A group of 10 teenagers clump off to the side, warily tracking each new set of eyes entering the room and whispering among themselves in a sort of desperation. Hugs from teachers and sweet giggles among them dissipate the tension in the room — the students are clearly nervous for this long-anticipated event.
These are the faces of Green Card Youth Voices, Immigration Stories from Madison and Milwaukee High Schools. Part of a nationwide campaign to facilitate conversation between immigrant populations and their new neighbors, this installation of photographic portraits and accompanying book feature the stories of a group of brave James Madison Memorial High School students.
At the book’s launch party last Thursday, you could certainly tell that this wasn’t Green Card Voices’ first rodeo: continuous gratitude and pride was evident throughout the night, and the students quickly opened up when given the chance to share a snippet of their stories.
Some were marked by tears, as they discussed the violence and destruction they left behind in their home countries, but others by laughs and funny stories of coming to terms with American culture.
Yet, each student had the same sense of positivity and pride in living in America.
Haried Acuna, originally from Nicarauga, discussed his “responsibility” to love this country as much as he does, since “love is the only thing I know how to do,” he said.
Yanci Almonte Vargas, who moved to Madison from the Dominican Republic, eloquently described the importance of immigration and maintaining America’s cultural melting pot status. “This is what makes us America,” she said.
The fifth installation of the series, the Madison and Milwaukee project includes student narratives from 15 countries across the world. The exhibition accompanying the book includes portraits of the students, a brief bio and quotes, and a personalized QR code that leads visitors to autobiographical videos.
By humanizing immigration, these students hope to further assimilate and educate the Madison community while instilling a sense of empathy and greater understanding of the arduous relocation process.
The Green Card Youth Voices: Immigration Stories from Madison and Milwaukee High Schools exhibition will be on display at Memorial High School (during school hours) through September 27. Learn more at greencardvoices.com.