Despite the bitter cold nipping at hands and faces, it did not affect dozens of hearts from spreading warmth to individuals who unified at the Centennial Student Union mall Wednesday evening.
Because of President Donald Trump’s executive order to ban immigrants from seven nations, MSSA Vice President Maria Ruiz Mendez decided to hold a vigil on-campus. The atmosphere kindled a fire of passion and anger, but also hope that unifying as a whole will spread love.
“I’m here because this is what I should be doing, supporting humanity,” said PJ Glover, a Gender and Women Studies major a few minutes before the vigil. “This is something that everyone needs to have human rights for. It’s bothering me because there have already been two deaths that have been documented with a reason and that shouldn’t be a thing. We can’t have a country and run on the ideology that certain people aren’t allowed in.”
Once the vigil started, Mendez thanked everyone for their presence, then President Faical Rayani, originally from Saudi Arabia, also welcomed the group for whatever reasons brought them there in support of solidarity.
“We are left beyond confused and fearful,” Rayani said, speaking for the international students and immigrants. “Some of us have worked ungodly hours to get an education. Some of us are sent here through the sacrifice of our families. Do we not have a place in this country? Are we not as equal as other citizens of this country? What will happen to us?”
America has long been known as the melting pot that has openly accepted immigrants. But ever since the attacks on 9/11, the scars have not vanished. In fact, paranoia has still infected the country. It appears to be difficult to let go of the past as people still live in their fears.
Rayani seemed to echo these same sentiments.
“I could rattle on for days about how Muslim aggression makes up a very small fraction of terrorism around the world,” he continued. “The immigrant population is what holds this country together. I don’t think this country was founded on xenophobia. The fact of the matter is, we’re here to stand together… we are not here not out of spite, but in celebration of each other.
There has not been a day where I personally have not been made to feel welcome by a friend, a coworker, or even a stranger.”
David Jones, Vice President of Student Affairs, also shared a few words, including Minnesota State University’s core values: in integrity, respect in diversity, access that create opportunities, responsibility to those it serves by providing an education and a solution, and excellence in academic and non-academic life. “For over 150 years Minnesota State University in Mankato has been a place where people gather to prove themselves to our community… these core values have served us well,” he added. “We may need to address challenges ahead. We are living in dynamic times,” he said. “What we do have is a campus community that is a learning organization that can explore many issues in open and productive ways.”
Kellian Clink, a librarian at MNSU, asked the community to look around and notice all the faces around them and reminded them that they are all immigrants. “I just want to say I love students and it’s such an amazing place where you can learn so much and love one another,” she said. “Let us know our stories and love one another by the process of discovery and learning who the other is.”
Jason Teiken, a local attorney, had heard that the vigil would be hosted on the MNSU campus and decided to attend because of its importance.
“We’re concerned about the order and its effects,” he said. “There’s thousands of people: couples who are separated, children separated from their parents and parents separated from their children for an order that is nonsensible and won’t actually keep us safe.”
The evening ended with a singing of “We Are the World,” and then Dr. Abo Habib closed with a couple prayers: “O Allah! Reconcile with love and understanding between our hearts, and resolve our broken affairs and guide us towards peace and paths of guidance. Take us out of the darkness of falsehood, ignorance, and evil to the brightness of truth and guidance.”
Mendez thought the turn-out for the vigil was “fantastic” and plans to educate students through events and supporting them by hearing them out. She said that there’s always a place in the multicultural center for students to come and talk and feel welcome.
“There’s always challenges when you do something,” she said. “You never know how many people will turn up. When we were talking about it, we said that even if it was just one person who shows up and we have an impact, we will be happy. But obviously, the more, the better.”