Immigrants share their stories in ‘Green Card Voices’

Janelle Von PinnonFeatured News, Sartell – St. Stephen0 Comments

by Dennis Dalman

Thanks to his efforts to obtain a green card, Ulises Ayala of St. Joseph was able to enlist in the Minnesota National Guard to help protect “a great, beautiful country” that he loves – the United States of America.

Ayala’s personal story is one of 19 featured in a free traveling exhibit entitled Green Card Voices that debuted its month-long run Jan. 5 at the Whitney Senior Center.

The exhibit will feature 20 banners, each 8-feet tall, and on the banners are large photo portraits of 19 immigrants and/or refugees from nine countries – ranging from Germany to Mexico, from Somalia to El Salvador. All of the people in the exhibit live in central Minnesota. In addition to the portraits, on the banners there is a quote from each person, a 200-word biography of each and codes for videos that may be viewed on iPhones or iTablets. Each video shows the immigrant and/or refugee discussing some aspect of their lives in a new country.

Green Card Voices is sponsored by, a local organization that promotes understanding among people of varying cultures and religions who live in the St. Cloud area and beyond. Funding for the exhibit came from the Blandin Foundation, the Central Minnesota Community Foundation and the Initiative Foundation.

In 2013, a similar traveling exhibit, made in the Twin Cities, made the rounds of many Minnesota cities to great acclaim. That exhibit is still being shown. Green Card Voices will also be featured in cities throughout Minnesota – churches, schools, community centers, city halls and more.

After its stay at Whitney Senior Center, the exhibit will move to Little Falls for a month and then to Cold Spring for another month.

Those featured in the exhibit include a doctor, teachers, college students, high-school students, a truck driver and others who are working hard to realize the American Dream.


In his video in the Green Card Voices exhibit, Ulises Ayala tells his story of moving to the United States – illegally.

He was born in a small town near the Pacific Coast in Mexico. When he was very young, his father moved to the United States in the early 1980s, followed by his mother and his siblings. Ayala stayed behind to finish the sixth grade.

Then one day, he crossed the Mexican-U.S. border, illegally, to join his family in Fresno, Calif. He was stunned to see his family lived in a one-room unit. It was not the America of gorgeous homes and green lawns he’d seen in photos.

When he was about to graduate from high school, Ayala wanted to enlist in the U.S. Marines, but the lack of a green card prevented him from doing so. That lack prevented him also from obtaining a driver’s license and greatly limited work opportunities.

He married, then decided to move to Minnesota and began the application process for a green card. The day it arrived in the mail, he joined the Minnesota National Guard and is now a captain. He is also doing master’s-degree studies at Mankato State University.

Now a naturalized U.S. citizen, Ayala said his goal is to instill positive values in his children so they, too, will learn to appreciate what a “great and beautiful” country America is.

Any organization, school or church interested in hosting Green Card Voices should email Natalie Ringsmuth at

contributed photo
Ulises Ayala of St. Joseph is one of many immigrants who tells their stories in Green Card Voices, a traveling exhibit now at the Whitney Senior Center in St. Cloud.

contributed photo
The Green Card Voices traveling exhibit at Whitney Senior Center will look very much like this similar exhibit that was shown in the Twin Cities and other Minnesota cities.

Author: Janelle Von Pinnon

Von Pinnon has been publishing the St. Joseph Newsleader since 1989, the Sartell-St. Stephen Newsleader since 1995 and the Sauk Rapids-Rice Newsleader since 2015. She graduated from Minnesota State University-Moorhead with degrees in mass communications (with an emphasis on print journalism) and biology. She lives in southeast St. Cloud with her husband and two children.

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