Immigration in Holland: an Interview with Maggie Houseman

Imagine waking up every morning with the fear that you and your family may be forced to leave your home, or that someone might come pounding on your door to separate you from your family. This may sound like something out of a World War II novel, but it’s happening now. People in every city, state and neighborhood are under immense stress due to the immigration crack-down that has occurred in the last year. Specifically, people in the Holland community have been directly dealing with these immigration issues, and often lack the resources to be able to effectively advocate for themselves. This is where an organization like Lighthouse Immigration Advocates come into play. Lighthouse provides legal immigration services to those in the Holland community in a manner that is accessible for those who lack the funds to support themselves in legal matters. Maggie Houseman, a sophomore, had the opportunity to work as an intern with Lighthouse this summer and was willing to sit down with the Anchor to describe her experience.

 

Where are you from? 

“I’m from a little outside of Grand Rapids.”  

 

What’s your major?

“Social Work and Spanish”

 

Tell me a bit about your summer; what did it look like? 

“I did research with a Spanish professor, Professor Carrasco, on LatinX immigration into Holland. Throughout the summer, a couple days a week, I worked as an intern at Lighthouse Immigrant advocates as part of [the research] as an education advocacy intern. I basically did a social media campaign, and just worked on whatever they needed me to, helping plan events, sending emails to donors. When I wasn’t interning, I worked at the Joint Archives, and I read through their oral history reports from 1990 and 1993 that they did with specific members of the Hispanic community. I also read a variety of books about Latinos in the Midwest and Michigan and  interviewed several members of the Latino community.”

 

Who did you interview?

“A few business owners and then Lupita Reyes, one of the people who founded Latin Americans United For Progress (LAUP). She’s just been a prominent member of the community for years. She owns a counseling business now.” 

 

What was your favorite thing about your summer?

“Definitely it was working at Lighthouse. I learned so much about the legal side of immigration because they do legal assistance for immigrants. It was really interesting to me to see the amount of people that need help, and there are a lot of situations where they can’t really do anything about people’s cases. Most people were trying to stay here and get their citizenship. When there were the ICE raids going on across the country, there were a few small towns in West Michigan that were raided. There were rumors that they were coming into Holland. The day after that in the office, there were so many people coming in afraid of getting deported, so we did a couple “know your rights” presentations and sent out a bunch of information.”

 

What was the hardest thing?

“Probably having to sit in a room for 9 hours reading. I would just rather be talking with someone or doing hands-on work.” 

 

What was the most impactful thing/story/interview that happened?

“In 1972, the Holland City Chamber of Commerce published a visitors brochure about Holland that had a page in it praising the Dutch immigrants who came to Holland and highlighting the hardships they faced. At that same time, the LatinX community was a good portion of the community, and the brochure didn’t mention them at all. So Latino leaders at the time went to the Chamber of Commerce and asked them to do something about it, but they wouldn’t change it because it was already printed. In response, the Latino leaders decided that they would picket Tulip Time if the brochure wasn’t changed. This caused the Chamber of Commerce to add something to the brochure to avoid the picketing at Tulip Time. This story is very evident of how people in Holland love Dutch pride, but Holland is so much more than that.”  

 

What was something you learned about the Hispanic community in Holland this summer?

“One thing that was interesting was a lot of the people that I talked to felt that, although the community exists, there is not a solid front of leaders or a face of who they are. There’s not a sense of a broader LatinX community in recent years because LAUP is going through a transitional phase. That was what I gathered based on who I talked to. There’s also a lot of fear due to Trump being president.” 

 

What was something you learned about yourself?

“Sometimes if I push myself out of my comfort zone, it’s a really good thing. Like with doing the interviews with people, I was worried I wouldn’t be able to do it. It turned out to be really good, though.” 

 

How do you think your life will be different going forward? 

“I have a greater respect for other cultures, and I will continue to try to be informed and knowledgeable and not be ignorant. I want to be able to understand and immerse myself in other cultures. Even though Holland presents itself as Dutch, there’s so much more here and that’s true for every city and every town.” 

 

After your summer, what’s the one thing you want people to know? 

“That it’s so important to try and learn about other people.”

 

As Hispanic Heritage Month comes to an end, it is crucial that people continue to learn about and gain respect for other cultures into all the other months of the year. The gap between cultures in Holland can only be bridged through celebrating and validating the diversity that is inherent to this community. Additionally, it is important for everyone to remember that there are people who live down the street who are facing issues that threaten their livelihoods and the safety of their families. It’s not an easy reality to swallow, but it is necessary that people come to terms with the fact that the United States is not the land of the free for everyone. It is the responsibility of those who have access to safety and resources to come alongside immigrants in the community and offer a helping hand. What if it were your family? What if it were you? 

 



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