The student news source of Iowa City West High

The Future

November 17, 2022

Life takes people down many unexpected roads, and this was the case for West High Spanish teacher Javier Montilla. Montilla returned home to Venezuela after his university studies in the U.S. ended, but decided to move back to the U.S. when Venezuela was going through unstable times. 

“I never planned on staying [in the U.S.],” Montilla said. “[But] what happens with immigration [is] when you decide to move to another country, [it is because] things are going so badly in your [home] environment or in the country as a whole.” 

For many immigrant parents who escaped a hard life in their previous country, it is rewarding to provide their children with opportunities they didn’t have. Rosa Villanueva, head cook at West High, started working when she was seven years old in Mexico. She believes that the difficult move from Mexico to the U.S. was worth it in the end. 

“It’s hard when you are poor. You don’t have the opportunity to have a car. You don’t have the opportunity to go to the theater to see a movie,” Villanueva said. “This country brings me a lot of happiness because I see my daughter [get] this stuff I [thought about] when I was a little girl.”

Esther Zhang, Wang’s mother, sees Wang’s future as having more possibilities now that they live in the U.S.

“A lot of Chinese students think they don’t have a future because in China, there aren’t many opportunities, and they are pessimistic because their parents are very disappointed in them. I think the future is hopeful for Nomi [after moving],” Zhang said. 

Wang already has an idea of what this future may look like. 

“I lost three years of traveling because of the pandemic [and lockdown] in China. I want to compensate myself a little bit in the following years, just go traveling and see people from different nations,” Wang said. “[I also want to attend] the university here to continue my studies.”

Eltyeb also sees education as an important part of his future, as well as pursuing his interest in programming. 

“I want to graduate from West High and go to a really good university somewhere in the U.S. … I want to be a computer engineer,” Eltyeb said. “When I was living [in Sudan], I was really starting to get into programming, but I could never download these things because the internet is limited.” 

While settling into a different place is strange and discomforting, the West High community plays a large role in helping students adjust. 

“Everybody in school that I [meet] are all friendly and kind to me,” Wang said. “When I need something academic, my counselor will stand up and help me, and when [I] feel like I don’t have [many] friends, someone in class will show up and be like, ‘How’re you doing?’” 

However, there are still things the community can improve on. St. John thinks it is important for other students to be aware of the privileges they have as individuals who grew up in the U.S.

“[PALs] come in and do conversation partners and try to get [ELL students] to talk about different topics and meet people. So that’s kind of fun. But then it’s like the students aren’t prepped … Some of the students are very affluent or their families are rich, and so they ask students, ‘Where’d you guys go for spring break this year?’” St. John said. “I feel like as a school, we don’t do a good job of saying, ‘Hey, this is who’s in our school.’ Some people come in, [and] they’re like, ‘I had no idea that there were classes like this.’”

While generally inclusive, some in the West High community are ignorant about the experiences of immigrants.

“I feel like people just underestimate immigrants … at certain times, some people would speak slowly, assuming that we do not speak proper English,” Eltyeb said.

When cultural differences become frustrating to navigate, it can be comforting to have a space where people with similar backgrounds can connect.

 “I really like the concept of the [Sudanese Student Organization] because it’s bringing people who are like me together, people of the same culture,” Eltyeb said.

Along with finding community, Montilla encourages immigrants to invest time in themselves and dream big.

“Everybody can have a different version of the American Dream and what you can do in this country,” Montilla said. “[When you arrive], you realize that not everything is like what they told you, but on the other hand, there are so many opportunities. You can accomplish anything if you have the right disposition, and you look for the skills to accomplish what you want.”

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