Narratives Inspired by Pulitzer Prize-winning Writer
by Erin Albanese, KISD School News Network
Wyoming Public Schools, MI — “My parents left me right after I was born, so I grew up in orphanages before I was adopted and moved to the United States.”
“It was November 9, 2011 when I had called the Kent County Jail to schedule an appointment with (my father), they said Immigration had already took him to jail in Detroit.”
“Minutes turned into hours, hours turned into days, days turned into weeks. I would come home and complain about how cold it was, but I was too young to understand that my mom didn’t have money to pay the bill.”
“I couldn’t read or write I could only speak a little English and I could never get my school work done on time I had no idea how to do it and I often got frustrated and angry that I couldn’t complete a single assignment.”
“Then (my father) got deported and everything changed. My mom was struggling, trying to find a way to pay for the bills and the house payments at the same time.”
— from “Always a New Chapter, Wyoming HS 2014”
Wyoming High School students’ life stories unfold with startling detail, touching on hard realities they have faced. They are chronicled in the book “Always a New Chapter,” a self-published compilation of essays and stories written by 214 students.
Inspired by Sonia Nazario, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of the immigration story “Enrique’s Journey,” students wrote about their own values and beliefs in relation to themes Nazario touched on during a recent visit to Wyoming High School.
Through a partnership with the Wyoming Branch Kent District Library’s “Wyoming Reads” program, students each got a copy of “Enrique’s Journey” to study. Nazario’s book recounts the quest of a Honduran boy looking for his mother, 11 years after she is forced to leave her starving family to find work in the United States.
Students then drew from their own life experiences to write short narratives and essays for publication. They had the chance to meet and speak with Nazario.
“The kids were able to get their (copies) signed by her and listen to her speak about immigration and her struggle — about being a minority, working hard and grit,” said media specialist Melissa Schneider, who coordinated the project.
Nazario talked to students about their experiences. “It was very personal for some of the kids,” Schneider said, noting that even non-immigrant students could relate.
Writing a Book
The assignment morphed into tales of survival that bring human faces to universal themes, such as personal journeys, perseverance, grit, determination, the value of education and family relations. Students’ voices come off the pages in blunt, honest phrases that now are forever documented in the book.
“It was an opportunity for them to see, ‘Wow, I’m a published writer,’ which some of them would have never aspired to, and to show them that they have a voice,” Schneider said.
Almost all juniors, except Advanced Placement students who are focusing on the end-of-year exam, were assigned to complete an entry, and nearly all submitted their work by deadline.
Eleventh-grade English teacher Joslyn Rodgers said many entries were eye-opening. “You get a good glimpse into their pasts and their backgrounds, and you get a better understanding of why they act the way they do,” she said.
Not Giving Up
Junior Juan Hernandez wrote the entry, “A Time I Didn’t Give Up,” about leaving his country and culture in Puerto Rico for “a better life and a better education.” He tells of how difficult it was to attend school where he didn’t speak the language. He found his way.
“I like people to know what I write because not everybody’s life is as easy as it seems and as good as it seems,” said Juan, who now has a 3.4 grade point average and plays football. “What I’m going through I can get through. It pushes me to do better and motivates me to try hard in everything.”
Leslie Enriquez wrote “Mi Papa Y La Migra: My Dad and the Immigration Police.” It’s a story about a girl whose father is deported and the animosity she feels from people about immigrants.
“That’s one of the biggest issues in America and the world today and one of the hardest things to find a solution to,” Leslie said. “I feel like people can actually read my stuff and hopefully it will inspire them too.”
While many students tell of sad, difficult circumstances, glimmers of optimism and hope also shine through “Always a New Chapter”:
“Today after 20 years both of (my parents) have acquired their citizenship and are here now legally. For most immigrants that is part of their goal to be legal in the United States otherwise referred to as the American Dream. I am proud of my parents for taking that journey to help their family back in Mexico.”
“I hope one day to finish high school and go back to my countries, Thailand and Burma, to help my Karen refugee people.”
“I’ve realized that sometimes it’s better to think about other people’s happiness before thinking about my own.”
“I want to show my future kids that education and hard work is the key to life — just like my father showed me. My dad, to this day, makes sacrifices for me every day and I love him for that.”
“I learned to be thankful for what I have. I saw the struggle my mother went through to get me where I am. I am blessed.”
The book is available in the Wyoming High School Media Center, the Wyoming Branch Kent District Library and for purchase online, here at TheBookPatch.com