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Hidden Histories

Class Creates Bilingual Performance to Share Immigrant Stories

By Karen Shih ’09

Hidden Histories

One spoke of traversing most of Central America, Colombia and three U.S. states by the time he was in high school. Another revealed her shame at being kicked out of restaurants because her family was too big. Another spoke of her struggles translating for her parents while she was learning English herself.

Immigrant teenagers from a nearby Prince George’s County high school shared such memories, in many cases for the first time, through a new partnership this semester with the School of Theatre, Dance, and Performance Studies (TDPS).

“Many of these youth have been through pretty harrowing times,” says TDPS Director Leigh Wilson Smiley, who teaches the class called “Community Partnership in the Performing Arts.” “Our students can’t even imagine that. This is an opportunity to learn something about the world and give back.”

The students, eight from UMD and around 15 from High Point High School, developed a bilingual performance of poetry, music and dance, performed both at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center and at Langley Park Day in May. One of TDPS’ goals is to teach students to turn life experiences into art.

“I feel safe, like I can say anything here,” says ninth-grader Enma Paola Licona, who came to the United States from Honduras when she was 5. “I never thought people would have the same experiences as me.”

For the college students, most of whom have immigrant parents, sharing their own struggles was cathartic.

“I’ve never shared this much with this many people at the same time,” says Moriamo Akibu ’15, who talked about her father abandoning her family when she was young. “It’s liberating.”

The course was funded in part by the Foxworth Creative Enterprise Initiative, the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, and Smiley, who also drove the bus to pick up the high school students twice a week.

“They call me Miss Frizzle,” she says, referring to the adventurous teacher in the “Magic School Bus” books.

She hopes having the High Point students at the university this semester has inspired them to go to college.

“We want these students to think about education as a wonderful place to grow their own potential,” Smiley says.

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