Photos courtesy of Green Card Voices
Immigrant Perspectives In Print
Immigrants are here to stay in our area, and Green Card Voices is here to give them a voice to create a better understanding with the community.
In a classroom tucked away from the bustling halls of Fargo South High School, five eager students share their enthusiasm for a project called Green Card Voices.
Despite the astounding collective journey these students have encountered, they’ve all converged at one table at one time, bringing with them an expanse of knowledge, culture and life experiences from Tanzania, Kenya, Iraq and Nepal.
With a total of 31 immigrants from the Fargo school featured, Minneapolisbased nonprofit Green Card Voices has collaborated with the community to curate unique stories from around the world.
The convergence of these authentic voices first started as a project called “Journey to America: Narrative Short Stories” by Mrs. Juelke and Mrs. Pulst and their ELL English classes from Fargo South and Davies High School. In similar fashion a year before, Green Card Voices was empowering Minneapolis High School immigrants and providing a platform for telling their stories.
The pure desire to nurture and solidify each perspective in print brought Green Card Voices to Fargo South, along with a collaborative team and technique for capturing the magic of a voice on video and then transcribing into text.
“What Green Card Voices does is really unique because you can also have lower level English speakers,” said Leah Juelke. “Most of the students in our first book were intermediate to high level speakers. The lower level students were still able to speak and answer six questions about their lives even though they couldn’t write it out in our original book.”
As co-founder and executive director of Green Card Voices, Tea Rozman-Clark, Ph.D., has worked with the Fargo school and coordinated a joint effort to help people learn about diversity and legitimize immigrant and refugee voices.
“This book has a two-fold purpose,” said Rozman-Clak, a first generation immigrant from Slovenia and 2015 Bush Leadership Fellow. “The first purpose is learning English, writing and public speaking, but even more important than that I feel is empowering young people to know they have a voice and they should use it. If they don’t tell their stories, someone else will for them. The second purpose is the book itself. It’s a great resource for people who are not immigrants that want to connect and better understand who these people are. They can do that through the first-person essays.”
LEARNING IN MANY WAYS
“Green Card Youth Voices: Immigration Stories From a Fargo High School” is a taste of each student’s complex life that provides a glimmer of personality from the vibrant and engaging youth.
“Imagine you’re in Africa. You don’t know the language there, how will you survive? You have to learn the language, right?” said Iraguha Yvette, a Fargo South student originally from Tanzania. “That’s how we are right now. We’re in America. We don’t know anything about this culture, so we have to learn and start from the basics and go up. So, they should take the time and read our stories because it may be you tomorrow who’s going to be in this situation.”
Also produced by Green Card Voices is a teaching guide for middle and high school students. It is based on the stories of present day immigrants and guides users through a historic, cultural, and personal journey as it introduces the topic of immigration. Utilizing the perspectives of modern-day immigrants from Africa, Asia, Europe and Latin America, the teaching guide is designed with a diverse student body in mind and helps guide students through a similar experience as the books.
“We’ve already had extremely positive feedback, more so even in this political climate, because people do understand that there is fear or misunderstanding and we do lack resources for people to get better acquainted,” said RozmanClark. “To understand the motivations of this immigrant, why they’re here, what they’ve been through.”
The highly anticipated book, which launches on March 28, has been met with endorsements from a variety of prominent locals such as Dr. Todd Bertsch, principal of Fargo South High School.
“Everyone has a story. Green Card Youth Voices captures the powerful stories of immigrant students attending Fargo South High School,” said Bertsch. “The journeys that these young men and women have experienced are a mustread. A whole new world is exposed and shared because of these ambassadors.”
In addition to their origins and history, the book allows the students to share their aspirations and explain how they plan on making a mark on their new home. Through this open and inclusive dialogue, the new Americans find confidence in themselves to pierce through language and culture barriers to make a meaningful connection.
by Marai Lilian Castillo Fonseca
Excerpt from “Journey to America: Narrative Short Stories Volume 3” Mrs. Juelke’s & Mrs. Pulst’s ELL English 4 Classes, also to be featured in Green Card Voices:
Even though it was the beginning of April, it was very cold and freezing for us because in Mexico it was hot and sunny at the time. I was very happy because it was my first time in the United State. We went to Petsmart to buy things for our cat and dog that arrived the same day, but hours later. We lived in a hotel for a month because our furniture and everything wasn’t in Fargo yet. When everything came we moved to a house.
I thought it was going to be very similar to Mexico, but everything was completely different. The stores, the streets, the houses, and all the people were different. My stepfather worked all day, so we had to communicate and do everything on our own. I felt weird when I walked in the street because I thought people assumed I was an illegal immigrant just because I was Mexican. I noticed there weren’t really any people who walked on the streets. It was also really hard to communicate. In Mexico, I never had problems asking people questions, ordering food in a restaurant, or even saying hi to a stranger on the street. In Mexico, people walked a lot and greeted you or waved when they saw you, just to be friendly. Here, it was all different.
School was very confused to me. I was in middle school. I had to go from classroom to classroom. I had to use a locker and they didn’t let students go out of the building or play outside on the playground. I didn’t wear uniforms, the system of how school worked was very different, and there was a lot of diversity. There weren’t lot of similarities to any of the schools I went to in Mexico. Everything seemed like how I saw it in movies and American TV shows.
On my first day of school, the counselor introduced me to a girl so she could help me. She showed me the school and how everything worked.
“Hi, what’s your name?” the girl asked politely.
“My name is Marai,” I replied nervously. She was struggling with saying my name, so she only said she was going to call me ‘M’. I didn’t ask her what her name was because I was very nervous and I had never had a conversation with anyone in English. I didn’t want her to ask me any more questions or start talking because I was afraid I wouldn’t understand anything.
“This is my friend Abrar, we’ll show you where your locker is,” she pointed to another girl. She showed be where my locker was and helped me get to all my classes.
At first, all my classes were very difficult, but then I got used to everything. In eighth grade I met a Mexican girl and we became friends, but then when we started high school, she moved to West Fargo. I went to school the last two weeks of seventh grade, then I attended eighth grade at Carl Ben Eielson Middle School.
When I went back to Mexico for the first time, I desperately wanted to stay there forever and never come back. I realized soon that I had great opportunities living in Fargo. Some things in my life have changed, but my new beginnings will lead me to a brighter future.