Day Without Immigrants features immigrant stories


During the “Day without Immigrants,” students placed flags on a map in the atrium to mark their countries of origins. According to junior Vicka Ter-Ovanesyan, who helped organize the day, the map aims to demonstrate the “we are all immigrants” idea. Contributed by Vicka Ter-Ovanesyan

Evan Marohn, Breaking News Writing Editor

Monday, May 15 marked the high school’s Day Without Immigrants, a day intended to show the school community how important immigrants are to our daily lives with assemblies during B and C-blocks. During C-block, several classes gathered in the MLK room to witness a series of speeches by immigrants with a connection to the high school.

Junior Vicka Ter-Ovanesyan introduced the event and gave background information, emphasizing that there are numerous immigrants at the high school and that their stories are all important.

First to speak was Cairo Mendes, the Lead Organizer of the Student Immigration Movement (SIM), a group that aids young immigrants across Massachusetts. Mendes immigrated to the U.S. from Brazil at age nine and experienced hardship once he arrived. He said that deportation was a serious fear for him and his family at first, and his father moved back to Brazil in order to escape immigration enforcement.

Mendes has since devoted much of his life to helping stop deportation and supporting immigrants through SIM, and is now double majoring in economics and political science at University of Massachusetts Boston. He finished his speech with a short but powerful statement: “Immigrants are the backbone of this country.”

The second speaker was Spanish teacher Marta Fuertes. Her speech took on a different tone than Mendes’s, and she told the audience that not all immigrant stories are full of hardship and danger, but that they are all important nonetheless. Fuertes said that she immigrated to the U.S. from Spain with her husband, an American citizen. Fuertes said the process was not particularly difficult, but as a result, she does not feel that she can identify with a certain nationality. She finished by stating that even immigrants who come from “comfortable” situations have stories to tell and should be given opportunities to tell their stories.

Next to speak was senior Valentina Rojas, who is originally from Colombia. Rojas said she experienced many difficulties in Colombia and that she has a tumultuous family history, including the kidnapping of her grandfather. Rojas moved to Germany as a toddler, and then to San Diego, where she felt she had to choose between hanging out with White kids or Latino kids. She said that at times in San Diego, she felt the urge to forget her culture and heritage and believes that more immigrants should be willing to embrace their native language and the culture of their homeland.

Rojas said that after a long and difficult process, she obtained her green card in December, allowing her to apply to colleges as a permanent resident. She closed her speech by thanking her mother for helping her in all aspects of her life.

The penultimate speaker was Spanish teacher Pedro Mendez, who came to the U.S. from Mexico. He met his wife in Mexico in 2001 and decided to move to the U.S. with her. Mendez said he took English classes once he arrived and met many other immigrants from various countries with unique and interesting stories. Mendez emphasized that moving around is a normal part of life and should be treated as such in society.

Last to speak was Jose Merida ‘16. Merida lived in Guatemala for some of his childhood, but his family was forced to move from relative affluence in his home country to a life of difficulty in the U.S. in order to save his infant sister from illness. After one year in the U.S., his family’s visas expired, making them undocumented immigrants.

Merida lived in Revere during middle school and noted that several of his classmates, also Hispanic, “disappeared” in the middle of a school year, most likely a result of deportation. After moving to Brookline, Merida said that he started to feel less like an immigrant and more like an average citizen. He became the first in his family to go to college, and just finished his first year at Framingham State University, where he has become involved in various organizations around campus. He finished his speech by saying, “Be the change this country needs.”

All five speakers received enthusiastic applause from the audience after concluding their speeches. Ter-Ovanesyan closed the assembly with another reminder of the importance of immigrants in the community before dismissing the large audience.