How Will You Use Your Voice

How Will You Use Your Voice is an animation created by artist Majid Adin, composer Xiren Wang, Dr. Jennifer Allsopp and Professor Roberto G. Gonzales. It draws on material from the March 2021 conference of the same name to capture the ethos of the Penn-Birmingham Transatlantic Fellows Program, which was inspired by the event and launched in Autumn 2021. 

Organized by Dr. Allsopp, Professor Gonzales, Dr. Maheen Haider and Dr. Ludmila Bogdan and hosted by the Immigration Initiative at Harvard (IIH) with the support of Perry World House and IRiS, the conference brought together over 500 early career researchers in migration studies from all over the world around the themes of displacement, hope and resistance. 

The animation shows the power of global thinking and action on migration. The narrative centers on a first-generation Latina student who chooses to study migration. We follow her as she transitions from home to school to college where, through her studies, she encounters a range of other migrant and refugee voices. 

Coming face-to-face with their stories, the central character is inspired to reflect on her own migrant journey and identity. At the end of the animation, she appears before the U.S. Supreme Court taking action to support the thousands of undocumented students in America of whom she is part. As her face merges with hundreds more, we celebrate the role of activism and speaking out alongside education as forces to shape the global migration landscape.  

The central character was inspired by the experiences of various fellows, including Sandra Portocarrero, a PhD candidate in Sociology at Columbia University, who voices the character. Sandra explained the character’s resonance: 

'Being a Latina immigrant in the US has shaped how I understand the social world and how I make sense of myself. I know many of us immigrants who are in the academic world constantly wonder what we can do with the knowledge we gain, with the networks we access, with the opportunities our parents or friends were never given. Like the woman in this animated film, we wonder: what can we do with our voice?' 

From Europe to America 

The stories that our protagonist encounters during the animation are those of humanitarians criminalized for assisting migrants in Europe and migrants detained at the U.S.-Mexico border. These two themes, which were the focus of the conference’s keynotes, readily lend themselves to transatlantic comparisons and analysis. 

In the first sequence, we see an impression of activist Sarah Mardini’s journey from Syria to Greece. She is shown jumping from a boat to rescue refugees in a search and rescue operation. Sarah is among several European humanitarian activists who are currently facing years in prison on charges of facilitating irregular migration because of their life-saving work. This is a theme that is of interest to Dr. Allsopp’s research

In a second sequence, photographer and writer Alice Driver is shown documenting the changing face of U.S. immigration control policies at America’s borders: family separation and detention. 

Dr. Allsopp, who co-leads the Fellows Program wrote the script for the animation. She explained, 

'Beyond the typical output of a conference report, we wanted to capture the real magic of the event and celebrate the network of solidarity among scholars and activists across the Atlantic. With its themes of displacement, hope and resistance, the animation is a kind of manifesto for the creativity and impact we want to nurture through the fellows program.'