When immigrants arrive in a new country, they bring their most valuable possessions. You might think these possessions are in their bundle of suitcases—but most are found in in their memories. I interviewed six teenage immigrants at Boston International Newcomers Academy: 14-year-old Ibrahima, 13-year-old Ibrahim, 16-year-old Mike, 16-year-old Jefferey, 18-year-old Dabhcar, and 17-year-old Venessa. This is a glimpse into a few memories they shared with me.
[These interviews have been edited for clarity and length.]
Where are you from?
Ibrahima and Ibrahim: We’re originally from Senegal.
Mike: I’m from the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Jefferey: I was raised in Manila, Philippines.
Dabhcar and Venessa: We’re from Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
What do you remember about adjusting to your new surroundings in a new country?
Mike: The only thing I remember by the time I get here is everything was new. Lights, too many light everywhere! In my country, you have to take bushes and put them on fire and walk with it around for a source of light. It was surprising—tall buildings. The only building back there was the one for the president.
Venessa: I remember the day I got lost when I was coming to school. I was on the MBTA and I didn’t know the kids in that school as much. And everybody else left the bus and when I looked up, I didn’t know where I was. I thought, “oh my God, I’m lost!” My English wasn't that strong and I was struggling to talk to the bus driver. I didn't know what to do. But in the end, the bus driver helped me get off at my stop.
What’s your favorite food from home? Do those foods trigger any memories?
Dabhcar and Venessa: On January 1, which is Independence Day, we visit our whole families and eat “soup joumou.”It’s a tradition we have take part in, and we drink that all day. We also like lalo which are jute leaves, griot, or fried pork, and plantains.
Ibrahima and Ibrahim: Thiéboudienneis a Senegalese fish and rice dish. Sometimes we eat it with family.
Mike: Every morning I used to wake up and go hunting to bring food for home. The first time I got a big animal, I shared it with my friends and family because it was really hard to get down and to take home. It was really hard to cut it into pieces to give to each other and to the village people too.
Tell me something that you will forever remember from your home country that has left an impression on your identity.
Ibrahim: When I was in school, they got a basketball court one day, and my friends and I played basketball for the first time. They didn't know the rules, because soccer is the most popular sport in Senegal. They just picked up the ball and threw it. I remember this one person, he took the ball for a spin. He grabbed the ball and took ten steps—you’re only supposed to do two or three steps. This kid just grabbed the ball and took off.
Mike: The one thing I miss is my family back there. Not just my immediate family but the ones I grew up with. My childhood friends and stuff. Because, from the time I was like 7 to 11, I used to go hunt with them. Animals like deers, and those crazy animals—black panthers.
Jefferey: I used to always ride motorcycles in Manila. So after school, I would hang out with my friends riding motorcycles. We always hang out in my house, every day! After, we would go to other places on road trips, just seeing the city.
Venessa: The way we celebrate Christmas in Haiti is special. On December 21, our families go to church. December 31, everyone goes to church again to pray. For the 25th and January 1, we go to see family. Even if we have gone 365 days without seeing each other, for those days we will see each other no matter what.
Dabhcar: My favorite memories are full of summer because I enjoyed beautiful moments then. I tried to have fun with my family and sometimes with my church. In the summer, there is a tradition where we go camping for two weeks. That is my favorite memory of Haiti.