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They had a place, and their place was here

by Chris White

img_8160-herencia-oc-drums-smallerAll teenagers struggle to find their place. As a teacher, again and again, I see one question lingering on students’ faces: Where do I belong? But for kids who have immigrated to northwest Iowa from Mexico and Guatemala to flee widespread poverty and violence (some with their families, some without), those questions of belonging can be especially daunting.

For two students at Sioux Center High School, their questioimg_7905-herencia-students-smallerns of identity go beyond the usual teenage challenges of finding a place at the lunch table, in the group project, on the team, in the social hierarchy. Instead, theirs go a bit deeper: What family will I stay with tonight? What will people assume about me when they hear me speak Spanish with my friends? And during this election season, what will politicians and classmates say about me and my family when they debate our collective worth?

I was especially excited when our school brought a group of students including these two boys to Orange City Art’s Beyond OnStage event Herencia de Timbiqui, a band from Colombia. If anything else, it would be a break from the hard work of reading and writing in English, a chance to hear world class music in their native Spanish, to hear something that sounded like home.

img_7893-herenica-students-smallerAfter the group returned from the afternoon concert, I ran into these two boys in the library. “How was the concert?”

They beamed with joy. These two boys–who normally look stoic and concentrated, who handle their education with adult maturity because they feel so lucky to have it–were nothing short of giddy. They could not contain their happiness. They went on and on about how awesome the music was and showed me band members’ autographs they got on their arms. They acted, for once, like kids. Like high school students should act. Because for one afternoon, they were not the stranger, the alien. The concert was for them. They belonged, without struggle, and had fun. For an afternoon, they had a place, and their place was here.img_8113-herencia-oc-smaller