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November 17, 2019

Ryan Eller

The Souls of America

“A law is simply a value at a given point in time among the people who have power. And the shift in values is what is going to create sustainable legislation around immigration. So that’s why I call is to a higher conversation than ‘closed borders’ or ‘open borders’.”

Ryan Eller


Define American

Define American nonprofit logo

Define American is a nonprofit media and culture organization that uses the power of story to transcend politics and shift the conversation about immigrants, identity, and citizenship in a changing America.

Mark Tuschman

Mark Tuschman profile

Mark Tuschman is an international freelance photographer who shared his work, "Immigrants Are US" at this event.


"Photography is a universal language and it is my hope that my images will move viewers to respond not only with empathy, but also with action. It is my intention to photograph people with compassion and dignity in the hope of communicating our interrelatedness." — Mark Tuschman


"Immigrants Are US"


"For more than a century the identity of the United States has been grounded in the notion that we are a 'nation of immigrants' and it is precisely our diversity and multiculturalism that makes America unique. People from the world over come here to build a better life, but America, too, benefits from their innumerable contributions to our cultural, scientific, and economic vitality."

Mark Tuschman


Click on an image to read the story.

Chandra Ramamoorthy profile
black and white image of woman planting field
image of female doctor and two children
image of man tending field black and white



My name is Chandra Ramamurthy. I came to the United State in March of 1986. I was born and raised in India: I was born in Southern India and raised in Northern India in the state of Rajasthan. It was my dream to come to the United States since I was about eight years old. I was in second grade and we were reading about Abraham Lincoln. It struck a chord in me that even though he came from such humble beginnings, he could become the president of the country. The lesson that I took away was if you worked really hard, you could be anything in the United States. Whereas in India, I felt that you need to have a lot of money to be somebody. 


I came from a very middle class family. My father worked for the India government. We were comfortable, but there was never any money to spare. I had no idea how I was ever going to get out of India. I was an eight-year-old girl and in Indian society, and there’s always this thing about girl versus boy. By the time I grew up, economically, we had slid more because my father died when I was still in med school. I finished med school through scholarships. I had friends who sponsored me to go to England because that seemed a little bit closer to America — I didn’t really know anybody here and didn’t have the money. There’s a lot of exams to write if you’re a physician and you want to come to America. 


I did all those and I came to America because I still, at that time, quite strongly believed that if you worked hard, things would work out and that you’d be recognized for your effort. To be honest that has worked for me and I have been very, very fortunate. I would say that I’m one of those people who has gotten to live the American Dream. But it’s just now within the last few years, I’ve started to feel that this is not the America that I came to. And I’ve come full circle because I am seeing all the things here that I disliked about being in India, at least more overtly. Where people just make snap judgments based on how you look. 


The thing that bothered me a lot growing up in India was this vast gap between the haves and have-nots, and I’m seeing that here now. I have friends who are barely 40, but they have so many millions that they’ve already retired. They work for Facebook. I cannot even get my head around it. Not to be jealous, but it just seems unfathomable that you would have a society where somebody who’s 40 is done working. And that’s after having an MIT PhD or whatever time spent in school. You finish when you’re about 25, 28, and by 40 you’re already retired. I think these sorts of things are a little bit scary. What is wrong with capitalism with a bit of heart?


I’m a pediatric cardiac anesthesiologist and there are probably about 150 of us in this country. And even worldwide, there aren’t more than 300, 400 of us who do this. So I am very specialized and I love what I do. I take my talents internationally to help other children. But somehow I sort of feel like this country has changed so much, and that I could walk down the street and have a bad experience. It never crossed my mind before. 


A year ago, this was right when Trump was elected, I was in Idaho skiing and I was holding a spot in line for a couple of my friends [1] because they were picking up some groceries. And this woman just very rudely rushed past me and I said, “Hey, my friends I can just see them. Do you mind if I go ahead and pay?”


She said, “This may be happening in your country, but we don’t do that here.”


 I was just absolutely flabbergasted. I did want tell her that, actually, this is my country and I pay taxes here. Others who heard it in the line and the teller were a little bit shocked but what can you do if there’s somebody being this rude. It just really made me think that there are a lot of very ugly people who think how you look matters so much. 


A few months later, in my own neighborhood, I was actually sort of dressed very scruffily. I was driving home from the gym and a cop followed me home. I pulled into my driveway, and she pulled up right next door to watch what I did and then left.


I almost went to ask her, “Hey, do you have any questions? I actually live in this house.” It was almost like she thought I was an illegal immigrant and I was maybe someone’s housekeeper driving around, and she was going to get me? I don’t know. Maybe I was just being paranoid. But I have never felt that insecure about being in America because I can speak the language, I can make myself understood. I may have an accent, but I think I can get across what I’m trying to say pretty well. 


To me, it makes most sense that you would figure out a way to absorb people who came and were educated here as children into the system so that they can be good, tax-paying citizens. What sense does it make for somebody who grew up here all along to be sent back to where their parents are from? It just makes no sense. 


I think a lot of this is very color based. If you’re white and here illegally, you’re not going to get pulled over. But I will just because of how I look. I think that’s really unfortunate. We are just going the way of many of the other countries, and that’s not what this country was built on.


Yes, there is a lot of unhappiness in the mid-west because they don’t have good jobs, but it didn’t happen because the immigrants took away the jobs. I sometimes feel that people should see what would happen if we did deport everyone who came here illegally. Let’s all go to the farms and pick our own food, then see how much we would pay for food. When you pay $8 for one piece of avocado, then you understand that we need these people here. 


But I think that it may be that those of us who made it here were too complacent. We didn’t take part in major debates on how to solve some of these issues. Because after all, we deserve the government we get by not participating aggressively and therefore, letting the other side become so dominant. And I think that’s been the failure of those of us who thought that this should be a tolerant society. I honestly thought that these are little things that it will blow over. When Trump came to power, which I didn’t think would happen, then I thought well maybe it will be the first term. Now I’m not even sure of that. We’re re-creating Germany here when the Nazis came to power. 


Extremism of many things here just bothers me. I think so many things are tied together, and everything is tied to ideology and re-election. I think the worst thing is we don’t look at data. We can’t just believe in an ideology, we need to at least look at data. Demonizing people is wrong. You’ll have bad eggs everywhere, it’s not as if there was no crime in America before we had illegal immigrants. There is always crime. Look at all the syndicates we had here. I would like to be more involved, but sometimes it’s very hard not to feel despondent. 


Even people who come here as immigrants don’t want more immigrants here. But why is it okay for them to come, but not for the next generation of immigrants? If we had a system like Europe had in the past with some kind of work permit, we might not have these issues. But driving them underground never solves the problem. 


Some of these things are a bit emotional for me because after being here for 30 years, I’m reliving many of the things that I didn’t want to. It’s almost like I want to just put my head underground and do the best you can for everybody, regardless of their faith or their color. I try to do my best with whoever I interact with. I try to make it a point to make eye contact with the people who clean the operating rooms. I know their names. I try to know a little bit about their background. 


It takes a lot to get here. And even though I came here as a physician, the first few years were not easy. I came to a place like Detroit where there’s not only the white on black racism, there’s black on brown racism. I always cut people slack because there’s lack of education or they haven’t travelled. But to have people in the highest office in the country so prejudiced is so dangerous. 

 [1] I'm not really sure if this is what she meant, it was a little unclear I think it might need some more context and clarification.


Efraim Morales


I am from Mexico. I came alone just for opportunities. In Mexico there are few opportunities. I have been here for 30 years. 


I was a strawberry picker in Watsonville and then I went to Santa Rosa to pick grapes and pears but I spent most of my time as a farmworker in the Watsonville area picking strawberries and apples. I worked as a farmworker for 30 years.


But I had a back injury and I was concerned my employer was going to close shop so I decided to start my own farm. I went to a good produce distributor and I started working with them. I started with baby broccoli but when the season came for tomatoes, I grew heirloom tomatoes because that is what I knew best from my previous employer.


I have three children; one son and two daughters. The daughters are twins and they are all at universities. They all in their last year finishing their four year degree. My son is one year older than his twin sisters but they caught up and they went all at once to university all together. My son is studying electrical engineering  at Cal Poly and my twin girls are at UCLA. One is studying to be a lawyer and the other is studying to be a surgeon.


I was very motivated to give my children a good education. I told myself “I’m not going to be around this weekend because I have to take my kids to competitions.” I would take my kids all over the state for math competitions. My wife and I would go and they would all win all these competitions. My wife is working in early childhood development in pre-school.


My kids are American citizens. So am I--there was an amnesty in the 90’s--that's how I got my papers.


It is much more difficult now. They should find a solution so people can just work here. I have one employee. Look at all this. I can’t find employees so I am  losing a lot of my potential crop. It is very challenging. We came to work, not to be criminals, not to steal. We’re contributing to the food chain, no drugs, no public assistance. My kids have taken loans and I am paying the difference and they’re doing great. My goal was to make my kids more successful than me and I have faith they will succeed.

Rahwa Sebhatu

My name is Rahwa Sebhatu. I was born in Ethiopia in 1989 and then I lived there until 1999, which was when we were deported to Eritrea because of the war that was going on between Ethiopia and Eritrea. My nationality is Eritrean, but I was born in Ethiopia.


I lived in Eritrea for about ten years until 2009. I came to the US through the Diversity Visa lottery program. It’s known as DV, Diversity Visa lottery program. The application I think is two or three pages. You submit the application and feel very lucky to be chosen. Once you’re picked, you have to submit your documentations, such as birth certificate and your educational background.  If you did not complete high school they will not qualify you. Then if they get everything and they see that it’s complete, then they will invite you for an interview. Once you’re called for an interview and they feel that everything you said in the application is verified, then they will grant you the visa. 


I was 19 years old when I came to the US. I was a second year pre-med student back home. I came here and I went to community college. Thankfully, I had my records evaluated and they accepted 36 out of 52 units.  Whatever I was missing, I took at a community college so I can transfer to a university to get my bachelor’s degree. 


Right now, I am doing a master’s in physician assistance studies. I’m in this program where you study to become a physician assistant, which is, actually, a misnomer. You actually aren’t really assisting just a physician, you’re practicing, and you’re providing care to patients. It’s a 30 month long program and I am in my second year now.


I received the National Health Services Corps Scholarship. That’s a national scholarship, which covers your tuition if you intend to go into primary care or to serve in underserved communities. I received that scholarship, which is actually covering my tuition and giving me a monthly stipend. As part of that contract, I will work for three years in a community clinic that is federally qualified. That is my passion, honestly. That’s where I want to work. I want to give primary care to the underserved communities.


I am definitely affected by the anti-immigrant rhetoric. I feel that people are more empowered to say things now because the president is just free enough to say anything as he pleases, like on Twitter or in the news media. So I see random acts of violence all around the Stanford campus--there have been hateful slurs and speeches going around. Some people just yell things, “Go back to your country. We don’t need you here.” We hear this even here on this campus. 


It makes you wonder; yes, we are all biased. One way or another, we are biased. But then sometimes you have to make a decision if that’s the right thing. Do you really want to act on that bias or do you want to educate yourself to think or to correct your mindset. Because not every bias is correct. You may have been raised a certain way, but the way you think may not be correct. It could be because you don’t understand what the other side actually looks like. I think some people are now empowered to act on their hate and act on their bias, and that is not right. It just makes you wonder what atmosphere our kids are going to grow up in. I’m old enough to understand the difference between love and hate, to actually differentiate what to take in, what not to take it. I try to be optimistic, I try to be positive, but I think of my kids. One is 3.5 and another is 1.5. So I wonder is this really the kind of situation I want them to grow up in?


My hope is that people will embrace differences and understanding to see the beauty in the different people around America. That was how it started. People came from different places and they settled and started to grow and learn in the process and flourish. I think there is beauty in difference. There is beauty in different cultures, different knowledge, and different experience. You should understand that difference is not a threat. Difference is an opportunity to grow. 


I want to make it a more inclusive and less biased country. I want to help educate people about discriminations that go on, the implicit biases that people may have, so they can stop that bias before they even act on it or for it. You should not judge a person by just how they look. You have to understand a person first before you place judgment on that person. I hope to educate people by creating a relationship with my patients, with my colleagues. I think small steps go a long way. If I help educate my colleagues, I’m sure they’re going to educate other people out there if I just help them understand my background and who I am as a result of where I’ve come from.



I am from Vera Cruz Mexico. I have been here for 15 years mostly doing farm work. I was a victim of domestic violence in Mexico. My husband brutally injured me and I had to run for my life. I was with this man for five years and we had three children together. I had to leave my children with my mother and I have not seen them for fifteen years.


I was five months pregnant with my last child and my husband bit off part of my nose. He was very violent. I left as soon as I could.


It was a difficult journey. I remember I was with a group of all men crossing a river. The nighttime patrol came by and I ran into a ditch and fell and broke my foot. The men helped me go back to Mexico to Cuidad Juarez. I had an operation there and was there for 3 months recovering. I had to pay back my expenses so they sent me as a runner to go and collect the money from the immigrants crossing for the coyotes. I was on crutches and had to carry a lot of money. I felt pretty vulnerable. It took 3 months of working to pay off my debt before I could come across.


I have a new husband and two young girls. I do not depend on any public assistance. I pay for my own way and my kids as well. I like the work that I do growing food.


Our life here is very tentative. I live with fear. I have young girls and if I get deported what will happen to them?  I would like to be here legally and have some paperwork so we can work here but we can also go to Mexico and come back. We are not criminals. We are not here to hurt anyone.

Efraim Morales
Rahwa Sebhatu
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