Migrants, Aliens, and Nomads: Exploring Identity at International High School

more flagsOn Thursday, September 25, Lisa Haney’s two Migrants, Nomads and Aliens seminars went to International High School in North Oakland, had lunch at a traditional Korean restaurant and then went into San Francisco to see the Migrating Identities exhibit at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.  At the high school, students interviewed recent immigrants from an art class at the school, they shared flags they had made in a recent art project about immigration, then mixed groups of students created drawings based on what they had in common. The following short essays are compilations of student reflections on their experience.

On Immigration

Daniel, Azmat and international high studnetsDuring our field trip to Oakland International High School Azmat and I had the opportunity to interview two students, “Ahmed” and “Aricela” [from Yemen and Guatemala]. I interviewed a 15 year old boy from Togo named “John”, and “Josefina” a 15-year-old girl from Guatemala. I learned that both of them came to the US in order to have a better life and good education. I asked them what “better life” means to them, and they said it means they have a good education, a good job, so they can support their own lives. Josefina seems disappointed by the reality that she still does not enjoy as much freedom as she expected to do before coming to the US. Ahmed’s expectations and pre-conceived notions of the country led to some difficulty when he came to California.

Kelia Human and Naomi AhnNihal Shah Amanda Wu Haley Carter

“Alejandro” from Mexico shared that language has been the most challenging for him after he arrived to the U.S. Not until we visited Oakland International school, I realized how much myself have accomplished in a foreign country. Seeing the students today in the school is just like looking back to myself two years ago. I felt the responsibility to facilitate the conversation since this is something I have been through. “Sameer” [from Yemen] said he wanted to communicate and get to know other countries’ culture and also practice his English more by talking to other people. I think that’s awesome because I used to think that new immigrants tend to stick with “their people” more than come out of their comfort zone to adventure new things or make new friends. The most interesting thing for me was when we all found out that we wanted to be in the health field when we grow up. We all had a desire to help make people healthier and feel better.

more chalk drawing

chalk drawing

On Identity

I am a “hybridity” of the Chinese culture and American culture. I have to be more like a Chinese around my Chinese friends while I have to be more American to be assimilated in the dominant culture in the US. As an immigrant and a hybrid, I have to define who I am and where I actually belong. However, I don’t want to define myself as only Vietnamese because I also have Chinese blood in my veins and now I acculturate American culture. After seeing [Saya Woolfalk’s] artwork, I want to come up with a new description about myself, my identities. While talking to Ahmed and Aricela I felt my perceptions and stereotypes about where they came from began to wear away. I began to realize how limited my world view has been. 

Poetic Reflection

Chimera from the Empathics series by Saya Woolfalk via YCBA

I am a junior emphatic, human-plant being which lives in a magical place where hybridity of all kinds is the norm. Hybridity refers to the process of two different things coming together to form third new things. Surrounded by other senior emphatics, I go on a process of hybridity: having my head going up toward the upper part of my body and growing my second and third heads. In modern days, people tend to focus on one thing. They often want one answer to every question. However, I hate saying only one part of myself to others. How do you hold both identities in this world where we want to focus on one thing? I believe there is no way to define one’s identity with one key phrase. In fact, I have multiple heads that form “one” body and my body consists of multiple arms and legs. People go through a complexity of identity when they confront cross-cultural context because having multiple identities is against the current norm. People always want to find which part of identity has more strength than others so that they can summarize their identity as one concept. Yet, people have to acknowledge the idea of hybridity that identity can be made of diverse, different cultural and social backgrounds. –by Naomi Ahn ’14

Perpetual Peace by Michelle Dizon via YCBA

I am many and I am free. Free to be anything, anyone, anywhere. This universe has four or more dimensions—it is impossible to be flat. I do not understand the desire to be one thing, one person, one identity. Why be one when you can be all? When you’re constrained by the desire for a uniform singularity you can never truly be a whole being. As an empathic I strive to understand and live as many cultures, identity, and beings as I can because the more I am the closer I am to being all of being. For any being, especially one as complex as a human being, to be ascribed to single identity is analogous to describing the seven billion people on this planet as simply ‘Earthlings’, and nothing more. You cannot generalize a world and you cannot generalize a human being. I refuse to be simplified—to be divided is to be conquered. I cannot be hidden. I cannot be denied. I am me and I am we. –by Daniel Atkins ’14

Kibaba na Unicorn by Wangechi Mutu via YCBA

I am Unicorn. I am the women with a feather boa hair. It reaches down my back and flows with the wind. I am here because I deserve to be. I have a commonality with these other women but we are not the same. We are individuals and define who we are. My crown signifies my royal birth. It is a great treasure and I am pound to wear it on my head. I do wonder if the women across from me comes from royalty as well for she also has what could be a crown on her head. Perhaps she and I have another commonality. On one side of me is buckethead. She is a simple women and plain but that does not mean she does not deserve to be here. On the other side of me is blue hair. Her hair is bound up unlike mine. It allows her to work without her hair flying into her face. Her hardships are hard, and more severe than mine. Her face may be beaten and bruised but her heart is strong. That is why she deserves her place here. That is why we all deserve a place here. Here, we are calm and can feel safe once again. With these strong women on either side of me I will not be harmed again. Together we stand and leave our traumatic experiences behind. –by Kelia Human ’14

Reflections by:

Anna Quach ’14

Naomi Ahn ’14

Kelia Human ’14

Daniel Atkins ’14

Amanda Wu ’14

Student Photos in Danville Art Gallery Exhibit

This Friday, October 11, join Athenian photographers at an opening at the Village Theatre Art Gallery in downtown Danville of pictures taken during the Athenian interim trip to Cambodia and Vietnam this past March.

The opening is from 5-8pm with a student presentation at 7pm.

Please extend the invitation to family and friends! Proceeds from the sale of photos in the exhibition as well as notecards (available on-campus this week during lunch) will benefit Sala Phum Pheak Bourn Primary School, a school Athenians visited in Cambodia. A special thanks to Adam Thorman, Tom Swope, Karen Sanford and Kathleen Huntington for their support of this event.

The exhibit, Perspectives; Life in Cambodia and Vietnam, will open Oct. 11 and run through Nov. 9.

Featured Artists:

Students – Alison Blick ’13, Alana Brown, Amanda Hamilton, Melise Knowles, Andrew McBeth, Emma Schwartz, Gianna Scolini ’13, Ania Smith, Tessa Sternberg, Charles Thimesch ’13, and Nicole Thrower

Art Instructor – Niki Stefanelli

Trip Leader – Jim Sternberg

Master Photographer – John Rizzo

Photo by Nicole Thrower 

Photo by Amanda Hamilton 


Photo by Emma Schwartz

Photo by Andrew McBeth 

Photo by Gianna Scolini ’13

Perspectives Press

Southeast Asia Through the Eyes of Danville High School Students, September 27, 2013, Danville Patch

Danville’s Athenian School Exhibits Photos from Cambodia and Viet Nam, October 4, 2013, San Jose Mercury News

Look for an upcoming article in The Contra Costa Times on Thursday!