Immigration Monologues: Voices of Survival and Success

Brandon Jaurez-Lopez and his family immigrated to the United States from Guatemala when he was only three years old.

They eventually settled in Falls Church, and his mother got a job as a janitor at George Mason University.

“She brought me to see what college was like,” he says.

Mason clearly made an impression on him; he’s now a 19-year-old sophomore, majoring in global affairs with the goal of someday returning to Guatemala and bringing changes there.

His was one of more than a dozen powerful performances during Mason’s fourth annual Immigration Monologues event on Oct. 13 at the Johnson Center Cinema on the Fairfax Campus. Jaurez-Lopez brought his extended family to the event, and they listened along with the rest of the packed house to his poem and monologue about his life story.

The capacity crowd included Mason president Ángel Cabrera, himself an immigrant from Spain. “I was moved and inspired by the stories shared by our students.  Stories of determination, of personal resolve, of growth, of beating the odds.  It’s remarkable how the personal stories of immigrants can be the best reminders of what it is to be American,” said Cabrera.

The theme of this year’s event was “A Journey of Our Successes.” More than a dozen people presented their stories of resilience through poetry; second-person narratives, spoken word and video submissions. The Filipino Cultural Association also performed.

Rodrigo Velasquez, a Mason junior majoring in communications, said he’s fighting for every step in his immigrant journey. He came to the United States at the age of three from Bolivia. Velasquez said growing up, he endured abuse and discrimination. He said education offered the glimmer of hope he needed, and the love and dedication of his mother is helping him face adversity.

Velasquez noted that he works several jobs to meet educational expenses, even as the jobs make it difficult for him to manage course work.

“Even now people in government argue over who deserves rights and who does not. How am I at Mason?” he asked the audience. “I continue to dream.”

Sofia Schersei, a junior majoring in criminology with hopes of becoming a lawyer, also took the stage. Her family is originally from Afghanistan. She was born on U.S. Embassy grounds in Germany, attaining her U.S. citizenship. When her family experienced hardship in Germany, they moved to Las Vegas when Schersei was 11. The transition was financially and culturally difficult for them, she said, adding that she is doing her best to persevere at Mason.

Junior Sofia Schersei talks about her family's move from Germany to Las Vegas when she was a child as part of the fourth annual Immigration Monologues. Photo by Senam Torkornoo

“Education is the only way of success,” she said.

The event was hosted by Jonathan Jayes-Green, who moved to the United States at age 13 from Panama. He now serves as administrative director of the Maryland Governor’s Commission on Hispanic and Caribbean Affairs. “What does undocumented look like?” Jayes-Green challenged. “We are not defined by a nine-digit [Social Security] number.”

Earlier this year, Virginia’s attorney general announced that some undocumented immigrants who arrived in the United States as children may qualify for in-state university tuition under the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

Immigration Monologues was sponsored by Mason’s Department of Latin American Studies in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, the Hispanic Culture Review journal in the Division of University Life’s Student Media; the Office of Compliance, Diversity and Ethics; University Life’s Diversity, Inclusion and Multicultural Education; the Alpha Delta chapter of La Unidad Latina, Lambda Upsilon Lambda Fraternity, Inc.; the Hispanic Student Association; and Mason DREAMers.

Write to Sudha Kamath at skamath@gmu.edu

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