Immigrants need to realize power, advocate says

By By Melissa Oveson

By Melissa Oveson

Gabriela Cetrola, an Argentinean immigrant and long-time social worker in Utah, gave a small group of women some of her personal views about immigration and refugee issues on Tuesday.

“It’s so hard to always be answering who you are and why you are here,” said Cetrola, who first arrived in the United States in the late 1980s on a tourist visa while what was nicknamed “the dirty war” raged on at home.

“My family, I guess it’s genetic, we have big mouths and we were persecuted,” said Cetrola, who more than 20 years later holds a bachelor’s degree from Brigham Young University and a master’s in social work from the U.

Cetrola defined the difference between refugees, assailants and immigrants. She noted the individual difficulties each group faces, including post traumatic stress syndrome, anxieties and physical limitations from their journey and past abuse. Members from all of these categories are often the victims of brutal rapes, persecution and physical violence, she said.

“Immigrants are seeking a very dire need,” said Cetrola, as she detailed the plights of several immigrants who were kidnapped and abused at the border. “I don’t know who would sign up for it just for the hell of it.”

Although many believe that just getting to America is the end of immigration, Cetrola noted it is just the beginning of many difficulties. Refugees who arrive with the help of the two organizations in the Salt Lake City, the International Rescue Committee and the Catholic Community Services, are given eight months to adjust to their new homes and become stable. They are also given a job and a home. Immigrants and assailants who come on their own and seek help with the organizations are not given any.

“Do you think that all the Africans love the snow? No,” Cetrola said. “Many of us, including myself, (had) never even seen a parka before.”

Cetrola said that during the adjustment period, on top of learning a new language, finding a job and attempting to meet the requirements of citizenship, immigrants and refugees are also faced with prejudices.

Sidnie Olsen, a second-year graduate student in social work, provides counseling for multicultural women at the Women’s Resource Center. Olsen emphasized the importance of these discussions in her own work because she frequently deals with racism on campus. She encouraged women and men of different cultures who need help to seek out the center for support groups and individual counseling.

The participants also talked about the importance of immigrants in this society, including the effects seen in the popular mockumentary “A Day without a Mexican.” The film takes a comedic look at how society would function without the thousands of Latinas/os in California.

“People who don’t want immigrants are ignorant,” Cetrola said. “They need to realize how much they need us and (immigrants) need to realize our power.”

When asked about immigration issues in the ongoing elections, Cetrola expressed the Latina/o community’s delight that three of four top presidential candidates in the primaries support reforming current immigration law. Cetrola encouraged voters to take the same consideration when choosing their candidate.

“I would tell people to think and have a heart,” Cetrola said. “Human beings are human beings, not defined by the lines of legal and illegal.”

Savitri Stoneman, who works with the Salt Lake chapter of YWCA, agreed.

“I tend to learn something new every day as I work with these women,” said Stoneman, who attended the lecture to help with her own work of understanding the diversity in Salt Lake City. “These lectures are great for people and advocating.”

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Maegan Burr

Gabriela Cetrola talks with a group of women about life as an immigrant in the U.S.