Words by Holly Harrison
Green Card Voices flips the script on the immigrant success story.
Green Card Voices Executive Director Tea Rozman-Clark has an experiment for you. Look up Tashitaa Tufaa and familiarize yourself with how most media outlets portray him. Next, watch Tashitaa tell his story on Green Card Voices. Can you see the difference?
Tea explains, “Tashitaa’s an entrepreneur. He’s got a business that’s worth $12 million. But when we recorded his story, none of that is there. He talks about his life and his journey, but he never says, ‘And now we earn this much money.’ Instead he says his biggest joy is that he was able to buy a small piece of land here, because what gives him joy now is what gave him joy back in Ethiopia: farming. So on the weekend, he takes his family to go and work the land.”
“He is in control of his narrative. This is what he wanted to portray. He wanted to finally, in my opinion, say ‘There is more to me than my financial success.’ I really really think it’s OK to tell stories like that. Everyone has a story, and everyone’s story deserves to be shared, whether you’re a cofounder of a successful company or a maintenance worker who’s going to clean this room at the end of the day.”
This is what sets Green Card Voices apart. They share the personal narratives of American immigrants in a way that you don’t see anywhere else. Instead of highlighting those one in a million rags-to-riches stories, Green Card Voices lifts up the everyday successes of everyman immigrants. Instead of marking some narratives worthy and others unworthy, Green Card Voices asks its volunteer storytellers to look back and reflect on their stories and reframe their journeys as assets.
How Green Card Voices Challenges the Dominant Narrative:
“If you share immigrant stories but they just take the form of ‘these were my challenges, these were my accomplishments,’ you lose an opportunity to share something that a non-immigrant can connect to. You need that hook,” Tea says. “I’m an immigrant. I came here when I was twenty-one. But if in my story I sprinkle in information that I’m a mother of two kids who go to a school in Southwest Minneapolis, I have a beagle named Oliver, I enjoy yoga, then someone else can connect to me as a mother, dog owner, or yoga lover, if not necessarily as an immigrant.
“But if I only share the part of the story where I was fifteen when the war [in Former Yugoslavia] started, that I worked with refugees…many non-immigrants will see me with sympathy instead of empathy. They will think, ‘Oh, I’m so sorry, I never knew’ instead of ‘Oh, OK, you’re not so different from me.'”
Who Green Card Voices Wants to Reach:
By collecting and sharing the honest narratives of American immigrants, by helping people see “waves of immigrants” as individuals, Green Card Voices promotes tolerance and builds bridges between immigrant and non-immigrant communities.
But that work can’t only be done by posting the stories online. That’s why in addition to their digital archives, Green Card Voices has traveling exhibits, books, a comprehensive teaching guide, live storytelling events, and more.
“There’s a curve,” Tea says.
“Twenty percent of people are allies.
These are the people who initially stumble upon our website—they are immigrants themselves or they are people who are married to immigrants or have immigrants among their friends and family. There’s another 20 percent who will never like immigrants. And the remaining 60 percent want to learn but are undecided. That 60 percent is who we want to get to, whether it’s in a school or at our exhibits or in any other space where people come with an open mind, ready to absorb information.”
“Digital storytelling—this is a the proxy. It’s much better to practice intentional diversity, to go out into the community and meet diverse people in person. But imagine there are two circles: your comfort zone and your learning zone. It’s very hard for someone to go into their learning zone when they’re outside their comfort zone. So our digital stories help provide that initial comfort level, where if you hear ten stories of immigrants, the next time you see an immigrant you won’t be nervous about how to talk to them. It will even provide some basic language or context or some cultural competency for you to be able to start conversing and engaging.”
Tea’s Advice for Non-Immigrants:
“I have struggled forever with ‘Where are you from?’ I have an alternative. Instead of asking where are you from, a question that implies that you are from one place and that you are now here but you don’t really belong here, I suggest asking ‘Where are you local?’ I’m a local in New York City. I’m a local in Southwest Minneapolis. I am a local in Trnovo, part of Ljubljana, Slovenia. I am a local in Croatian Istria and Bosnian Srebrenica.
“It can be neighborhoods. For a Somali immigrant who arrived here at the age of five and never went back to Somalia, Somalia isn’t a country they remember well. But they might be local to Riverside. The reality of an immigrant journey is that very soon you discover you are from multiple places. The sooner you reconcile that, the better. And it’s okay to be from multiple places. Much like being multi-racial: it’s a part of your identity and it’s fine you are not 100 percent of anything. You are multiple things.”
Help Green Card Voices publish a book of immigration stories from young students at Wellstone International High School! Support their Indiegogo campaign.