A recent book on the experiences of high school-age immigrants and their families includes the work of several UW-Madison English students. Mark Salamone (’19), Elizabeth Wahmhoff (’20), and Sam Wood (’22) were among the Badgers who teamed up with Green Card Voices, a non-profit organization based in Minneapolis, to help bring these stories to the page.
Founded in 2013, Green Card Voices seeks to tell stories of recent immigrants, with an emphasis on their subjects as individuals, through a dynamic multimedia platform that includes web-based video, live events, and books. Among those projects is Green Card Youth Voices, a book series documenting the experiences of high school-age immigrants and their families. While past entries in the series have focused on students in places like Minneapolis and Atlanta, Mark, Elizabeth, and Sam worked with students who attended high schools in Milwaukee and Madison.
While working on their contributions to Green Card Youth Voices: Immigration Stories from Madison and Milwaukee High Schools, Mark, Emily, and Sam found themselves employing skills they have developed as English majors. They were given recordings of interviews with students from the area, which they transcribed and then shaped into an essay. Once the essay was written, they followed up by talking with the interviewee to fill in any gaps and to ensure that the student’s story was being accurately told. Elizabeth describes the work as “helping [GCV students] organize their writing into more fluid, polished narratives,” while emphasizing that “[i]t was important to keep the story in the student’s own words.”
The Badgers walked away from their experience with Green Card Voices feeling that they had learned a lot from the students whose stories they helped to relate. “The students had incredible stories to tell,” remarks Elizabeth, “traveling across the country and around the globe, adjusting between different cultures, lifestyles, and climate, and finding ways to preserve their connections with home.” Mark reflects, “I learned how crucial support networks can be for newly arrived immigrants. One student I worked with described how his continued involvement with his church, in his former home and in America, has helped him get practice in leadership roles and establish some continuity in his life even as he adjusts to a new country.”
When discussing their experience working with Green Card Voices, Mark, Emily, and Sam stressed the importance of empathy. “It’s difficult for most people to imagine the experiences of immigrants to the US,” says Mark. “On the other hand, many people whom I know have experienced moving to a new and unfamiliar home, or traveling to a different country, or trying to make friends in an uncomfortable environment. The Green Card Voices stories offer a way for people to build a bridge of empathy between their own experiences and those of recent immigrants.” Elizabeth seized the work as a unique opportunity for her to put the skill set she’s developed at UW-Madison to a good cause. “I think Green Card Voices embodies what I am hoping to accomplish as an English major,” she says. “As someone who is very privileged my story doesn’t necessarily need to be told, but I can use the skills I’ve learned in my classes to help others tell their stories.”
Summing up his experience, Sam calls Green Card Student Voices “a unique space and platform where [immigrant students] can share their truth and their experiences that they wouldn’t have had the power to create on their own.” He continues, “I believe strongly in the power of writing and youth… words can make a difference.”