An Eye-Opening Friendship
The daughter of a fourth-grade teacher, Rachel Gittinger spent hours after school talking and teasing with the school janitor, Armando. Over the years, he became a close family friend—a friendship that gave a young Gittinger her first glance into the world of immigration.
Why wasn’t his family here? Who brought his boys tres leches birthday cake as he did for her? What were ‘papers,’ and why did it take so long to get them?
“Humans have always used migration to seek out healthy environments; criminalizing that behavior doesn’t alter its necessity. My work centers around advocating for the right to health and mobility amidst a growing climate migration crisis.”
“My relationship with Armando was my first exposure to the injustices of our immigration system,” Gittinger remembers. “His experience taught me the inherently violent ways our policies destabilize countries, exploit workers, separate families, and limit access to health.”
At the University of Kansas, Gittinger majored in Spanish and Global Studies before going on to work in several direct-service and advocacy roles, including crisis response for a human trafficking hotline, advocating for detained immigrant children, and directing a naturalization program for those navigating the path to U.S. citizenship.
Each position deepened her understanding of immigration status as a determinant of health.
“Humans have always used migration to seek out healthy environments; criminalizing that behavior doesn’t alter its necessity,” she says. “My work centers around advocating for the right to health and mobility amidst a growing climate migration crisis.”
BA, Spanish and Global and International Studies, University of Kansas, University Honors Program, 2010