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Why Migration Stories Matter

Written by Elena Canler, Faith in Place’s Communication Director

My father and uncle in Havana, Cuba in 1958.

I grew up in the shadow of my family's journey from Cuba. My father was quiet about how he left Havana. In 1961, he joined 14,000 youth that came to the United States through a secret mass exodus of unaccompanied Cuban youth called Operation Peter Pan. The program relocated Cuban minors to orphanages across the U.S. It was in the Michigan orphanage where my dad was placed that he began learning English, how to steal donuts from nuns late at night, and how to stay bundled during midwestern snowstorms.

Memories from his childhood took decades to surface. When I was a teenager, my dad finally shared about the day he left his country. As he crossed the tarmac to board the plane at Havana's airport, an official took away his last possession, a small baseball mitt. He was leaving his mother, his father, his baby brother, and his country and was left with nothing to hold onto has he was forced to come to a new world. Hearing that story made me understand why his migration story was too painful to revisit for most of his life.

My dad and uncle (seated) came from Cuba in 1961

and my grandmother and youngest uncle (standing) arrived in 1963.

As time put more distance between him and his past, my dad slowly began sharing about his youth. I heard about his childhood adventures playing on the streets of Havana, mischievous thievery of cakes, and my grandmother's fortitude in making 5 pounds of mashed potatoes every day to feed her family. As he told these stories, my brother and I listened intently and a process of healing began both for my dad and for us; we started to feel connected to our own identities.

Being able to tell our stories matters. Where we come from matters. As we grow together and heal our past, we must make space for our stories of migration. In listening, we learn to value the embodiment of resiliency and fortitude it takes to create a new home and we learn to connect to our roots and identities.

Now is a time where valuing the stories of migrants is ever more important as we face the crisis of our warming planet. Three years before my father came to the U.S., scientists began tracking the level of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) at the Mauna Loa Volcanic Observatory in Hawaii. CO2 is the most prevalent of the greenhouse gases trapping heat in our world and causing our climate to change rapidly.

The warming planet may cause almost 20 percent of the earth to be unlivable due to heat by 2070. The World Bank predicts 143 million people from Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and Latin America alone will have to migrate due to climate impacts. Listening and valuing the stories and lives of migrants is a part of climate change adaptation. It is a way to build and embody climate resilience and is necessary as we adjust to our rapidly changing environment.

Rev. Laura Kigweba James (shown left) will be leading the workshop on migration during the 2020 Green Team Summit.

We invite you to dive deeper into this topic as you hear powerful stories of migration with Rev. Laura. From her own family’s journey to the United States fleeing the Burundian genocide to stories she will lift up from migrants across the U.S., it will be a powerful workshop where we can both hear and share our stories.

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