Andrea Duarte-Alonso joined the foundation in 2019 as part of a two-year Lead for America Fellowship. Based in her hometown of Worthington, she’s worked to build bridges in the community and has used storytelling to help change the narrative of what rural America and rural Minnesota are like. Below is a reflection from Andrea.
In my fellowship, I have the privilege to use my time to do work that is important to me. Within the last year I’ve expanded Stories from Unheard Voices, an oral-history project I started in 2016 that focuses on stories from first and second-generation immigrants in the southwest corner of the state. With the project, I have the honor of interviewing people, sitting with storytellers and getting to know their interests, struggles, and hopes for themselves, their children and their community. While some storytellers tell their immigrant story, others focus on telling a story from their youth and perhaps their upbringing in southwest Minnesota. After interviewing, I spend a lot of time transcribing and reflecting on the voices I heard. You start to see similarities in the stories, and to see you’re not in this alone.
At the beginning, I was mainly highlighting Worthington voices, but I know that immigrants and refugees also live in other communities in the region. To me it was important to have people documenting the stories of their very own neighbors. I wanted to share my storytelling skills with young people so that they too could document stories in their own communities.
Thanks to a grant from the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota, I am helping four young women expand their skills. Each will have the opportunity to do 3-4 interviews and get a sense of the people who live in their city and what it’s like to be an immigrant and live in a rural, small hometown.
The power of story, when accurately represented, can bring about positive change in our beliefs, policies, and systems within our communities. We also uplift people who haven’t been given the mic before and they walk out of the interview feeling empowered, heard, and valued.
While storytelling is a great way to learn more about people, so are events that are intentional in building relationships. This fall, I helped organize the ‘Creating Home Together through Art’ event in Worthington. I partnered with the ARTmobile and local organizations that shared resources. Due to COVID-19, this event had to be planned safely, but we were successful in making it a time for people to go outside and engage with their dear neighbor through art, fostering crucial conversations about race and ethnicity, and exploring what makes a community welcoming. Many people who participated said we need more events like these. That to me was really powerful.
I know there is a lot more documenting, learning, engaging and healing that needs to be done with our neighbors, especially with our rural immigrant communities as they are often left behind and out of important conversations in our communities. I hope that with my time at Southwest Initiative Foundation and beyond, we continue to be a part of these important steps towards making our communities more welcoming and equitable.
MEET ANDREA DUARTE-ALONSO
Andrea holds a bachelor’s degree in political science, women’s studies, and English from St. Catherine University. Her interests lie in journalism, story-telling, immigration law and politics. In 2016, she was selected as a Minnesota Jay and Rose Phillips Scholar and used the opportunity to create “Stories from Unheard Voices,” a collection of first-person stories from Latinx immigrants and their children. She has been honored as a Harry S. Truman Scholar, recognizing her leadership, public service and academic achievement. Most recently, Andrea interned at the Obama Foundation in Washington D.C. with its International Team.
This article appears in our 2020 CONNECT fall/winter issue. Read more from CONNECT.