Martine Kalaw ’03 met with students on the Washington, D.C. program to discuss themes in her recently published book, Illegal Among Us: A Stateless Woman's Quest for Citizenship. She discussed how her lack of citizenship status affected her experience at Hamilton, despite making the most of it as a Hamilton, Adirondack Adventure Leader, and Residential Advisor for her semester on the New York City program.
A Washington D.C.-based community advocate, Kalaw publicly shares her personal experience with immigration proceedings to humanize undocumented people and shed light on the broken immigration system.
“The first time I went public with my case, I was terrified,” she said. “I spoke at Senator John McCain’s rally on immigration back in 2006. After the rally, he came up to me and thanked me for my courage, and I did know much about John McCain so I was unaware at the time of what a huge compliment that was.”
During her seven-year fight in deportation proceedings, Kalaw discovered she was stateless, as her country of birth, Za ire, no longer existed. Nevertheless, the judge assigned to her case was determined to deport Kalaw despite having no country of origin to which to send her.
“I had no proof that I existed. I didn’t have family to prove I existed, I didn’t have my identity to prove I existed, and I didn’t have a country,” she said.
Kalaw discussed the toll this experience took on her sense of identity, which is not uncommon for people put through immigration proceedings.
“The immigrants I mentor who are currently going through proceedings express that they feel pressured to prove that they are American by rejecting their identification with their culture of origin,” she said.
Kalaw took the time to learn the names of all 16 Hamilton students attending her talk and opened up a space for them to share their own backgrounds, experiences, and family stories of immigration. “I didn’t realize or appreciate how multicultural our class was until our talk with Martine,” said Joyce Zhang ’20.
Kalaw left a lasting impact on the class of the power that comes with sharing personal stories, and how it can connect people who would have never thought they had anything in common.