NEW YORK, NY, July 22, 2012— For the millions of immigrants of the late 19th and early 20th centuries Ellis Island symbolized the American dream. Today, the Ellis Island Immigration Museum is a lasting reminder of American freedom and opportunity, making it a fitting venue for the Human Rights Class at Newcomers High School and First Person American to premiere What’s Your Story? 2012. The premiere took place on July 20, 2012 and screened four short films that explored personal immigration narratives from high school students about the people that welcomed them and changed their lives forever. The Ellis Island Immigration Museum made for a perfect venue for over a 100 guests to view the films and understand the impact a single person can have on the students of Julie Mann’s Human Rights class.
The first three films, Yasmany’s Welcoming Story, Dino’s Welcoming Story, and Masuma’s Welcoming Story, focused on each student’s journey to America, their difficulties during assimilation, and how the act of one person helped them overcome their struggles and pushed them to take advantage of their opportunities in America. The fourth film–Welcoming Stories Behind the Scenes–reveled how the students transformed from storyteller to activist. The films were co-produced by First Person American and the students of Julie Mann’s Human Rights Clall.
Following the screening of the films, the audience listened as Aysha, Kanto, and Renan shared their stories, who welcomed them, how they became a welcoming person, and tips to guests on how to be more welcoming to immigrants in their local communities. Audience members also had the opportunity to engage in a Q&A session with all the students of Julie Mann’s Human Rights class.
The reaction to the films was positive, but the most touching moments came when the two teachers–Ms. Dellis and Ms.Izaguirre–heard the impact each had by being a welcoming person to Aysha and Renan. Ms. Dellis was speechless and emotional after Aysha shared her story, while Ms. Izaguirre was elated that her words of encouragement had such a meaningful impact in Renan’s life.
After What’s Your Story? 2012 had concluded a few courageous audience members were inspired to share their story at the booth set up by First Person American. The volunteers operating the booth eased any fears of storytellers by prompting the storytellers with questions prior to the on camera interview. Following the premiere family, friends, students, and volunteers were all encourage to explore the Ellis Island Museum and its many exhibits.
The stories featured during What’s Your Story? 2012 can be seen below, and on the First Person American website, firstpersonamerican.org.
Yasmany shares his story of coming to the United States from Cuba in 2008. Yasmany’s wild imagination allowed him to create a glamorous vision of himself in the United States. He reveals his initial disappointment about arriving in Miami. Yasmany divulges that a move to New York, and becoming best friends with two other immigrant students, Mike and Yandoli, allowed him to finally discover his American “swag”.
Dino shares his story of coming to America from Montenegro in 2010. Dino talks about having the opportunity to do something his father never did, the difficulty of leaving behind his younger brother, and his love of soccer. Now as the captain of the Newcomers High School soccer team, Dino reflects on how his coach, Mr. Llull, helped him on and off the field.
Masuma talks about leaving Bangladesh with her family when she was 15. Masuma’s initial excitement about coming to the United States was quickly replaced by fear once she realized how little she could communicate. Masuma shares her gratitude for her best friend, Anjum, who helped Masuma learn English and overcome her fears.
The films produced for What’s Your Story? 2012 were created as part of a Welcoming Stories Workshop that took place with Julie Mann’s Human Rights class at Newcomers High School—a 100% immigrant high school in Long Island City. The workshop was funded, in part, by the Facing History and Ourselves, Margot Stern Strom Teaching Award.