Melis Sonmez: Let’s Get Real about the Immigrant Experience

April 10 - Sarah Ashlock

FIRST THOUGHT: All Around the World

Have you ever had a strong opinion about something only to have it destroyed because, well, you actually didn’t know what you were talking about? If you’re a traveler, you’ve probably been met with bewildered looks if you went to a destination besides a Caribbean cruise or Rome. For instance, Croatia is on my list, and Turkey might just be on yours. (Hand-painted ceramics, baklava, and coffee, oh my!) Istanbul has a rich mix of old world and new, with street art and cool bars and lots of kitty cats that are taken care of by locals. Every person and every place always, always has more than meets the eye.


We all deal with our fair share of stereotypes. I’m from the Midwest, so I’ve been asked about cow tipping far too often. (And no, that’s not a thing; we go to Starbucks and hang out like real, normal people). Immigrants across the world are the recipients of plenty of ill will and dumb assumptions. This can jeopardize their mental health, their future and even subsequent generations. For example, in 2016, it was found that immigrants were three times more likely than American citizens to drop out of high school.

WOMAN TO WATCH: Melis Sönmez, Founder of Bright Side

While everyone has a different story, a different journey, there’s always someone out there who can relate. Always. Melis Sönmez has seized this idea, as the founder of the online magazine Bright Side. Born in Turkey, Melis is a Chicago-based design researcher with an eye for engaging elements and a contemporary appeal.

Melis makes a living as a design strategist for a brand strategy company called DuPuis. Part of her position requires tackling challenges by knowing people’s “why,” or rather, what makes someone stop and notice a brand; what makes someone feel inspired.

There’s no doubt Melis has a lightheartedness about her that’s irresistible. She’s even lackadaisical when it comes to her name, with her Instagram bio showing all the ways to pronounce it—though “Melissa” seems like a stretch, people.

Bright Side touches on the idea that everyone’s voice is important, no matter how people say your name. By highlighting the stories of immigrant artists, Melis gives the otherwise-voiceless a platform to engage and connect with other immigrants, and even citizens who are beginning to understand what it’s like to be an immigrant.

Because Melis’s skills are in art, her creative factor is a crucial element to Bright Side’s storytelling. The magazine teamed up with an artist to create cards, each of which highlights an experience that makes an appearance in nearly every immigrant story. Called “From Immigrants,” Melis hopes it offers some solace and support to those who need it most.

Some of those anecdotes include the fear of making a grammar mistake in one’s resume because of the language barrier. Then there’s the feeling of being “in limbo” regarding citizenship, as an immigrant is always waiting for the next hurdle to pass. Melis’s goal is to raise money to print 100,000 of these “love letters from immigrants,” to spread in public places. It’s the kind of thing that would’ve lifted Melis’s spirits during those beginning weeks and years in the states.

Melis knows these emotions all too well. She moved to the states without knowing a single person and admits that those first few months were trying and left her feeling deflated. Jokingly, Melis says dealing with a harsh winter made her feel invincible enough to stay.


A Kenyan-mexican actress, Lupita Nyong’o, said:

"No matter where you're from, your dreams are valid."

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