If you followed the news on how the lawsuit brought by Harvard University and MIT was able to bring success home for more than one million international students to continue remaining in the US in the fall semester, you might or might not be aware that this huge win was started by a young Vietnamese student at Harvard University. Her name is Hien Anh Ton (or Ton Hien Anh as how we would say it in Vietnamese). On July 6th, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced its new rule stating that international students would not be allowed to stay in the country and face immigration consequences including but not limited to deportation amidst a global pandemic if the institution in which they were enrolled was holding online-only courses this fall, which was described as a ‘senseless, cruel, and xenophobic’ act by Senator Elizabeth Warren among many other people in America. As soon as Hien Anh heard the news, she spent her entire night doing extensive research and initiated a petition to the body of Harvard University, from the heads of the school to current students and alumni, that collected more than one thousand signatures in less than twenty hours. Her professor at Harvard, David C. Lamberth, wrote to Hien Anh in response to her contribution to the success: "Dear Hien Anh, I am so delighted about the government retracting it’s recent decision about visas... The wide range of voices from all across the country, from students, faculty, universities and industry all came together in less than a week, and the kind of self-advocacy you did contributed in no small part…”
At the time the bad news came out, Hien Anh could choose to do nothing as she already secured her rescue flight to go back to Vietnam (where I’m also so proud to call home, one of the very few countries that are still managed to maintain zero deaths from the pandemic as of today and have been COVID-free for months); but instead, she chose to roll up her sleeves and try her best using her knowledge and flair for writing to help other students who might have to face an opposite scenario such as being stuck in the detention camps. I don’t know Hien Anh first-hand, but I admire her. There was no mention of her contribution on the mainstream media in America (I’m only able to read about this story from some reputable Vietnamese publishers and her sister’s note on Facebook), and even though the big picture objective was to protect international students in the US which was achieved commendably, her contribution does deserve our acknowledgment aside from the ‘big names’ that brought success home. Hien Anh didn’t have a strong social media presence (if at all).
Unlike Hien Anh, my knowledge of laws is limited; however, I too felt the urgency of the issue and wrote my open letter to my fellow Americans last week. I expected that it would reach a hundred people, tops, but did it anyway. I then reached out to Shit You Should Care About (SYSCA), an independent online news source based in New Zealand which has 1.3+ million followers on Instagram, to explain to them why time was of the essence for this matter especially the consequences of it directly impacted more than a million international youths while our voices were so underrepresented in the media. Within less than a day, they responded to me and then shared my post on their Instagram story. Thanks to the amazing SYSCA team and all of you who reposted, my open letter reached nearly ten thousand people in less than three days and shared by hundreds of people from my Instagram account alone (meaning this doesn’t include the reach from other accounts if they reshared). I had fewer than 200 followers.
I myself have also read, watched, and shared contents created by other people, from links to petitions, complaints, progress updates, etc. If you think 'influence' is only reserved for people with 10k+ followers, you may be surprised that none of the people whose content created for this issue had more than a couple hundred or a few thousand followers on their platform. My message from sharing these stories and numbers with you? Our influence when we start using our voices, regardless of how 'little' we may feel about ourselves, is beyond powerful.
To all my fellow Americans who may or may not know me but reached out and helped raise awareness for this issue: Thank you so much for your allyship and support — thank you for making us feel welcome here, and we truly appreciate you.
To all my foreign friends, followers, and those of you who are reading this right now: Thank you all for expressing your thoughts, your emotions, for using your voice and sharing others to demand justice even when you felt hurt the most. I’ve received some of the nicest messages over the past week, and some messages leave me a lot to think about the life that we all live and share with each other. For those of you who have recently subscribed to my blog or followed me on social media (I assume most of you are also either international student or work visa holder in the US? :D), I would like to extend my offer to help review your resume and provide career advice whether you are looking for an internship or applying for a job during this time. Please note that my experience has been in the media industry so if you find that helpful, feel free to email me at email@example.com with your resume/questions!
Thank you all for sharing with me your stories, your anger, your frustration, your devastation.
Trust me, I read them all.
I see you, I hear you, I feel you, and I’m with you.
We will all win when we stop seeing each other as competition. The world has more than enough to offer all of us, and we are always stronger when we support each other. You may not see this from the direct light, but I hope one day when the light shines on you, you will realize that it all comes back to you and that we can all win, together.