Acts of service help immigrants work through tough experiences

By Alexis Davis

Ari Honarvar speaks to a reporting class at Florida A&M University.

Millions of immigrants in America experience disparities when integrating into American systems whether it is education, health or economic disadvantages. These issues can lead to deeply rooted levels of trauma and fear that are the result of overworking to maintain their “value” here in the United States.

According to a study published in Advances in Medical Sociology on the perceived effects of discrimination on immigrant and refugee physical and mental health, among this information were some truths on how Americans feel about migrants entering the states.

Statistically based on a U.S Census survey in 2015, 42 percent of Americans believed that immigrants are a burden to American society, and 34 percent stated that immigrants represent a threat to American customs and values.

Although almost half of Americans disagree with integrating migrants into U.S systems, this potentially plays a roll in the narrative of an imbalanced justice system for minorities and immigrants.

Against all odds, there are brave individuals that have entered this country and faced challenges, but now have an agenda to provide acts of service to relieve some of the harsh realities in migrant lives based on their own personal experiences.

Vanessa Sanchez* is a 22-year-old first generation Mexican American in the Chicago area that has felt the pressure her whole life to excel in all areas to help reduce the stress of her Mexican migrant parents.

A Long Legalization Process

Sanchez’s undocumented parents entered the states separately on two different occasions.

Her father swam up the coast to the boarder of San Diego and Tijuana and has been here for over 30 years, but is still going through the legalization process. Her mother came here on a visa that is now expired 20 years later.

“They applied through my uncle in 2001…however, since I turned 21 in 2020, they were able to reapply through me under the condition that I, one, graduated college in three years, and two, I had to get a full time job and show that I could fully support them,” said Sanchez.

With her strict timeline of a four-year bachelor’s degree in three years, she was able to meet those standards, and her father is now in the process of receiving his green card within the next few weeks.

Since Sanchez has made it her duty to support her family in many ways, she also states that she wanted to take it a step further and do right by other immigrants.

“I think a lot of kids in my position that have parents who are undocumented immigrants see how hard they try to work the system and want to give back. I am like a lot of those kids and I now am in my second semester of law school … and my plan is to be an immigration attorney,” said Sanchez.

Acts of service for one can impact the entire collective, and Ari Honarvar, an award-winning writer, visual artist and speaker, is touching people throughout the globe with her solutions journalism from the perspective of an Iranian immigrant.

Honarvar spoke recently to a Florida Agricultural & Mechanical University News Reporting and Writing III class and shed light on her own personal struggles entering America as an Iranian refugee. One of the scenarios she mentioned was her having to cut her hair shorter to pass as a little boy to receive the same respect and opportunities as men in her home country.

The childhood experiences she faced that led her to America made her believe that she has a higher calling to spread the stories of endangered refugees and immigrants throughout the world.

Honarvar makes a point that she is able to connect with the collective by finding the pure bliss in every moment in her day

Finding Moments of Joy

“Throughout the day I have ways that I connect with so much amazing joy. If you go to my Instagram you will see me feeding hummingbirds out of my hand…having those micro moments of stillness that carries expansive joy,” she said.

The lessons taken from Honarvar’s rhetoric are to understand the key importance of the overall bigger picture and removing ourselves by staying in the present moment. Although she has her own trauma, she is able to work through this by finding joy in her life’s path and purpose.

“I have this sense of I’m not doing this alone. There is a whole universe right there with me helping along with whatever action, and the flip side of that is you want to do right by the universe that is supporting you. You want to be accountable, not get complacent…just having this really beautiful relationship with everything,” said Honarvar.

The work produced by Honarvar can be found in several media outlets, such as Teen Vogue, Rewire News Group and Invisible People, to name a few.

All of her stories involve a higher purpose of shedding light to the dark situations that some have experienced in their lifetimes that media outlets have tried to bury.

The bravery instilled within Honarvar has led her to build solid bonds with the people she has written stories about. Pre-pandemic Honarvar hosted drum circles, and this was a space for her and her tribe to dance and laugh their way through their troubles. During the pandemic she has stayed engaged by hosting Zoom drum circles.

“It’s such a fortifying moment. We are no longer drumming. We are just dancing because it is so much harder to drum over Zoom so we dance together, and just dancing on its own, it decreases depression and increases the immune system and mental clarity. All of those things that are an important part of a healing environment…because we are always getting broken down by things that happen to us, so this sort of puts us back together,” said Honarvar. 

Perhaps Sanchez and Honarvar’s ability to stay grounded to their roots and help others sheds light on their darkness and creates a space for a perpetual amount of growth.

*Name has been changed for privacy.

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