The pilot episode of the When Everyone Leads podcast explores what it would look like for everyone to lead on the topic of immigration.
The guest who brought the topic is Claudia Yaujar-Amaro, owner of the Wichita-based bilingual marketing and media company AB&C Bilingual Resources, LLC.
The Kansas Leadership Center’s podcast, in its first season, asks guests to put a challenge to the center, which the hosts and guest then discuss and analyze through a leadership framework.
It is hosted by KLC co-workers Brianna Griffin, the show’s lead producer, and Chris Green, who also serves as executive editor of The Journal. KLC’s Maren Berblinger, Julian Montes and Neha Batawala also produce the show. Forthcoming episodes will explore civic culture and political polarization.
It is inspired by the national best-seller “When Everyone Leads: How Tough Challenges Get Seen and Solved” by Ed O’Malley, president and CEO of the Kansas Health Foundation, the Kansas Leadership Center’s main funder, and KLC’s immediate past president and CEO; and Julia Fabris McBride, KLC’s chief leadership development officer.
In explaining why she wants to see everyone lead on the issue of immigration, Amaro described her quest as a native of Tijuana, Mexico, who came to the United States with her family when she was 12 and has been “struggling with the immigration system ever since I came with a visa.”
“Just the word immigration intimidates so many people,” she said. “It’s hard to throw that word out there because people often want to avoid that conversation. When holidays come or those family gatherings, if anybody wants to bring that topic, people rather don’t talk about it. I’m wondering if that’s because everybody or many people immediately think about the border – illegal immigration – which to me is not the case. To me, immigration is something worldwide. … Whether you are doing it legally or not through legal means. Immigration is happening every day.”
Green asked Amaro what concerns her most about the future of immigration. She answered, “Integration.” So many businesses are global now. People share their cultures more through social media and other technology, which makes it easier to learn about one another, “but at the same time, we haven’t been able to learn how to live together, how to acknowledge what everybody brings to the table.”
She thinks real integration would come from people listening to one another, sharing ideas and stories and culture, and “understanding that our communities are becoming a totally new culture because of all the diversity that everybody brings, just acknowledging that we’re becoming a whole new culture. … To me, that’s what integration looks like, where we acknowledge everyone at the table, everyone in our communities.”
Amaro said she feels privileged to have come to the U.S. at such a young age, because it enabled her to learn English and understand the culture. She thinks of herself as bicultural because “I feel comfortable navigating both cultures.”
“That’s work that everyone needs to do,” she said. “I’ve been talking a lot about the way Americans perceive immigration, but there’s also a lot of work that needs to be done from immigrants as well. We all need to find that space where we can come together, ask powerful questions to each other. We all have something to learn from each other. I do believe that it can happen.”
But she struggled to find her identity “because for Americans you’ll become too Mexican, and then for your Mexican family or friends you become too American.” Many times she has asked herself, “What am I? Who am I? It took me a little longer than what I wanted.”
Griffin said there is “a lot of fear of integration between different cultures, no matter what culture you’re in.” She asked Amaro what additional benefits might occur from “becoming more adaptive to other people’s culture.”
“Language,” Amaro said. “I have friends who like to practice rolling their R’s. Having some fun. People are inspired to learn different languages.”
She said it used to bother her when her husband would play a movie in a language other than Spanish or English and she would have to read subtitles. Then she thought, “Why am I expecting others to open their eyes and ears to my accent and I’m not willing to do that with other languages, like Chinese, Japanese, Hindi and other languages around the world? When you start giving yourself permission … to … open your ears … I feel like that brings a lot of richness to your life.”
Green asked Amaro what makes it hard for people to embrace cross-cultural acceptance. Her response: Loss and the fear of loss.
“I wonder if all of us have already asked that question of, ‘What am I losing if I watch a movie in a language that is not my language?’” she said. “What am I losing if I start making some space to listen to people who are different? So, I think that the loss that we all have to face probably at this point is not clear. That fear of loss.”
She spoke of losses she experienced on the path to becoming bicultural, including a “sense of belonging.” She gave as an example that “people don’t leave their parents’ house in Mexico until you get married, or unless you have to go.”
“You usually stay in colleges or universities in your own city,” she said. “I remember working when I was 19 or 20 and still living at my parents’ and some friends making fun of me, and I had to be confident on what path do I want to follow. And I feel like a lot of young people are in that situation where they’re like, should I just leave my house and I’m going to break my parents’ heart because they are not used to that? They’re probably going to be feeling like we don’t love them anymore. We just want to be independent. Or do I follow what my other friends are doing? That’s a big cultural loss. Do I follow what I’ve been taught all my life or do I find a middle ground?”
Griffin asked about external forces that have affected how Amaro felt about immigration. Amaro said discrimination and racism had huge effects on her, “and when we start talking about immigration and people start noticing you have an accent, some people probably question if you are here legally or not legally.”
People frequently ask her where she’s from, especially when she’s out of town. She says she’s from Wichita “because that’s my home and that’s where I’m coming from.” Then they’ll say, “No, where are you from from?” And she’ll say she’s from Tijuana.
“That question – it depends on who and how it’s asked,” she said. “Sometimes it’s uncomfortable.”
Green asked Amaro to summarize who the factions are who have a stake in immigration. She said government, communities from all backgrounds and countries, nonprofits, local businesses and financial institutions. He also asked whether she has encountered immigrants who identify more with the incumbent culture and others who identify more with their native cultures.
“Oh, yeah, and you’re bringing something very powerful,” Amaro said. Immigrants from different countries “are not a monolith. … I still have a lot of Latino in me. … Are we involving middle schoolers and high schoolers in the conversation? How do they feel being kids of immigrants or came when they were 2 or 3?”
Leadership on immigration requires a lot of diagnosis and conversations, Amaro said.
“Americans can understand more about our culture, and our Latino community can learn about how systems work in our local communities.”
She said many people across the country demonstrate leadership on immigration. She mentioned friends in Arizona border communities who are “here ready to work hard. They’re here ready to love and embrace new communities.” But they don’t know how to get involved locally.
Green asked her whether those people are “bridges to integration.” Amaro said they were – by “empowering those communities more than advocating for them.”
“And I think that’s something very important,” she said. “For me as an immigrant who has been through the system, who has been undocumented and in this country, I need people who are standing next to me and not people trying to be my voice. And some of those leaders – that’s what they’re doing. They’re empowering the immigrant community to really learn to advocate for themselves.”
Amaro wants local governments to exercise more leadership on immigration rather than leaving it to the federal government and saying, “There’s nothing we can do.” They could establish local policies that support immigrants, like helping them get driver’s licenses. They could start “listening more to those communities and people who need them” and help them find jobs and get training.
“There’s so many things that when I go to meetings and I listen to some of those challenges … I know I’m not going to have the solution,” she said. “Maybe I’m thinking very technical. But some … stuff, yeah, it’s going to require some training, adaptation, teaching, education, but they can be possible if you really include people who have some of those skills that the country thinks is lacking right now. And they’re here; they’re just living under the shadows.”
Griffin asked what makes it hard for local governments to intervene to help immigrants. Amaro said she doesn’t think local governments have “taken the time to do a diagnosis, talking about their values and what they are losing if they allow that.”
“Everything has been very political lately,” Amaro said. “They really care about the voters, although the Latino community is growing.”
When immigration is discussed, many people think the Latino community is growing “because we have a million people every year coming to the border,” she said.
“We’re not even talking about that immigration,” Amaro said. “We’re talking about those kids already in schools. And they’re getting ready to vote in the future.”
Green asked Amaro whether she understands arguments by those who are skeptical about the benefits to the U.S. of immigration and biculturalism and cooperation on the issue. She said she does.
“They use this metaphor or this story: ‘I’m not going to go into your lawn or into your door without permission,’” she said. “And again, most of the time when the immigration topic comes up, what comes to mind is illegal immigration. When they talk about, ‘They’re not doing it right,’ I understand that part. But I wish they could ask more questions and I wish they could know why we’re not doing it that way, why it’s hard and why we’re not even thinking that we’re breaking a law; we’re just running to save our lives. We’re running from poverty. We’re running from really difficult times. And I wish people who think that way – and I understand their point of view – I wish they will understand why these people are coming to this country and how it’s not easy to leave everything you know – your language, your comfort – to go to a different country, which is not easy.
“You have to work hard where you learn a new language, a new culture, when you’re raising kids who are not sharing the same values with you anymore,” Amaro said. “Some of those decisions are not easy. And then the other part of that is there’s not a right way for many of us. … Let’s say I’m in Mexico and I have a sister who is a U.S. citizen. Even if my sister petitions for me, it’s going to take me between 18 to 20 years to come to the U.S., and if I’m struggling, if I’m dying because I don’t have food on my table, if there’s a lot of violence in my community in Mexico, I’m not gonna make it 18 years to come to this country.”
Green asked Amaro about “people like me who were born here and live here and don’t have to think about immigration if I don’t want to. What does leadership look like for me?”
“I think listening,” she said. “Standing next to someone like me. … I need you. I need you to listen to my story. I need you to understand what my community, my own family, is going through. And understanding that by you collaborating with an immigrant like me, I can also enrich your life, maybe your job, maybe your community. … We don’t need you to learn everything about immigration. We don’t need you to be our voice. But just be next to us. Be welcoming. … Oftentimes people believe we don’t want to share about our lives. It’s about not feeling welcome.”
Editor’s note: After this episode had already been booked and recorded, Planeta Venus and The Journal entered into a partnership to provide increased news coverage of civic issues for Kansas Latinos.