Where I’m From:

A story from the I Learn American Human Library

Photo by David Jacobs

This is the first in an occasional series of writing from immigrant students inspired by Jean-Michel Dissard’s I Learn America Project.

By Karolen, Bayonne High School in New Jersey, USA.

Where I’m From

I am from woven straw mats,
from villages where people know your great- great- grandfather.
I am from nights spent on the roof looking at the stars,
from waking up to our alarm clock of a rooster.
I am from the corn fields my grandfather showed me
as he beamed with pride.
I am from my teta’s molokhia and home-baked bread,
from food that tastes better when shared.

I’m from the culture of Alexandria,
from the beauty of that populous city.
I’m from phone calls to the village,
promising to visit in the summer.
I’m from libraries with ancient knowledge,
from cafés where the modern philosophers write.
I’m from the lovers who play their guitars on the Alexandrian beaches.
I am from taxi rides to school,
with the mist of the Mediterranean kissing my face.

I’m from monasteries in the school yard,
from unpolished fingernails and white hair ties.
I am from nuns who introduced me to Him,
who showed me how to live with honor and kindness.
I’m from “Do your best and God will do the rest.”
I am from a church bombed on New Year’s Eve
I am from hateful words
broadcast into my home by an extremist mosque.
I am from “Be kind to those who hate you.”

I am from the immigration lottery
from the one-way ticket I held at the age of 7.
I am from homesickness
and dreams of my grandfather’s house.
I’m from strength and perseverance
and my mother’s proud smile with my every achievement.
I am from hope, from love.
And I’ll never forget that I’m from woven straw mats
and nights spent on the roof looking at the stars.

This poem was performed at a community event at Bayonne High School. Click here to see photographs of the event.

Through screenings, workshops and community events, schools and districts around the country are working with the I LEARN AMERICA team to harness the immigrant experiences in their communities and to build bridges between classmates, their schools, their communities and their new land. Educators around the country are already using I LEARN AMERICA to:

  • Amplify the voice of the young immigrants in our classrooms
  • Increase empathy and “welcoming” for young immigrants through personal storytelling/exchange of shared experiences
  • Train teachers to work with English Learners.
  • Improve services in schools with immigrant/ELLs students
  • Strengthen programs that support immigrant youth.

Get involved – Connect I LEARN AMERICA to your school and community.

For more information: http://ilearnamerica.com/

Karolen’s story is featured on I Learn America’s Human Library, a collection of stories from the children of immigration. To read more stories like Karolen’s, visit I Learn America’s Human Library.