Over fall break I participated in the Rural Immersion hosted by UP’s Moreau Center. I only had a vague idea of what to expect — I knew we were going to be talking with people about topics on immigrants, justice and learning about the Yakima Valley community. It was so much more than that. With everything I learned, the experience became a catalyst for having important conversations.
The immersion was like a peek behind the curtain. From getting a glimpse into what it’s like to manage a farm to hearing about immigrants, their struggles and perseverance, to meeting the people who are advocates for those who suffer from injustice and help tell their stories. I saw how many conversations can and need to be started. We should be talking about what it means to empower people, why it’s important to support small organic farms directly and why we need to incorporate justice into everything we do. The list goes on.
An important facet that has become increasingly clear to me is that conversations aren’t just about talking. Participating in the immersion meant I was putting myself in the position to listen and learn about issues and people that I normally wouldn't have listened to or learned about. The focus was not on what I had to say, but on absorbing the experiences and wisdom of others and the stories they want to pass on to those who are willing to learn. Hearing straight from farmers who are descendants of immigrants and people who work with immigrants was so powerful. Being in the middle of hundreds of acres of farmland or sitting in an ESL (English as a Second Language) classroom made it undeniably real.
And after learning about these lives, jobs, struggles that go on every day without my knowledge, which was already so eye-opening and inspiring, I reflected on it. After taking in so much, it was like sorting through the information to deciding what the big messages I was taking away were and what I wanted to share. As an environmental science student, I especially loved seeing the enthusiasm farmers had for using organic and environmentally friendly techniques on their land.
I was humbled by the people who were so passionate about helping those who need it, like immigrants and first-generation college students. It was so inspiring to learn from people who had so much passion about what they do and are so eager to share with us. It really brought home the idea of making conscious choices to create change and using our voices to speak for justice.
But most of all, I have really been motivated to continue to consciously put myself into new and challenging situations to listen, learn and create conversations in any opportunity that is available to me. I want to keep learning in this hands-on, personal way as much and as often as possible. I think opportunities like this immersion are one of the best ways for us to authentically inform ourselves firsthand on the issues that we face in the world today. This was such a valuable experience, and I don't want to miss out on any others.
Jennifer Ng is a photographer at The Beacon and she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.