Three years ago, Dafny Irizarry, founder and director of Long Island Latino Teachers Association, wrote the lines that would take a very special book by 13 of her newcomer students at Central Islip High School and two students from Patchogue Medford High School, into the wider world (now well over 6000 copies strong).
“We are thrilled and humbled to anonymously share the stories of volunteer high school newcomer students who agreed to write their journeys into this land, the land of liberty. They delivered nameless stories with voices that must not be dismissed. We publish this collection with the hope that our students and teachers will use it in the classroom and pass it from hand to hand in a celebration of our young heroes whose voices and names will be declared someday out loud breaking any, and every, oppressive wall, united in one voice and one heart.”
In “For Our Young Heroes,” her introduction to the volume, Erika Duncan wrote: “It is with sadness, but also with urgency and pride, that we anonymously share the writing of these young people, alone, because it wouldn’t be safe to share these stories in a traceable way. We share the hope and the light in their voices at this moment of time when, in the words of Nancy Pelosi (spoken in 2017) ‘the Statue of Liberty has tears in her eyes.’”
This Friday we are thrilled to celebrate the return of the American Dream with the launching of our new youth-led bilingual book club started by five students from Eleanor Roosevelt High School and a young teacher from Michigan who came up through Herstory, dedicated to building bridges of understanding, inclusion and justice in our schools and communities beyond.
We will be welcoming two of our authors, breaking out their anonymity to meet our virtual audience in the hope that their stories will reach an ever-increasing number of readers, in a movement to give immigrant stories a voice. We will be welcoming our young advocates from Eleanor Roosevelt High School, who are helping us to pursue our dream of getting this book into every school in America, to become part of the regular curriculum, wherever it will make a difference.
Is this too big a dream? “I feel a sense of liberation,” said Karla Canales, one of the young authors who started with the Herstory project when she was a sophomore at Patchogue Medford High School, when she was asked how she felt about claiming her story with her own image and name. “It’s like when I take a deep breath… and a sigh leaves my body and combines with the air around me. Never stop dreaming your dreams. It’s a beautiful thing, to dream. In these last few days of quarantine, if I have learned one thing, it is that when you have a dream you need to go for it and do so wholly. Because in the end there are only two options, to win or to lose. And of course, it’s better to win.”
When Karla Canales’ story was published three years ago, she belonged to a little reading club in which she and her friends were reading Brave Journeys. Someone called to tell her how moved they were by her story, not knowing that she was the author. She soon was receiving other calls saying: “Karla, I went through the same thing. I didn’t cross the border, but I came through the air and I feel the pain.” Looking back, she says “This is how she wants to be remembered, for having made a difference in this world. Sometimes at night when I am talking to myself before I go to sleep, I talk to God and say “God, I am here. I am here for a purpose. My wings were cut in my country, and now I have an opportunity to spread them and fly.”
“How does it feel suddenly to have it under your own name and to be out there?” we asked Yaquelin Rivas, whose story “Daughter, Do You Still Want to Go,” has long been a favorite of teachers and students alike. “For there’s nothing more sad than to have written the most beautiful story in the world and to know that your teachers are so proud of you, but that you can’t publicly claim your own story under your own name.”
“It feels amazing, to be able to show my face, because with my face in the story comes liberty– I feel that I have freedom. From the day I began to write, I hoped for this: to be able to share my face freely. And I didn’t feel afraid. I wasn’t thinking about what could happen to me. When that day came I knew that we would be recognized, and I felt so proud. And now the day has come.
Please join us, for a wonderful bilingual evening in which Yaqui and Karla will be reading their stories in the language of their memories and dreams, to be read in translation by the girls from Eleanor Roosevelt High School who will be using them in their school.
“Bringing together teachers and students at my school to read Brave Journeys fills me with so much hope. When people read Brave Journeys, their hearts open, and they start to feel the urgency for change and are ready to fight for it,” said June Cook-Selman, age 16, who is doing a virtual internship with Herstory.
June and four of her friends will be heading a call to action presentation at the end of our virtual book club, calling for ideas for our online audience.
Zoe Sonkin, 17, is excited about the fact that already their school librarian and principal have taken an interest in the bringing the book to their students. She writes: “Reading Brave Journeys has expanded my thinking and reiterated the importance of diversifying our curriculum. I am excited to be aiding in that effort!
“The librarian responded and said that she wanted a set of copies for the library! And the principal put my description and letter to the community in the school newsletter.”
“When I teach stories from Brave Journeys, I’m not just teaching a subject anymore,” Madison Yinger Lopez added, speaking for the Brave Journeys Educators Collective, which she coordinates. “These stories show students the power of purpose, dreams, and empathy. These are the lessons that today’s youth will carry with them throughout the rest of their lives and it is through the youth that we see our society progress toward justice. There is not a single thing we could teach that is more important.”
To register for the event, click here.
To download a bilingual flyer with book purchase information and more details, click here.
To make a donation, click here.
Please note that the Angela and Scott Jaggar Fund is offering a dollar for dollar match for new and lapsed donors.