J’s story, on the precipice of hope

Conservative politicians like Donald Trump have recently thrown around the term “anchor babies” to describe children born in the United States to undocumented parents as though they’re more burden than human being. What struggles do the teenagers with birthright citizenship have? As a Chicago Public Schools teacher that serves many immigrant students, I want to explore the many struggles of immigrant teenagers as they seek a bright future for their families.

Since I made my first podcast this summer, I’ve wanted to tackle a heavy issue that faces the city. Teenagers’ stories often go untold and thus hold an impact on the public that might be unaware of the current struggles of youth. For this reason I created an assignment in my Journalism course where the students were told to e-mail me their “life stories.” I was amazed at the result; the students faced challenges that seemed insurmountable, and none more insurmountable than J’s.

My group made up of Maya Cole, Sydney O’Hearn, and me will refer to our interviewee as “J” in order to protect her identity.

J’s family immigrated to the United States shortly before her birth, and she was happy through a good chunk of her childhood. Her family made her happy, but before long, everything fell apart. Her father got arrested for drinking and driving and spent time in county jail. One of her brothers was deported and another went the path of his father, getting a long term in prison. Jennifer and her mother were forced to face the world alone; her mother working three jobs to support her. J faced depression and deep sadness and now faces her sophomore year with hope that hard work and tenacity will help get her family out of a hole that feels deeper every year.

Last year, I had the pleasure to help two undocumented students find a path to college. Though a huge challenge, options are out there, and I hope that teenagers like Jennifer can maintain their hope by realizing the seemingly impossible is possible.

I’ve taught high school students for sixteen years, and I know how quickly they can drop off the precipice of hope. A fifteen year old girl like Jennifer can face hard times and make poor decisions as an escape to her hardships; I’ve seen it happen frequently. Content like my group and I will create could help make her story valuable and meaningful.

I hope that we can create content as weighty, impactful, and accessible as the great NPR shows like This American Life and Story Corps. I recently read a book by Jessica Abel called Out on a Wire where she detailed the process behind the NPR shows through her graphic novel. The book changed my life and spoke to me on many levels. I’ve learned the audio techniques necessary, and I look forward to helping my group understand the technical work. And I’ve worked through interview skills and story mapping. Now, I’d like to focus my attention on creating content that could change the world for the better.

The awful conversations that constipate the news about immigration need a contrast. J may have an anchor around her neck in the form of her past, but she’s a human being, not an anchor baby. Her story is worthy of telling.

About Michael

Hello, I'm Michael Cullinane, a high school English and Journalism teacher presently working toward my Masters in Digital Storytelling, using every free moment to complete the revisions of my first novel.

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