Making Space for Immigrants: A Web Series for Us

Priyana Kalita is a 2021 graduate of Miami University of Ohio.

It is often said that “immigrants make America great.” An interesting example of this can be found in the cuisine of the little, but mighty, town of Oxford in the state of Ohio. I spent my undergraduate years in Oxford, and the town will always hold a special place in my heart. When one walks through Oxford’s “Uptown” district, they will find restaurants inspired by a variety of different immigrant cultures. Oxford boasts two German-inspired restaurants, Bodega, a sandwich shop, and Steinkeller, which features the largest selection of imported beers in town. Other favorites include the Mexican-inspired Fiesta Chara, and several East Asian inspired “bubble tea” shops, such as Aquatea and Drop in tea. You will find an Indian restaurant, Krishna, named after one of the gods in Hinduism,  and Kofenya coffee, which means “Cafe” in Russian!

There is another saying that reached new heights during the ongoing global pandemic, “Go back to where you came from!” This saying came to life in the policies that the Trump Administration laid out in regards to immigrants and immigration. One example of such a policy was the “Muslim Ban” banning individuals from predominantly Muslim countries from entering the United States for ninety days, suspending the entry of Syrian refugees to the country indefinitely, and suspending the entry of any other refugee for 120 days in 2017. Other examples where this narrative can be seen taking place include the building of Trump’s famous “Wall” on the border of the U.S. and Mexico, and policies which said that students holding F-1 visas would face deportation from the U.S. if their current university offered online only classes at the height of the current Coronavirus pandemic. I was personally affected by this policy, as I am an immigrant from India and hold a F-1 student visa. So many of my friends and I were left feeling helpless, enormously stressed, and filled with uncertainty. “What if we need to pack our bags and leave this country tomorrow?”

I couldn’t help but think, “What can I do to make things better? How can I contribute to the betterment of this issue?” During this time, I was interning for two organizations and working as a research assistant for a project to be able to support myself financially during the pandemic. One of the organizations that I was interning with was the Interfaith Center in Oxford. I talked to my supervisor, Geneva Blackmer, about this issue and expressed that I wanted to do something about it. That discussion was the stepping stone for The Divergent Immigrant Experiences Web series. I, with the support of Geneva, came up with this idea to create a platform wholly dedicated to immigrant experiences and to create space for what immigrants want to express. I felt a scarcity of such a place, and an enormous need for it to exist, as immigrants continued to face so much injustice during the pandemic.

I had no experience hosting anything, but I gathered the courage, and was supported by the Interfaith Center to start the web series. I hosted two of my immigrant friends for the first program in August of last year and received great feedback! Since then, the web series has featured a variety of different speakers. Our second program featured Esther Maria Claroz Berlioz, an immigrant from Honduras who completed her Ph.D. at Miami University and was working in Cincinnati for educational institutes and initiatives for Latin immigrants. With the help of IFYC’s We Are Each Other’s Racial Equity and Interfaith Cooperation award, I had the honor to host first-generation Indian-American Queer athlete and activist Maya Reddy. This was one of my favorite programs, as I immigrated to the U.S. to play tennis for Miami, and Maya is a professional golfer who also played in college. Upon receiving the IFYC grant, the most successful program that the web series has hosted to date was in collaboration with Start the Wave and the United Religions Initiative, North America (URI). I proposed the idea of an “Immigrant Voices Panel'' to all three organizations and the proposal was accepted! The Immigrant Voices panel featured one of our previously hosted speakers, Esther Rico Ocampo, the Director and grassroot campaign organizer for Anytown Las Vegas, Kamani Sutra, a South Asian Drag queen who performs South Asian and Desi Drag around the Washington DC area, and Dr. Sofia Khan, a practicing Physician and the founder of KC for Refugees. I had the honor of being on this panel, as well. The Immigrant Voices Panel currently has almost 7,000 views on YouTube.

The Divergent Immigrant Experience web series feels so fortunate to have received the We Are Each Other’s Racial Equity and Interfaith Cooperation grant from Interfaith Youth Core. Without it, it would not have been possible to create so many new programs with such a great diversity of speakers. For upcoming programs, please follow @divergentimmigrantexperiences on Instagram, as we continue to highlight immigrant voices that deserve to be heard.

Priyana Kalita is an immigrant from India and recent graduate of Miami University. They were a varsity women’s tennis player during their time at Miami. Priyana holds a BS Degree in Kinesiology (Coaching) and a BA degree in Women, Gender and Sexuality studies. They were inducted in the Theta Alpha Kappa National Society for Religion and Theology studies for their work with the Trans community in sex work in India in 2019. Priyana was one of the twenty Seniors out of the entire graduating class of 2021 for Miami to be awarded the “President’s Distinguished Service Award'' for their work and activism on and off campus. Currently, Priyana is a member of the Board of Directors for the Interfaith Center at Oxford, Ohio and has been working as a Research Assistant for “Athlete Ally'' which is a LGBTQ+ advocacy organization in sports.

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The opinions contained in this piece are solely the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Interfaith Youth Core. Interfaith America encourages a wide range of views and strives to maintain a respectful tone with a goal of greater understanding and cooperation between people of different faiths, worldviews, and traditions.