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Immigrant Graduates Share Their School Journey With #Immigrad

“Our human spirit goes beyond borders and is more than a piece of paper called a green card.”

Photos courtesy of Define American.

At the graduation ceremony of Grand View University in Des Moines, Iowa, graduate Lizeth Salazar-Klock has to stop between words to take a breath. Her emotions catch up with her as she recalls the way her parents took whatever jobs they could find to make sure she got everything she needed. She pauses, again, when she recalls her mother’s words of encouragement. “Your sacrifice and your belief in me were more than enough to show me that our human spirit goes beyond borders and is more than a piece of paper called a green card,” she says.


Salazar-Klock is one of many students during this graduation season sharing her story about immigration struggles. Define American — a nonprofit media and culture organization focused on adding nuance to the narrative of immigrants in the U.S. — is using social media to amplify these stories. They encourage students to share their journeys using #Immigrad on platforms like Instagram and Twitter.

“We wanted to do something around this time to recognize those people and to really just celebrate immigrants who are graduating,” says Julián Gustavo Gómez, campus engagement manager at Define American.

Photos courtesy of Define American.

But the hashtag doesn’t just apply to immigrant students — it also highlights the stories of students born in the United States. Like Gómez says, oftentimes immigrant students feel like they aren’t just earning the degree for themselves.

[quote position="full" is_quote="true"]People started to feel like the American dream wasn't really a thing anymore.[/quote]

“We launched this in 2016 and 2017, during a time when people started to feel like the American dream wasn't really a thing anymore,” says Gómez. “We wanted to keep that alive and we wanted to recognize all these accomplishments of immigrants who are graduating. And not just the graduates, but their families.”

Photos courtesy of Define American.

Gómez recalls the story of Jin Park, a Korean immigrant whose story proves that immigrant students come from a variety of cultural and life backgrounds. Park was included in the New York Times series “American Dreamers” in which the newspaper “called on the Trump administration to preserve Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.” In his piece for the series, Park shared his story and his efforts to support other undocumented students through his nonprofit, HigherDreams.

Photos courtesy of Define American.

For some, speaking about their situation as an immigrant student — like Park has done — isn’t always easy. Gómez says that Define American offers students support in this process. If their Twitter or Instagram post goes viral, media outlets often want to speak with the students. Define American guides them on how to deal with the sudden attention.

There are currently more than 2,600 #Immigrad posts on Instagram and countless posts on Twitter. Define American recently shared a photo on Twitter of a graduation cap decorated in flowers with the words: “I am one of those people Mexico sent.” The organization hopes to keep the conversation going through social media posts but also story submissions through the website.

“We want to show that despite all the things like you know our community is really resilient,” says Gómez. “And so that’s really part of the message of the hashtag is to show that resiliency of immigrants both to other immigrants and to allies — and also to people who don't want to see us succeed.”