News, On Campus

Students Celebrate Diverse Heritages at ‘Tales From the Trails’

To kick off AHANA Acronym Week, the AHANA Leadership Council (ALC), Asian Caucus, and Organization of Latin American Affairs presented “Tales From The Trails” in the Vanderslice Cabaret Room. Three BC students shared their own experiences of immigration to the United States and shed light on the struggles they have faced.

This year, AHANA Acronym Week is focused on immigration.

To kick off the presentation, Diego Chavez, MCAS ’20 and Anabel Torres, LSOE ’19, shared facts concerning race, age, and job distribution within immigrant populations.

Layla Aboukhater, MCAS ’18, Evelyn Cortes, MCAS ’18, and Phat Nyugyen, CSOM ’18, then stood to share their personal accounts of immigrating to the U.S..

Aboukhater was originally born in Boston to Syrian immigrants, who then moved their family back to Syria when Aboukhater was only four years old.  But, Aboukhater ended up back in the U.S. a lot sooner than she thought she would.

The war in Syria had spread to her city in 2012 and resulted in the cancellation of her high school graduation ceremony.

“I knew there was a war going on, but I really wanted to throw my hat,” Aboukhater said. “I didn’t get to do that.”

Aboukhater recounted the next three years, in which their living conditions worsened with the war. Friends and acquaintances continued to be killed. It took three requests for her and her father to acquire visas. Her younger sister and brother followed soon after, but her mother was not granted one until the following year.

“I think people have to build their compassion and understand that no one in their right mind would want to just leave their home country.”

— Phat Nyugyen, CSOM ’18

“The biggest challenge was just getting my family here,” Aboukhater said. “And take into consideration that more than half of us are American citizens with American passports.”

Aboukhater noted her biggest challenge now that she is in the country: self-identification.

“My friends would introduce me saying ‘this is Layla, she’s a Syrian refugee,'” Aboukhater said. “I’m not a Syrian refugee… because I actually didn’t swim here so I don’t feel entitled to that. So for now, if you ever want to introduce me, say ‘this is Layla. She likes Harry Potter and lemon squares.’”

Cortes talked about growing up as an American citizen, but being the child of immigrants. Cortes’ parents came from Mexico City after a flood.

“They started off as most immigrants do,” Cortes said. “They worked simple jobs as cashiers, waitresses, and somehow were able to make it all right.”

Given the hard work of her parents, Cortes said that she and her younger siblings were always provided for. Because her older brother was not born in the country, however, he was not provided with the same opportunities when it came to college and work.

“That was a difficult thing we had to face,” Cortes said. “We’re siblings and we’ve been raised the same way and we have the same parents, but somehow one is more privileged than the other.”

Nguyen immigrated to Boston from the Vietnam countryside at the age of 9. Neither he nor his parents knew any English.

“When we came here, we were starting from ground zero,” Nguyen said.

When Nguyen was accepted to BC, he had his first opportunity to reflect on his journey and how far he had come.

Nguyen’s father came to the U.S. with a ninth-grade level education and took up work for a hardwood floor company. His mother came with a fifth-grade education and got a job in a factory. Both still hold those jobs today.

“I think people have to build their compassion and understand that no one in their right mind would want to just leave their home country,” Nguyen said.

Featured Image by Amelie Trieu / Heights Editor

October 19, 2016