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Immigration Q&A

Interviews of students and faculty who have had experiences with immigration

Ana Marbett and Claire Moriarty, Editors in Chief
Originally published March 5, 2019

Julian Corrales-Askov Interview 

Can you explain your experience with immigration whether it’s been you or your parents or friends? 

It affected my parents, but that kinda directly affected me at a young age. I was born here in the US, and I don’t remember how young I was, but my mom got sent back to Costa Rica. She overstayed [her visa] a little bit and they sent her back. My dad was working so he couldn’t really take care of me, so I went back with my mom to Costa Rica. 

What was it like for you as a young person to be separated from one of your parents? Do you remember at all? 

I kinda was used to the idea that I just never really saw my dad, and I just grew up thinking I’ll see him eventually. It did affect me in the idea that I never really had a role model to look up to. I looked up to my brother instead. He was a really good role model for me, or as much as he could be as a brother. 

What do you know about U.S. immigration policy? How do you feel about it? 

I know a fair bit. I try to not anger myself by reading the news about immigration. I like to read about other stuff, but immigration kinda just is a sensitive topic for me. It definitely pisses me off when Trump says something about building a wall to prevent immigration when there’s just so much more–there’s another side that I really don’t think he sees about the wall and how that affects Latinos or Latinx people. 

Can you explain a little more about why it’s a sensitive topic? 

I mean, my mom being an immigrant to the US and eventually getting her citizenship, it’s been kind of a hostile topic when we talk about it with other people because they obviously see my mother as–there was one incident where even my grandmother saw my mom as like a looting immigrant, and bumming off a job and using my dad for citizenship, and kinda saw it as a negative affect. 

Your dad’s mom? 


What would you say to kids here who maybe don’t understand this experience and what it can feel like to have your parents or friends or family not be fully accepted by a community? 

I feel like they should educate themselves a little more, try and see it from another side. I see it from both sides, having my dad being an American–well, someone from the United States. I don’t like to say American because my mom’s also American. That’s another thing. People just think that the US is all of America, when really there’s a whole other side of America, and it’s us, the Latinos. I feel like people just need to see that. 

Here in the US there is poverty and I’m aware of that, but also at the same time, most of these other countries are third world countries, and it’s a lot more difficult especially when you’re trying to escape poverty, I guess, and you come to the US, and… Here it’s a lot better. There’s no doubt about that. You can find a job, welfare’s a lot better, and in a lot of Latin American countries you have to fear for your life. Here you still can have that fear, but it’s not like you’re on edge 24/7. 

So you said people should educate themselves, what do you think would be a good way to do that? 

There’s a respectful way to ask people. Obviously you need to find discomfort to talk about some topics, and I think that to do that you really need to dig into discomfort, and just going at it respectfully because there is going to be that discomfort and it’s just better. Research, look at the news, check your news sources. See what’s going on. And pen pals! That’s a really good one too, you could just ask them. Be like, ‘hey, I have a friend in Costa Rica, I’m gonna text them and see what it’s like there.’ 

Anything else you want to say about the topic? 

Defund the wall. I think it’s only gonna be more harming to future connections, and it’s more of a fascist, racist, discriminatory movement rather than an immigration thing. I understand that you are trying to protect your country, but at the same time, these people are hungry, they’re escaping drug lord countries… Yeah. 

So we don’t need to ask you about the national emergency thing. 

Yeah. Take a guess.


Ruth Kutrakun Interview

So, can you tell us a little bit about your position as ELL [director] and what you do? 

ELL stands for English Language Learners. I am the only ELL teacher here. I do have a Spanish-speaking instructional assistant. I provide sheltered english classes, so classes that help kids learn english, but also keep them on track for graduation. I have sheltered english classes and sheltered history classes, and students can come into those classes at a beginning level of english or an intermediate level, and they can study those subjects for graduation credit until their english is proficient enough to transition into mainstream classes. I also have an ELL adjunct class, which is a support class that provides support for kids who have very beginning english level skills can have more time to work on their english development, but it’s also a class where kids who have advanced level english skills can get support when they transition into mainstream. 

How many students do you work with? 

I have 47 students that are currently ELL-eligible, and probably 10 who have recently exited out of ELL, and we continue to provide support for those kids two years after they’ve exited. So you could say 47 to 55 or so. 

You mentioned earlier that some of those students have parents from a different country or who speak a different language, so have most of them recently moved from other countries? 

There’s a mix. I would say half of them have recently come from another country. Some have come with their family unit. Some of them have come on their own and are staying with extended family members that arrived in the US earlier. But then a handful of the kids may have been born in the United States but their families have emigrated previously, so they might have experienced going back with their family to the family’s country and then living there for a while and coming back. When you’re young and you go back and forth between countries, you pick up a language easily but you forget it just as easily, and so sometimes they need a refresher course in english or some time to transition back into english. So they’re bilingual, but maybe they don’t have the academic language they need to be successful here. 

The rest of them have been learning english for several years. The learning theory, the study of language, tells us that it can take seven to nine years to become fluent in a new language. Many of my students represent that journey where maybe they’ve been here since second or third grade, but they’re still acquiring the language. 

For a young person moving back and forth or even just from one place to another, and especially somewhere where you might not speak the language, or somewhere like here where it’s difficult to feel fully accepted, how do you think it affects people? 

It’s going to depend on the individual. It’s terrifying to some kids, and they might just be very quiet for a year or two, and they’re just focused on surviving. For other kids, they find the challenge exhilarating, and they feel like their world is opening up and they just blossom, and it happens very quickly. We see everything within that range of those two extremes.

Our largest language group is Spanish, but after that we have a variety of languages represented.”

— Ruth Kutrakun

There is a strong sense of community within my ELL classes. The ELL kids get to know each other very well. They form bonds and friendships across cultural groups and languages. Our largest language group is Spanish, but after that we have a variety of languages represented. We have maybe one to five students in maybe 20 different language groups. 

Most of the students really have to use english to have any kinds of friendships even if their friendships are within the ELL community. I think that at some point my students would really like to make friends with American students here. What I consistently hear is that they find it difficult to make friends with American students. One perception they have is that the American students have been in the community and already have their friends that they made in elementary school and they’re not really looking to make new friends. It’s not as much of a priority for the American students as it is for the ELL students who feel new here. 

My students are not very used to talking about politics, and so I don’t know if they don’t follow current news or they don’t feel comfortable talking about what’s going on currently in the United States and our government, and it’s a little difficult to discuss with them. So of course they’re somewhat aware, and they… They are really here because they see this as an opportunity, and they’re very focused on succeeding here. I think a lot of people perceive ELL classes as remedial level classes, but I try to view it as accelerated classes because they have the knowledge of any adolescent about the world around them, and instead of being able to talk about these things in their language they’re learning to talk about them in a second language, or for some of them english is a third language, so what they need from me is to learn how to accelerate their learning and their mastery of english so that they can jump right in. They may start out at a beginning level of english in ninth grade, but by twelfth grade they have to pass the SBAC just like you all do, and they have to get a good SAT score to get into a good college. They all have that same goal of graduation and getting into a good college. A lot happens for them in four years. 

I think we’re so focused on academics and accelerating the english so that they can get ahead and they can be successful, so that is so much of what we spend our time talking about. 

But you wouldn’t say too focused on academics. 

No. And you know, throughout the coursework, for example I teach an ELL US history class, and right now we’re talking about immigration in that class. The study of immigration when you’re teaching that lesson to immigrants is very rich. There are some things that they get better than a group of American students because they’re experiencing it. They do talk about their personal things and social concerns, but they’re also more private, I feel, than your typical American teenager. It takes a long time to build trust. 

To go off of what you said you were studying, do you think that the current political climate has an impact on the sense of safety or well-being among your students? 

Again, I feel like my students are so mature, and so above it, and focused on their own success, that they almost don’t want to dignify the level of conversation and the fear and the wrongness of some of what’s being discussed and debated. I mean, I have some students that have been directly impacted by the revoking of visas from certain countries, and that makes them sad, but again, my students are very mature. They are very resilient, and they are not letting it distract them. But I’m sure it’s difficult. 

Does the school feel like a safe place? 

Yes. I think most of the students feel very safe. I think that people at Ballard are friendly. Our counseling office is very open and friendly and aware and welcoming. I think we can always do more to make it easier to transition. Ballard has very high academic standards, and I think that it’s very difficult for my students to get up to the level of rigor in mainstream classes. It’s definitely challenging, but they all want that. So it’s challenging, but it’s welcoming here. They know who their support systems are. 

Is there anything that the school or the community should be doing to make sure that the school remains a welcoming space? 

Back to that issue of making friends. A lot of my very newcomers arrive throughout the school year. Often they are not part of the orientation. I think that’s really an area that we could work on: like how to bring those new kids into a more organized welcoming environment. Like if they’re not part of Link Crew because they’re not here at the beginning of the year, we don’t have an organized method of welcoming kids who come in the middle of the year. 

Students who have grown up in the Ballard community could really ask themselves, ‘Am I comfortable with my group of friends?’ And it’s great if you are, but what could you and your friends do to welcome a new student? Like if you see somebody who’s sitting alone, or if you even see a group that’s sitting together speaking a different language, would you approach that group? Or would you leave them alone because they seem comfortable speaking that language, and they are! But what would happen if you went over and said, ‘Could we get to know you guys? What language are you speaking? Where are you from?’ 

It’s easy to see how it might seem that kids here aren’t looking for new friends. A lot of the students here went to elementary and middle school together. 

And that doesn’t make anyone bad, it’s just a natural thing. In order to get out of that mindframe, there has to be a system of how we challenge each other to see what you don’t even see. 

Do you have anything else you’d like to share about the topic? 

A lot of people travel around the world to learn about different cultures, and I think if we really open our eyes here in the Ballard community, we would see that we have people coming from other countries, and they’re really just down the hallway. They’re right in front of us: people from other countries who could teach us so much about the world. And I think that we don’t really ever have to travel outside of our own community to learn what’s going on in the world. Our immigrant students are a great resource, and I would love it if they would be seen and recognized and celebrated more.

A lot of people travel around the world to learn about different cultures, and I think if we really open our eyes here in the Ballard community, we would see that we have people coming from other countries, and they’re really just down the hallway. They’re right in front of us: people from other countries who could teach us so much about the world. And I think that we don’t really ever have to travel outside of our own community to learn what’s going on in the world. Our immigrant students are a great resource, and I would love it if they would be seen and recognized and celebrated more.”

— Ruth Kutrakun

Sadaf Walizada (11)  and Zuhya Walizada (10) Interview

Do you wanna just tell us a little bit about where you’re from and your journey here? 

S: I’m from Kabul, Afghanistan. I came to USA in November, 2018. It’s only around 3 months that I am in USA. 

Can you tell us a little bit about why you guys came to the US and then to Seattle? 

Because life is… You know about Islamic countries in Asia? Life is not good for them. There’s several wars between people, and our life was in danger in Afghanistan. My mom’s a woman that she works for children, and there are some men and some people that they don’t like her. Our life was in danger, that’s the main reason we came here. 

What was the literal journey to the United States like? 

It’s a new country for me. You know, in our country we grew up, starting life in a new country is not too easy. But we want to have a good life, so we have to prepare ourselves to continue our lives here. It was hard to leave our country to come to a new country, but we want to do our best. 

Was it difficult getting here due to the current policies? 

Yeah, policy is different. Everything is different. It’s a little difficult, but we don’t have any choices, that’s why. 

So it’s you guys and your mom? 

Our whole family is here. Everybody came. We saw our mom after three years. 

So she came first? 

Yeah, she came first. My mom came first before all of us. She came alone. She stayed here for three years. After that, we came. First me and my sister–not this one. I have [five] sisters. So me and one sister came, then [the other] four with my dad came. 

How has it been transitioning specifically to this school and this community? 

First I came to Ballard High School, because I didn’t know about Ballard, I was a little sad. After that, day by day I became interested for BHS. So I feel myself so comfortable in here. People, teachers, everybody’s so kind with us. I don’t feel myself like I came from another country. They didn’t let me feel alone. Especially my classmates. 

Is that due in part to the ELL classes that you have? 

Yeah, ELL classes, Storey’s class, all classes. 

Did you say you have Ms. Storey for LA? 

I have it sixth period. So I have Storey’s class, ELL, biology. 

Can you talk a little bit more about the specific classes you have? Are they all through the ELL program? 


How many of them are just with Ms. Kutrakun? 

I have two classes with Ms. Kutrakun. 

So where do you consider your home? Because “house” and “home” are different for me. Like the physical place that you live, versus where you feel “at home.” So do you feel that Ballard and your home here has become your home, or still in Afghanistan? 

My memories, my everything is in Afghanistan. So I can’t say that physically, mentally, I am here. Afghanistan is in my heart, but my home is here now. I feel in here good, but I can’t forget Afghanistan. 

What are your plans for after high school? 

My goals and my plans are too much to do. When I came to USA, the first thing that made me happy is that I could achieve my goals here. It’s the best way to achieve my goals. I have many plans. I want to finish my school at first, high school, then I want to go to college and I want to be a doctor. 

Is that difficult to achieve in Afghanistan, especially for a woman? 

Yes. It’s too difficult. We have many many problems in Afghanistan. 

So your mom worked in Afghanistan, and that’s why you guys had to come here. What did she do? 

She visit with some… I don’t know the meaning of this word, but some pupil didn’t want her. They said “if you work for children, we will kill you.” So that’s why we told her, “go, Mom. It’s good for you to leave the country.” But she didn’t want to leave because of us. 

What do you want people to understand about your experience? 

I want them to know that life is not at all easy, and life is not going the same way. We have some difficult times in our lives, some easy times, and… Leaving a country is not easy for anyone, but I want them to know that everyone is equal, there is not any difference between each other, but we have to study hard and we have to make our world to show them that everyone is good.

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