EAST GREENWICH—Sophomores at the Rocky Hill Country Day School held an exhibit late last month entitled “Sharing Voices,” in an effort to exhibit the narratives of immigrants and refugees in America. The project culminated with a showcase of student-created posters at the Flynn Academic Center and discussions with students and interviewees alike to explore the convergences and divergences of their individual experiences in a unique collaboration.
“Sharing Voices” is a project-based-learning module that focuses on the duality of identity in the United States, and challenges students to gain a deeper appreciation of the immigrant and refugee experience in contemporary America. The project is neither about immigration nor politics but focuses on what sophomore students discovered about themselves and others as the result of discussions concerning their personal experiences.
“It is important to understand the process of immigration, but even more important to understand others’ humanity,” said Nilton Cardenas, a Cranston-based painter originally from Peru.
Cardenas was one of the many immigrants whose widely differing stories were made available to the students of Rocky Hill in close-knit interviews. Born in Lima, his family immigrated to Miami before moving to Providence. His experiences as an immigrant and dualistic identity inform much of his painting, and his passion for the traditions of the ancient Incan culture has led to his work being described as “Andean mysticism.”
Other interviewees involved in the project included co-founders of the Women’s Refugee Center in Providence Clement Shabani and Aline Binyungu, founder of the Institute of Nonviolence for Providence Teny Gross and DACA recipient and DREAMer activist Rodrigo Pimentel.
Though the lived experiences of such a diverse group varied greatly, their shared involvement in social community endeavors led reliably to a connecting thread: The need to give back to the society that they have become a part of.
More than 19 percent of all the international migrants in the world come to the United States to build a new life for themselves and their families, and it is hoped that the sophomores of Rocky Hill will now have a better understanding of the power and responsibility that comes with discovering and sharing someone else’s story. The last decade has seen the highest recorded average influx of immigrants in the nation’s history, and projects such as “Sharing Voices” may well prove a crucial connecting point for helping Americans, both new and old, to better integrate with one another.
Speaking directly with the local immigrant and refugee population, the students learned about deep personal pain, abject violence and suffering, but also unwavering courage, resilience and perseverance. The interactions celebrated the power of the human spirit and the kindness of strangers, but most significantly, the students learned about determination and never giving up. Along the way, the students were reminded of the constant duality of difference and sameness that all people have in common. As they reflected on their identities, they discovered what it means to negotiate one’s identity and claim one’s new sense of place.
Founded in 1934, Rocky Hill Country Day School is an independent day school for grades preschool through 12. Located on 84 acres overlooking Narragansett Bay, the School focuses on innovative teaching and an interactive educational experience that prepares students to become leaders and life-long learners. In addition to the Sharing Voices project, Rocky Hill students recently carried out similar interviews with local veterans to shine a light on those who serve the nation.