Before coming to college, I thought I’d be working in the marine biology field. I was convinced that  I would be saving whales by the end of my four years as an undergraduate. After all, it was the reason I moved to an island off the coast of Maine.

However, if you see my transcript only three out of twenty-one courses I’ve taken involve biology. I think it’s safe to say marine biology is no longer my “passion.”

I guess it should have been clear to me at an early age, when I preferred to listen to people’s stories and document them in writing, videos, or photographs, that I was more of a humanitarian than a scientist. I was always interested in solving injustices, I just never knew how to do it.

Growing up, I was aware of the fears and stereotypes that came with being from an immigrant family household. Plenty of peers and neighbors were struggling with similar issues, some had more reason to fear immigration officers than others. However, we had the privilege of coming from a community where everyone looked like us and understood the struggle, so discriminating acts were slightly less common.

I was quite oblivious to the number of people who actually continue to discriminate against people who do not look or act “American”, making assumptions that we don’t belong here or suggesting that we speak “American.”

images
Diario Digital

Coming to a school in which 90% of the students are white in a state with 95% white residents was a complete shift. I suddenly became the minority. I remember trying to change the way I spoke to try to fit in.

Despite behavioral changes, my physical appearance could not be possibly altered.

The possibilities of discriminatory confrontations became real. One moment that stands out was during the time of the primary elections. My two friends, both with skin slightly darker than your average Mainer, were walking down Ledgelawn and a man in a car yelled out to them both, “Go back to your country.”

My friends arrived home in shock. Unaware of how to feel or act – practically paralyzed.

Can you imagine being called an outsider in a place you have been living in and have called home for more than three years? I’d feel helpless. I’d feel unwanted and unsafe in a place I have thought as a “community”.

What was I supposed to do to make them feel welcomed? What can I do to make others in similar situations feel safe and empowered?

So here I am, in an online writing for social change course – still unsure of what exactly I’m meant to be doing to facilitate change, but absolutely certain it will involve working directly with local communities and using the documentation skills I grew to love. I want to help empower people who feel they have no rights because it’s been engraved into our society that some people, like immigrants, have none.

In order to continue the fight beyond this blog, I plan on working in my community – New York City. This summer, I will be interning with the Laundry Workers Center, an organization that addresses the needs for a community-based leadership development geared toward improving the living and working conditions of workers and their families.

I have plenty motives for being in this field: for those who fear calling 911 because they’ll be asked about their legal status before being offered assistance.

For the families in my neighborhood who are scared of going on road trips in fear of being asked for proof of entry.

For the parents that came to this country to provide a better future for their children.

For the young people who see this country as their home, with no recollection of their time in their “native” place.

I whole-heartedly believe that through educational tools, including visual mediums, trainings, and workshops, are forms of empowerment. They’re resources to help the fearful realize that they’re not alone. There are many of us willing to fight with and for them.

Community organizing and empowerment is something we must do.

Ryan Protest
Washington Times