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Stanford Medicine students and faculty share immigration stories

Open_Mic-Viet_NguyenThe room was small — a simple classroom in one of the medical school buildings — but the stories of immigration — poems, narratives and a song — were heartfelt and expansive. They followed families across continents and generations, landing squarely in the present, at Stanford Medicine, where those families' sons and daughters are now doctors and medical students.

Last week's open performance event, organized by second-year medical student Jonathan Tijerina, was a response to the outpouring of support, and strong emotions, expressed by members of the Stanford Medicine community at two recent town hall events hosted by Dean Lloyd Minor, MD. Those events were focused on the current administration's views on immigration and proposed travel ban (a revised one which was signed just today).

Those passions were palpable at the event.

Viet Nguyen's parents escaped from Vietnam in a boat, where they were rescued by the U.S. Coast Guard. His family was welcomed in Southern California. "For us to not give that same generosity and consideration to the sufferers of civil wars today.... feels distinctly un-American to me," said Nguyen, MD, an assistant professor of neurology and neurological sciences. His song, "Owe It All," an acoustic version of a piece performed by his band, Robustitron, reflected on his family's courage to leave the only home they knew. "I owe it all to you," he sang.

Lisa Zhang, a second-year medical student from China, said that in one sense, her story hasn't even started. She is here on a student visa, which expires the day she graduates from medical school. That leaves her a bit anxious, knowing she must secure sponsorship as soon as she finishes medical school. She stays away from protests for fear of attracting attention.

But she knows she is fortunate. Zhang said she is here at Stanford, in part, because of the choices her parents made to leave their rural villages and move to Beijing for better opportunities. Thanks to her excellent education and English language mastery, she is studying medicine while her cousins are toiling at manufacturing jobs in rural China.

Diana Farid's family left Tehran the day before the airport closed during the Iranian Revolution. Her family, which practices the Bahá’í faith, would face persecution. Farid, MD, a clinical instructor of medicine, shared a lyrical essay on experience growing up as the only daughter of a single mother, who was an obstetrician-gynecologist, in Southern California.

These are just a few of the stories shared and the others were equally moving and thought-provoking. If there is enough interest, Tijerina said he would be willing to organize another event.

Previously: Immigration ban harms health and biomedical research, Dean Lloyd Minor writes, Stanford Medicine's Open Mic: Using music and art to express the human condition and Muslim and afraid — but not alone
Photo of Viet Nguyen by Alvaro Amorin

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