Whether their relatives relocated to the U.S. generations ago or arrived just recently, participants in Mount Wachusett Community College’s dialogue on immigration realized their family histories share a common theme: Their parents, grandparents, ancestors or even they themselves emigrated for the hope of a better life and greater opportunity.
More than 80 students, faculty, staff and community members turned out to discuss “Immigration and the Undocumented Student.” The March 28 Tea Time Speaker Series event was sponsored by the college’s Diversity Consortium and Gateway to College program, through a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, in partnership with the American Association of Colleges & Universities.
The forum was moderated by MWCC Senior Resource Specialist Sharmese Gunn, who developed the Tea Time series as a way to create a dialogue around diverse issues that engages the college community and members of the greater community.
MWCC Trustee Joana Dos Santos, executive director of the United Neighbors of Fitchburg/Cleghorn Neighborhood Center, opened the discussion on a personal note, describing her experience moving from Uruguay to Fitchburg at age 14 when the U.S. had a waiver agreement with Uruguay. While in high school, she realized how expensive college would be as an undocumented student.
Through scholarships, community service programs and support through MWCC, she earned her associate degree. Her immigration status was resolved while she was in college when her green card was granted, and she continued on for a bachelor’s degree at Fitchburg State University.
Realizing the process for others can take decades and entail even greater struggles and obstacles, she has become a strong advocate for immigration reform. Her 40-minute presentation included an overview of the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA) programs, now pending before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Following her presentation, participants broke out into small group discussions, sharing a bit of their family history and their thoughts on the national debate on immigration reform. MWCC student Mili Silva, who was involved with planning the event, stood to thank the crowd for attending and asked for their support on this issue.
“I just hope the outcome of this event helps people become well informed on the issue.”
MWCC alumna Joan Mellanson of Gardner was among the community members attending. She shared in her group discussion that although she speaks with an accent, she was born in the U.S. Virgin Islands and is a U.S. citizen. More than four decades after moving to Massachusetts as a young teenager, she said she still encounters judgment.
“I still feel like an alien at times.”