On my first day at the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic, clinical attorney Maggie Morgan asked me to remember, while translating, to always speak in the first person. We want their true voice to come through, as unfiltered as possible. Over the next month I echoed the brave narratives of each asylum-seeker client, allowing any walls separating us to come completely down. I was Frederico*. I recently came to the United States while fleeing gang violence in Honduras, fearing for my life. I had to leave my family behind and haven’t heard from them in months. I was Laura*, persecuted in Guatemala because of my faith. The fear of violence kept me from leaving my house and I was unable to finish high school. Nevertheless, I hope to one day complete my education and become a teacher. Over the summer, I worked directly with five clients. In each case, the “I” was synonymous with “me”… with “us” at HIRC. While helping clients develop their voices, I simultaneously began to strengthen my own.
I am the daughter of an immigrant. My father came to the United States from Chile to finish his medical degree at Harvard Medical School and is now a proud U.S. Citizen. My grandparents soon followed from Ecuador and have lived in the Boston-area ever since. The energy and joy that surrounded my family when my grandparents received their Green Cards in the mail is still palpable today. I, along with the generations to come, will always carry this sense of achievement in our hearts thanks to those who came before us.
The sacrifice my family made in uprooting their lives twenty-five years ago and coming to the United States has undeniably paid off. My brothers are straight-A high school students, juggling varsity sports and class leadership positions. I am about to begin my sophomore year at Yale University, studying Political Science and Ethnicity, Race, and Migration. My cousins are all on the path to graduate high school and attend their best-fit colleges. We are happy, healthy, and have more opportunities than could have ever been imagined before. My family is another colorful thread in the fabric of America’s yesterday, today, and tomorrow – the living byproduct of an American Dream.
I left the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic with an even deeper appreciation for the rights I inherited as a US citizen – the ability to speak freely, believe openly, and love endlessly. These are the same liberties that our clients hope for themselves and their children. Our nation’s founding fathers (immigrants, too) fought for these human rights and it is our duty to continue to uphold them today. It was an honor to play my own small role in that incredibly important fight.
As a translator at the Clinic, I helped construct a bridge build on courageous words, expressions of hope and desires for freedom, spanning Americas. I expanded my command of legal Spanish while I translated government documents and affidavits to help ensure our clients were well informed throughout the application process. My understanding of the causes and effects of immigration grew more nuanced under the guidance of Deborah Anker, Director of the Clinic, while I had the opportunity to research climate migration and narco-deforestation for an upcoming conference at the Law School. As each day passed I came to the same realization: The United States truly has much to offer, but there is still work to be done – especially as it relates to immigration and refugee law.
I am extremely grateful for the lessons and meaningful relationships that flourished over my summer at HIRC. Debbie, Maggie, Phil, Lucy, and Liala were so gracious with their time. I am thankful for their teaching and guidance, and for putting so much trust and confidence in me. Brianna, Dan, Alessandra, and Mark quickly became my friends throughout our time at the Clinic. Our conversations always left me in awe of the intelligence and goodness that they so naturally exude. I look forward to a future of continued service to others, and I am so happy that I was able to build a foundation for that work at the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program.
*The names and identities of clients have been intentionally altered for this piece