What is immigration? That was the question we presented to the teens the very first day of program, and I knew it was a big question. Even as an adult, a person who has moved on her own time and again, I didn’t know if I felt qualified to answer it.
When we got to the writing that day, we asked them to consider a time where they experienced an immigration. Our teens were fearless. They broadened the term and explored it in ways that were far beyond their years, beyond mine, too.
Their sense of bravery and discovery didn’t stop, though. They faced challenges as interviewers, approaching stories that might be hard to stomach, difficult to write, and instead of handing the story back to its owner, they said, “This is something I can do.” A group of teens, most of whom didn’t know each other the first day, now acted as if they had been lifelong friends. They created a family and a trust within the ensemble that allowed them to go places within their writing that I don’t think any of us, as Teaching Artists, expected.
Soon, our thematic question began to morph, following the through-line that was present in all of their stories: How do I swim through the struggles in my life? How do I deal with being overwhelmed?
As the ensemble became stronger, so did the writing. As they became more comfortable asking each other questions about their writing, they became more comfortable asking questions about their own writing. They saw what would make their story strongest. We watched gestures, language, and places become more vivid. The stories were truly alive. Their personalities and voices all shine through in their stories.
When we’ve asked them to think back over the course of the year to find the stories that stand out the strongest, the ones that they are still seeing clearly, they can retell every single one. Nobody’s has been forgotten.
This group of extraordinary young people has been an absolute joy to work with; I feel honored to have been able to share in their writing process over the course of this entire year. And in the end, I think they’ve all made an immigration: they’ve grown as writers, as friends, as an ensemble, and continued their growth toward becoming amazing adults.