Students Struggle As Immigrants Do

Holly Zachariah, Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch, December 15, 2007

Erica Vieyra’s Spanish students at Olentangy Liberty High School present their projects on immigration—the culmination of three weeks of pretending to go through the steps that Latino immigrants take to come to the United States, legally or illegally.

The students had a role-play project: assume a Latino identity, build an imaginary life in your home country and develop a workable plan to immigrate to the United States.

Try it legally, Erica Vieyra told her 40 senior Spanish students at Olentangy Liberty High School. Fill out the correct documents, follow the proper steps. And then, after they spent days completing the actual paperwork from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, she took out her red ink pad and stamped a big, fat DENIED across every request.

Now, she told the students, come illegally. Forge your documents, find a way across the border. Then, research real ads and find a place to live in Columbus. Figure out what it would cost, how to get food. Plan how to survive.

The students had to go to real businesses and ask for Spanish-language job applications. They had to visit a bank and ask for new-account documents written in Spanish.

Vieyra promised them that the process—even in make-believe—would frustrate them. But they would gain, she hoped, an understanding of what is one of the most important political and humanitarian issues facing the U.S. government today.

After three weeks of work, the students presented their projects yesterday and discussed their conclusions. Most said it was a grueling experience to even pretend to walk in an immigrant’s shoes.

“I can’t begin to fathom how they can survive here,” said Yana Lyon, 17. “Everywhere you turn if you try to become legal or help yourself, there’s a roadblock.”

For her project, Yana assumed the identity of 28-year-old single mother Margarita Sola, a barmaid in Tijuana, Mexico. Yana had Margarita stay at a Columbus Knights Inn until she found a $7.50-an-hour job at Chipotle. Eventually, she rented a Town Street apartment for $320 a month because it was close to a bus stop. She quickly found a man to marry to gain legal residency.

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