During the 2008-09 year, we worked with refugees and immigrants from across the globe – Russia, Bhutan, Nepal, Turkey, Liberia, Ivory Coast, Kuwait, Vietnam, Mexico, India, Equatorial Guinea, Marshall Islands, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sierra Leone, and beyond. Having experienced significant changes in their own lives, some in search of the “American Dream,” the students were excited to explore their connection to these themes through writing and photography. President Obama’s call for change also seemed to inspire and inform dialogue about these themes.
Through personal writing and photography they delved deeply into changes they had experienced and what the American Dream meant to them and whether it was even attainable. Then we asked them to look outside themselves by surveying their peers and conducting research about their specific topics, which ranged from education to racism. We invited many members of the Tucson community – an immigration lawyer, political cartoonist, education and literacy specialists, environmental organizations, refugee agencies, and community organizers, to explore these themes with us. The exchange was invaluable as I think they learned as much from the youth as the youth did from them.
After much research and thought, the youth produced photographs, poems, digital stories, personal essays, and letters to politicians about their topics. One student organized a school-wide event with an immigration lawyer to help educate the community about immigrant rights. Most youth decided to produce digital stories about “Change” and the “American Dream.” One Tucson teenager explored her family’s joys and struggles in the US after leaving Russia. Another teen searched for the elusive “American Dream,” while grappling with the violence of crossing the US/Mexico border. A young man from Vietnam examined racism and encouraged us to imagine a world without it.
We hope their stories will inspire you to think about your own dreams and relationship to change. As Finding Voice student Ihab Abed said, “The only thing that stays the same is changing.”