One group is hoping to counter intolerance with a simple approach: sharing true stories of immigrant life.
The stories, contributed from people around the world ― almost all of whom are immigrants ― relay real-life conversations they’ve had with drivers, who are also immigrants.
“By creating art and telling stories, we can show people that we are not ‘the other,’ we are humans,” founder Wei-En Tan, who is an immigrant from Singapore living in the U.S., told The Huffington Post. “If I can change one person’s mind about all immigrants being here to take jobs away from Americans, I would view that as a win.”
By creating art and telling stories, we can show people that we are not ‘the other,’ we are humans.”
founder Wei-En Tan
The blog focuses specifically on interactions between passengers and drivers because of the “intimacy” long drives can spark between otherwise complete strangers, said Tan.
One story relays a conversation with a Moroccan cab driver in Paris, who happens to be a Zen Buddhist.
“So how do you deal with anger? With what’s happening?” [the passenger] asked.
“Anger? No anger. I’m zen, completely zen.”
“You meditate it away?”
“No, no.” He gave me a pitying look. “You embrace it.”
At a time when hate crimes against minorities are occurring at an alarming rate in the U.S. ― and anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies are coming from the White House ― the blog is a small effort to “humanize” immigrants, said Tan.
“It’s not easy being an immigrant in this country,” Tan told HuffPost. “I’ve endured many acts of xenophobia. I was walking down the street one day in D.C., and someone yelled at me to ‘Go back to China.’ I’m not from China, so it doesn’t even make sense. For all they know I could have been American.”
Someone yelled at me to ‘Go back to China.’ I’m not from China, so it doesn’t even make sense.”
“[After Trump’s travel ban], I started thinking: how can I do something to bring people together?” Tan added. “Talk to people who might not know immigrants.”
The website is run as a “community blog,” meaning the volunteer team at Riding Up Front ― almost all immigrants themselves ― collects submitted stories, edits them and pairs them with illustrations from artists around the world, who submit their work voluntarily but occasionally receive a nominal fee.
“It’s a labor of love,” Tan said of the writers and artists all volunteering work. “Almost all of the founding team is made up of people with experience with immigration or as refugees: Anais is Iranian-French in the U.S. Mark is American in Australia. Martha was a refugee from Cuba, who came over on a boat.”
While the blog originated in reaction to President Donald Trump’s policies, it intentionally features stories of drivers beyond the U.S.
“We know who is the current propagator of non-inclusive policies ― but these are things that existed before Trump’s presidency,” Tan said. “And look at France, at Brexit ― these xenophobic, nationalistic ideas seem to be catching fire, so it’s important to think about this internationally as well.”
Because most of the stories so far have been written from the passenger’s perspective, centering their own experience rather than the driver’s, some of the tales stray into romanticizing the driver’s story as a lesson learned for the passenger.
“We’re going to live well, my family and me,” [the driver says.]
“Saving. People don’t understand how to save money in this country. It’s so simple. We work hard, and I save all our money.”
“Wow. You’re an inspiration,” [the writer says.]
Notably, not all of the passengers had asked drivers for permission to share their story before they submitted it to the blog, according to Tan. But the drivers’ names are changed to protect their privacy and security.
“We look at stories, and it’s hard to check for bias or privilege, but we try our best,” Tan told HuffPost. “The only two non-immigrants [who contributed stories so far] were minorities. We want to make sure it’s not some white privilege site trying to do good with immigrants.”
The site features donation buttons for readers to support the artists, as well as the American Civil Liberties Union, the International Rescue Committee and the American Immigration Council ― groups that fight for immigrant and refugee rights.
In the week and a half since its launch, Riding Up Front has received story submissions from more than 30 people, as well as four artists.
It hasn’t yet received enough donations to funnel funds beyond the artists and to the nonprofits, but Tan is planning to do a larger donation push soon.
“The most important message is: We all have the same values, no matter how different,” Tan said. “Family, hard work ― just being human.”
For HuffPost’s #LoveTakesAction series, we’re telling stories of how people are standing up to hate and supporting those most threatened. Know a story from your community? Send news tips to firstname.lastname@example.org.