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First-generation student Shely Nunez joins Seattle Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs

Vertical headshot of Shely Nunez wearing a pink sweater.My name is Shelain (Shely) Nunez (she/her) and the newest Seattle Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs (OIRA) External Affairs Intern. I am a first-generation student at Seattle Pacific University majoring in sociology and criminal justice.

I grew up in a small town in central Washington with a large Hispanic population. I loved being in a community with a shared identity. We all experienced the same traditions, beliefs, values, and struggles.

However, the most challenging part about growing up in a small town was the injustices we also all faced. My parents migrated to the U.S. in the early 90s, in hopes of seeking better opportunities for their kids. Their move wasn’t easy. They weren’t familiar with the language or culture and didn’t have a support network. Even after they obtained their U.S. citizenship, they didn’t feel like they belonged here, and strangers continued to harass them because of their accent. Incidents like these discouraged my parents from integrating into American culture. 

Growing up, I remember translating legal documents for my parents and their friends. None of them were familiar with the legal terms or simply didn’t understand what the documents were asking of them. They were also unaware of where to seek assistance on how to understand these forms. Being young and uneducated in legal policies, I sometimes felt so useless. I knew I wanted to do more for my community. This initiated my interest in the immigration legal system and community outreach. Moving to Seattle from my small, rural town only fueled my interest in social issues even more. After just one year of living in Seattle, I learned so much about the different injustices that communities face, especially immigrant and homeless communities.

I even started to learn a lot about myself. One of the biggest things I learned about myself is how close-minded I have been. I didn’t realize there were so many different ways to help homeless or immigrant communities. If a certain new policy or program didn’t work, then I assumed that the issue was a lost cause. After taking a Homelessness in America class, I realized no matter how difficult making a change may seem, all of us have the potential to be that change. It doesn’t matter if it’s a change in the world, local community, or simply someone’s life. It’s about starting small and working my way up.

My time in the Seattle Pacific University sociology and criminal justice program has opened my eyes to the many injustices in the United States. Social issues like gender inequality, poverty, and immigration policies significantly affect people’s lives. I chose sociology because I’ve always been intrigued by the way different social groups function, how each can have their own set of norms, traditions, values, etc. No one group is identical to the other. Regardless of these differences, social groups can come together to help better their community. It’s a beautiful thing when two different groups can come together and fight for equality and justice. I fell in love with the way society functions.

Within OIRA’s mission statement is the goal of helping improve the lives of Seattle’s immigrant and refugee populations through community engagement. As an intern at OIRA I hope to gain first-hand experience on how to do just that, provide assistance to immigrants and refugees. Once I graduate, I plan to take the knowledge and experience I will have gained at OIRA and use it in my own hometown community. I want to provide aid through non-profit organizations for those who feel lost and confused. My hope is to someday host community events that inform immigrants of resources available to them or helping them with all the necessary paperwork. I had a professor once tell me that to create change, we must always return and help restore our home community first. My goal is to give all immigrants a voice, not just my people, but all immigrants who feel lost or confused.