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The Daily Tar Heel

America: the story of some of us

These are the true stories of three American youths. Each has his or her own tale, but today when we hear their stories they are underscored by one descriptive factor: the immigrant experience.

When John entered his freshman year of high school, his parents confronted him with a life changing decision: to stay in the United States or to return with them to their homeland. John was six years old when he was brought to the U.S. by his parents to seek better opportunities. He arrived knowing little English but could now write advanced college-level essays.

David was born in the United States but he didn’t speak English. His little sister was not born in the U.S. but picked up the language faster than he did after only a short period. David became a star soccer player and talented actor in community college. His sister could not attend.

Robert was one year old when he came to the U.S. in his mothers’ arms. His favorite show growing up was Sesame Street and he learned English so well he won spelling bees and essay contests. He was a science buff and his best subjects in high school were biology and chemistry. He hopes to be a doctor someday.

The boys mentioned above are not the first, nor will they be the last with stories like these. America is filled with tales of rags to riches and American dreams come true. Historically, people have been packing up and moving from place to place in search of better opportunities for their families. Nomadic people were here before the founding of the nation and were indeed the ones who would ultimately help fight for its independence.

So what makes these boys so different today?

One reason may be that John, David and Robert were brought here by their parents as infants with little say in the matter. However, it is hard to believe they were the first generation of children who followed the orders given to them by their parents.

Another reason may be that John, David and Robert chose to stay despite the fear and setbacks that come with arriving in a foreign place, although they would hardly have had it the toughest in that case.

One difference that may hold is that these children grew up in families with mixed legal statuses — that is, some able to drive, vote and hold a legal job, while their parents simply could not. Some were able to attend college and pay a reasonable price for their education while their siblings sat on the sidelines and watched.

It may be that these children didn’t come from Canada, Europe or Australia, but from Guatemala, Mexico and Venezuela; that their names aren’t John, David, and Robert but Juan, Davíd, and Roberto. That the language they had to learn was English, and not the other way around.

These are the stories of the shadowed Latino-American youth of today, but the big story hasn’t changed. Their parents still seek greater opportunities, the children still seek a place to belong to they can call home, and the cohort still seeks a prosperous and secure future.

Are they so different? Perhaps we’re the ones who have changed.

Even worse, perhaps we never will.

Ron Bilbao is a columnist for The Daily Tar Heel. He is a senior political science major from Miami, FL. E-mail him at ronbilbao@unc.edu

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