Immigrant Voices of Kent State Stark gives intimate look into six international lives


A panel of immigrants from the Kent State Stark community answer questions about acquiring citizenship and life away from home. Nov. 8 2018

Madison Patterson

A panel of professors and students from six countries told an audience of Kent State Stark community members Thursday about what it means to be an immigrant in the U.S.

“You always feel like an outsider,” said Claudia Gomez, a panel member from Mexico.

Kent State Stark hosted the discussion, Immigrant Voices of Kent State Stark, as the final event of its immigration month. The initiative featured events explaining the difference between refugees and migrants, fact-checking games and guest lectures.

The final panel discussion brought a diverse cohort together to discuss topics ranging from American politics to homophobia abroad, and featured voices from Mexico, Bangladesh, Serbia, Uganda, Brazil and South Africa.

The discussion began on a light-hearted foot when the moderator asked the panel what the biggest culture shock was coming to the U.S. For Jesmin Akter, the strangest difference from Bangladesh were the names of food in supermarkets.

“When I learn new things, most times it’s about groceries,” she said.  

The conversation segued into heavier territory when the moderator asked the panelists if there was something about their home countries they wished the U.S. would adopt, whether it be in policy or attitude.

“Guns,” Gomez immediately responded. “Outside looking into the U.S., it’s mind-blowing.”

Several panelists nodded in agreement and Deborah Belintani, a Brazilian exchange student, added that in her home country only criminals carry guns.

“I don’t feel safe here,” she said. “It’s terrifying for me.”

Fielding questions from the audience, the panel was asked if it was safe for gay people to travel to their countries. The answers varied; Akten said no, homosexuality is illegal in Bangladesh, and Greg Blundell, a panelist from South Africa, said although there is little overt discrimination there, covert prejudices still exist.

Evangeline Pacific, who is from Uganda and India, said the U.S. introduced her to gay culture.

“When I came to America was when I first saw a homosexual couple,” she said.

The moderator asked the panel what advice they may have for those looking to immigrate to the U.S., and was largely met with cynicism. “Have a lot of money and a good lawyer,” said Blundell. “Do you really want to do this?” Gomez asked rhetorically.

Appreciation for the U.S. and citizenship was also expressed by several members throughout the discussion. An intense work ethic, even from people of advanced age was praised by Pacific who said that no one older than 60 or 70 in Uganda works, and Akten said the freedom that women have here is what keeps her in the U.S.

Immigrant voices of Kent State Stark concluded by having each of the panelists divulge the most irritating thing U.S. citizens ask them. For many it was questions founded in ignorance or assumption, like for Blundell, who said people often ask him if one can drive to South Africa from America.

“America fights wars to teach its nation about geography,” he said as the crowd giggled.

The panelists stood to leave and added last-minute remarks about unity and optimism. An audience member stood up, pointed and told the audience to be grateful for their citizenship.

“Never, ever complain about your country,” he said.

Madison Patterson is the international students and issues reporter. Contact her at [email protected].