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There is nothing more powerful than a story. It’s the way we make meaning of our lives, connect to one another, and record our histories. Enjoy these reflections on immigration from our friends, volunteers, and people like you.

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Immigration Enforcement in the Time of Trump with author Shoba Sivaprasad Wadhia

Celebrate America

Creative Writing Contest

2019 Winner: Kate Jentz

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The Celebrate America Creative Writing Contest challenges fifth graders across the country to reflect on and write about one of two themes: “Why I Am Glad America Is a Nation of Immigrants” or “What Does It Mean to be A Welcoming Nation?”

Click through the tabs on the left to read some of the winning poems from past years. 

2019’s winner was Kate Jentz from Carmel, Indiana. She is a graduating 5th grader from Towne Meadow Elementary School. Kate’s poem has been recognized throughout the state of Indiana, where she was recently invited to read her poem at a naturalization ceremony in Indianapolis. In addition to her love of writing, Kate enjoys acting and show choir.

 


 

Tell Me A Story

The rain splashes down
It covers the world
Like a blanket of water
That’s been gently unfurled
Drops land on the window
Knocking to come in
I open my book
I’m ready to begin

But the book has no words,
Not a single at all
I drop the book
And watch it fall
I grab my coat
And head for the door
I’m searching for stories
I’m searching for more

Up the avenue
Across the street
Lies an old house
With people to meet
Wind in my hair
Hope in my eyes
My Abuela steps onto the porch
Where a story lies

“Tell me a story.”
That’s what I say
To my grandmother
On that rainy day
She responds with a smile
And points to a chair
Abuela begins
As rain splashes her hair

She tells of festivals,
Dances and lights,
Fiestas and siestas
On warm summer nights
“This is my story.”
Abuela starts to explain
“I was a little girl
Living in Spain.”

“Why did you leave?”
I wonder aloud
Her shoulders square
Tall and proud
“There was a war
That broke out
Our family fled
And traveled about
Looking for a home,
Safe and sound

America
Was the land we finally found
I met new people
From all different places
Everyone was unique
All different races.”

Her smile twinkles
And a tear slips by
“America is beautiful”
Is all I reply

“America is beautiful.”
Abuela says loud and bold
“Every immigrant has a story
and every story must get told.”
I listen as her words fill my heart
Every culture is beautiful
Like a piece of art
I smile to myself
Knowing that it’s true
“America is beautiful
Because of immigrants like you.”
I look at Abuela
As I utter these words
She simply points to the sky
She points at the birds

The eagles glide
And soar through the air
A rustle of wind
Blows through my hair
I step off the porch
To get a better view
Abuela smiles
And steps down, too
Our eyes meet
As Abuela starts to speak
She grabs my hand
And the eagles reach their peak
“You have to stay strong
Like an eagle with might
When things get tough
You have to fight.”

“Thank you!”
I call as I start to leave
I know what to do
I have a story to weave

Down the avenue
Across the street
Lies my house
With people to greet
Hope in my eyes
Wind in my hair
I rush inside

I dash to my bedroom
Pick the book off the floor
And write Abuela’s story
Until my hand is sore
I think about Abuela,
America’s glory,
And immigrants’ impact
On our country’s story

I’m busy working
When I hear a knock
“Come in!” I call
The only response is a quiet walk
I set down my pen
My sister walks in
She asks for a story
And so, I begin

“The Blessing of Immigration” was written by Imyra Guerrero from Boston Teachers Union Pilot School in Roslindale, Massachusetts. The poem describes her father’s journey immigrating from Honduras to building a family in the United States. Imyra said she was inspired to write the poem because her father was “so brave to make such a big choice to come to America.”


 

The Blessing of Immigration

It’s Gone
Everything
Gone
My home
My mom
My family
My childhood
Thinking
No me gusta!
But there’s nothing I can do
I didn’t want this to happen
But it did
I could not change anything
lf I had one wish
I would stay


Left
I left everything
My mom
My friends
My home
Todas


My New Home
America
Boston
English
I was so confused
Overwhelmed
“What do I do now?”
Adiós Honduras


Adiós
I said Adiós
But I want to say it again
So,
Adiós, mamá,
Adiós, amigos,
Adiós, mi vida


Fit In
I didn’t know what they were saying
Mi papá told me that we were in Boston
That they spoke English
I went to school
People didn’t say “Hola.”
lnstead they said “Hi.”
But I didn’t


English
“How do I speak it?”
¿Cómo se dice?
“Yo no sé,” Papá says,
“We will learn soon.”
I didn’t fit in


Maple Street
I saw this female
She taught me
She taught me how to speak English!
Estaba tan feliz


Nikki
ls from Boston
She’s different
Smart
Sassy
Funny
Mi novia, mi amor


My New Family
Friends
Family all happy
Because of my new hija,
Imyra
I will never forget
The best day of my life,
Moving to America
I didn’t know it yet,
But soon I did


Now
Ahora, este país es mi casa,
I live here,
I have family and friends here,
America!


Author’s Note: This is my papa’s story. His life changed as soon as he left Honduras. He was only 14, but knew what was happening. He left because it wasn’t safe. There were gangs, and people being kidnapped. He had to leave his mom which was really hard. But when he met my mom he had help instantly. Now, even though my papa got deported, he is still a blessed immigrant.

“Immigration” was written by Lauren Rocke from Havens Elementary School in Piedmont, California. The poem describes the trials many immigrants face upon first entering the United States, from leaving friends to fitting in to the new environment. “Immigration” ultimately celebrates America as a welcoming place for those seeking refuge.


 

Immigration

Change
Everything has changed
Everything happened at once
The war
The plane
Seeing my new home
Crying
I didn’t like the change
The change brought uncertainty
I did not want the change
I did not welcome the change
But my family did
If I had a choice
I wouldn’t have gone


Lost
We lost everything
Our home
Grandmama
Grandpapa
My friends
Everything
I hate the people
Who did this to my family
I am lost in this new place


America
U. S. A.
America
My new home
Good bye Syria


Goodbyes
I never got to say goodbye
So here it is
Goodbye, Friends
Goodbye, Grandmama
Goodbye, Grandpapa
Goodbye, House
Goodbye, Village
Goodbye, Everything I knew


The Perfect Fit
I have not found a fit
In my new life
I do not fit into the puzzle that is my school
I stick out like a piece
From a different puzzle
I do not fit into my new town
I do not fit into America
At least I don’t think so
Mama says, “It will pass, you will make friends.”
Papa says, “Friends will come to you, just wait.”
So I wait


I Wait
I wait for a friend to come
Every day
And then she does


Yara
Is from Afghanistan
Is just like me
Is smart
Is funny
Is my friend


Celebration
I finally fit into the puzzle that is this town
Today they threw a party celebrating
Yara’s family
And mine
We celebrate immigration because without it
None of us would be here


I Will
I will live in America
I have lots of friends
I have a beautiful home
I love America
We celebrate immigration

The Celebrate America Creative Writing Contest challenges fifth graders across the country to reflect on and write about one of two themes: “Why I Am Glad America Is a Nation of Immigrants” or “What Does It Mean to be A Welcoming Nation?” 

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Maria Frausto

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With the brutal Islamic Revolution of 1979 unfolding in Iran where I was born, my parents were in a desperate search of a refuge and a place to live. Thankfully California got to be the place and during the rest of my growing up in Los Angeles, I got to meet America.

I saw a place where people of all colors and backgrounds lived in peace under the same flag. I certainly witnessed and read about the countless ongoing societal inequalities, but I also got to read the U.S. constitution. For me, it was unfathomable how a book of laws written so simply that even a teenager could understand could also serve as an instruction manual on how to operate the most powerful country in human history.

Against a backdrop of mass executions and statewide terror in my homeland, I was thankful to be here, appreciated my sheer luck, and sensed an opportunity to progress in a country that not only didn’t see me as the “other” but also welcomed our entire family and offered us with a safe place. Feeling truly at home however proved elusive until later in college when I happened to read a quote from an American President.

In one of his speeches, Ronald Reagan referenced a letter he had received that said in part “Anybody from any corner of the world can come to America to live and become an American.” Though I was never a fan, Reagan’s words changed my outlook on life. I knew then, not only that I had found my home, but also that immigration was something to be celebrated and was in fact a win-win. I saw myself as a contributor to my new homeland and had Ronald Reagan to back me up.

In my journey to become an American, I cherished the sense of community present on the road with all the other immigrant travelers. Each of our stories was full of colorful characters, fit for a bestseller that could also crush the box office. As a young adult, I added a gay storyline to my advocacy efforts for inclusion and equality. Though the Obergefell case was a milestone for the queer movement, the march towards an equitable set of immigration laws reflective of my America continued. 40+ years on, still not a fan of Reagan, but whenever I hit an obstacle in the immigration realm, I think of him reading that letter that preemptively recognized me as an American. I’m eternally grateful and continue to pay forward every chance I get.

Immigration has been a part of my life since the day I was born: the irony that the first child born in America to a family of Cuban refugees would be born on July 26th, the date of Fidel Castro’s failed attack on the Moncada barracks which is now celebrated as the anniversary of the Cuban revolution.  I was born 13 years after the Revolution that caused my father, a 15 year old boy, and his family to flee for the U.S.  I grew up among grandparents, aunts, uncles, granduncles and a vibrant Cuban exile community that longed for the comforts of home.   Although my grandmother settled her sons, mother and brother in New Jersey, a sizable portion of  my extended family settled in Miami.  I remember my trips to Miami as trips to another world where I would tag along with my grandfather on trips to the pasteleria and carniceria, where he proudly displayed his grandchildren.  I especially treasured the trips to La Carreta, a well known collection of Cuban restaurants in Miami, where waitresses with names like Iluminada and Epifania would bring platters of bistec empanizado buried under impossibly high mountains of papas fritas-  it is only when I got older that I got the black beans and rice accompaniment. The noise of more than a hundred Cuban families eating croquetas, ropa vieja and black beans and rice is the soundtrack of my family eating a meal in Miami.

But it was not just Cubans.  In the house next door to mine were Greek immigrants, down the street were Polish Jews who escaped the Holocaust, an Italian woman who gifted my family pizzelle every Christmas, the unfamiliar smells from my Korean friend’s kitchen, and a French woman who married a French-speaking African man.  My world was suffused with people with strong accents with tales of immigrating to the Lower East Side, Brooklyn, and Queens and remembering their homes.  It was not until I left the neighborhoods of my childhood that I learned that not everyone grew up among immigrants.  At that point, I realized that immigrants were my people.  They are the people I knew and grew up with.  Their accents and eccentricities shaped who I have become.  I sought out immigrant enclaves wherever I went, usually on the hunt for the next food treasure.

My first job in immigration was in New York’s garment/ wholesale district where vendors of every nationality hawked their wares- the Egyptian attorney selling shawarma from a cart, the Jamaican seller of hip hop clothes who greeted me daily from his perch in a permanently parked UPS truck with a fist bump and “One Love,” the Sikh parade down Broadway on a sunny day in the Spring, my amazingly tall Senegalese account down the hall of my building, and the Arabs of unknown nationality who sold toothbrushes under the trade name “Dr. Fresh.”  All these characters broadened my knowledge of rich immigrant cultures beyond the tiny tastes of my childhood.  I knew I was in the right place.

Jeremy McKinney
Attorney and NC Board Certified Specialist in Immigration Law
McKinney Immigration Law

I grew up in the small south-central Virginia town of South Boston. My only exposure to immigration was a fairly popular kid named Bao and a drummer I jammed with in high school named Lars. I don’t speak or understand Spanish. I took Latin in college and did not take immigration law in law school.  Thus, I may not fit the role of your typical immigration attorney.  The turning point was similarly unexpected.

In early 1997, I had just ended the one and only moment in my life I was an associate attorney.  I had graduated law school in 1996 and taken the first position that came along.  I hated it and quit four months later.  As I was pondering starting my own law firm, I sat down with Phyllis Palmeri, a wonderful AILA Carolinas member (who died a few years ago), to discuss employment law. There, I saw a paralegal’s guide to immigration law on the bookshelf and asked about it. She introduced the topic to me and then literally gifted me the guide.  I read it and the topic fascinated me but, at that moment, it wasn’t my focus.  But if that meeting had never occurred, I don’t think I would be an immigration attorney today.

A few months later, I launched my own criminal defense practice. But as a 25-year-old baby lawyer, I didn’t have enough work to fill the day.  What else was I going to do?  I consulted the Yellow Pages to size up the competition. To my astonishment, there were only two attorneys in Greensboro who handled immigration cases, yet over 40,000 Hispanics resided in my region of North Carolina, not to mention other ethnicities and nationalities!  To me, immigration law seemed like a great way to help an underserved area and complement my criminal defense practice.  Little did I know that three and a half years from the moment I saw that paralegal guide, a short term statute signed by a lame duck President—the LIFE Act—would be a tidal wave engulfing my office and permanently narrowing my practice to immigration law.  I love my clients and am grateful every day that I get to help them achieve their American dream.

Immigration first became important in my life in law school when I took immigration law in fall of 1997. I fell in love with the statute, a book full of references and cross-references. I then immersed myself in the subject matter during law school, which at Georgetown mean studying with and serving as a research assistant for Alex Aleinikoff and working on the immigration journal as an editor. While in law school, I also worked many hours at a boutique immigration law firm in downtown D.C. working on a range of immigration cases for families, asylum seekers, scientists, and essential workers from around the globe. More than twenty years later, I have never left the field of immigration law and today hope to inspire the next generation of immigration lawyers as a law teacher. I have also used the time post pandemic to understand my own family’s immigration story more clearly. As the child of Indian immigrants, I am the product of the American Dream, a dad who came to the United States as an Infectious Disease doctor to treat and save patients in middle America (where my twin sister and I were born) and a mom who came as the spouse of a green card holder through the family based immigration system and continues to contribute in magnificent ways.

Tell Us Your Story

What was the turning point where immigration became important in your life?​