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A new podcast series provides a window into the complex lives of young immigrants in America

When Bruno Villegas McCubbin, Ed.M.’23, first came to the United States, his parents told him they were taking him on a trip to Disneyland. He was 6 years old, and he believed them. Looking back, 20 years later, Villegas McCubbin sees there were clues his family would not be returning to their native Peru, even though they traveled here on tourist visas. His parents left the family’s apartment virtually empty.

Villegas McCubbin shares his story — including his reflections on his early struggles learning English at school in Orange County, California, his transition to a gifted and talented program, becoming a DACA recipient, and attending Harvard at age 18 — in one of the opening episodes of a new student-led podcast that he now hosts. Our Moving Stories: Voices of Resilience, explores how migration has shaped young people’s lives, including their sense of identity and how they see the world.

“Oftentimes when you hear narratives about migration, you hear them from what we like to call a ‘deficit-based’ or ‘damage-based’ perspective, where a person’s story or a person’s essence boils down to their trauma, their hardships, the horrible things that people have experienced,” explains Villegas Mc- Cubbin, a former immigrant rights activist with Harvard’s student-run Act on a Dream organization. Instead, as the host, he wanted to show that immigrants are “complex people who have experienced hardships but have also experienced moments of joy, moments of happiness, moments of resilience, moments of overcoming adversity.”

When Villegas McCubbin approached Professor Carola Suárez-Orozco, the director of the Immigration Initiative at Harvard and one of his seminar instructors, with a proposal to capture the voices of some of his peers in a podcast, she embraced it.

Suárez-Orozco, a clinical psychologist by training, has long championed the sharing of “moving stories” — both physical and emotional — as a tool in the classroom to help children from immigrant homes feel heard and valued. She relished the opportunity to correct some of the misunderstandings she says many people have about the immigrant experience and to help them “connect and imagine what it is like to go through the process.”

If Our Moving Stories is a window into the intricate lives of immigrants and their families, it is also a mirror — a welcoming and safe space for students to reflect on their experiences together and to see themselves in — according to Nancy Palencia Ramírez, Ed.M.’23, the editor and sometimes host of the series, with Ariadne Pacheco, Ed.M.’23. Palencia Ramírez shares her story, as an undocumented immigrant from Mexico growing up in Texas, and her resulting struggles with anxiety and depression, in the first episode.

“I’ve had people in my classes talk to me and just say ‘I listened to your episode, and I resonated with so many things,’ and they are not Mexican,” Palencia Ramírez says. “They could see parts of their own immigrant experience, even though it wasn’t their direct experience. That has made me really proud of the work that we’ve done."

Although Our Moving Stories has its roots in the Harvard community, and the hope is that it continues after this first crop of students graduates this spring, its producers are also keen to interview immigrants from other places.

“My goal is to provide a diverse look into the different faces of migration,” says Villegas McCubbin, “and to do that effectively, I think we’re going to have to go beyond HGSE students.”

Ed. Magazine

The magazine of the Harvard Graduate School of Education

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