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Banner display at UWRF showcases immigrant voices

May 2, 2017

The stories of immigrants were brought to the UW-River Falls campus for approximately two weeks in April, thanks to a unique banner display in the University Center.

The “Immigrants Telling Their Stories” banner display featured 16 banners showing the stories of young immigrants around the Twin Cities from April 13-28. A unique aspect of the display was the interactive feature, which allowed people to scan a QR code and watch videos corresponding with each banner.

This was the first time that the banners from Twin Cities-based nonprofit Green Card Voices were displayed in Wisconsin. Kiki Augustin, graduate fellow and English as a second language instructor at UWRF, said that the special way of storytelling was convenient for people as they passed the display, as not everyone had hours to spare reading each banner.

“My first impression is that most of us live such busy lives, that if you run by and you see something and you’re like, ‘Oh, that’s interesting,’ and you’ve got your phone and you don’t have time to read, then you can listen later in the car or whatever,” Augustin said, “and that’s the appealing part of it to me.”

Augustin first saw the banners at the Minnesota English Learner Education Conference in Bloomington, Minnesota. As a graduate student representative on the Language Matters Committee at UWRF, she brought the idea to the committee.

With the help of Augustin as a graduate student volunteer, collaboration across campus and an outside grant, the banners finally crossed state lines into Wisconsin. Augustin said that the importance of telling stories like this comes down to one important realization of hers.

“In several areas of my life lately, it has become very apparent that what we have is our story,” Augustin said. “And I think that’s why the banners are so powerful is because sometimes people, immigrants or refugees, that’s all they have, literally. They have no money, they have maybe their families with them, they have no possessions, but they have their story.”

Tea Rozman Clark, co-founder and executive director of Green Card Voices, helped create the nonprofit as a Bush Fellow in 2013. She said that the idea to have immigrants and refugees tell their stories through Green Card Voices stemmed from wanting to let them be in charge of their own narratives.

“We firmly believe that, once you know someone’s story, you cannot hate them,” Rozman Clark said. “And once you know someone’s story, it’s only then that you can start seeing them as a neighbor and as a fellow community member.”

Rozman Clark said that the need for telling these stories is particularly strong in this part of the country.

“Especially in the Midwest, people are oftentimes reluctant to ask, because they don’t want to be perceived as too direct or they don’t want to make any cultural-related mistakes, so they just don’t,” Rozman Clark said. “So there are a lot of things that are never discussed or never addressed.”

Rozman Clark said that the digital stories can be seen as a first step of exposure for the viewer to get more comfortable with hearing diverse viewpoints. From there, she said she hopes people will be more confident engaging with people from different backgrounds in their communities.

The nonprofit will celebrate the release of its newest book, “Green Card Youth Voices: Immigration Stories from a St. Paul High School” at a gala in St. Paul on June 3.

So far, Green Card Voices has recorded the stories of nearly 300 people from 120 different countries who now reside in six different states. Rozman Clark said that Green Card Voices would love to find partners in Wisconsin, having seen success in Minnesota and North Dakota.

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