Why We All Need To Read Peace Corps Kids’ Stories | Seeing the World Through a Multicultural Lens
Julie Early Sifuentes, Peruvian American founder of Peace Corps Kids, wants to unearth the stories of multicultural, mixed race communities.
Tell us about your experience growing up as a Peace Corps kid.
I think many people have half of their family connected and rooted in a different country from where they grew up. Many people in the U.S. might have most of their childhood experience more connected to the side of the family rooted in the U.S., but for me, it’s the opposite.
I come from a multicultural family. Instead of going to Vietnam during the war, my dad (English ancestry) served as a Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) in the mountains of Lima, Peru. At the time, my mom - who was born and raised in Lima - was working in the Peace Corps office. They met, fell in love, and eventually settled in the US.
I grew up in a small town of 15,000 people in Oregon called Roseburg - a predominantly white community with little awareness of other cultures or identities. I couldn’t quite connect or relate to the people in my town. There wasn’t a Peruvian, LatinX, or Spanish-speaking community for us to connect with. Back then, the world wasn’t as connected either. Once a month, my mom would have an expensive long distance call to Peru. There was a sense of loneliness and lack of belonging where I physically grew up.
Tell us about Peace Corps Kids’ origin story.
Over time, by my late teenage years, I grew this curiosity and longing to connect with and get to know my Peruvian identity.
After graduating from college, I decided to spend a year in Peru, stay with family, travel around the country, and find experiences doing work in the nonprofit sector. While it was a struggle, overall, it was a transformative experience. It helped me deeply understand my Peruvian American identity.
During this trip, I met a woman on a train ride who was a fellow Peace Corps Kid and also in Peru for the same reason as me – to connect with her Peruvian identity. We had so much in common and talked for 6+hours. In that moment, I recognized the whole set of shared experiences that Peace Corps Kids have. At the center of that story is mixed identity and cross-cultural bridging. Since then, I’ve run into more stories like this.
That was when the seed was planted and Peace Corps Kids (PCK) was created.
PCK’s purpose is to build a network for those of us who come from families brought together by the Peace Corps experience. Many of us are part of multicultural, multi-racial, immigrant families. This project is called Peace Corps *Kids* because growing up in a mixed Peace Corps family really shapes who we are.
Storytelling is at the heart of Peace Corps Kids. Why are these stories so important to share?
My interest in narrative and in stories and how we make meaning in those stories, and identity are a big part of PCK. My desire to create PCK is rooted in my experience of not only growing up as a multicultural mixed race person in white rural community, but also comes from my curiosity around peoples’ experience, identity development, and peoples’ experiences navigating their own internal/external cultural landscapes.
I’m interested in seeing how people navigate between different cultures, especially people whose identity doesn’t fit in the boxes of a census form. There are many people in this space who are trying to figure out these details.
One of PCK’s goals is to work towards justice and inclusion. Can you tell us more about this initiative?
Our hope is to bring together PCKs of all ages and families to support each other and others in building intercultural bridges and advancing equity and inclusion in our communities and in the world at large.
PCK works toward justice and inclusion through strengthening relationships across racial and cultural identities. We do this by supporting, celebrating and sharing stories about people and families who have deeply lived experiences navigating intercultural and interracial relationships.
PCK shares some incredible stories of resilience, multiculturalism, and identity. Can you share a favorite?
One of my favorite stories so far is "Proud Peace Corps Baby, Julian Moiwai." Julian's mother was a PCV in Sierra Leone, where she met Julian's father. Julian grew up in North Carolina, and he talked about experiences that a lot of mixed race people feel; like he didn't quite fit in either in the black or white communities where he grew up. He also shared how he reconnected with this African cultural heritage through friendships with other college students who were immigrants from Africa.
Julian is also deaf, and a deaf advocate, and through his story and developing a friendship with him, I have learned so much that I didn't know about what it is like to move around in this hearing world as a person who is deaf. I have gotten a glimpse into the richness of deaf culture and community, and I feel so grateful for that.
How can we support PCK?
While our organization has a special focus on families who are brought together by the Peace Corps, we see ourselves as a community of mixed race and multicultural people and families regardless of how they came together. Follow us on Facebook and Instagram, and if you have any ideas of how to expand our network, please reach out!