New York City!

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At the end of March, ten high school migrant students from the Mount Vernon Migrant Leaders Club traveled to New York City to learn about a day in the life of Latino teenagers living in the Bronx. The students had dreamed of this trip for years and our arrival in the city represented the pinnacle of their extraordinary ability to turn big dreams into reality.

We lived and breathed as much of the city as possible during our four days there.

We arrived about 6:00pm and were met at our hotel in the Bronx by staff and students from our sponsoring high school. They immediately pushed us onto the subway and within minutes we were in the middle of Time Square. The bright lights, crowds, and noise were so overwhelming that the Mount Vernon students literally screamed in excitement. After soaking up the city’s energy, watching teenage street performers, and seeing our faces projected onto billboards, we ate dinner outside in Bryant Park. We crossed Park Avenue to tour Grand Central Station before heading back to our hotel.

We spent our first full day at Explorations Academy, a high school in the Bronx. We observed AP classes, exchanged personal stories with students, talked at length with the beautifully diverse staff, danced bachata & cumbia, played volleyball with students, ate New York pizza, and basically never wanted to leave. After school, we had dinner at a student’s home so we could see how families in the Bronx live. Our conversations over dinner were deep, intimate, and intense. The students compared nearly every element of their lives, finding just as many commonalities as they did differences. Back at our hotel, as the rain poured down outside, we decided to head into the city to check out Fifth Avenue. We mastered getting twelve people on and off the subway, grabbed hot chocolate to help us with the cold, saw Carnegie Hall & Radio City Music Hall, pretended we were staying at the Plaza Hotel (one student was even given an umbrella by the doorman as we left the hotel), visited the Apple Store, the Trump Tower, and spent way too long at Forever 21.

Day two found us at the Bronx’s Angelo Patri Middle School where we talked about our lives with several large groups of students, discussed US child labor with the incredibly welcoming staff, learned about immigration to NYC from the Dominican Republic over a delicious Dominican lunch, and enjoyed speaking Spanish with the Panamanian principal. After school, we walked to the Kelly Street Gardening Project to meet the director,  Rosalba Lopez, a Mixtec woman from Madera, California, with a story very similar to that of the Mount Vernon students. After a tour of the gardens and a neighborhood history lesson by local residents, Rosalba and the students shared stories. For dinner, we took over a local Oaxacan restaurant where we enjoyed incredible food and conversation with the owners and their son. In a very special moment, we offered them the gift of our DreamFields book, while they offered us the gift of their book, Shadows Then Light, about their son’s role as an activist for the rights of undocumented youth in the US. The family was incredibly inspirational to all of us.

We reserved our third day for sight-seeing! We had a long list of sights to see and we did it all. We took the subway to Brooklyn and began the day by walking into the city across the Brooklyn Bridge. From there, we walked to the 9/11 Museum, St. Paul’s Chapel, Wall Street, South Street Seaport, Chinatown (for lunch), Little Italy, NYU, Greenwich Village, and Union Square. In Union Square we met up with a Zapotec woman, Julieta Mendez, originally from California, who works to support non-profits across the globe. She took us on a tour of her office, shared her story, and even sang “La Llorona”. From there, we jumped on the subway and headed to Columbia University where we received a tour and visited the Teachers College. As darkness and exhaustion set in, we jumped back on the subway for our final stop of the day – the Empire State Building. The views from the top were spectacular, the perfect culmination to an amazing day.

On our final day, we had a few hours before we needed to be at the airport, so we made one last trip into the city to explore Central Park and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. After a quick lunch of Greek gyros, a first for the students, we said our good byes and headed to the airport.

The trip was absolutely life-changing and unforgettable. Some of the Mount Vernon students are ready to move to New York City and are seriously considering college there. Others were shell-shocked and couldn’t wait to get back to their comfort zone in Mount Vernon. Regardless of their reactions to the city, however, they all now see the world differently and more fully. Their sense of possibility has exploded. I can’t wait to see which of their dreams will come true next!

– Janice Blackmore, Adviser

 

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