Like many first generation I have a part of me that I don't tend to show or say. Half of me is this American, born and raised in a huge city. But the other half, well it's a girl from Mexico. But not the nice sunny and beach part. No from a poor small puebla near two volcanoes. And although it isn't the city, it also from where I live as I am still half of my parents who would tell me the stories of their childhood there. The cara de nopal that has been bestowed upon me, allows me to share those stories so that others can understand and as well. So they can see life in someone else's eyes. A part of me holds the story of boy who, at a young age, was always looking for their older brothers who had gone to the military for money and work. Another is of a girl who wanted to help and save the lives of those who were ill, but was stuck between her dream and supporting her family. My parents would always tell me "para nosotros era el campo primero, y luego la tarea si podimos" which means "for us it was the fields first, then the homework if we could". They didn't make it that far, but that doesn't mean they didn't try. When fate united them, they came here so that their children can have a chance a dream that they couldn't, a chance to escape so that I didn't have to focus on labor. And the same thing can be said by many others who had come to this country. I may not be an immigrant myself, but doesn't mean I don't hold the story of one. Everything is done for a reason. I am saying this so that those whose names cannot be given, can have a voice that can never be taken down. I will use my rights as a citizen to protect those who keep silent in the dark with a story like no other.
Jessica '21 (BHSEC Queens)
This is a fictional account told in the perspective of a Jewish forced migrant during World War II. Its inspiration is taken from “We Refugees” by Hannah Arendt and “We Were the Lucky Ones” by Georgia Hunter.
Home. Home is a universal term for safety and compassion and nourishment. For comfort and acceptance and freedom. Home is where you are confident and where others love and support you unconditionally. Home can be a place, person, thing, or feeling, but most importantly, we all have a home. Even in times of great despair, with no sense of belonging, home can be found within oneself, or in one’s dreams, or in a lonely landscape of nothingness. Feelings of home arise as we remember the faces and laughter and voices of those we love, of those who are our home. But as the relentless ticks of clocks pester us at all hours, as the impressions of those most dear to us fade, as the days and nights blur into one, we realize how little we are left with. The air strangles us, the sun blinds us, the moon fails in illuminating our blackened world, but the stars glisten. “We think the stars more reliable advisers than all our friends” (Arendt, 1994). They guide us. But can they guide us home? Are they our home? They hold their place above us and disappear only at day break. Their lustrous shine captivates us, yet they are untouchable, exploding balls of gas that burn millions of miles away. Yet somehow we can still see them, and somehow, everyone sees the same stars.
Our friends, who have left us, rendering us helpless, forcing us to surrender to the weight of the truth, see our stars. They have fled and been taken and confined in this brutal world as their lives tantalize them, as their memories fall just beyond their reach. They are blind to anything that stands in their way; blind to everything but the stars. Our families vanished, leaving no trace, no way to ever know if they have survived through this hellish reality, or if they have succumbed to the persistent beating heart of evil. Seconds, minutes, days, weeks, months, and years pass without a tinge of joy or sorrow or anger or fear. Life pases by, but the stars remain to count the days and nights of solitude. Alone, all sounds are the same deafening volume, tainted with equal amounts of terror and excitement. But the silence extinguishes the warmth within us before any noise penetrates our ears, before any feeling of hope can creep into our hearts. In these melancholic times, all we can wish for is that those we love can see our stars.
As we do the impossible, as we attempt to accept and forget, we must will ourselves to survive. We must conjure motivation out of grief and defeat. We must project our ideas because not only have we been abandoned by those who love us and those who hate us, but we have been stripped of our rights. Our freedom torn from our hands. Our voices dampened, ignored, and unheard. Our thoughts slashed from our minds because they were threatening. We are called “refugees” as if we are no longer humans, as if displacement and genocide revoke our dignity and our right to live alongside others. And while we have sought refuge, and we have suffered, and the course of our lives have changed dramatically, we are more than just a title. A degrading and dehumanizing title. A title of pity. Of disgust. We are told to remain in the shadows. They say we are lucky, that we have come to a better place. They say they will protect us from hatred and destruction, but in order to be safe, we must be invisible. How can we thrive if we are only allowed to survive in the dark? How can we feel welcome in the place supposed to be our new home as we continue to live under restraints? How can we be happy as we know our world shatters? “How?” we ask, “How is it possible?” We need explanations and consolations, yet we know they are unobtainable. We have been deprived of so much, but we still have the stars.
Inés Rossi '21 (BHSEC Queens)
“I’m home,” I announced as I opened the front door. I took off my shoes, put my bag down, and hung my jacket on the coat rack behind the door (it drives my mom crazy when we leave our jackets on the couch), and ran into my parents’ room like I do everyday when I come home. I gave my mom a big hug and flopped down on her bed.
“I decided that I’m gonna write a story about you for my final literature project! Aren’t you excited?” I ask her.
“What exactly are you writing about?” she replies, not so excitedly.
“Your immigrant experience and stuff. Like how you came over to America at such a young age, when things were less modern, and how Grandma and Grandpa came over too, and their story, you know? So I’m going to have interview you a lot, so prepare yourself.”
“Oh my god,” she exclaims. “So you’re going to bother me even more than usual now?” (She was joking - sort of.)
“Yup,” I reply. “Aren’t you excited?”
A couple days later…
It was already around 9:30 pm-ish, but I couldn’t sleep, and my mom was still awake, so I decided to go ask her a few questions, namely, when she had come over to America. I always know that my grandparents came over first, but I wasn’t sure when, or where they stayed. So I walked across the hallway and crawled into her bed. My older sister, who didn’t have school the next day, was already there.
“What are you doing? Don’t you have to go sleep now?” my mom asked me as she slathered moisturizer onto her face.
“Yeah,” I replied. “But I couldn’t sleep, so I figured I might as well ask you a few questions for my final.”
“Ok,” she said reluctantly. “Hurry up. Maybe you should get under the covers so that you’ll get tired quicker.”
“So when did you come to America?” I asked her.
“September 16, 1984. My twelfth birthday.” she said.
“And did you always know you were coming to America, or is it something your parents had to tell you?”
“No. It was always something we had talked about, it was just a matter of how long it would take for the paperwork to go through. Your grandpa’s brother, Chacha Kewal, sponsored us. He had gotten through on a student visa, but ended up in the Army for four years.” My mom’s Chacha Kewal died in March 2018, and I remember my grandfather telling that exact story, crediting his younger brother for his success in America. Chacha Kewal (Chacha means “uncle,” referring to the father’s brother) was the exact model of the American Dream. He came to America as a young man who had two dreams to fulfill: to open his own mechanic shop, and buy a Mustang. By the time he passed away, he was successful in both, and he worked hard all his life to maintain his success.
“So Grandma and Grandpa stayed with him when they came to America, then?” I asked. I knew that they had come over before my mom and her siblings, but I didn’t know exactly what they did during those three months.
“Yes,” my mom replied. “They came in June, and left us with your Grandma’s sister in Guyana. They went to Jersey City, where Chacha Kewal and his wife lived. The whole point of them coming here before us was to find a place to live and to get jobs.” My mom and her entire family lived in Jersey City when they came to America, and most of her family still lives there. Everyone lived blocks away from each other - my grandfather’s three sisters and his brother, and their families. In fact, my mother ended up going to the same high school as all of her cousins, even though they didn’t all attend at the same time.
“So what was it like when you first came to America?” I asked her.
“Well, I remember the first thing I told my dad when I saw him was ‘Daddy, e got grass ova heh too!’ For some reason, I thought that there wasn’t any grass in America. We came in at JFK airport with one of your grandparents’ friends. We went to Jersey City, and then, we had only been staying with Chacha Kewal for a couple days when his wife told him that she didn’t want us there, for no reason, and he had to kick us out.”
“Really?” I exclaimed. (I never knew this part of the story.) “I never liked that lady anyway. So where did you guys end up going?”
“We went to your grandfather’s cousin. We ended up staying there until we got a place in November,” my mom said.
“What about school?” I asked. “When did you start?”
“A fews day after we came,” she replied.
“Really?” I scoffed. “Are you kidding?” I, frankly, couldn’t believe that she came to America, and a few days later, was thrown into the public school system.
“You don’t believe me? We started a couple days after, because it was a Sunday when we came,” she said.
“What grade did you start in?” I asked.
“I was put in seventh grade, at first, but then I transferred to eighth grade because I already knew everything,” she said. I couldn’t help but smile, because of course she had transferred grades. My mom has always been the perfect child. When my grandparents were working two, three jobs at a time, my mom would come home from school, cook (which she had been doing since eight years old), clean, take care of her siblings, then do her homework, and by the time she was in high school, working at the local CTown. AND, she swears she never once got a bad grade. (I’ve always argued with her on that one, but I still haven’t gotten her to admit one failure.)
“What were the kids like? Did you go to school with a lot of white kids? DId anyone ever make racist remarks?” I asked.
“Kids used to insult us all the time, even in eighth grade. They would spit on us, tell us we smelled bad, and call us ‘Hindus.’” she said. “And yes, even though there were a lot of Indian kids, there were much more white kids.”
“What was high school like?” I asked my mom. She never really discussed the topic with us, besides her spotless record and good grades. Deep down, I always hoped that it was because she was some kind of low key rebel, but I knew that it wasn’t true.
“Nothing memorable,” she said. “I got good grades.”
“Did you have a lot of friends?” I asked. I knew for a fact that all of her siblings were popular, but I wasn’t sure about her. My mom’s always been really funny, and just generally a great person, but I think that being a little wild was a necessity to be popular in high school, and my mother never had that choice, because she had to take care of her other siblings.
“Well, I mainly hung out with my cousins, and your Aunty Rosh and Mamoo’s friends,” she said. (“Mamoo” is a word for uncle, referring to your mother’s brother.)
This next part is a little short, because my mom was being a little uncooperative. (She said that I was stressing her out with all my questions, but she still answered them.)
After my mom graduated high school, she went on to get a job as a secretary at a company called J. Gerber in Manhattan, and she worked there for two years. She left after finding a better offer at a company located in the World Trade Center, and she worked for three years. In December, 1998, when she was twenty-seven, she met my dad. She had went Guyana for a funeral, and he lived right across the street from where she was staying. If you’ll recall, she was staying at the exact same place before she came to America. He told her that he had gotten a Visa, and was planning to come to America. She gave him her number, and as she claims, it was not because she liked him, but because she “just wanted to.” He came in January 1999, and on May 31st, 1999, they got married.
Jatila Gayadin '22 (BHSEC Queens)
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