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‘Push and pull’: Triton hosts immigration panel discussion

This post appeared in Elm Leaves on May 8, 2017. Illinois Speaks is a series of community-driven, small group discussions. You can find the original article here.

Virginia Cabasa-Hess, who moderated an immigration panel discussion last week at Triton College, said that many immigrants face “the push and pull of cultures.”

On May 4, a two-hour discussion, held on the Triton College Student Center’s second floor, targeted this “push and pull.” “People on the Move: Time and Space Compression,” was hosted by the Triton College Council on Diversity Affairs and partly funded through the Illinois Humanities Council “Illinois Speaks” grant.

The discussion focused on the experiences of an opening speaker and three panelists. A question-and-answer session followed.

Albert Escanilla of Ancilla College in Valparaiso, Ind., gave the opening address. Panelists were Pablo Cruz, the director of Casa Esperanza, a Melrose Park nonprofit focused on serving the immigrant community; Dagmara Avelar, a programs manager at the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights; and Lilia Salazar, an educator at the Wheaton Bible Church.

Escanilla’s opening address, titled “Migration, Americanization, [and] Multicultural Belonging in 21st Century America,” looked at three ways sociologists may describe culture — as a melting pot, a salad, or a stew. Escanilla began by explaining that migration includes the experiences of both refugees and immigrants. Describing his experiences coming to the United States from the Philippines, Escanilla said his family had a goal of “retaining the homeland culture, but partial integration with the new one.”

Escanilla said that his mother wanted to assimilate, while his father was more comfortable with the culture of his homeland.

Education was also important to Escanilla’s family. The importance of education and learning English were two recurring themes. Escanilla said that his experiences had elements of the melting pot, salad and stew theories of assimilation.

“These theories portray people as ingredients … however, people are dynamic,” Escanilla said.
Panelists discussed the challenges and opportunities of immigrating to the United States. Many of the challenges involved needing to develop language skills, or taking a job that was below what one had trained for.

“After all the years of school, I ended up waiting tables in the U.S.,” Cruz said.

Avelar described her family’s move from Ecuador to the United States, saying they came with “suitcases full of necessities and dreams.”

Avelar said that her mom couldn’t work in her original profession.

“My mom was 30 when she came to the U.S. … My mom had to give up her dreams for her children to achieve theirs,” Avelar said.

Learning English, especially conversational English, was important to each panelist.

“Learn the language; that was a priority,” Salazar said.

For some panelists, learning of the language took place outside of the classroom.

“I was really into [the] Backstreet Boys,” Avelar said, sharing how she wanted to fit in with U.S. popular culture and how music helped her language skills, although she learned that academic English and the English in songs weren’t always the same.

Cruz already knew some English from his studies.

“In my country, you study English in every grade,” Cruz said, adding that language and culture are closely related.

Appreciating both one’s culture and the experiences of others was key to the panelists.

Avelar said one can love each of the countries they’ve lived in.

“I’m proud to have two countries,” Avelar said.

Salazar is a world traveler, having visited China and Kenya.

“My cultural vision has expanded so much,” Salazar said.

While the panelists’ experiences were unique, Escanilla said that he enjoyed finding the similarities.

“I liked that there was a majority consensus that education and learning the language really assists in the adjustment in the immigrant community,” Escanilla said.

Avelar said finding commonality can come just from starting the conversation.

“Talk to your neighbors. … Everyone has an immigrant story,” Avelar said. “Knowing we may not be on the same side when it comes to opinions, but … finding connections,” is important, Avelar added.