By: Izzy Shahmirza
St. Francis High School Alumni
I am the proud daughter of immigrants–my mother is from Jalisco, México, and my father from Tehran, Iran. My parents immigrated to the United States with the desire to embrace new opportunities, however, their journey was filled with imposter syndrome, hardships, and adversity.
My mother settled in rural Watsonville, California–a predominantly Latinx, agricultural town, known as the “strawberry center of the world.” She assisted her parents during the seasonal berry-picking time period–a reality many Hispanic immigrants encounter. While growing up in Watsonville, a normal day consisted of seeing migrant farmworkers in the fields and witnessing the impact of language barriers, food insecurity, and lack of access to healthcare in this community.
My family background is the foundation for my identity as a migrant advocate. I am experiencing a fulfilling and somewhat personal journey at Migrant Farmworkers Assistance Fund in Kansas City, Missouri. I continue to learn and understand the challenges migrant farmworkers face with undocumented statuses and marginalization in the segregated towns of Lafayette County.
At my placement site, I facilitate Teen Empowerment Collective (TEC) sessions for migrant, seasonal, and year-round farmworker youth. TEC sessions are weekly engagements to offer a supportive environment for 6th-12th graders where they are exposed to enjoyable activities, speakers, and field trips to widen their horizons as they ponder about their future aspirations. I am establishing a strong relationship with these youth; we are connecting through our Mexican culture and shared familial background as children of immigrants.
These youth are characterized as “outsiders,” but in reality, they have compelling life stories that revolve around resisting racism, xenophobia, and inequity. Through my time as a Jesuit Volunteer, I am understanding the neglect they face as a result of a system that requires their parents to work grueling hours. In addition, I am learning about the youth’s emotional abuse from peers at school and in their community, and the struggle to accept their identity as children of Mexican immigrants in a country with an unjust and dehumanizing immigration crisis.
My Jesuit Volunteer role at Migrant Farmworkers Assistance Fund is imposing upon me the necessity to act and empower others to take action through a realm of social justice. The families and youth I am serving–in addition to the thousands of immigrants who are fleeing violence, drug trafficking, poverty, and political turmoil in their home countries–deserve better. Immigrants are human beings with names and stories; they are hardworking, resilient, and tired of the inhumane and demeaning policies that prevent them from living out their natural human rights. I am ready to create transformational change alongside the immigrant community—are you?