Why Should Youth Care About Immigration?

Katherine Muñoz-Amaya


My grandmother immigrated to the United States from Pereira, Colombia in 1987. She left her family, friends, and community behind to work tirelessly in the hopes of sending enough money to her children back home so that they could advance in life.

My mother faced similar challenges when she made her way to Florida, then to Washington a few years later. In an effort to create a better future for me, her only child, she learned how to navigate an entirely new system and language while her home country faced an unstable political and economic climate.

These two women are my heroes. As the descendant of immigrants, I benefit from being fluent in both Spanish and English and participating in two cultures simultaneously. Being part of two cultures enriched my life, made me aware of all the wonderful differences in the people around me, and I am thankful for the values and ideals it has instilled in me. The futures of all second-generation kids in my family and beyond were propelled by our parents, who continue to work hard every day to make a better world for us.

Last year, I applied to join Seattle Foundation’s Youth Grantmaking Board (YGB) because I wanted to make a difference in my community and give back the way my mother and grandmother do. While I was familiar with the idea of helping one’s community, philanthropy was a foreign concept to me. I always thought of it as rich and old (but very nice) white guys who gave money to charities—like in the movies. But through my time on the Youth Grantmaking Board, I discovered the incredible and life-changing power of philanthropy to help others, just as my grandmother and mother helped those they love.

I enjoy learning about the challenges our country faces and thinking about the ways our generation can fix them. At YGB, we talk about real problems like the school-to-prison pipeline, racism, sexism, and much more. The diversity of the board’s members allows us to share different views and experiences. These discussions open our minds and hearts to how we, as a board, can address community challenges by investing our pool of $20,000 in philanthropic grants to nonprofits.

During one of our initial YGB sessions, a fellow member and I advocated for focusing our 2018 request for proposal (RFP) on organizations working to support immigrant and refugee youth and families. When I think about this topic, I think about my family and our friends who had to make sacrifices to survive and thrive. I think of how our country is a melting pot of cultures, which is what gives us so many different and beautiful experiences that we can learn from and participate in.

As the child of immigrants, I wanted to show the power of the younger generation and how we can work to make this world better, safer, and kinder. If YGB could help the people who make the United States what is it today, I felt that we could have a great impact on our community.

Immigrant families like mine have experienced tremendous barriers to make it to a country where “dreams come true.” We face the stress of transition that stems from a language barrier, the lack of a support system that meets our needs, and unfamiliarity with a more individualistic culture. Immigrants in our community can benefit from a friendly face and a helping hand on any given day, so we were pleased at YGB to receive applications from nonprofits across King County that support immigrants and refugees. We conducted several site visits and evaluated the submissions based on the RFP criteria. In the end, we chose two incredible nonprofits that have community representation within their leadership, a proven track record of working with immigrants and refugees, and that approach their work with an intersectional lens: West African Community Council (WACC) and Colectiva Legal del Pueblo.

WACC helps immigrants from West Africa integrate into the community and supports their needs while preserving culture. Colectiva Legal, run by two Latinx women who have been through the complex immigration system themselves, helps clients understand and navigate the process.

Teens like me can play a role in immigration justice work and help fight to transform our broken system into one that treats immigrants with respect and compassion—one that treats them like humans. There are organizations in most communities that help immigrants and refugees in one way or another that teens everywhere can tap into. More importantly, we can all advocate for the humane and just treatment of immigrants. A simple, individual act of kindness can make all the difference.

Picture of About Katherine Muñoz-Amaya

About Katherine Muñoz-Amaya

Katherine Muñoz-Amaya will be a junior in the fall of 2018 at a high school in Kent, Washington, where she participates in the International Baccalaureate program. She is an artist and plays soccer for her school team.