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Expressing our immigration stories

The MIT Asian American Initiative designed and produced a digital zine highlighting MIT community members’ histories and heritage.
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Photo of a tie-dye book cover entitled "A Sense of Belonging"
Caption:
The first issue of Rooted: A Sense of Belonging pays tribute to individual immigration stories through a collection of art, poems, and photos. Each piece breathes life into raw and personal accounts of adversity, resilience, and pride of Asian American and Pacific Islander heritage.
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Photo: Stephanie Tran/Division of Student Life

The first issue of Rooted: A Sense of Belonging pays tribute to individual immigration stories through a collection of art, poems, and photos. Each piece breathes life into raw and personal accounts of adversity, resilience, and pride of Asian American and Pacific Islander heritage. “Our contributors have poured their dreams, hardships, and success into artistic expression,” says Olivia Yao '20, magazine editor and recent MIT alum. “I encourage everyone to read every single piece in this publication. Embrace their differences. Know that beyond the 25 stories, there are infinitely many more stories to hear.”

Sponsored by MindHandHeart’s Innovation Fund, members of the MIT Asian American Initiative were inspired by Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month to take action and amplify the voices of individuals with immigration stories in the community. The magazine is a celebration of Asian and non-Asian heritage and is a stark juxtaposition to the xenophobic rhetoric that has spread across the nation during the course of the pandemic.

“After we wrote an article about anti-Asian American racism, it made me think about how rampant xenophobia is in this country. If the zine helps one person in the MIT community relate to another student’s immigration story or feel celebrated, that's a win,” says Alana Chandler, zine assistant editor and junior in materials science and engineering.

After a community-wide call for submissions last spring, Yao, with help from Chandler, worked together over the summer to design visual elements to complement the stories and narratives that were submitted. The word art displayed throughout the magazine are phrases pulled from contributor submissions, and is how the zine’s title emerged.

After several weeks of assembling all the elements of the magazine together, the MIT AAI released the digital copy of the zine and printed 200 physical copies to ship nationwide to members in the community. The distribution of physical copies was part of MIT AAI’s fundraising initiative for the Navajo and Hopi COVID-19 Relief Fund. The MIT AAI was able to raise $270 for the fund as a result of the generous contributions from the community.

Although the zine highlights the value in embracing immigration roots, the MIT AAI also recognizes the importance to confront the settler-colonial history of the country, where many individuals live and benefit off of land that belonged to Indigenous people. “Indigenous communities, such as the Navajo Nation, have had the highest rates of Covid-19 in the United States,” says Chandler. “Systemic racism, manifesting itself through food deserts, inequitable health care, lack of federal funding, poor access to running water, among other reasons, has caused Indigenous people to suffer disproportionately at the hands of this pandemic.”

Members of MIT AAI hope the zine serves as a vehicle to reflect and appreciate the wealth of immigrant experiences that the MIT community possesses. Yu Jing Chen, founding member of MIT AAI and a junior in urban studies and planning, wants the zine to be a stark reminder of the importance of reflection and remembering one's own familial history. “In America, it’s very easy to feel like you need to be a certain way to assimilate to be accepted, and we really want to instill that pride in being different and reconnecting with an integral part of each and every one of us,” says Chen.

“Reading the submissions, you learn so much about your peers and it’s really beautiful to see how everyone comes from such different places, but we’re all here in this place called MIT. It’s heartwarming,” adds Chandler.

The MIT Asian American Initiative is a new student-run organization for Asian American advocacy, alliance, and civic engagement. The group serves as a platform to explore, unpack, and educate students on issues within the Asian American community at MIT and beyond related to mental health, race, equity, and inclusion of Asian Americans. 

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