Bronx High School Students Make Connections Through Struggle

 
Many zine, book or CD-release parties in New York take place in swanky downtown lounges with hipsters sipping cocktails and DJs slinging beats. The celebration at Bronx International High School’s “Connections Café” on Thursday, Feb. 15, was a little different.

Many zine, book or CD-release parties in New York take place in swanky downtown lounges with hipsters sipping cocktails and DJs slinging beats. The celebration at Bronx International High School’s “Connections Café” on Thursday, Feb. 15, was a little different.

BIHS is a small public high school located on the third floor of a school building in the South Bronx. Its approximately 200 students come from all over the world, particularly Latin America, West Africa and the Middle East. None of them speak English when they arrive at BIHS. A discussion in English class about the difficulties of the students’ common struggles to learn English and to seek out and determine their own futures ultimately resulted in a semester-long community journalism project and the publication of a remarkable 125-page zine called “Struggle to Be Strong.”

As first-year BIHS teacher (and Indypendent contributor) Christina Zawerucha explained, the goal of the project was to encourage students to see how the struggles they have faced have made them stronger and that they don’t have to be a victim of their circumstances. The stories collected in the zine share struggles from the students’ lives – e.g., the pain of leaving their home country and/or being separated for months or years from parents who journey to the U.S. or elsewhere in search of work. The students also interviewed family members, teachers and friends to gather their stories of struggle.

Those who attended the zine-release party on Thursday evening arrived to find that students and teachers had transformed the school’s main hallway into a makeshift art gallery and performance space. In addition to writing their stories, the students had illustrated them, as another way to help others understand what it feels like to experience such struggles. One drawing represented a girl’s frustration in not being able to communicate with her deaf brother; another depicted the discrimination immigrants, especially those who can’t speak English, often face.

After viewing the artworks, participants sat down around small tables in classrooms to enjoy a buffet of foods from the students’ home countries and to listen to the students read their stories. Overcoming shyness about reading in front of others in English in some cases, and about sharing sometimes quite painful and personal stories in others, the students bravely read their stories aloud and discussed them with those at their tables.

After the feast, everyone gathered in the hallway/auditorium for featured readings by some of the students, as well as a spoken-word group performance piece and a mother-daughter reading in Spanish and English. The evening ended with three young women offering a rendition of “My Heart Will Go On” far more poignant than Celine Dion could ever manage.

homepage:: http://nyc.indymedia.org/

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