Today’s blog is a guest post, originally posted on the WRAG Journalism Fellows program blog and reposted with permission from our publishing partner, Shout Mouse Press. The writer is an author of “Voces Sin Fronteras: Our Stories, Our Truth,” a graphic memoir collection by teen immigrants of the Latin American Youth Center, a youth development organization in Washington, D.C.
My name is Looking Owl. That is my whole name, and I am 16 years old.
I am from El Salvador, from a rural community with huge hills and steep mountains and deep rushing rivers. I lived there with my mom. She is adorable and eloquent. My grandmother and cousins lived there, too. The moments that I spent there in my hometown with my family, I will always remember and cherish.
However, it was also hard to grow up in my hometown. Young people like me did not have access to higher education. The only opportunity we had was to work in the fields, just as our parents did, and our grandparents before them. I wanted more. I was studying, doing well, with dreams of attending university to become a doctor. But some days those dreams seemed impossible.
My town was infested with bad people who tried to force us to get into drugs and crime. We felt threatened. Every time I heard about young people being beaten, or assassinated, I feared that I could be next.
One day, everything changed. My father decided to go to the U.S., and he wanted me to go with him. He told me that in the U.S. I could study and accomplish my goals. He said it would be good for me, to escape the challenging situations of our country.
I had never thought about leaving, but the circumstances gave me no other choice.
After that, suitcase in hand, we left behind our dusty rural town. We were on our journey, chasing the so-called American Dream.
From time to time along the way we called home to chat with my mom. She always sounded like she was crying, which was understandable. Miles separated us and I am her only son. When I said goodbye, though, she did not cry. She knew how excited I was to open this new door. She told me, “I will be crying of happiness when you, my son, accomplish your goals. I will be so proud.”
That was over two years ago. I have not seen her since. But every day I tell her good morning in my mind. The only thing I know is that I have to do my best to be a good man, to make my mother proud.
I am now in school here in Washington, D.C., on the path to my goals. I am really happy with the people I have met and am learning English. I would rather embarrass myself each time I speak than to face again the danger I left behind. My graduation year is in 2020. I will be full of joy on my graduation day because I will know that all I have been through has been beneficial.
You may wonder: What is it like to be an immigrant here, now? From my experience, it is not easy. You feel the financial pressure, even when you have family who work three jobs. It is not easy when you are a student who does not speak English. You are running against a clock to enter university while also just trying to survive. You are always wondering, What’s next for me, tomorrow? It is not easy.
It is painful, too, when you feel discrimination by people. Sometimes, I wonder if perhaps those people did not receive love themselves, and so they have grown a rock in their hearts. In their minds, a cloud reigns. Our pain seems to be the product of misunderstanding.
I ask myself: How can we remove the impediments to understand each other? Can we talk about the reasons we had to migrate, and seek solutions so that people everywhere can be safe? Can we help the children of the world, like me, have opportunities to improve our quality of life? None of us want to be separated from our families. Our world is wounded. Can we talk about that?
Many of the educators First Book serves are working with teens in strikingly similar circumstances to the teens who’ve published with Shout Mouse Press, and we know their students will find it meaningful both to read the words of their peers and to recognize that they too have the potential to become published authors. These books are more than just great reading – they’re powerful tools for inspiration, self-reflection, and the development of empathy. We are proud to make this, and other Shout Mouse Press titles, available to our community of educators through the First Book Marketplace.
Voces Sin Fronteras was produced in partnership with Shout Mouse Press, a nonprofit writing and publishing program. Learn more about Shout Mouse Press & the collaboration behind this title’s creation here: shoutmousepress.org/layc.