Inspired in part by her experience growing up near the U.S.-Mexico border with her “loving migrant family,” Martínez spent her undergraduate years serving her community in Chula Vista, California. She embarked on two honors theses at Brown: an oral history project focusing on families living at the border, and an ethnography on the impacts of U.S. immigration policies on asylum-seeking children.
Both projects grew out of fellowships awarded by Brown’s Swearer Center. In Summer 2020, with aid from an Arthur Liman Public Interest Fellowship, Martínez took part in an internship at a bi-national legal service organization, where she created and directed an educational curriculum for migrant children living in shelters at the U.S.-Mexico border.
“I’m primarily motivated to help the community that raised me,” she told the San Diego Union-Tribune after winning the Rhodes Scholarship. “My research — both the oral history and ethnography — really prioritizes the narratives and stories of our communities, particularly the stories of our migrant communities as a mode to critically reimagine our immigration and global migration systems.”
A member of the student advisory council at the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs, Martínez has worked with multiple international organizations and engaged in public interest legal work with a focus on immigration reform. In addition to her academic and internship work, Martínez is president of the Brown Pre-Law Society and a member of Brown’s varsity cross country, and track and field teams.
“My time at Brown has cultivated deeply rooted principles of an abundance of community care and solidarity within me,” she said. “The Open Curriculum has allowed me to explore courses from a broad range of departments. It has also created opportunities like the Royce Fellowship where Kaitlan and I, who are from different concentrations, were able to share, grow and learn alongside each other while working on projects to support our communities.”
As a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University, she looks forward to growing as a community-engaged scholar as she pursues a doctorate in migration studies. After, she plans to attend law school to become an attorney focused on international human rights.
Like Martínez, Bui is a California native — from Stanton, in Orange County — who earned a prominent fellowship of her own, capturing a Fulbright Scholarship. An English and East Asian studies concentrator, she’ll use the Fulbright to begin teaching English in Vietnam, where her family is from, this summer.
“During my time in college, I became deeply invested in exploring memory in the Vietnamese diaspora — the subject of my senior honors thesis,” Bui said. “I am part of the first generation of my family to be born in America, so my relationship with these memories is complicated and imaginative, and I realized that I just wanted to experience, even live, in this country that holds so much of my family's stories.”
Over her four years at Brown, Bui served as a student fellow and a Diversity and Inclusion Action Plan committee member at the Cogut Institute for the Humanities, roles that enabled her to integrate her research on Vietnamese diaspora postwar memory in more public academic spaces, and to reach a wider interdisciplinary audience. As a Royce Fellow, she ran a Vietnamese American storytelling workshop for high school students in California. And as a BrownConnect LINK Award recipient, she conducted and translated interviews with family members about their lives in Vietnam, their immigration experience and their time in the United States.
Bui also built an extensive set of experiences around her passion for writing, serving as editor of Cornerstone Magazine, a Christian literary magazine produced by students from Brown and the Rhode Island School of Design, and as a staff writer for the Brown Daily Herald’s Post-Magazine.
“Writing is what I come back to because it is the place where I can peel back my heart and invite others into it,” Bui said. “In my earlier college days, I wondered if writing was selfish. But then someone told me that what I wrote was an exact description of what they were feeling; they just didn't know how to put it into words. I think writing makes people feel seen.”
Without giving away any specifics, Bui and Martínez said their senior oration will, among other things, honor families, professors, classmates and the communities who supported the graduates.
“The oration is a collective reflection on how to hold our communities,” Martínez said.
“We don’t want to hold each other just in hardship but also in joy,” Bui added. “And beyond holding, we want to uplift.”
A sense of identity, and a sense of community
Liu, too, shares a love for writing, a pursuit through which she found purpose and passion during her years at Brown. In her senior oration on Commencement day, she plans to emphasize to her peers the importance of assessing the purpose of their lives. The New Jersey native will also acknowledge her family because of the importance she places on her upbringing, she said.
“I was super excited and incredibly honored and grateful to have the chance to speak to so many people, not only students, but also parents and mentors who’ve helped us along the way,” Liu said.