This first-person narrative, simply titled “Maritza,” tells of one young immigrant's difficulties of attending an American public high school. She is a newly-arrived Nicaraguan immigrant who desires to have her peers understand her, but doubts that they could ever comprehend her family’s decision to move to the U.S.
Maritza’s story is wonderfully captured by author, Julie Blythe. The following is an adapted excerpt.
Maritza sits quietly at the back of the classroom listening intently as the other students take turns giving their presentations in her high school Spanish class. At the end of the term each student is required to give a two-minute presentation. They have been asked to bring something to show to the class and to talk about it in Spanish.
Maritza has waited until the end of the class, trying to gather her confidence; her stomach churns. She hardly knows the other students since she has only been attending this school for a few months. As a newcomer from Nicaragua, she is just beginning to learn how to speak English and is often confused by the differences in the two cultures. She is extremely nervous, not about speaking Spanish, but about the reaction of the class to what she is going to say.
The last student ahead of Maritza finishes his presentation. The teacher turns toward Maritza and motions her to the front of the room. Maritza gathers her pictures and her notecard, walks toward the podium and takes a deep breath…
Hola, clase. Soy Maritza... Hello class. I am Maritza and today, I would like to talk to you about my country, Nicaragua. My country is small and very poor. In my country, most people don’t use washing machines, because there isn’t any money to buy them, so that’s why we wash our clothes by hand and hang them out on a rope or bushes to dry.
Our houses are made of rough wood and sometimes sheets of plastic or tin. Most of the houses have a dirt floor. My grandmother still lives in Nicaragua. She is very poor and her house is very old.
In my school, there aren’t any computers like you have here in your school. We have to wear uniforms to school, and so the many people who can’t afford them just don’t send their children to school.
In Nicaragua, it is very hot, never cold, like it is here in Iowa. There are always lots of people in the streets. Many gangs roam the streets, fighting with other gangs. Everywhere you go you can see children who walk along selling fruits or other foods trying to make a little money, and beggars holding out their hands pleading for money. Children eat whatever they can find in the garbage. That’s because in my country there aren’t many jobs. The streets are dirty because they are not paved; they are just dirt roads.
I’m telling you what it is like in Nicaragua so that you can try to understand why my family wanted to come to the United States. We came because we want to try to get ahead. We came because we didn’t want to be hungry or poor anymore. We didn’t come here because we want to hurt anybody, or cause harm to anyone.
We just want to get ahead in life, and send money back home to help the ones we left behind – so we came to the United States where we could have a better life, a good future, and the American dream.
Maritza stops. She lowers her eyes. She waits. The students clap loudly and appreciatively. They have listened, but have they understood?
"Maritza" was originally written for and published by the Hispanic Story Project. This broadcast was edited from the original text by Lorenzo Sandoval with permission from the Iowa Writing Project and is one of a four part series made in collaboration with One Book One Siouxland.