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My Turn

by Dmae Lo Roberts


Sankar Raman. (Photo/Kim Oanh Nguyen)

From The Asian Reporter, V31, #11 (November 1, 2021), page 6.

Sankar Raman, The Immigrant Story

For the last four years, Iíve witnessed a Portland website grow from a handful of local personal stories about our immigrant community into an international multimedia experience that recently hit a milestone of 200 stories.

Sankar Raman created The Immigrant Story in 2017 to shine a positive light on the achievements of immigrants. In a relatively short time, The Immigrant Story has become one of Portlandís premiere storytelling sites, was named one of the regionís top nonprofit startups by Portland Monthly magazine, and was recognized with the Oregon Stewardship Award by the University of Oregonís Museum of Natural and Cultural History, among other accolades.

The Immigrant Story ó comprising a website, a travelling art exhibit entitled "I Am My Story: Voices of Hope," and a podcast called Many Roads to Here ó documents the journeys and stories of immigrants in Oregon and across the country. A volunteer-run nonprofit, it occasionally also presents live storytelling events, which it did recently on the 20th anniversary of 9/11.

Raman is both the founder and board president of the organization and heads up the podcast. Now an award-winning digital art photographer, storyteller, and community leader, he previously had a successful tech career. He explained in an interview that he wanted to explore the history of immigration in Oregon and the United States at a time when anti-immigrant hate was rising.

Raman, who immigrated to the U.S. and attended graduate school ó earning a masterís degree in physics and a Ph.D. in engineering ó was motivated to start the storytelling site shortly after February 22, 2017. Thatís when he learned about the hate-crime shooting of two Indian men in Olathe, Kansas, fatally wounding one of them.

Raman said the attack reminded him of when he was assaulted as a U.S. college student after arriving in Indiana from Madras, India.

"Ö it brought back memories of me getting into this kind of altercation," Raman recalled. "Thankfully I survived, and that guy didnít have a gun who attacked me a long time back. I was young like these guys were, so I thought the next day, I need to do something about it."

Raman is proud of the work his more than 60 volunteer writers, photographers, web designers, and exhibit and live event planners are doing. The "I Am My Story: Voices of Hope" travelling exhibit had installations at the Oregon Historical Society Museum and the First Congregational United Church of Christ in Portland. The exhibit features six young women in their 20s who originally hailed from Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the Central African Republic. Many of the stories have been gathered into a book collection that will be published soon.

"And what is impressive about (these) young women is that they are juggling multiple identities," Raman said. "They are African. They are Black. In some cases, they were a woman wearing a hijab. And they are all survivors of genocide, first-time college-goers, and they are breaking with their past and they are really thriving."

The Immigrant Story recently started a special edition of its podcast called I Am An American: Stories of Exclusion and Belonging. Itís a campaign that draws attention to the historic xenophobia experienced by Asian-American communities in Oregon and across the U.S., including policies that have resulted in discrimination, incarceration, erasure, and the huge spike in hate crimes since March 2020.

The organization just launched The Immigrant Story Scholarship, which is an internship offering a stipend of $1,000 to students who have an interest in journalism that addresses immigrant and refugee issues. Five scholarship recipients will work as interns on stories for the website during calendar year 2022, learning valuable hands-on experience about online journalism. The deadline to apply is December 10, 2021.

I find it remarkable that a volunteer journalism site that started four years ago is now celebrating a milestone of 200 immigrant stories about people with roots in 72 countries, nearly 90% of whom are people of color. Raman said about 40 percent of the stories are about refugees, including 41 survivors who faced genocides, the atrocities of war, or the Holocaust.

According to Raman, The Immigrant Story has mentored 24 college students and two high school students, several of whom have gone on to professional jobs in media. The website also contains curricular lesson plans and workshops for high school teachers to guide their students in producing human-interest journalism. What a great tool for educators to combat anti-immigrant bias.

To read the stories, to volunteer, or to apply for the scholarship, visit <www.theimmigrantstory.org>.

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