By Angela Roberts
“No one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark.”
These jarring words, spoken by sophomore computer science major Nimo Hired, kicked off the performances showcased in the Muslim Alliance for Social Change-sponsored event, “Untold Stories: The Immigrant Experience,” on Thursday, Oct. 19.
Hired, the daughter of two Somali immigrants, read Warsan Shire’s poem, “Home,” to an audience of over 100 students.
“It’s about the circumstances under which most people have to leave their home countries,” Hired said. “Most of the time, it’s some kind of tragedy. Safety is just not an option anymore. They’re forced out of their countries. That’s what the poem’s about – the harshness of it, the ugly details.”
The Muslim Alliance for Social Change (MASC) welcomed five individuals and one dance team to share their culture and stories with their peers through art.
“The purpose was to shed light on the reality behind immigration,” said MASC president and senior math and philosophy major Sarah Eshera. “Oftentimes, the narrative surrounding immigration is very much about politics, policy, how we’re going to solve the immigration crisis.”
Eshera emphasized the importance of “realizing that there are real people behind these stories and hearing and celebrating their stories.”
The event stood as the second part of a series meant to raise awareness about the immigrant experience. Earlier this month, MASC also hosted a panel discussion to answer student questions about their own statuses.
However, to participants, Thursday night was about “just solidarity – everyone coming together to talk about their experiences together as one,” said senior public health science major Sacdia Hassan, the outreach chair for MASC.
After Hired presented the opening poem, Maryland alum Nadya Riskia described the struggles she has endured as an undocumented immigrant in America. Throughout her college career, both parents worked two jobs in order to support her. Today, she works two part-time jobs herself.
Before Thursday’s event, Riskia debated whether or not she should share her story. But after much consideration, she decided to proceed.
“They’ve already stripped me of my status,” she said. “They won’t strip me of my voice.”
“The Immigrant Experience” also showcased an electric performance from Diazporić, an African dance team that made its debut on campus last year.
Junior information sciences major Aroun Deen-Gassama is a member of the team. He said he understood the event’s significance because both of his parents immigrated from Sierra Leone.
“The more we can spread this kind of knowledge and these kind of experiences, the more we can understand each other and bring for a better college community and a better world community in general,” Deen-Gassama said.
The event was not limited to the participation of UMD students – MASC also welcomed Aziz Ahmed, a sophomore who is studying information systems at Montgomery College, to share the story of his family’s immigration from Somalia.
Naeem Baig, a 2017 Maryland alumnus, ended the night with his fierce slam poem, “Letter to My Kin.” In it, he asserted his adherence to his Islamic faith and apologized for his enabling of unjust American actions.
Although MASC was the primary organizer of the night, the association recognizes that the showcase would not have been possible without the support of a number of other student organizations on campus. The event was co-sponsored by the UMD Black Student Union, the Political Latinxs United for Movement and Action in Society (PLUMAS), the UMD Pakistani Student Association and the UMD Organization of Arab Students, among other groups.
Sophomore math major Madelyne Ventura attended the event as a representative for PLUMAS. She emphasized just how impressed her organization is with the growth MASC has shown within the past year.
“This is their first major event, and we’re so proud to see all the work that the e-board members have put in,” Ventura said.
As the child of immigrants, Ventura was also able to relate to the stories presented by the featured performers.
“The talk about parents immigrating here and sacrificing a lot for their children, that resonates a lot with myself and with a lot of my peers,” she said. “I definitely see myself reflected among these showcases.”