ICFRC: Writing and Reading About the Refugee and Immigrant Experience

Listen to an audio podcast of this program.

Reading, for people around the world, has been one of the primary ways to better understand the uneven global landscape of immigration. Yet immigration is not simply an abstract subject of study, not simply headlines flashing on our smartphone screens about distant events, not simply a topic for (often heated) policy debates. When it is, empathy and our ability to understand and appreciate the ways in which we are all interconnected are lost or diminished. Immigration, we cannot forget, is peoples' lives.

Books like 'The Displaced: Refugee Writers on Refugee Lives', edited by Viet Thanh Nguyen and 'We the Interwoven: An Anthology of Bicultural Iowa, Vol. I, II, and III', edited by Andrea Wilson, then, are important and necessary counterweights. In them, refugee and immigrant writers bind us together through the power of storytelling and the sharing of personal experiences. Empathy deepens and understanding grows. Perhaps, too, a call to action -- for us, the impetus to welcome and support new neighbors to Iowa.

In this session, the panel discusses what it has been like for them to write and share their migration stories, why they chose to do so, and maybe offer some insights about the craft of writing personal narratives.

Jesus 'Chuy' Renteria is an artist, writer, dancer, and teacher, but above all, he is a storyteller. Born in Iowa City and raised in West Liberty IA, both sides of his family are from border towns in Mexico that transplanted to meatpacking towns in the Midwest. Growing up in West Liberty, he oscillated between the Mexican, Laotian, and small-town cultures that made up Iowa's first majority-Hispanic town. Chuy tells stories celebrating the spaces between cultures, of mangled Spanglish and generational clashes, of the messiness of people finding themselves. In addition to his writing, Chuy is an Assistant Director for the University of Iowa's Inclusive Education and Strategic Initiatives Unit. He is the host of The Englert's Writers of Color Reading Series podcast. His first full length publication, a memoir titled 'We Heard it When We Were Young' was released in November 2021 from The University of Iowa Press. He spends his free time with his wife Darcy and their first born Marisol Alana.

Andrea Wilson is the founder and Executive Director of the Iowa Writers' House, a nonprofit supporting the creation and publication of literature in Iowa. She is the founder of the Bicultural Iowa Writers' Fellowship, and the editor and publisher of 'We the Interwoven', the first series of essays by immigrants, first- and second- generation Americans in Iowa. As a trained narrative therapy practitioner, she develops programs and workshops which use story as a method to support mental health, psychological healing and empowerment. Her most recent workshop, 'Reframing the Past & Writing the Next Chapter', was taught in Panama. Andrea has a BFA from Iowa State University and a Master's in Narrative Therapy from the University of Melbourne, Australia.

Antonia Rivera was born in Distrito Federal, Mexico. At age six, she crossed the border and spent her youth in California. Eventually, she received temporary protection and a work permit through DACA. She writes about migration and what it means to be part of the 1.5 generation. She now lives in Des Moines, Iowa and works at Grassroots Law Project.

Eyad Said was born in Damascus, Syria. He lives with his family in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. He earned a master's degree in banking and finance from the University of Damascus, Syria, before getting a PhD in mathematics from Louisiana State University. A husband and father of two, he is an assistant professor of mathematics at Mount Mercy University.

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