Conflict & Justice

Immigrant High Schoolers Reflect on the American Dream

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Edwin Soto (Photo: 826 Boston)

Summer vacation begins for students in Boston this week. For a group of 11th graders, they're looking forward not just to some vacation, but also to becoming published authors.

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Fifteen immigrant students from Boston International High School will be featured in a new publication called "So What Now?" The book is a collection of reflections on the American Dream. The young authors are from places like Sudan, Albania, and Colombia.

I met with one of the young authors, Edwin Soto, a 17-year-old high school junior from the Dominican Republic. His piece "Now in Heaven, So What's After?" (featured below) was written as part of a collaboration between Soto's English class, taught by Kristin Russo, and the non-profit 826 Boston, a non-profit group that helps young, under-resourced students explore creative writing. The group 826 National was founded by author Dave Eggers and educator Ninivive Calegari a decade ago in San Francisco.

When Edwin Soto moved to Boston three years ago, his first day of class was a tough transition.

"When I came here, I didn't speak any English. Actually, on the first day of school, I didn't even know what a notebook was or nothing"

Today, Soto is a charismatic, engaging young man, easily conversant in English. And a soon-to-be published author.

In his essay, Soto focuses on a sport that is cherished in both the US and the Dominican Republic, baseball.

"I'm almost the number one fan of baseball. My favorite player is Alex Rodriquez. And Pedro Martinez, that's my favorite."

Soto has had a chance to go to Yankee stadium to see A-Rod play. And while Soto says he loves rooting for players with Dominican roots, he writes in his essay that too many boys back home have unrealistic expectations of becoming the next A-Rod or Pedro Martinez.

"I still love baseball, but in some ways I actually hate it. Because maybe not here in the United States, but in my country, I think it's the major cause the country is the way it is. All of those kids, they drop out of high school, and they think that if they play baseball that means that they're going to make it. And that's not the reality."

Soto says in the United States, boys can play in school, then college. If they don't make it professionally, they have other options. He says it's doesn't work that way for boys back in the Dominican.

"They got released without nothing, just their dreams."

In many ways, Soto is already living his American dream. In his essay, Soto writes about everyday luxuries, such as a warm shower. I asked him if he felt that Americans take these little things for granted.

"I never hear someone saying that, an American saying, that they're glad to have hot water and electricity, all those things. They can even go watch a NBA game or a baseball game anytime they want. But in Dominican Republic and other countries, that's a dream to people."

Soto says he'd like to go to college next year, then maybe become a fire fighter. Baseball's not his dream.

"My dream is to have a successful life. Maybe a career or a job to sustain my family and get enough money, so I can be happy."

Now in Heaven, So What's After?

by Edwin Soto

When I was back in my country, Dominican Republic, people used to argue with me because they thought that the United States was only the State of New York. We used to go one on one in discussions on whether when you move here you live in those "sky-scrapers" right away or slowly you set up a good job, then an economical improvement, then buy a car, a house, and so on. But still they didn't understand … so I just gave up. Apparently movies they watched on TV and pictures sent to them from the Big Apple or the Statue of Liberty had brainwashed them. I had the opportunity to visit my family who had "made it" to America when I was a little kid. So my understanding about America was much more realistic — I knew not to expect so much.

In D.R. it was almost impossible to watch full movies or the news, not even half an hour of Dexter Lab without having a power outage. When the lights went out, for those that didn't have a source of energy, an eternal darkness surrounded them at night. With the TV and radio off, a deathlike silence surrounded them during the day — except for motorcycle noise, of course. Moving to this country, I was so happy just knowing that I will have hot water anytime I wanted. I was so happy knowing that there will be electricity anytime I wanted to play video games or watch TV. In America, I was so happy knowing that I will be in school from 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and sometimes until 6 p.m. … Hurts so Good! Back in the D.R., we were out of school at noon. Then it was all about hanging out; playing baseball and wheelie on the bicycles.

Baseball is a great component of the Dominican culture. I might be the number one fan of baseball. However, my country is the way it is because of baseball. Wagner, Deivi, Juan, Edwin, Gabriel and his brother Angel, just to name a few from my town, had dropped out of high school and decided to dedicate their whole life to baseball. They're pretty good players, and I hope they achieve their dreams. I know how hard they practice each day but they aren't aware of what might happen to them if they don't make it. Baseball blinds their eyes, deafens their ears, blocks their minds. If you have seen Sugar you'll know how I feel. Pretty cool, huh? I hate to sound pessimistic but I'm just realistic.

For most immigrants the word "America" has thousands of meanings. Their hopes turn to America. Most of us have created the illusion that America shines for everyone. The fact that you play baseball doesn't mean you will be playing with the Yankees. For me, my primary goal is to figure out what to do with my life. I am 17-years-old and I don't know what to study in college. I care about my family, and myself. I know that everyone wants to succeed, and I do, too. I have made it to

America. So what now?
Edwin Soto is from Bani, located in the South Coast of the Dominican Republic.

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