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This story comes to you from MPR News, a partner with Sahan Journal. We will be sharing stories between SahanJournal.com and MPRNews.org.
A woman who crossed the southern border because doctors in Mexico refused to treat her daughter’s cancerous mole. A Haitian American who struggled to stay in her hometown of Worthington because of the racism she experienced. A Guatemalan family that came from a farming community to build a new life in faraway southwestern Minnesota.
Those are some of the stories that Andrea Duarte-Alonso highlights in Stories from Unheard Voices, an online collection of profiles about immigrants and their children in the Worthington region.
Duarte-Alonso said she began her project with a focus on the Latino community after then-presidential candidate Donald Trump called Mexican immigrants criminals and “rapists.”
“Who does he think Mexicans are?” she recalled thinking. “So that was another way for me to debunk that. … What he’s saying is not true, and our people are very different.”
Duarte-Alonso was born in Dodge City, Kansas. She moved around the Midwest throughout her childhood. Her father, who came to the United States from Mexico, worked as a supervisor for beef-processing plants before ending up in Worthington.
The 23-year-old left Worthington to study at St. Catherine University in St. Paul. In college, she remembers encountering people who’d be surprised the southwest Minnesota town was her home.
“Oftentimes living in St. Paul, a lot of people were like ‘What? You’re a Latina from a rural place? Like, how does that happen? People of color actually exist out there?’” she said. “And it was really tiring repeating my narrative over and over.”
In 2016, she received a scholarship that gave her the opportunity to focus on creating the website, which up until that point had been an idea in her head.
“I see it as oral history,” she said. “This is like the new people. This is the people of this community and it’s really important that someone documents this, documents their experiences and what it was like to grow up in Worthington during this time.”
Worthington has one of the highest concentrations of Latinos in Minnesota. Census data show 41 percent of its residents identify as Hispanic or Latino.
The city of 13,000 came into the national spotlight last month after a Washington Post article portrayed a community resentful of the surge of unaccompanied minors from Mexico. Other media coverage has focused on how immigrants have boosted the town’s economy and kept schools from shutting down.
While all those things are true, Duarte-Alonso said, these articles often leave out the humanity of its subjects. Why did they come here? What were they escaping from? And how do their journeys shape the lives of their children?
Duarte-Alonso hopes Stories from Unheard Voices fills the gaps and gives immigrants the chance to tell their own complex stories, including their struggles and triumphs.
In her interviews, Duarte-Alonso focuses on individual experiences. The point, she said, is to empower immigrants and children of immigrants to own their narrative. She’s gathered a dozen stories and published about half so far.
She was inspired by Green Card Voices, a Minnesota-based nonprofit that’s been documenting stories of foreign-born Americans, including refugees, asylees and green card holders, for the past few years.
Duarte-Alonso’s project, however, makes sure to include the stories of unauthorized immigrants — many of whom have avoided sharing their stories publicly.
“My whole point of the Stories from Unheard Voices is to allow folks to feel human, to feel like they’re more than just undocumented, they’re more than just an immigrant,” she said. “They’re an actual human being with feelings, with the emotions, who are more than just these other identities that they have.”
Not only has Duarte-Alonso learned about people in her own community, but she’s revisiting parts of her childhood, and she’s discussing race and identity in ways she never thought about before.
As a light-skinned Latina, she said she had privileges growing up that others in her community didn’t have. She remembers navigating her rural American identity along with other friends who were the children of immigrants.
“A lot of folks talk about not being ‘blank’ enough ‘I’m not Latina enough, I’m not white enough,’” Duarte-Alonso said. “And we were always put in that in-between. Most of us didn’t have support to help us kind of balance this out and ask ourselves why is this happening.”
With her project, she hopes to give immigrants a space to discuss these issues on a deeper level.
In one of her interviews for the project, Elyzabeth Coriolan told Duarte-Alonso about the growth of immigrant communities and the cultural diversity they bring. But Coriolan added that it was still a struggle for her to live in Worthington as a Haitian American.
“I wish we appreciated our diversity as much as we exploit them,” Coriolan said in the interview, in which she spoke of the discrimination and microagressions she’s faced in Worthington. “We have such a diverse environment around us in so many cultures. We can appreciate their art, their food, their language, their people, but in the same sense we hide them just so the Caucasians don’t feel uncomfortable.”
Another woman, named Teresa, left Mexico so her daughter could undergo surgery for a cancerous mole. She told Duarte-Alonso why she stayed.
“One comes to work, to fight, to get ahead to help also the family that one has in Mexico,” said Teresa. “I am already old, but my children here have a great future.”
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