Dr. Elizabeth Soto Albrecht, moderator of Mennonite Church USA shared her story titled “Mi Camino, Nuestra Historia” which translates to “My Road, Our History.” Dr. Soto started out her presentation by explaining that this is was not her story, but our story. She explained her journey of traveling from Puerto Rico to Chicago at only 6 months old. Though she does not remember that transition period, she does vividly remember her transition back to Puerto Rico from Chicago at the age of 16. She quickly noticed how difficult it was to be uprooted from one country and language and placed into a culture where you have no control. She had to develop many coping techniques to adjust to living in America.
A major point she made throughout her presentation was how important it is for Americans to be bilingual, or even trilingual. The struggles that she faced throughout her time in America were completely horrifying to hear from someone who has experienced the racism and discrimination our country has firsthand. The many languages she had to learn are not just the English language, but more so languages of resistance and non-violence. As a child, and even today, immigrants are constantly non verbally told that they are not welcome here in America. She encouraged the audience to “own our privilege but to also question our privilege.”
This “web of racism” that America has evolved over centuries has made living in America a big price for immigrants who have come here for a more prosperous and fulfilling life. Dr. Soto gave many specific examples of the discrimination she experienced growing up as an immigrant in America during her childhood. One example she used was because of social promotion, she moved from one grade to the next without being able to read or write. While that may sound like a privilege, she viewed it as her education being stolen from her. By the time she got to junior high and high school, she was constantly behind and struggled to keep up with her classmates who were given the proper attention and education during their childhood. Another example was a very emotional story of the discrimination she has experienced here in America. Because Dr. Soto could not read or write, her weekly spelling tests were extremely difficult for her and she always just scribbled through the words because she did not know how to write it. However, one day when her teacher asked the class to spell “camel”, she figured it out and correctly wrote her very first word. Unfortunately, when the teacher got the test back, the teacher had wrongfully assumed that Elizabeth had cheated and copied one of her classmates. The teacher held a pencil up to Elizabeth, attempting to force her to admit she had cheated; but she had not. So when Elizabeth insisted that she did not cheat, the teacher wrote on her forehead in front of the entire class to display that she was a liar and cheater.
Elizabeth concluded her presentation by explaining that there is no law that eliminates racism from people’s heart – that evil cannot be taken away unless we willingly give it away. “The root of all isms is the abuse of power. Choose to use your power, do not chose to abuse it. We are in this together…This is a story we are writing together; what will we leave behind for the next generation?”