Finding Home

Madison is full of immigrants, enhancing our culturally-diverse population and establishing their own connections and communities here. But what’s it like being from continents away — and landing here? Four Madison immigrants share their journeys to the capital city, and why they’ve chosen to stay.

Immigration policy is a complicated topic — and those who work in the arena will tell you as much. People immigrate to the U.S. for a variety of reasons — family, work, education opportunities or fleeing an unstable situation in their country.

Being in Madison has offered ample opportunity for the immigrant women we talked to — but it hasn’t been without challenges. Says Linda Vakunta, deputy mayor of Madison: “I realized I had to educate others about my culture whether I wanted to or not.”

By Shayna Mace, Katy Macek and Jessica Steinhoff | Photography by Hillary Schave, shot on location at Ellsworth Block

LINDA VAKUNTA: Leading Multicultural Madison

It’s time Madison started viewing itself as a multicultural city. So says deputy mayor and Cameroonian-born immigrant Linda Vakunta.

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FABIOLA HAMDAN: Creating Connections

Hamdan’s story began in La Paz, Bolivia, where she lived with her parents, brother and sister. In the ’80s, Hamdan’s mother was diagnosed with a brain tumor, which brought part of her family to Madison so her mother could be treated at UW Hospital. (A family acquaintance knew someone who worked there, and they recommended she be seen there.) Although Hamdan was planning to stay back in La Paz with her father to attend college, the pair ended up in Madison as well to assist her mother after her brain surgery.

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At just 34 years old, Ankita Bharadwaj has already racked up plenty of life experience. She has three law degrees — two from India and one from UW–Madison — is fluent in three languages and has worked as a lawyer, activist and university employee.

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SEHADE CARTER: The Economy of Empathy

Growing up in an Albanian Muslim immigrant family, Sehade Carter found middle school especially hard. Her classmates made fun of her name so often that she started going by Sarah.

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By Olivia Mizelle

These Madison-area groups assist immigrants and refugees through a variety of services.

Centro Hispano

Centro Hispano provides consultation and assistance with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services applications.

Dane County Immigration Affairs

Bilingual social case workers at the Immigration Affairs Office of the Dane County Department of Human Services provide a variety of services to immigrants and refugees including navigating the immigration system case management.

Jewish Social Services

In addition to Jewish spiritual care and family resources, JSS helps refugees and immigrants of all faiths and ethnicities resettle in Wisconsin.

Latino Chamber of Commerce

For Latino business owners, LCC is here to help. They work to promote the interests of Madison’s Latino and non-Latino business community, as well as connect the Latino community with each other and the greater Madison area.

Leading Change Africa

This organization helps young African immigrants get a quality education in the U.S., and preps them for college and leadership opportunities in the future.

Madison International Partners

Global citizens in Madison can find familiarity through Madison International Partners programs. From international cooking and dinners to conversations with native English speakers, MIP says their goal is to “provide a home away from home” for international visitors and residents of Madison.

Open Doors for Refugees

Open Doors volunteers provide housing options, transportation, translation services, employment and more for refugees arriving in Madison.

Wisconsin ESL Institute

WESLI has been teaching English in Madison for decades. They provide various course pathways, including Business English and the University Pathway, along with housing and accommodation options.

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