By Amy Orr | LB Indy
Immigration is a controversial topic in the United States. Some politicians see refugees as a threat to national security, while others categorize them as individuals in need of assistance. Today, television and computer screens are filled with leaders and their emotionally charged opinions on the subject.
Last week, Thurston Middle School eighth graders had the opportunity to become familiar with the issue of immigration on a personal level. While honing their language skills with a long-distance pen pal, the middle schoolers discovered that they were talking to a Central American refugee.
Students in Jeffrey Dippel’s 1B Spanish class engage with native Spanish speakers through an interactive website called talkabroad.com. During their recent studies of Nicaraguan culture, the youngsters had a video chat with a man named Allan M.
Allan spent 18 years living in Managua, Nicaragua. He has regularly spoken with Laguna middle schoolers and shared his love for. This year, however, Allan said the country’s political and social turmoil became overwhelming.
“They have tortured, burned down, shoot, murder, and kidnaped [sic] the youth of Nicaragua,” Allan wrote about the Nicaraguan leaders. He said that after more than 500 people were killed, he and his friend felt unsafe and had to leave the country. He traveled with his friend to Foligno, a small city in the center of Italy where he is currently being hosted by his friend’s parents.
“Thank God I live in a home,” Allan said. “The people I live with are angels.” Allan said he is working and studying Italian. “I wanted to go to Canada, U.S. or Australia, but now I want to stay here.”
“Being an immigrant is such a heavy thing,” Allan continued. “We immigrants write our future with tears and pain. I cannot describe it with words. I’m pretty sure that nobody wants to leave their country, family, friends…open your mind, your soul, and your heart and you will understand what I’m talking about.”
According to Dippel, Allan revealed his refugee status in a conversation with students just before the Thanksgiving break.
“I think the kids were a little shocked because he’s such a normal, nice guy,” Dippel commented. “I think it gave them a better understanding of the faces behind immigration and refugees.”
“Refugees are very similar to ourselves,” reflected student Kirra Moore. “We both learn about politics, enjoy sports, video games, and many other common things.”
“Talking with him was just like talking to someone I talked to for my whole life,” classmate Carter Ghere said, while noting that Allan’s life is “very, very different” than his. Ghere said that, according to Allan, the Nicaraguan president does not “have a heart for Nicaragua.”
“Allan explained that the government is corrupt and cruel, but here, it is completely different,” Ghere said.
Struck by the difference between Nicaraguan and American living conditions, 13-year-old Preston Patterson said, “Laguna Beach is an amazing town and we are so blessed to live in such a wonderful place.” Preston said Allan described Nicaragua as “plagued by poverty” and the government as “corrupt and broken.”
“He [Allan] never said any big details or huge chunks of information on the subject, but he referenced it and gave pieces,” Preston said. “It was like we had all the outer pieces of a puzzle connected but all the interior pieces were missing.”
Reflecting on his experience speaking with Allan, Ghere said, “When you expose yourself to more culture and new ways of life, your perspectives change. You start to wonder either, ‘How do they live like this?’ or, ‘Why aren’t I living like that?’ For me, those are the kinds of questions I ask myself almost every single day. However, I am very grateful to live in a town like Laguna Beach and I wouldn’t want to change a thing.”