Juntos 4-H Students Publish a Book on Latinx Immigrant and First-Generation Experiences

The Roots of Our People: From One World to Another, Juntos started as an initial project among NC State Assistant Professor of English Education, Dr. Crystal Lee, Juntos NC State Extentsion Program Director Juana Hernandez-Urquiza and Wake County Coordinator Beatriz Velazquez to address the need to support the Latinx community by exploring the ways in which Juntos students write narratives that individually and collectively weave their stories together. The underlying foundation for this project was to allow Juntos students to find their voice in the community and to share their past, present, and future experiences as immigrant and first-generation students.

In February 2018, Juntos NC students of South Garner HS formed a writing club to write this bilingual book by meeting every week for three months. With Dr. Lee, they published this book to demonstrate the strength in immigrant populations. The book is organized in 5 chapters: 1) poetry on the roots of immigrant families 2) memoirs on immigrant communities 3) tributes to people who influenced the students 3) letters to the community on the needs of Latino students and 4) the meaning and value of Juntos NC. The book was celebrated at Juntos NC Family Night at South Garner High School on 5/24/2018, and multiple stakeholders in education (families, community leaders, and school leaders) came to hear the readings and the work of the students, with each student reading a piece from The Roots of Our People: From One World to Another, Juntos that best represented their work. Afterwards, the authors sold autographed copies to those in attendance.

This Juntos NC Family Night doubled as an End of Year celebration for the Juntos 4H Wake County community. The ceremony was well attended by both the Wake County Juntos 4H students and their parents, and all attendees expressed satisfaction with the well-run program.  We appreciate Garner High School Principal Carter Hillman and Wake County Assistant Superintendent Dr. Robinson as well as a number of Wake County Extension leaders for showing up to support our students. Thank you to everyone who made the night a success.

Altogether, eight Juntos 4H-ers contributed to The Roots of our People: Janette Ramirez, Luis Zavala-Cervantes, Andrea Isabel Zavala-Cervantes, Briza Reyes-Cruz, Zuriel Gil-Badillo, Kevin Garcia-Galindo, Aldo German Galvan Hernandez, and Erik Modesto Reyes. In the book, the student authors explore identity, discrimination, and the challenges of rising to the occasion. Many of these authors live halfway between their Mexican and/or Nicaraguan raices, roots, and their American present, recognizing and celebrating their heritage all while asking for full inclusion and admission to the American community at large. Each author writes movingly about the difficulty of just making themselves understood to teachers who spoke no Spanish and were unfamiliar with their culture. They address an education system, whether that of Wake County or America, that sometimes fails to recognize their hard work, their talent, their drive, or their potential, an education system that promises much while delivering little on the promise of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” to these students, and they argue convincingly for their perspective, their bilingualism, their work ethic, and their compassionate humanity as assets to this country.

Many of the authors remind us that English is not their first language and that they wish teachers were quicker to recognize this fact. In a country that puts higher value on the English language than other languages, fluency and “correct” pronunciation are indicators of intelligence in society.  However, the author’s words in The Roots of Our People: From One World to Another, Juntos should compel us to question these assumptions.

Overall, these eight Latinx American authors reflect the vitality of the Juntos 4H program; each one expresses their solidarity with the Latinx community both in the United States and the wider world without reservation,  their ambition to attend an institution of higher education, and their desire to prove themselves as Latinx Americans. The Juntos leadership team, Extension leaders, and coordinators have worked to instill each of these qualities in these young authors, proving the need for just such an organization in a state where the Latinx community will only grow. De un mundo a otro, from one world to another, we thank Dr. Crystal Lee, Beatriz Velazquez, and Ms. Stephany Mejia, UNC Social Work Intern, for the time they poured into these students; we thank the Juntos leadership team and Extension leaders for their vision and guidance; and we thank the students for contributing their talents to this project.  We are extraordinarily grateful for our partnership with the Wake County Public School System.

Plans are underway to continue our collaboration with North Carolina public schools throughout the state.

If anyone is interested in acquiring a copy of The Roots of Our People, please contact Nancy Marks,  at njmarks@ncsu.edu. The book costs $5. We also encourage donations starting from $5. Interested donors can give at http://juntosnc.com/donate/