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Journeys: Immigration Narratives by Auburn High School Students

A girl looks at a picture frame with pictures of her family. Pictures of friends hang on the wall. Textbooks show that she is studying.

Photo Memories

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R.G. Photo Memories

Before coming to the United States, I took some pictures with my family and friends. I brought the pictures to America and put them in the best view on my desk. When I first came to the United States, I had good expectations but I also had fears. I didn’t have relatives and friends in America and only my family. I learned a lot about racism from Korea, but I didn’t think I would suffer. However, when I came here, I learned that there are some American students who really hate Korean students. One time, my first year in the US, an American student who didn’t know me started swearing at me and using racial slurs, but I couldn’t say anything because I didn’t speak enough English. I felt really embarrassed and terrible. I didn’t tell anyone because I was worried that student would find me and bother me more. Whenever something like that happened or I felt sad, I would look at the picture of my family and friends and I would wish I could go back to Korea.

However, if there are mean people, there are also kind people. A kind person came to me who was not good at English first, talked to me, and we did homework together. I felt encouraged thanks to kind people, and I was able to adapt to America with their help.

I also had a hard time at school. I wasn’t good at English, so I needed to bring my dictionary all the time. But some teachers didn’t want me to use the dictionary on the test, so it was really hard for me and I got bad grades. I always translated English in Korean in class and at home. I have to find words in Korean, so I can’t keep up with the class and pass the day when I have homework. I also looked at the pictures on my desk when I was having a difficult time in school. Studying English was so hard and I missed my friends and family. When I looked at the photos, I felt that I wanted to see them and that I had to work hard, and they helped me get through the difficult times at school. Now, I still have the photos on my desk, and I feel happy when I see my precious people smiling.

A girl looks at a picture frame with pictures of her family. Pictures of friends hang on the wall. Textbooks show that she is studying.

A bus drives on a road in the desert with mountains and cacti on either side of the road.

The Desert

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R.B. The Desert

When I came to the United States about two years ago, I came with my mother and my aunt with her three children. We had to leave Guatemala because we had complicated family problems, and our lives were in danger there.

Before we could leave, we had to find someone who would help us pass safely through Mexico. We found someone who said he would charge us $6,000 for the two of us the day we left. We agreed, and we arrived first at a house where all the people who were going to travel on the bus with us were waiting. That day we all got ready because we knew that it would be a long trip. The people who were leading us gave us some papers to study in case the migration authorities from Mexico stopped the bus in some state. The next day, we got up at three o’clock in the morning to start the trip to the United States, but the people taking our group received a call that it wasn’t safe to pass through the Mexican immigration checkpoint near the border, so we had to wait another day. We left the following day at three o’clock in the morning.

That day we went through Chiapas Mexico. I felt scared because I did not want to be stopped by migration. The people who took us had many more people working with them who were helping to protect us because the places we passed through in that part of Mexico have many migration checkpoints. When it was almost time to eat, I felt very nervous because of the migration police. I was very nervous and scared, but those who brought us were on the lookout and always went ahead of us to check on the situation. They had already provided safe passage to many more people before us, and there were a lot of people taking care of all of us so that the bus would not be stopped by migration. The next day, almost everything happened just the same. We had many new migration checkpoints and passed through places that were new and more difficult every day. Our group was very afraid and so was I.

The bus ride was very difficult. We spent three days without bathing. We spent three days sitting in the same position day and night all the time. The bus only stopped at most once per day so that we could go to the bathroom and eat, but in three days on the bus, we only stopped a total of two times. We managed to reach the border of Mexico and the United States, and there we all separated into different groups to able to cross the border as quickly as possible. We managed to pass through the border of the United States, but then after about five minutes, a border patrol car arrived. He picked us up and took us to a detention center where we waited with other immigrants who had also been picked up, and then they separated me from my mother. They took me to a house in Phoenix and my mom had to go to jail. I was in that house for a month, and then they sent me to Auburn, Alabama to live with my aunt and uncle, and my mother was released from detention five months later.

A bus drives on a road in the desert with mountains and cacti on either side of the road.

A painting with three train cars with small figures on top of the cars.

El Expreso al Sueño Americano

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M.G.C. El Expreso al Sueño Americano

The Farewell to my family

When I left Guatemala on April 18, 2016 it was an unforgettable and sad day for me because it was not so easy to leave my good family where I spent my childhood. It was a tearful farewell that hurt a lot, but I needed to come in order to know my true mother who I had not seen since I was three, because living with grandparents is not the same as living with your true mother. When I was six years old, my mom told me on the phone that I would join her here in America, but I did not think much about it at the time. Later, when I was thirteen, I started to think more about joining her here because I was too far away from my mom and I always missed her pretty smile, her pretty look. She had always called me on the phone, but that is not the same as seeing someone in person, so I made my decision to come to America to join her.

The Trip Through Mexico

When I left San Gaspar, I first traveled in a taxi to the border between Guatemala and Mexico. I arrived at the border at five in the afternoon, and I met the thirty other people who would travel with me. After that, we were in a wagon for a while, and then in the night we continued walking in the mountain. Then we traveled on the bus, I don’t remember how many nights, but it was not long. After that, we traveled in a truck for about four nights. There, we suffered more hunger, cold, dust, and thirst, and as we traveled further, it became more and more dangerous. On top of the train we traveled four nights, suffering from cold, hunger, thirst, heat and fear. The train goes through mountains and cities.

The scariest part of my journey on the train was when one of our guides suddenly told us that we all needed to jump off of the train while it was still moving too fast. People began jumping off safely, but I was the last person, and the boy in front of me almost fell underneath the train tracks and died. Thank God another person pulled him away from the moving train at the last minute and so nothing happened. But then because of this, I was too scared to jump at that time, and I rode the train a little longer until it slowed down a little bit before I jumped, and I had to walk with my uncle who stayed with me on the train in order to catch up with my group. I will never forget that moment when I almost saw someone die in front of me.

I crossed the border to America on May 9, 2016. I was very proud of myself for surviving my journey when I turned myself in to immigration late one night in San Luis. After that, I arrived in Arizona. I stayed for 15 days in a house where the workers treated me very well. I will never forget their kindness. Then I left Arizona on May 25, 2016 and arrived in Alabama at three in the afternoon. When the plane arrived at the airport, my mom was waiting for me. I looked at my mother, and I did not recognize her. But she recognized me, and she came to hug me. Without my mother, I felt a great sadness in my heart because it was such a long time without seeing each other, and I told her that we finally fulfilled our dreams. We cried, but we cried with joy, and now I feel super happy with her, and I have a good life.

In America I feel better than I did in my country. This is a very good country and it has many good laws to protect people. I feel very free. I never imagined that I would be here, but thanks to God for bringing me into a good country, and I feel very proud to be here.

A painting with three train cars with small figures on top of the cars.

Two girls in Iranian school uniforms stand in front of a school with yellow bricks.

Past & Future

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M.A. Past & Future

I painted my sister and myself standing in front of our school in Iran because school is very important for me since it can determine my future. I only came the US for one year and will be returning to Iran soon, so this school is my past and my future.

There are many differences between schools in Iran and here. My school was smaller than Auburn High School. In my country, students also respect their teachers more than students do here. Because in our culture, showing respect is very important. When I first came to the US, I was amazed that students usually don’t have so much homework. In Iran, I usually studied for 5-6 hours each day. Iranian students have to study and work harder for school because grades are so important. We also have 14 subjects each year. However, I think that when you don’t have so many things to do for school, you have more free time to do or learn new things that you like, and it’s better.

Another difference is that between every class in Iran, we have about 15 minutes of break time, but we don’t have lunch, so schools finish by 2 o’clock. Students wear uniforms for schools and we can’t choose what to wear. I think that it is good that students can choose what to wear at Auburn High School. In Iran, there are some rules that are against many students’ beliefs. For example, girls must wear hijab and all students must join the mandatory Islamic prayer. I don’t like many of the rules because I think things like prayer should be a personal choice, and these rules are a kind of imposition of beliefs.

This year is a good experience for me to learn new things, and I met new people. I’m happy that I had the chance to study in the US in high school and to try new things. I will go back to Iran this summer. I’m happy that I will go back to my home and see my family and friends again, but I will miss AHS and my friends here.

Two girls in Iranian school uniforms stand in front of a school with yellow bricks.

A painting with two sides. On the left, two figures play soccer in front of a red house. On the right, a figure sits on a bed staring at a phone.

Dolor

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L.M.G.C. Dolor

The Difficult Life of a Young Immigrant

There was a time when I had to make a very difficult decision because my family was having really hard times, and I made the very difficult decision to come to the United States. It was a very difficult decision because I am very close with my family, and I miss them a lot. To come here, I had to cross all Mexico alone, and those were the hardest days of my life. I had to travel all the way through Mexico. I walked a lot and spent two days on the dangerous train called the “Beast,” and those were very difficult days because it is so dangerous, but thanks to God I’m okay.

My decision to come here was very difficult, but I made it with very good intentions. I wanted to continue studying, and I could not do it in my country because there is so much poverty. My family had to pay the school every month and pay for my bus fare every day, and my mother did not have enough money to pay for all of that. My father did not have a job either. I have more younger siblings there that she also had to take care of, so my dream of school was a burden on my family. We also have a lot of problems with crime in my country, and you have to pay the gangs regularly so they do not hurt you or kill you.

Another reason I came here is because I want to help my brothers and my mother, who has a very serious illness, and I want her to heal. She does not even have enough money to go to a doctor. It is really difficult for her. I know that my mother feels bad that I am not there with her, and it is really difficult, and I feel sad that I cannot do anything more to help right now. My mom also does not have a right foot and has a difficult time walking. That is another reason for me to help her because it is very difficult for her to walk. I must fight for me and for my family.

One of my biggest dreams is to have a professional title to be someone in life, not to be a “nobody.” Now that I’m here in the United States, it’s really costing me a lot, because I really miss my family and am alone. Now I only communicate with them through a telephone, which is the only way we are able to communicate, and I am very sad that I won’t be able to see them for a long time. It’s very difficult when they share all the things that they are doing, and I can’t be there with them. I am happy that I can communicate with them every day, even though it’s very hard because we miss each other a lot. However, I know that if I stay, I will be able to help my family more in the future. I miss them a lot, but I will fight for my dreams and for my family.

A painting with two sides. On the left, two figures play soccer in front of a red house. On the right, a figure sits on a bed staring at a phone.

A train in front of mountains with three figures on top of the train. There is a sun in the lefthand corner, birds in the sky, and plants and a river at the front of the painting.

La Bestia

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K.G. La Bestia

I made the difficult decision to leave Guatemala to come to the United States, and my journey began on February 6, 2016. When I left my house, I traveled a few days to cross the border of Guatemala and Mexico and that day was difficult for me because there are many bad people in that part of Mexico. My journey was difficult because I had to walk 6 hours under the mountain so that the migration authorities would not see us.

As my companions and I were walking, a car was attracted to us after we had walked 6 hours under the mountain. We traveled a few hours in that car to get to the place where we had to stop. We stayed at this house for like 2 weeks, and then when the time came, some other people brought a white bus. We took this bus and finally we arrived in Puebla, Mexico, and there we separated. We took another bus to get to Tepic, Mexico, and there we spent a few hours inside a house before riding on the train.

I and other people had to run to reach the train and get on top it while it was moving. I heard people call the train “the beast” because it is the fate of death for many people. My companions and I rode on top of the beast, which is very dangerous because many people fall from the train and die, and there are also bad people who climb on top of the beast to rob the passengers and if people do not give them money, they can kill them. I was really scared when I rode on the train because I was worried that people would try to kill me or leave me injured on top of the train.

I traveled on the train for 3 days. It felt so long because I was hungry and I endured thirst, and it was very hot during the day and very cold at night. We finally arrived in Altar, Mexico and waited there for one week until I could start the last road of my journey.

After I crossed the border, I was taken by the Border Patrol and they took me to a shelter in Arizona with many other migrant children. I took a flight from Arizona until I arrived with my family. I was very glad to see my family again after being apart from them for so many years.

A train in front of mountains with three figures on top of the train. There is a sun in the lefthand corner, birds in the sky, and plants and a river at the front of the painting.

A truck drives down a road in front of mountains at night. Small figures are running on the bottom righthand corner of the painting.

Desesperación

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J.J.C.M. Desesperación

This part of my story is called “Desesperación” which means desperation in English. The reason why I want to talk about this part is because many people have never imagined how many difficult things the people that travel to come here pass through. It’s been two years since I came here and this is my second opportunity of share my story so I’m very excited.

At the beginning of February in 2016 my mom decided to bring us to the US because of the crime in my country. Sometime at the end of 2013, my sister got shot in both of her legs while she was coming home from work because she couldn’t pay the gang members who were trying to extort her for money. She had to stay in the hospital for 3 months. This is the main reason why we came. We had to wait two years before we could come because the gangs continued to harass us and demand money, and we didn’t feel safe enough to escape the situation. We also had to wait for our mom (who was already in the United States) to find people who could help us and to raise the money to pay them.

I remembered that a week before we began our journey, my aunt said, “Don’t forget where you came from and you will always be all right.” My siblings, brother in law, niece and nephew, and I all traveled together. We were in a group of people and we had to walk for many hours. We stayed in an ugly house and it was one of the worst experiences in my entire life because we stayed in that house almost a week without taking a shower, and it was horribly cold every night. We had no internet, no bed, and there was one bathroom that was super dirty. Whenever I remember this, I say, “Thank you God that I’m not in that house anymore.” When we finally left that house it was nighttime, and I was so happy because I was not going to be there anymore and could finally continue with my journey. We traveled in a bus until 2 a.m., and then they took us to a forest where we had to sleep. We stayed there for 2 or 3 days, and it was even worse than that ugly house I hated. It was so cold! But I felt even worse for my niece and nephew because they were only 2 and 1 and a half. I gave my sweaters to them because only my sister was taking care of both of them, and I got angry because my brother in law didn’t care for his son and daughter. The next day, we started walking again. We walked so much, and I was so tired, dirty, and hungry. I had to carry my niece for the whole journey. I felt like I was dying. Finally, we got in one place where we could eat and rest for a night. I felt like my brain was mush, my whole body ached, and I was exhausted from not getting enough sleep for three days. It was terrible.

The next night we continued. That night, it was even worse because we traveled in the back of a truck with too many people for almost 4 hours. I couldn’t feel my feet, and still I was with my niece. I felt so desperate! I was about to scream and I told my sister, “I really can’t do this anymore!” She told me: “Just calm down! Everything is going be fine.” And I started to wonder how she was fine after what we had passed through, especially because she still had problems with her legs from being shot. I immediately just calmed down when I saw how strong she was. Suddenly, the truck stopped for a couple minutes and then took off very fast. Someone started to shoot the truck, and everybody got scared. Later, the driver told us that the police wanted money and he didn’t give it, so they started to shoot.

I made this painting because I wanted to tell you a little bit of what an immigrant has to pass through. This is just one of many stories, and even though my story is bad, there are many more that you might never hear that are worse.  I just want you to think about that and thank you for reading.

A truck drives down a road in front of mountains at night. Small figures are running on the bottom righthand corner of the painting.

A birds eye view of a bedroom. A figure sits on the bed, and another figure lays on the ground. Three shadowy figures stand outside of a window on the righthand side.

Ser Joven es un Pecado / To be Young is a Sin

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I.B. Ser Joven es un Pecado / To be Young is a Sin

I was born in El Salvador, the 3rd most dangerous country in the world. I love my country and I miss it, but I really can’t be there because my life would be in danger.  I had to come here because I could not survive in a place with so much evil where the young men are forced to be in gangs and the girls are forced to be the slaves of the gang members who can take whoever they want. It’s very sad that the corruption in El Salvador is so bad that the gangs have so much more power than the government.

For example, El Salvador has some very stupid laws. It is illegal to have a miscarriage because it is defined as an abortion in El Salvadorian law. Not only is a miscarriage illegal, but it is considered a very serious “crime” in El Salvador with a sentence of like 30 years in jail for something that is an accident. Imagine the pain of a mother who just lost her baby, through no fault of her own, who then is punished for her loss by being forced to go to jail for almost her whole life. It’s so frustrating that the real criminals walk free and continue to do evil things while the victims are thrown in jail. This is even more tragic because my country is so beautiful and is rich with natural resources and a beautiful culture. It has the best beaches, the best places to surf, delicious coffee, and delicious food, but only people who are rich can see this side of the country because the gangs control the rest.

When I was 11 years old, my mom came to the US. A few months after that, I lost my father. It was a terrible time, but I lived with my grandmother, a perfect woman. She took care of me, but I had to leave her to come here.  After my mom left and my father passed away, I was in a deep depression. When I was 12-13 years old, the members of MS13 started harassing me.  One of them really wanted to force me to stay with him and be his woman. I was so scared and I couldn’t go to church, school, or anywhere without my grandma to protect me.

I felt like my house was a prison, and I didn’t feel safe even answering the door. The gangs think of all the girls my age as their property and that they can do whatever they want with us. I feel enraged when I think of all the bad things that they do, to kill people just because they refuse to be slaves. I was in a very difficult situation and suffered through some very hard times, but my grandmother never left my side and always protected me. I am so thankful to God and to her for giving me the strength to keep going. It was a difficult time, and I really don’t like to talk about these things, but I make an exception because I want to you show how difficult was my life in my country and would be dangerous if I come back.

It hurts me so much to talk about this, but I am very grateful to God and my family for making me come to this country. I will honor the sacrifice my family made for me forever! Getting out of that world of Hell, evil, fear, despair made me value life so much. Now, I have so many more opportunities because of the sacrifices my family has made for me. God bless my family who do so much for me.

A birds eye view of a bedroom. A figure sits on the bed, and another figure lays on the ground. Three shadowy figures stand outside of a window on the righthand side.

A painting with five desks. The background is solid gray, and four of the desks have orange backpacks next to them.

Absence

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E.P. Absence

My painting is four desks to represent my lonely desk when I left Korea to come to the US. When I was in Korea, the desks were in three rows in pairs. In Korea we all stay in same classroom and desk all day and teachers are the ones who change classrooms. So when I left, there was an empty desk where I sat all day.  I did not like my seat in the school. I was really quiet in the class all the time that I was in Korea. When I left Korea to come United States, I felt really sad about leaving my friends in Korea. My friends gave a party for me when I leaving to United States in 2013. I was happy when they giving a party for me.

However, I felt lonely in Korea, and when I came here, I found lots of smiles. I like it here better than in Korea because everyone is so nice. But when I first came to the US, I was really sad and lonely because I didn’t have any friends, and school was so different. I was confused the first day because here the students change classes and the teachers stay in the same room. I like school here better than in Korea. In Korea studying was a lot harder than it is here; all the students in Korea have to go to school until 10PM, and then they study at home before bed. In the US, we only go to school until 3:35 PM, and then we go home. People in the United States don’t have to study very much, but students in Korea study all day long.

A painting with five desks. The background is solid gray, and four of the desks have orange backpacks next to them.

Freedom

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D.W. Freedom

My father decided to migrate to the US because I was not good at studying, and my father wanted to give me another chance to go to college. I had a hard time learning English and making new friends in the U.S. I am still learning English and now I am trying to make American friends because it helps me to improve my English skills.

In Korea, most high school students study so much for exams that they do not have enough time to get any exercise. Students in Korea only have one opportunity as a senior to take the college entrance exam, so there is a lot of pressure on this one test. Being a senior in Korea is very difficult because they even go to school on Saturday to prepare for the college entrance exam. Recently, I saw pictures on Instagram from my friends in Korea, and they all posted pictures of stopwatches that showed how long they studied. They studied 15 hours in school and 4 hours at home. When I saw those pictures, I felt so relieved because I have a better life in the US.

Studying was very hard in Korea, but I had more freedom there to hang out with my friends when I wasn’t studying because they have a strong public transportation system and it’s safer.  I would study hard on the weekends, but I would usually hang out with my friends after class. That was so fun because there are so many things to do such as karaoke and PC rooms (public computer rooms where you can play games), and I didn’t need a driver’s license to go anywhere. I really miss how easy it was to hang out with my friends because I could use public buses, the metro, and taxis. Here, I am limited because I do not have a car or a driver’s license, and Auburn has a weak transportation system.  In addition, Korea feels safer than Auburn because people can walk at midnight without fear since no one has any guns, and there are lots of street lamps. I never see people who walk in the dark street at midnight in the U.S. These are the things I miss most about Korea.

My life was simple because every day I had a similar schedule. I went to the school in the morning; I ate lunch and played soccer in the afternoon; I took extra evening classes because some test questions came from material covered in evening classes; I ate dinner with my friends at school; and then we sometimes had evening independent studying. Evening independent studying is not a requirement, but many students do it. I got home at 10 PM, but some of my friends didn’t get home until midnight or later. Nothing in my schedule ever changed; if I did not have evening independent study, I went to the academy.

In the U.S, students have many opportunities to retake the SAT and ACT. I feel that the US system is much fairer because I recently saw a story in the Korean news about the college entrance exam. A student wasn’t feeling well on testing day, and he messed up on his test. He committed suicide after the test. When I heard this news, I felt bad because one test killed a student who had dreams and hopes. In the US, some students study hard, but many students don’t. And many students participate in after school activities instead of only studying. When I came to the US, I thought after school activities were awesome. We have clubs in Korea too, and I was on the school soccer team there, but we didn’t play much because studying was always more important. I was also really surprised when I heard that in the US, people who participate in after school activities sometimes get advantages for college applications because in Korea, colleges only give advantages when you perform at a high level academically.

When I see pictures on Facebook or Instagram, I sometimes envy my friends because they get to graduate this year, but I have two more years. They also get to hang out often, but I do not. However, if I could go back to past, I would still come to the US because the things I don’t like can be overcome in the future and I am satisfied with my life in Auburn.

 A painting with two sides. On the left is an American baseball game at night, on the right is a Korean school at night where students are still studying. Two clocks show that it is the same time.

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