaches German history and the founder of the Mid-Hudson Refugee Solidarity Alliance. They talked on how they initially formed the organization and how they have partnered with numerous of congregations and institutions in the Hudson Valley in order to extend their outreach.
Acevedo is the Lead Organizer of the grassroots, multi-issue community organization called “Nobody Leaves Mid-Hudson.” He’s tasked with organizing recruitment members, developing leaders, and helps build teams of leaders who have a disposition for confidence and power to change the stigma of immigrants in the Hudson Valley. Acevedo commented on how harsh and mistreated his journey from being in a small town in Mexico to coming to America and being in school. “I was trained to keep everything in the shadows,” said Acevedo.
Lastly Oni-Eseleh, was the only member of the panel who was an undocumented immigrant. She’s born in England but grew up in Wappinger Falls. Oni-Eseleh is a Community Organizer volunteer at Community Voices Heard Poughkeepsie and recently became the Social Media Director for Adalante Student Voices. Recently she is working towards starting her own business and earns to lend her voice to self advocacy for the undocumented, black-female, and underrepresented communities. “This process is like spinning your wheels in mud,” said Oni-Eseleh. She stressed how important mental health is, and due to the severity of immigration many suffer from depression and go through desperation just to get a chance at obtaining citizenship.
While immigration in the US and in the Hudson Valley was the topic of discussion, many other aspects of what most people find to be a privilege in life were mentioned as well. Oni-Eseleh talked on how she felt misplaced and suffers from the fact that she could not be granted a citizenship due to the multitude of steps it takes to obtain one. “By organizing and doing what I can do is the control I have,” said Oni-Eseleh.
The Immigration in the Hudson Valley Forum highlighted issues prevalent to the surrounding communities of Dutches County, yet the significance of these volunteers and their promotion of awareness for how harsh immigration can be was the main emphasis. “I always treated my social security number as an archaic piece of information…I was overwhelmed at how thankful I truly am,” said Goldman.
Immigrants within the classrooms of Marist College may seem unsuspecting, however they are right here. “I feel that Marist is very welcoming towards the international community…you can see the diversity in the classrooms, sports teams, and dinning hall,” said David Cantu. Cantu a member of the Mens Swimming & Diving team at Marist College is from Mexico, yet has lived in the US for six and a half years now.
“It has made me accept that I am not only Mexican but also an American, regardless of the accent in my voice or what people say,” said Cantu. Him and his three other siblings have applied for US citizenship about 3 months ago. Despite not knowing much about services for immigrants within the surrounding area of Marist, he feels appreciated throughout the campus. Cantu also highlights the austerity and expensiveness of going through the process to become a US citizen. Similar to the demanding process Oni-Eseleh has tried to complete, she knows she could be fired on the spot simply because she’s not a citizen. “I’m expendable,” said Oni-Eseleh.
Some situations are different from others, and for Cantu and his family they’ve been more fortitudes in recent years. “It has definitely been a positive experience in my life, I’ve enriched my cultural knowledge and have become more open to trying new things,” said Cantu.
However, not all aspects of immigration around Marist and the Hudson Valley is crystal clear. There is still work to be done in terms of free consultations and services that offer plans for immigrants to rely on. Buzi from Catholic Charities talked on the many community factions his organization offers towards immigrants. From adult classes at Dutchess Community College, immigrant rights, and supplementary learning programs, Buzi implored that there needs to be a change in the course to citizenship and a change within the immigration system for the US.
The authenticity of the panels testimonials addressed real issues and evoked a sense of awareness throughout the audience. “There was a message that if we could take a step further, students could band together and create a petition and fundraise enough money to offer immigrant scholarships…” said Goldman.
Analogous towards the remarks of change by panel for Immigration in the Hudson Valley Forum, Cantu stated the need for more recognition of immigrants not just within the Marist community but all over the US. “Ignorance can be cured by increasing awareness on immigration issues,” said Cantu. He’s realized that in today’s society political and social issues concentrate heavily on immigration, and firmly believes through a better understanding on issues of racism and hatred towards minority groups people can be more positive throughout life.
“The Immigration Panel was an engaging, yet moving event, where real issues were center stage at the middle of an educated discussion,” said Goldman. Goldman was very acute to point out how surreal and eye opening each statement the panel members gave. From Acevedo’s challenges of growing up poor and coming to the US, to Dr. Höhn’s teachings of history and human rights, to Oni-Eseleh’s depression throughout her life, every person was affected by being an immigrant in the US and has battled discrimination in some shape or form.
Nonetheless, there is hope and progress in each of the panel’s occupations and goals no matter the size of their contribution. “I’ve adopted a new definite home where I can think freely, express my differences, and represent a more liberal opinion of social and political issues affecting us,” said Cantu.