CCHS Students Share Their Immigration Stories

Camille Crumbley, Staff writer

Chamblee Charter High School is known to have a diverse student body. Students come from all kinds of racial backgrounds and nationalities. The Blue & Gold sat down with a few that were willing to share their stories.

It is not always an easy choice to leave your home country and come somewhere new. Immigrants may leave their families, friends, and lives behind. It is especially difficult for those who do not leave their home as children.

“I didn’t want to [leave]; my parents did,” said sophomore Torsa Rahman. “They wanted a better life for us. Every immigrant parent does, like no one wants to leave their home. My parents didn’t want to move back. It’s like the dream for a foreigner to be able to live in America. All the good jobs are in America. You can’t get a good job in Bangladesh. They came here for us.”

Rahman’s father moved here from Bangladesh in the early eighties to study. Both Rahman and her older brother were born in the states after her parents moved to America.

“We then moved to Texas, where my aunt and uncle lived, so we could actually be with family because my dad wasn’t in America,” said Rahman. “Well, he was at the beginning, but then he got deported.”

Rahman’s mother would have been deported as well, but was allowed to stay because she had two children that were American citizens.

When Rahman was a toddler, her family moved back to Bangladesh. She stayed there until she was six and moved back to Texas and still lived with her aunt and uncle. Rahman claims that she had a better life in Bangladesh and sometimes wish she could be back there.

“I honestly think my life [my family] would have a better life in Bangladesh just because we were already settled down,” said Rahman. “Once we got here it was hard because we were discriminated against. The move was hard. Our dad wasn’t here. We weren’t necessarily rich there, but we were settled down. We had a process. Here, it was hard to enroll in the school. Then, we kept moving.”

Immigrant children who have lived most of their lives another place and are forced to move somewhere else may not feel as grateful to be relocating.

“I like China better,” said junior Wenhao Xie. “I was born there and lived there for years. I was more settled there and the food here is too simple.”

Xie moved from China in December 2015 along with her younger brother and mother. They moved to be with her stepfather.

Sophomore F. Nihal, who also comes from Bangladesh, feels that immigrating has benefitted him.

“[Immigrating] definitely made my life better,” said Nihal. “I’m educated, have a good neighborhood, have a new brother now, school is amazing, have things to do that I wouldn’t get to do in Bangladesh: technologies, computers. Technology is the best part about here. My teachers are also smart here.”

Sophomore Rakeb Bonger likes America, but misses Ethiopia, her friends, and her family everyday and cannot wait to go back.

“I hate the part that everything is punctual,” said Bonger. “Everything is timed.  I’m not good with that. If you’re late, you might mess up the plans of your whole day. Like when it comes to school, I hate the part when it comes to tardy. If you’re late, you get three times detention. There is no such thing as that in Ethiopia.”

Learning the language is a big part of immigrating. Xie learned English in China, but did not use it a lot. Rahman struggled through ESOL classes in Texas and could not grasp English until she moved to Georgia in the sixth grade. Bonger went through many hoops to prove her grasp on the language.

“It was easy to learn, but people say I have a strong accent and I talk fast because in my language you talk fast,” said Bonger. “It is hard for my mom. She can listen, but she can’t speak everything she wants to say. My dad has to say it for her sometimes, but she can understand.”

Bonger’s mother came to America four years ago and she came two years ago.

“My mom came here and got her visa and her green card and then when I came here after two years I got my green card, too,” said Bonger.

Bonger’s mother married an Ethiopian man who had American citizenship while they were still in Ethiopia. He then brought her mother to America. It will soon be her mother’s fifth year here, so she can now apply for citizenship.

Bonger learned some English in Ethiopia in school and from TV shows and movies, much like Rahman did.

Both Rahman and Bonger went through ESOL classes, though they had varied experiences.

“Last year I was having normal classes, they put me back in ESOL class, but I passed the test and went back to my normal class,” said Bonger. “But, first when I come here I went to International and I took the test. International is a place where everybody [comes when they first get here] and give our documents to the other school and transfer our documents, but first we take a test about American history and English and math and if you’re really bad you go to International for a time that depends but I was above that so they put me in ESOL class.”

For Rahman, learning English was much different. Before coming here, all she knew was Bangla from her Muslim school. She could read and write Arabic and knew nothing about America.

“Out of the ESOL program, I was the only brown kid; everyone else was Hispanic,” said Rahman. “I wanted to be white so bad. All the rich people were white. All the cool people were white and I was just stuck in my class because I couldn’t speak English.”

She claims the ESOL program at her school in Texas was “terrible” which led to the extended period of time that it took her to learn the language. It wasn’t until she came to Georgia that she truly felt pushed to learn.

Her mother picked up the language quickly and would read her books when she had time. Her aunt and uncle also gave them grammar books from when they had first moved to America.

Nihal was taught English by his father who was a professor in Bangladesh as well as picking up the language naturally. He moved here around 2006, though his father came first and his family later followed.

Both Rahman and Nihal noticed the switch in the scholarly atmosphere upon coming to America.

“The difference would be like the size of the school and how many teachers they have,” said Nihal. “They teach the kids really well and they have technologies and stuff. In Bangladesh, the teachers have like permission to hit you if they feel unsatisfied that you don’t do your work. I was hit. They use a stick and they go around and see if you’re doing your work or goofing off they would have you show your hand and they would hit you with it.”

Rahman also remembers the corporal punishment handed out by teachers. She also claims that school is harder in Bangladesh.

“You had to learn two languages and my brother was a star student and everyone would compare him to me because I was the last kid since everything was based on ratings,” said Rahman. “So they would rate the kids based on your test scores. My brother was top of his class and I was bottom of my class.”

Before Xie came to America, she heard that the schools here were easier, including the path to college.

“In China we stay in the same classroom and we don’t have GPA,” said Xie. “All you have to do is do well on the test, on the final test. You don’t have to worry about the GPA. That’s a good thing, but the thing called gaokao, the test you took for college, is way more difficult than SAT or ACT.”

When Bonger moved to America, she said everything was different.

“The way the classes are, it was a little bit hard to catch up,” said Bonger. “Things like the dress code, we don’t have a dress code there. If you wear uniform, it’s okay. If you wear another thing, it will be okay. But here, you have to wear that clothes, otherwise you get sent to the principal. We switch classes here, but we didn’t there.”

Bonger also claims that students are more open and accepting to new students in Ethiopia and when she came here she struggled for a while to make friends.

She also mentioned that she has been discriminated against in school and called names. A boy in her class last year taunted her for being from Africa and said she didn’t have documents. Both Nihal and Rahman say they have encountered racial issues as well.

“The first day in class I went to lunch and everybody I would, like, pass in the hallway would call me Indian because I looked Indian,” said Nihal. “That was one of the biggest issues I had and I couldn’t really make friends because you know, they wouldn’t like me for being different. But, I guess it was elementary school. But, yeah, when they first started calling me that, I didn’t know what to say back. I couldn’t say anything back because I didn’t know the English yet, but as soon as I learned I was like, ‘Hey, I’m not Indian.’”

Rahman claims being in Texas influenced the discrimination that she faced.

“I had like no friends until I moved [to Georgia],” said Rahman. “The white friends that wanted to include me just because I was brown just because you learn in school, ‘Hey, you gotta like accept everybody and every race.’ It wasn’t like they wanted to be my friend.”

Her mom has been followed in the store and people have made terrorist jokes at her as well as calling her Indian.

When Xie came here she said it was the racism here that bothered her.

“[Racist people] like everywhere,” said Xie. “[In China], even though there are some foreigners if they are willing to speak our language and culture, we will accept them. We’re not that racist.”

When the parents of these students came here, they didn’t necessarily get to stay on the same professional level as in their home country.

“In Texas [mom] worked at department stores,” said Rahman. “She started off at gas stations, but she also couldn’t speak English. She had to like hustle and get whatever jobs she could. She would be gone before we went to school then she would be back at like eight at night.”

In Bangladesh, Rahman’s mother was a principal at a college and she does not work now. At the time Rahman’s mother was working at department stores and gas stations, Rahman’s father was still in Bangladesh and would not arrive until Rahman was in third grade to later move them to Georgia.

Nihal’s father was in a similar position.

“He has his degree and everything, just in a different place,” said Nihal. “He taught me English when I came here. It’s not really fair. Now he has to go back to school, have student loans just to get his degree again just to do what he wants to do.”

Nihal’s father was a professor, but now works as a cashier. Nihal has a summer job at Subway and his mother does not work, seeing as she takes care of his youngest brother Toby.  Nihal’s father plans to go back to school after Nihal goes to college.

Bonger’s mother worked at a Publix, but lost that job because of a trip she took back to Ethiopia. She got another job at a BP station, but Bonger claims her mother’s English makes it hard to communicate.

Before all these students and their families came, they all had preconceptions about America or heard something about America.

For Rahman, her father told her how great her life would be as well as seeing American life on TV.

“I heard it was amazing,” said Rahman. “I heard it was so great. My dad would be like, ‘Oh, you’re going to be so much happier. You’re gonna have opportunities and we’re going to live in a pretty house.’ But, yeah, the TV channels are in English, so I watch, like, iCarly. I never understood it, but I thought it was funny. I remember when I came here and saw black people –it was amazing. I’d never seen a black person other than T-BO on iCarly.”

Nihal thought about the big buildings and big lights. Xie had heard from friends about America.

“Fellow students who come here say that the school is pretty easy and the environment is very different from China because there is not much pollution here,” said Xie. “You can’t go anywhere if you don’t have a car. The public transportation is not that convenient.”

Nevertheless, our peers are in America and have seen all that is (and is not). Being in another country can cause reflection on their life in another place.

“[My parents] kind of came here for [my brother and I]. They did come here for us because they wanted to give us a better life and as much of an opportunity to be successful and have a decent, easy life as we could, which kind of sucks cause I don’t.”