The Link Between Lyft and the Immigrant Experience

Lyft Stories immigrant experience
Photo take.lyft.com/citiestalkback

In light of recent events at the border and across the nation, and considering the current state of the country, it’s clear that a serious conversation needs to be had about the immigrant experience and what it means to be an American citizen. 

It’s hard to fathom that President Trump can shout (or Tweet) racist comments telling four minority congresswomen — who are all American citizens, btw — to go back to the country from which they came, while also wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat and claiming he wants to put America first. How can someone be so anti-immigrant and so pro-America at the same time? America is a country built by immigrants. It’s enough to make your head explode.

With anti-immigrant sentiments and racism prevalent across the country and the globe, with no signs of going anyway any time soon, it’s more crucial than ever that we talk about what it is like being an immigrant in this country. Because the truth of the matter is, being an American does not mean the same thing to everyone who lives here. It doesn’t mean the same thing as it did 10 years ago or for past generations. It does not mean the same thing to minorities. And while everyone — regardless of ethnicity, appearance, age, gender, religion, or birthplace — should be treated equally, we know that being an American citizen most certainly does not guarantee that the privileges, rights and experiences are the same for all. And that is especially true if you are an immigrant. 

Many people know this reality all too well, and Lyft is on a mission to share this message with the world, telling immigrants’ stories that rarely get told. 

The ride share company partnered with San Francisco-based production company and creative studio Even/Odd to create a series of videos showcasing the multidimensional experience of being an immigrant in this country. With so much negativity and so much misleading, false and flat-out offensive information flooding our newsfeed, this campaign is hoping to right some of that wrong and open our eyes to the immigrant experience in America. The series, entitled America Is an Idea, Not a Geography, is dedicated to using its digital platform to shine a spotlight on immigrants’ voices and stories.

We’ve all heard of the American dream. We talk about America as the land of opportunity, where anyone can make something of themselves and where, if you dream big you can achieve anything. America is supposed to be a country where people come to make their lives better for themselves and their families; where you can rise up and achieve goals if you’re willing to work hard. The American dream sounds nice. It sounds comforting and it represents the values that this country is supposed to stand for — inclusivity, freedom, equality, independence and opportunity. But it’s not the reality for everyone. 

According to Lyft’s website, “today, not all are welcome equally. On a daily basis, immigrant rights and immigration as a whole are being challenged. These threats affect the significant number of Lyft drivers who identify as immigrants or first-generation Americans — this degrades life for every one of us.” And so, they decided to do something about it. 

Lyft and Production Studio Even/Odd are Raising Awareness About the Immigrant Experience 

We know what you’re probably thinking… why Lyft? You’re used to hearing about certain brands creating moving, empowering, emotional and groundbreaking ad campaigns. Lyft isn’t really on that list. But when you break down the intention of this video series, and you take a close look at the people behind the project, it becomes pretty clear. Many Lyft drivers are immigrants, or come from immigrant families. Their stories are our stories, and their ability to thrive in this country depends heavily on their ability to share their experiences and move forward. 

These stories from the Lyft driver community are not unique, but rather representative of how people experience the “American dream” across the country. We live in a nation built by immigrants. Look around any room and nearly every person you see is either an immigrant or a descendant of immigrants. And yet, despite that undeniable fact, anti-immigrant sentiment is everywhere. Our own president is perpetuating those false beliefs, spouting racist remarks and essentially encouraging bigotry through his refusal to condemn hate crimes and hateful attacks on minorities. 

Lyft and Even/Odd saw this reality not as a reason to keep quiet, but as an opportunity to speak up. Their digital video series, which launched just in time for Independence Day, features a collection of short films using video footage, photography and text to tell the stories of immigrant culture in the US. 

And as you can tell from the various videos, the immigrant experience is far from consistent for everyone. They showcase the story of a Muslim first-generation Lebanese single mom of three based in Los Angeles. We learn about Cesar Virto, a man who was born in Mexico and brought to Alabama at the age of three, who didn’t find out he was undocumented until he was a young adult. He’s a homeowner, businessman, writer, and Lyft driver — he’s an American citizen in every way except on paper. We learn about the experiences of asylum-seeking migrants along the Tijuana / San Diego border in “Borderlands,” which showcases not only immigrants’ stories but also the work of the Minority Humanitarian Foundation, a non-profit organization working to restore humanity for immigrants during their journey. 

So far seven of the ten short films have been released, and can be viewed on the Cities Talk Back website in addition to on the YouTube channel

While each video brings the unique immigrant experiences to the forefront, and demonstrates just how unique each culture, family, journey and experience can be, they also show that many immigrants are not all that different after all. In fact, they are just like everyone else, working hard to create a better life for their family and working to navigate the multi-dimensional reality they are faced with in their community. The content without a doubt celebrates the diversity of the Lyft community of drivers and the diversity of our country on a much larger scale, and it does so by showing the trials, tribulations and inspirational actions of these immigrants, but also by showing the “regular-ness” of these people. They are Americans. They are average, and we mean that in the most complementary way. 

America is an Idea, Not a Geography Tells The Truth About Being an Immigrant in America

The stories being shared are intense, raw and relevant, and it’s no accident that they give a multi-dimensional and very painfully personal look at the immigrant experience in this country. 

It was always Mohammad Gorjestani’s mission to address the nuances and details of immigrant life that are often overlooked or overshadowed by the more newsworthy issues at the border and beyond. “We wanted to treat immigration not as an issue in America, but rather as the defining culture of America. We wanted to show an authentic picture of immigrant culture that celebrates the resilience and extraordinary qualities of these communities—rather than the more common, kneejerk narratives of victimization, powerlessness, or reducing the immigrant experience to an anecdote of a political controversy,” said Gorjestani, director and co-founder of Even/Odd.

And beyond his larger intention, Gorjestani has personal investment in the project as well. Gorjestani immigrated to the U.S. from Iran after the Iranian revolution, during the Iran/Iraq war. “By having creators who were able to relate to the subject matter personally, including some who have a personal stake in the outcome of some proposed policies, it gave the work a certain nuance, tenacity and sensitivity,” he told AdAge

Immigrant Stories Lyft immigrant experience
Photo Credit take.lyft.com/citiestalkback/

This video series had to cut deep and dive in to truly expose the immigrant experience and all of the ways that America has failed this community. In order to do this, it was necessary to share not one or two stories, but several experiences that run the gamut, from asylum-seekers at the border to people who have lived their whole lives in this country, unaware of their citizenship status (or lack thereof). The goal is to foster a sense of respect for immigrants, to help their stories be shared and their voices be heard, because information leads to investment, and when people have access to meaningful stories and content, they pay attention. 

“We’ve seen an average engagement on the site that is around five to seven minutes—way beyond the industry standard,” says Lyft creative director Shachar Aylon. “And they keep revisiting. It’s remarkable that in an age where we’re trying to create shorter and shorter content, people are still craving longer, more meaningful stories,” Aylon said. And the campaign isn’t just keeping a handful of viewers and customers engaged; it’s reaching millions. In fact, the campaign generated 35 million+ impressions and more than 3 million content engagements in the first couple of weeks. 

Lyft is Working to Keep it Real and Make a Difference

In addition to the incredibly raw, intimate and perspective-changing content, Lyft is also putting its money where its mouth is, so to speak. The company donated $150,000 in ride credits to support various immigration groups across the US, many of which are featured in the story spotlights in each “America Is an Idea” video. In addition, customers have the option to “round up” each ride they take with Lyft and donate the excess funds to support the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES). This not-for-profit organization provides legal services to immigrants, and during the month of July, any time a rider rounded up and donated, Lyft matched that rider donation up to $50,000. Like we said, they aren’t just keeping it real and raising awareness of immigrant stories, they’re making a fiscal difference where it matters most.

“Lyft is a brand with strong values that we uphold within our own walls and that shape the public perception of our company,” Lyft Associate Creative Director Joey Manin told AdAge. “We wanted to lean into our values and partner with organizations that share a collective drive to make this a more inclusive place.”

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Erica Nahmad is a writer and blogger based in Miami, Florida. A native New Yorker, she previously worked at Fitness Magazine, O, The Oprah Magazine and wrote web content for saludmovil.com, LatinaMoms.com and Mamiverse.com. She is a full-time mom to two young children, a self-proclaimed foodie, a dog-lover and a wine enthusiast. When not writing about all things health, fitness, pop culture, relationships, food and personal growth she is spending time with her family, breaking a sweat (she is a former fitness instructor and 5-time marathon runner) or learning everything she can about the latest trends in the wellness world.