Mukena Kasongo “Deogracias” – From the Democratic Republic of Congo to the United States

As a mentor to first-year students at my college last Fall, I was lucky enough to have Mukena Kasongo “Deogracias” as one of my students. She was charming and inquisitive, and impressively fluent in French, English, Swahili, and Lingala. Now that we are in an African Music course together, we took the time to speak about her immigration story from the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the barriers that she has overcome to be a successful and inspirational college student. 

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Eugenia Forteza – From France to Argentina to the United States

Singer, actor, model, and entrepreneur, Eugenia Forteza is a beautiful and charming young Argentinian-French woman living in New York City. Although she is a super busy and an extremely accomplished artist, Eugenia Forteza took time out of her day to share with me her story of immigration to the United States from Argentina, and spoke about the powerful multicultural aspect of opera in her life. Described as a “total diva on stage,” by Mario Arevalo, I was delighted and humbled that Eugenia shared her warm personality and enthusiasm for music with me.

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Noor Ghanam – Family Story from Palestine, Kuwait, and Jordan to the United States

Bright rays from the orange dawn filter through the window where the three of us sit. My parents – my mom and dad – are sitting across from me on a couch, their hands intertwined. Our family is accustomed to moving forward with the rhythm of life; it’s rare that we take the time to deeply reflect on our individual histories. One thing that may surprise you about the migrant life is just how traumatic it can be. Although my parents were both ultimately able to provide my siblings and I with a better life, they paid a large price for it. They dealt with war, poverty, and a lack of opportunities in their home countries, and then when they immigrated, they put up with discrimination, insecurity, and loneliness. It can be difficult to open up those old wounds, and as a child of immigrants, I’m usually tender with the questions I ask about my parents’ experiences prior to when I was born. Therefore, when Clara approached me with this project, I was hesitant to participate. It was my parents – who I had been worried about – that encouraged me to share their words with others. Every opportunity for an immigrant to have a voice is one worth taking, no matter how small or large the audience may be. 

 “The area of Amman where my dad grew up. Most of his family still lives there to this day.” 
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Walter Angus Li – From Guyana to the United States

A forward on Walter Angus Li’s story by his son, Steven Li.

As a child of an immigrant, learning about my parent’s life when they were young is a fascinating topic. From the cultural differences to the varying lifestyle they grew up in, you get to learn that life can be harder than you think, or it can be easier than you think. Being able to travel and see where my parents grew up is an eye-opening experience that many people do not get the chance to have. Understanding that they had a different childhood and being able to see the struggles that they had growing up makes me appreciate all the hard work that they have accomplished in their life.

Walter, his wife Seerani, and his son Steven Li
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Tasha Mwanakalando – From Zambia to the United States

When I first arrived on Washington & Jefferson Campus in 2018, I almost immediately knew who Tasha Mwanakalando was. Everyone on campus regarded her with respect, and just from a few conversations with her, I knew that she was a truly genuine and caring person (with the most style I had ever seen). Coming from Lusaka, Zambia, Tasha provided me with an interesting perspective on American customs I hadn’t thought about before, and explained to me how she is addressing the current political climate Americans find themselves.

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Aziegbemi “Okis” Okisamen – From Nigeria to the United States

Aziegbemi “Okis” Okisamen is currently a graduate student studying applied mathematics at IUP. Coming from the South of Nigeria, he shared with me some interesting aspects of American educational culture that I had not thought about before, as well as his perspective regarding the work ethic at Pennsylvania’s company, Sheetz. 

Meeting with Okis while socially distanced in Indiana, PA
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Jean-Yves Boulard – From France to the United States

Growing up, my family referred to the always smiling and always generous Jean-Yves Boulard as “the bread man.” I have fond memories of stepping into his bakery, begging my parents to let me have an extra sticky bun and choosing which baguette we would eat at dinner.

Now a college student, I was delighted to sit down with him and learn about his experience coming from France to the United States. We discussed French perceptions of America, his life-long love for learning, and the complexity of navigating different languages and discovering subconscious taboos when migrating to a new country. Truly a fascinating man of many talents, Jean-Yves described his story to me as having three threads; his professional path from teacher to baker, the switch from his native culture and language to a host one, and the story of his relationship starting in one country and language and deepening in another, all which “intertwine, reverberate, and influence one another.” What struck me most was when he remarked that “the fascinating aspect of the succession is that I could not have been a baker without having read all the philosophy and literature I did” prior.

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Sven Zepic – From Croatia to the United States

A foreword on Sven Zepic’s story by his girlfriend, Jenelle Senske.

Meeting Sven my freshman year of college four years ago has been, in more ways than one, absolutely life-changing for me. I always dreamt of being an immigration lawyer but never truly had any idea of what it was actually like to be an immigrant in the United States… and then I started dating one when I was eighteen! Sven and his family have opened my eyes in so many ways and have only made me more passionate about pursuing my future career. While the times we are currently facing are scary and unprecedented, it is certainly not the first time Sven and his family have faced struggles. From leaving their home and all they had known their whole lives in the midst of a terrifying war, the Zepic family has persevered and thrived in the United States. It is an honor and a privilege to know them. Enjoy this tiny bit of their story!

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From Pakistan to the United States – Huma Affan

A forward on Huma Affan’s story by her daughter, Nabeeha Affan.

“I think it often surprises people how different growing up is when your parents are immigrants. Because I was born in the United States and have lived here my entire life, I often find it difficult to imagine my parents life in Pakistan. As children of immigrants, we hope our parents understand that we may have different values from them. And, as our parents, they hope that these values do not intrude on the culture and traditions that have been passed down for generations. The emergence of advanced technologies as well as the difference in where we were raised has contributed to a great generational divide between children of immigrants and their parents. Growing up with this divide is often strenuous, especially when you are a minority. However, we also grow up knowing that our parents sacrificed so much for us and that they love us despite these differences.”

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From Pakistan to the United States – Matti Inayat

A foreword on Matti Inayat’s story by his son, Anosh Matti.

“This is a narrative of my Dad’s journey from Pakistan to the United States. He wrote about the religious intolerance he experienced as a Catholic that led him to take the step of seeking religious asylum. Whether or not you know some of the story, or none, please take the time to read from start to end. I promise you will feel more fortunate about your life.”

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From Colombia to Spain to the United States – Juan Couso

Juan Couso was truly the most genuine person I met at W&J campus, graduating this past May 2020. Before I even knew Juan, he was instantly kind and caring towards me. We trained to be first year student mentors together, and I soon realized that Juan possessed a rare gift of making anyone feel loved and appreciated instantaneously. Throughout the school year, he would always ask me how I was doing, offer me a hug if I was having a rough day, and say “you’ve got this.” Juan has overcome racial stereotypes, the difficulties of cultural assimilation, and is still figuring out the broad spectrum of his migrant identity. However, his inspirational story of migrating to the United States is one of resilience, adaptability, and triumph. In Juan’s own words, “I want to tell people about my experiences. I’m an immigrant too. I was able to graduate from college and high school. If I can do it, you can do it.”

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From India to the United States – Dr. Prashanth Bharadwaj

Dr. Prashanth Bharadwaj is a professor of management and Dean’s Associate in the Eberly College of Business and IT at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. He first came to the United States in 1988 to attend graduate school but stayed because of the economic and educational opportunities he was granted. Although he has lived in the United States for three decades, he still retains close connections to India and even helps American students to discover his beautiful country through study abroad options in the winter.

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From Egypt to the United States – Raneen Nassar

While working in Cape Cod during the summer of 2019, I met the beautiful and vivacious Raneen Nassar. When I asked her to partake in my Oral History Project this Spring, I had no idea that she was about to share with me an intense migration story and divulge her personal journey to grappling with her Arab heritage. Not only did Raneen live through the Arab Spring, manage complex family dynamics, and navigate the American foster care system, but she has also shown an unwavering determination to establish what her own identity is in the United States as a young Egyptian-American woman.

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