MOUNT VERNON — Their lives and the stories they have to tell are different, but students in the Mount Vernon Migrant Leaders Club share a common bond.
Middle and high school students in the club talked Tuesday about immigration, deportation and how those things impact their lives during the fourth annual production of “The Hidden Truth: Breaking the Wall,” at the Lincoln Theatre.
“We’ve seen how it affects families,” said Emanuel Ramirez, a Mount Vernon High School senior who directed the play. “Being separated from a loved one is hard.”
During the performance, 16 students recited pieces they had written, played music and rapped their own lyrics against the backdrop of a wall representing the United States-Mexico border.
“We just want to tell them the truth of what (deportation) is like,” Ramirez said of the production.
Seventeen-year-old Azucena Solano said she worries every day about what might happen to her mother.
“It’s something that’s going to affect me in the future,” she said. “For me, this is home. For her, home is somewhere else. If she decides to leave, she’s not going to be able to come back, and she’s not going to be in my home.”
She said she can’t imagine what her life would be like without her mother, but it’s a reality she may have to face.
“It’s just something that haunts us every day,” Ramirez said.
For Litzy Quiroz Barrios, immigration meant difficulties at school.
After living in the U.S. as a citizen, her mother took her to Mexico when she was in elementary school. There, she had to improve her Spanish.
A few years later, her family could not afford to send her to high school, so she returned to the U.S. — and had to learn English all over again, she said.
“They brought us here so we could have the education,” Ramirez said.
For sixth-grader Noemi Flores Gutierrez, immigration looked like a man in a black suit pinning her father to the family’s living room floor in front of his children before he was taken away.
One day, she said, she wants to be an immigration lawyer.
“I’ll be the one in the black suit, helping families instead of tearing them apart,” Noemi said.
Senior Oscar Rodriguez didn’t perform on Tuesday, but was there to support his friends in the club.
While their stories may not be exactly the same, he said it’s nice to be able to have people to talk to who understand the struggles immigrants and their children face.
For him, Mexico hasn’t been his home since he was a baby. His mother brought him to the U.S. for a better life, and he wants to honor her sacrifices through hard work and education.
“My mom brought me here for a reason,” he said. “Because she wanted me to succeed like she never did.”
The students hoped being able to tell their stories would help dispel stereotypes about them and their culture: that they’re here to steal jobs, that they are all involved in gangs or drugs, and that they’re not smart.
“All we can do is just prove them wrong,” Solano said.
Migrant Graduation Specialist Janice Blackmore said the students’ stories were important to tell, and to hear.
In many ways, the performances act as a healing mechanism for the students, many of whom have suffered trauma, she said.
“These are our future leaders,” she said. “They are fighting to succeed, and they need our help.”