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Young people who have moved to a new country for political, social, or economic reasons come with a unique awareness and sensitivity to place. The refugee and immigrant youth of Catalina Magnet High School see and feel Tucson, Arizona in ways which only they can, given their past lives and their future dreams.

In the spring of 2007, Julie Kasper, an ESL teacher at Tucson’s Catalina Magnet High School, and Josh Schachter, guest photographer and educator, decided to have the refugee and immigrant students in Julie’s three ESL (English as a Second Language) classes explore their unique experiences in Tucson through words and images. We worked with forty-six students from Afghanistan, Ghana, Honduras, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Mexico, Republic of the Marshall Islands, Sierra Leone, Somalia, and Sudan to develop their writing skills, their understanding of the language of photography, and their ability to critically analyze their own and each other’s images and words.

The power and synergy of writing and photography were critical to the success of this project. There is much talk about the arts in our schools, and unfortunately they are often sacrificed for what is referred to as “back to basics.” This is tragic given that most language development comes through the process of finding an authentic connection and purpose for learning, of finding a way to read, write, and speak about what matters to you. For many students, taking photographs of their lives helped them to explore and determine what matters most to them. For others, photography provided a motivation to revise and develop their writing so that it more accurately reflected the reality they had captured photographically.

The process of working collaboratively on this project has been one full of learning, on many levels. We were given an opportunity to question our own roles as Tucson residents and educators working with refugee and immigrant youth.The youth challenged our assumptions and ways of seeing and interpreting Tucson and the world. We learned about the countries and cultures the students came from, as well as their dreams and aspirations.students were very generous in welcoming us into their worlds and through this process we began to understand their challenges and triumphs, as well as what work yet needs to be done to meet the needs of our wonderful multilingual and multicultural Tucson youth.

We welcome you to become involved by interacting deeply with their stories.Consider your role in your community and your interactions with youth. Let empathy guide your words and actions.Share what you find and learn with others and invite them to experience these powerful youth stories. Let this be a step in coming together as a true community and a united nation.