Striving for recognition, asking not to be invisible

The story of an undocumented citizen

By Marlena Chertock

Vargas writes about being an undocumented immigrant living in America, and the countless others who are as well. Photo courtesy of TIME Magazine.

First published in The Writers’ Bloc.

Jose Antonio Vargas, a journalist, came out of the closet when he was in high school. But it’s taken him 12 years to come out of the “illegal” closet.

In 2011 Vargas wrote a story about his status as an undocumented Filipino living in America for The New York Times Magazine. Vargas is an accomplished journalist. He’s been published in the Washington Post, The New York Times and The New Yorker. He was also on the Washington Post team that produced Pulitzer-winning coverage of the Virginia tech shooting.

He talked about his path to founding Define American and the struggles of living as undocumented in America in Hoff Theater at the University of Maryland Tuesday night.

In a lot of ways, Vargas’ story is about searching for home. He left the Philippines in 1993 when his mother sent him to America in the hopes that he would have a better life.

Continue reading Striving for recognition, asking not to be invisible

CEO of non-profit tells Elon University American Dream still alive

Thione Niang immigrated to U.S., achieved several dreams

APRIL 5, 2011

Marlena Chertock

Thione Niang spoke about achieving the American Dream at Elon University on April 5 in Whitley Auditorium. Photo by Marlena Chertock.

He wanted to save his mother from his father’s violence, to bring her to the U.S. Thione Niang came to the U.S. from Senegal in 2000 with a lot of hope.

Niang spoke about the American dream and if it’s still attainable on Tuesday, April 5 at 8 p.m. in Whitley Auditorium. The speech was hosted by the College Democrats.

For months he worked to get his visa and plane ticket. Once he arrived in Cleveland, Ohio, he was surprised that the community college he was going to attend didn’t have dorms, he said.

“They said I needed to find an apartment,” he said. “So I started looking for a job.”

Niang cleaned and waited tables.

The manager of the restaurant came over to him one day and said, “You’re too smart to be here. Maybe you can find a place to teach French,” Niang said.

Niang knew French since Senegal is a French colony.

He worked to achieve an interview with the president of a private school.

When the president was interviewing him, he kept looking down.

“He asked me, ‘Why are you looking down when I ask you questions?’” Niang said. “I said in my culture if someone’s older than me and talking to me, I can’t look them in the eye. It’s a sign of disrespect.”

The principal said in the U.S. a person can’t be trusted if he doesn’t look a person in the eye when talking, Niang said.

“Those are small little things that I have to learn because of different cultures,” he said.

He also had to learn English and keep up with American’s fast speaking, he said.

In a matter of 11 years Niang came to the U.S., went into politics, left politics and started a non-profit organization. He brought his mother to the U.S., worked on political campaigns and was a campaign manager for then Rep. Shirley Smith.

He started and is the CEO of the Give1Project, an organization that encourages impoverished youth to become community leaders.

He works to get young people involved in civic engagement in their countries. He wants to change the world and inspire children like Kofi Annan inspired him, he said.

Young people in Africa will have to build their own African dream, he said.

“They expect for U.S. or Europe to come do it for them, create it for them,” he said. “But what I tell them is you have to create a different history for your country. If you believe there’s a way your country should go, you have to do it. Power, no one will give it to you, you have to take it.”

Niang was inspired by Annan’s journey when his 7th grade teacher told him about Annan, he said. He never met Annan.

“Talk does a lot, sometimes,” he said.

He spoke of a sort of energy that people should possess to work at their dreams.

“When you move around things happen,” he said. “Don’t sit still. You have to keep moving over time. When you move you are going toward opportunities.”

He didn’t look for excuses because “all of it was excuses,” he said.

If people don’t have access, they should make access, he said.

Niang learned to believe in himself so others would believe in him, he said.

“I have to keep believing in myself and do hard work, that’s how I get things done,” he said.

Africans, foreigners and immigrants come to the U.S. to build a life, he said.

“When I’m coming here I come with this kind of hunger. I don’t look for nothing but opportunities. There’s no distraction for me.”

Immigrants don’t want to go to clubs, Niang said. They want to work 24 hours a day to make money to send home to their family.

People have a responsibility to take care of themselves but also think about what they can do to help others, he said.

He called opportunity and access a diamond. These are blessings that people shouldn’t take for granted, he said.

“We all share the world,” he said. “Until we bring those people along with us, we haven’t done our part.”


Niang discusses creating access to opportunities

Niang talks about helping the bigger community

Elon University Winter Term class participates in ethnography project in London, showcases work on campus

Marlena Chertock

FEB. 24, 2011

For three weeks in Jan. 2011, one Winter Term course went to London to research, learn about and complete a documentary video on immigrant communities in London.

The class, called called London Immigrant Communities through Photographs and Words Winter Term, was in London for more than travel. The students participated in research and an ethnography project about several immigrant communities in London, including the Muslim community, the Asian community and the Bangladeshi community.

The class was taught by Ken Hassell and Safia Swimelar.

Students showcased their video projects Feb. 23 at 6:00 p.m. in the Isabella Cannon Room in the Center for the Arts. The room was filled with students and professors and Leo Lambert was also in attendance.

The films lasted about five to fifteen minutes and included a variety of media, including audio, still photography and video. The students were attempting to represent the members of the community fairly and accurately.

The experience of such a study abroad is unique, according to Hassell.

“(Students are) finding these people on their own and interviewing them and finding out their stories,” he said. “I think it’s really kind of remarkable and a different kind of study abroad. It is an immersion. They’re spending time with these people.”

The experience is exceptional, according to Hassell.

“It’s really what study abroad should be,” he said.


Professor Hassell talks about the challenges of ethnography

Professor Hassell talks about study abroad experiences

Senior Marlee Belmonte talks about the ethnography expereience