Photo by Matt Hembree
By Fleming Smith
Recent executive orders by President Donald Trump restricting immigration, beginning January 27, sparked outrage and concern on campus from students and faculty alike. On February 1, students, faculty, and community members met on the Quad for a vigil with the theme “We All Belong: No Wall, No Ban, No Mass Deportations!” as part of a statewide event by the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition.
“It all started when I was invited to attend the Sewanee Organize and Action meeting held the Sunday before the vigil,” says Ashley Malpica (C’17) about her role in organizing the vigil. “Within two days of constant e-mailing, we were able to get the word out to the community.”
At the vigil, students handed out posters and candles. Malpica, Lizsandra Zuniga (C’17), Zahnib Kalsoom (C’20), Mary Perez (C’17), Myranda Gonzalez (C’18), Divine Maloney (C’17), Mikey Plancher (C’18), and Marc Garcia (C’18) spoke at the vigil, sharing either their personal stories or anonymous submissions from other Sewanee students. According to co-director Stephanie Teatro of Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition, more than 200 people attended the vigil in Sewanee.
“It meant a lot to all of us who stood there with our stories, planting a reminder
in the back of the community’s head that we immigrants and minorities make up this
campus,” says Malpica. “It is important for me to be proud and tell Sewanee who we are.”
From an anonymous piece at the vigil, Garcia read, “Although I have lived most of my life here, I am not a legal resident. It is always painful when someone asks me about my immigration status. Almost all of my friends do not know the truth.” The student mentioned the benefits of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which allows minors who entered the country illegally to work and study without fear of deportation.
“It was my hope that somewhere in the near future that my situation would improve and I would be able to earn affirmative lawful status. That hope has died as Donald Trump was sworn into office as President of the United States of America,” Garcia read. “Myself, along with 750,000 other young unauthorized immigrants, fear that we will have to leave the country we were raised in.”
Plancher shared his own experiences as a first-generation American. “Although I was born in the United States, my eldest brother was born in Haiti. My parents wanted to do the right thing, get him here the legal way. They paid all the money that it took, they waited 16 years for their firstborn son to come to this country,” Plancher said. “I can recall the times that my mom would set up the room and get everything ready in hope that he’d be coming, only to be let down because the proper paperwork hadn’t been filled out the right way.”
An anonymous piece read by Newman described the bullying one student experienced as a Muslim in America. “After 9/11, I would constantly hear people say stuff like, ‘All Muslims are terrorists,’ ‘I hate Muslims,’ and ‘Muslims don’t belong in America.’ I was surrounded by so much hate towards Muslims that, I’m embarrassed to admit it, but I started to feel ashamed of my own religion, of who I was, and my parents who came to the U.S. from the Middle East,” Newman read.
“It hurt worse than when I was a kid that others still to this day have this hate towards Muslims. Trump has disfigured the word ‘freedom’ so that it no longer means anything special to me,” she continued.
After a violin performance by Professor Peter Povey, the vigil ended with a chant began by a woman in the crowd: “No hate, no fear, immigrants are welcome here!”
When she spoke at the vigil, Malpica said, “After the election, I woke up feeling a little browner, feeling scared. I cried thinking of my family, my friends, of ones who might be taken away later today, tomorrow, next week…we are being identified, labelled, and pushed away.”
Looking to the future, she said to The Purple that she envisions many more events to bring together Sewanee’s community in unity against hatred and fear. Malpica says, “There are so many amazing people here who, like me, are motivated to create positive change on the Sewanee campus that will benefit underrepresented groups that have already, and will, continue to contribute to the Sewanee campus and community.”