Off Deadline: Immigrants share 'escape stories' en route to freedom in America | News | Palo Alto Online |


Off Deadline: Immigrants share 'escape stories' en route to freedom in America

Video tales set for public debut on May 10

Stories of often harrowing escapes from oppressive or dangerous countries will be shared live and in person by five immigrants who lived them during a free event titled, "When Home Won't Let You Stay: Stories of Escape and Refuge" — co-sponsored by the Midpeninsula Community Media Center and the Palo Alto Library.

The event will be debuted publicly May 10, 7 to 9 p.m. at the Mitchell Park Community Center's El Palo Alto Room.

"We all have immigrant stories, unless you're Native American," Elliot Margolies, producer of the video recordings and long-affiliated with the Palo Alto-based Midpeninsula Community Media Center, said of the event. Even Native Americans immigrated from Asia to North America in the far-distant past, he noted.

There is a deep connection to today's world, internationally and locally, he notes, citing the millions who have left "countries too dangerous to live in" bound for unknown lands and futures.

"Basically the storytelling events are a chance for people to meet folks who are their neighbors, people whose lives have been colored by very poignant challenges, and very dramatic circumstances," Margolies said.

Two earlier video events featured "Dreamers," immigrants who arrived as children with their undocumented parents — whose fates are now the topic of political give and take nationally.

Margolies said the gathering of the interviews is a follow-up to his earlier role in creating a website ( where immigrants share their stories, now with about 400 written stories plus photos and other material.

Margolies said his role in the immigrant-stories project had its own evolution. It started when he volunteered a half dozen years ago to teach English as a second language (known widely as ESL) at the Day Worker Center of Mountain View.

Margolies received a grant through the Media Center from the Silicon Valley Community Foundation to produce a documentary about the Day Workers Center, and trained eight workers how to tell their stories on video.

"I got more and more interested," he said about the lives of those he interviewed. Bolstered by grants from Facebook, the California Humanities Council and other sources, Margolies began doing storytelling and video workshops at schools, places of worship, Stevenson House and Palo Alto Housing Corporation residences.

In many cases, he teaches people how to video-interview parents or relatives, and coaches people "how to tell their stories in front of an audience."

The website was added several years ago as a place for the written stories and photos of the storytellers.

The experience has had a strong personal impact on his life, Margolies said in a coffee-shop interview. In addition to "being fun" meeting the immigrants, "it makes me aware of what incredible energy it takes to start all over in a new place" with a different language, no job and no home initially.

"They just have a lot of hope and faith that you can put something together."

And something often happens with the second generations of the immigrants. A recent group of five second-generation individuals showed that two had received doctorate degrees, one was attending college and others were working for nonprofit organizations or schools or teaching, he said.

The May 10 presentation will feature individuals from Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Eritrea and Vietnam, each with sharply divergent backgrounds but interwoven with common threads of courage and hope.

Internationally, those threads are shared by 65 1/2 million people who have been displaced from their homes and more than 25 million who have left their home country, according to a 2016 worldwide survey by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

"Basically these are people who love their country but couldn't stay," Margolies said. He added that "many have a tremendous love of family," common to all but particularly intense in persons from family-oriented cultures such as those in Mexico and Central and South America.

The escapes can be hair-raising. A woman from Aleppo, Syria, tells of hiding from snipers on rooftops, in a city once heralded for its diversity and tolerance now a place of immense danger and suffering.

Some tell of being targets of religious discrimination, such as for being Christian in Iraq after Saddam Hussein took power.

One of the tales is by a man from Vietnam who faced "an extra onus" in that his ancesters were from China, Margolies noted. He was the eldest of 11 children, and escaped on a large home-built boat with many others.

Margolies has his own immigrant story: "My grandmother was from Lithuania and had come to Chicago to show relatives her new baby when Hitler invaded her country. Her husband and son were killed, with other Jews." She later married the man who became Margolies' grandfather.

Today's immigrants from dangerous countries share that common thread: "They have been through such emotional turmoil" and have made new lives for themselves.

"I'm in awe of them. I feel so privileged," Margolies said of his coaching and videoing experiences.

Margolies has been a Palo Alto resident since 1986. He became involved with the Media Center in early 1990, first doing its newsletter then becoming executive director, a position he left in 2001 to develop special projects. He has twin sons in Southern California, and two granddaughters born in 2017.

Margolies said those who attended earlier events "already know you are in for a night of empathy, warmth, and maybe even a tear or two."Art work from the respective countries will be represented at the May 10 event, and snacks will be available.

Online RSVPs are requested to help with preparing the setup at

Former Weekly Editor Jay Thorwaldson can be e-mailed at He also writes periodic blogs at

Correction: The column incorrectly stated the format of the May 10 Midpeninsula Community Media Center event, "When Home Won't Let You Stay: Stories of Escape and Refuge," at Mitchell Park Community Center. The five immigrants will tell their stories live and in person.


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1 person likes this
Posted by Elliot Margolies
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 27, 2018 at 10:27 am

I'm so appreciative of Jay Thorwaldson's interest and description of our upcoming storytelling event! Just want to clarify that the Storytellers will be very much LIVE on stage that night, speaking directly to the audience, with follow up Q&A. The RSVP link is at:
Web Link.
Join us May 10!

1 person likes this
Posted by came on a banana boat
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 27, 2018 at 10:53 am

Look forward to this. Immigrants rock.

Just ask my great grandparents.

Or yours.

16 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 1, 2018 at 7:25 am

Yes - every one is an immigrant. That is the history of the world. Humans evolved out of Africa then spread throughout the world. NPR and the History Channel are providing many stories of America and the world. Lewis and Clark traveled across the US to end up on the Pacific to find that the Brits were already there in the fur trade. They got British Columbia / Canada. Then President needed immigrants to fill in the interior - luckily Europe was in continual wars with itself so many being kicked out and leaving. All of Africa and Europe were settled and on-going prior to the trip to the New World - the North American Continent. That required boats - lots of them. So we had open land and a growing economy in building factories.

Fast forward to today and the type of economy we have is not factory driven and we do not have assembly lines for people to work. It is time for the other countries and continents to step up to the plate and create the development within their own countries. Africa is the second biggest continent on the planet. Look no further than SF, Oakland and LA to see the high number of homeless and tent cities - we are not the land of OZ here and we should not be promoting it as such. We cannot deal with our own problems of too many people without jobs. The people who are enriching themselves are the coyotes charging people $3-4 thousand to come to the land of OZ.
As to the EU countries who were busy trying to colonize the world they need to help those countries they colonized to get up to date instead of making the US an ATM card for them. Like Vietnam - a French colony in which we fought the war. Bottom line is understand the history of the world and let each country develop itself to be a good place to live.

28 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 1, 2018 at 8:49 am

All countries report in to the United Nations and attend meetings galore. The point is that all nations assume some level of responsibility for their citizens and are supposedly working to common goals. So how is that working out? Check your major newspaper - the SFC, Section A - World - News of the Day and Associated Press downloads. Associated Press is telling you facts - not opinions. Latest is the turmoil in Armenia and the change in government. Great detail on Armenia history - it is part of the Russian Soviet orbit based on economy and requirement for oil. It does not note that the biggest population of Armenians is in LA in Mr. Schiff's congressional district and he has supported their development in many ways. So one could say that Mr. Schiff is the Russian connection in spades - and he is heading up the "Intelligence Committee" on Russian involvement in US politics. That is fact - not opinion. Ms. Eshoo? Mr. Simitian? Yes - immigration is big business in the state of CA. Many of the "emerging nations' have multitudes of variation on religion that fight each other. Have different opinions of schooling of females and act out on those differences. They all need to normalize through the United Nations - that is the point of it all. Every other country cannot resolve the internal activities of other countries. We do not have the budget to support the world.

41 people like this
Posted by homer
a resident of The Greenhouse
on May 1, 2018 at 9:49 am


Far afield, as in 'left field'. Deep, deep, deeeeep left field.

2 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 1, 2018 at 12:21 pm

Every one needs to educate themselves on the history and on-going activities in the world. There is nothing that happens outside the US that does not affect us here. Mr. Schiff is very left but very present in today's activities. Many of our local tech companies have representative offices and personnel throughout the world, including Armenia. We have forces in Nigeria and other African nations - we are everywhere. As to the congressional district mentioned I grew up there and donate to the Armenia Fund. I know that location very well. Given that we are the home for many displaced peoples it is somewhat ironic that the D party keeps pecking away at this topic when in fact they are very intertwined in the activities in support of these other countries. It is a credibility issue.

10 people like this
Posted by Cough
a resident of College Terrace
on May 1, 2018 at 4:01 pm


Every one needs to educate themselves on the history and on-going activities *of big business goals.

They need cheap labor to drive down wages.

5 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 2, 2018 at 7:16 am

Todays papers are discussing the "symbolic" march through Mexico to the US border. What they are not discussing is the huge amount of money paid to coyotes who facilitate this continual activity. And they are not discussing where and how these people end up once they are in the door. So much is "symbolism" that does not talk to how any one nation can first resolve it's own internal problems - called "the root of the problem". Coyotes and advocates are selling a Land of Oz - but the Land of Oz is really the problems of homelessness, tent cities on the streets, overt drug use - all of which these people are fleeing from. And yes gang activity that the city recently mapped out to name and location within the city. And now People's Park in Berkley will be converted to housing for the UC students - another "symbol" going down the drain due to drug problems and gangs. CA has a symbol problem - many "symbols" but no resolution to actual problems. So how does bringing in more marginilized people to add to this mix help? It is another "symbol".
How about a helicopter going over the drug plants in the lower Americas and torching the drug producing fields so they can grow food crops on those fields. That would be a great symbol. Grow FOOD, not drug crops. Now is the time for the UN to extend more pressure on these countries to convert their products to use by their own poeople. Do a actual productive activity vs a Symbol.

4 people like this
Posted by homer
a resident of The Greenhouse
on May 2, 2018 at 9:21 am

Ohhh, that looks like fun, can I try one?


What they are not discussing is the huge amount of money MADE BY BIG BUSINESS who facilitate this continual activity, FOR CHEAP LABOR.

4 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 2, 2018 at 9:47 am

The countries that are in trouble that these people are fleeing from are members of the United Nations and are signatures on the Paris Agreement. Exception San Salvador on Paris Agreement. Question to the Humanitarian Groups that sponsor these activities is what has been done at the individual country level to resolve these issues. If these countries are participating in world affair organizations then they are fully aware that they have a responsibility to support and protect their citizens. However Humanitarian groups and coyotes will not make any money going in that direction. What is needed is re-focusing attention through the UN and associated organizations that each country needs to apply pressure within each country to upgrade the economy in a healthy set of endeavors. It is not rocket science as to what is needed here. Always - follow the money.

2 people like this
Posted by homer
a resident of The Greenhouse
on May 2, 2018 at 10:52 am

C'mon @resident: follow the money?

Who benefits in the biggest way off this? The only way a 'coyote' makes truly massive money off this would be if one of America's largest low-wage employers was called Coyote Amalgamated Retail, Services & Manufacturing.

Look at Tyson Foods and all those other low wage employers across many industries. That's the REAL money, not the measly thousands that a coyote extorts, steals, etc..

Remove the carrot of jobs and the lure of crossing the border evaporates. Neither party will do so - sending CEO's to jail for illegal employment practices to drive labor costs down isn't going to happen.

If it did? D'oh!

3 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 2, 2018 at 1:25 pm

If each migrant is paying $3-4K per person that is big tax free money to the coyote. He does not have to do anything except promise the Land of OZ and gold at the end of the trail. At least in the example above the company has to submit a tax return and actually produce some chickens - a lot of chickens. You are approaching from the back end - not solving the problem at the source of origin.

But on to facts - one lady is fleeing because she got in trouble for protesting the building of a hydro-electric plant - that from the papers. Do you suppose that the hydro-electric plant is one of the item goals for the Paris Accord for that country and surrounding countries? And they got some funding to do that?. And it would have provided some jobs to build it and operate it when finished? And it would help build a better economy?

So what is the goal of that group of people who are holding their country back from advancement?
I don't know the answers to that but do know that the approach in process is totally backward.

2 people like this
Posted by Ricky Corner
a resident of Esther Clark Park
on May 2, 2018 at 3:26 pm

I'm with Homer. Can't even follow the other rant.

6 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 2, 2018 at 4:17 pm

That's okay Ricky - that is what they are counting on. They had an organized march sponsored by someone who no one can find in any web page - so funded by who knows.
They are counting on you going into a rant. That is what their business is. And you cannot follow what is going on. Hope you start reading a newspaper someday - look at the Associated Press downloads - that is fact - not opinion.

7 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on May 2, 2018 at 4:18 pm


Oh, yeah? Take this: LS/MFT*

Bottom line: Immigrants come at the beckon of the highest/holiest law in an Adam Smithian universe -- the law of supply and demand. They SUPPLY the cheap expendable labor much in DEMAND by the entrepreneurs who SUPPLY the inexpensive foods that USA consumers DEMAND. Get it?

Don't wanna feed the coyotes? Then buy your chicken, beef, apples, lettuce, wine, etc., at the much higher prices which will SUPPLY the wage levels that white USA workers DEMAND. It's that simple.

*Lucky Strike/Means Fine Tobacco - ca 1955

Like this comment
Posted by resident
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 3, 2018 at 9:56 am

Katherine Meyer Graham's bio - "Personal History" tells of the families departure from Alsace Lorraine in the 1870's Franco-Prussian War - France attacking Prussia - now Germany - as the major city Strasbourg was a cultural and financial center. Her father Eugene Meyer - born in LA went on to attend UC Berkley and then go on to New York and work in the financial world, later joining the Hoover Administration, then buying the Washington Post then in bankruptcy. You can note Donald Trump's bio in Wikipedia - family out of Germany to the US in same time period and going into the real estate business. One could say that those families thoroughly understand the current activities in the major EU countries - France, Germany, and Brussels. Everyone's history tells you what was going on before and how that guides the current events.
The SFC has a "Portals of the Past" series that tells you about the early families in SF. Not everything is "Harrowing" - much is an educated decision to see what is coming ahead and move out the way and go somewhere else.

3 people like this
Posted by Becky Sanders
a resident of Ventura
on May 3, 2018 at 1:44 pm

Becky Sanders is a registered user.

Mmmm well I'd like to get back to the storytelling aspect of this event. Personal stories of terror, hardship and suffering put a face to the human cost of big scale fighting. No matter whose name, or whose cause one can get behind, the cost of "man's inhumanity to man", the tragic cost and loss of human potential caused by greed for wealth, resources and control over people's minds and bodies is frankly an undisputed fact.

These storytellers share with us their struggle to survive, and how they learned to thrive when all the odds were stacked against them. And then they have the courage to speak about it. We can walk beside them for a few minutes on their personal hero's journey.

Like this comment
Posted by resident
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 4, 2018 at 11:29 am

It is always good to hear other people's stories, however there has to be a recognition that there is a top down number of people who are delegated to represent countries within the UN, and individual countries. Groups that take it upon themselves to push people over the borders are outside the official goal of any of the countries involved. And in the current on-going event the individuals who have pushed this caravan have no authority within any of the individual countries involved. It would be more effective if each of the countries were engaged in the plight of it's citizens and the UN could effect some pressure to normalize each countries goals. If globalization is the goal then the global community has to be the point of contact to resolve issues - not rag-tag groups.

Like this comment
Posted by Reynolds Wrap
a resident of College Terrace
on May 4, 2018 at 5:34 pm

Omigawd... Now he brings up the UN. Next will be the trilateral commission.

Like this comment
Posted by resident
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 5, 2018 at 5:49 am

Check out Honduras in the internet - Wikipedia. One of your "caravan" countries. Lots of involvement by many government organizations to help this country out since a major hurricane. Then check out the travel sections for Honduras - great tropical amenities for diving and beach - a stop for cruise ships. Put some organization into this place and you have a cash cow, great tourist place. Lots of good hotels. Lots of investment opportunities here with a little help. The US puts a lot of money into this place already. Stop viewing every country as a negative. What is required is people being in the school system and learning how to run a business/country vs running somewhere else so someone else can do all of that work. And yes - check it out on Wikipedia - every agency is involved in trying to make this country work.

Like this comment
Posted by resident
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 6, 2018 at 8:27 am

Letter's to the Editor in the Sunday papers are in on the rant - it is all DT's fault. And one-liners on the countries which focus on a gang problem. Check out San Salvador in Wikipedia - everyone is there - Walmart, major companies which are creating products under their brand name, and a sophisticated government system. There is no lack of jobs in San Salvador - it is an industrial center with all of the amenities that go with that and middle-class growth. Mention of one gang is one that originated in Los Angeles that competes with MS-13. I love all of the references to LA which have gang affiliations that straddle the borders of these lower America countries. We have that same gang problem right here - we import them. Please research all of the countries in Wikipedia so that any discussion of "Harrowing" experiences are contained within the personal choices of the individuals rather than going to school and working in the middle-class environment of the country they left. It is the responsibility of the papers as to what they publish and the Letters to the Editor they chose to print. Much of that is specific to political outcomes in the US - not the country people came from. So Hondurus has the beaches and cruise liner ports, San Salvador has the industrial location of many American Companies as well as a destination for many who fled WW2.

The Bottom Line is that there is a protocol within all governments that problem resolution is the responsibility of each countries government, the people they have assigned to speak for that country, and be a representative in the UN and other world organizations as to what is going on within those borders and what they need to happen. That is the basis of problem resolution - be it African nations, American nations, or European nations.

Like this comment
Posted by je je
a resident of El Carmelo School
on May 6, 2018 at 11:14 pm

Well, off the UN rant.

How to put "organization in Honduras"¿ Just install a dictator? Let Walmart run it? Most curious!

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