Under the direction of their teacher Soleil Sabalja, ten students from Emma Lazarus High School for English Language Scholars read their poems in Chinese and English at the Chatham Square Library in New York City on March 7, 2015, following historian and author Judy Yung’s slideshow and talk about the new edition of Island: Poetry and History of Chinese Immigrants on Angel Island 1910-1940.  The students had been inspired by the Chinese poems in Island to reflect upon their own experiences as immigrants to this country.

For an article in Chinese in the Sing Tao Daily about the reading, visit this site.



Our Story

Mauricio Avila, Ousmane Balde, Lili Cao, Stas Chimidov, Moussa Diaby, Aboubacar Diagne, Li Xia Huang, Ying Ying Jiang, Feruz Khusainov, Wei Ye Li, Feng Lin, Jing Ying Lin, Jian Fang Liu, Ann Nee Tan, Lilibeth Toribio, Ali Toure, Kadiatou Toure, Bing Hong Weng, Chen Ling Zheng, & Zi Qing Zhou


To the young immigrants around the world who risk their lives for a better future.

Table of Contents

Part I: Our Countries

Month of Happy by Weiye Li

New Look, New Year by Chen Ling Zheng

My Wonderful Island by Lilibeth Toribio

Ziqing Zhou by Ziqing Zhou

Kadia by Kadiatou Toure

Cherish by Ying Ying Jiang

Immigrant Father by Moussa Diaby

Not Enough by Ying Ying Jiang

Summer Vacation by Feng Lin

Watermelon by Bing Hong Weng

Basketball by Feng Lin

My Families by Lilibeth Toribio

The Announcement by Moussa Diaby

Bad News by Ousmane Balde

Beach by Bing Hong Weng


Part II: Leaving Home

Should I? by Zi Qing Zhou

Suitcase by Stas Chimidov

Leaving Half of My Heart Behind by Mauricio Avila

The Hardest Moment by Feruz Khusainov

Bye, Bye Senegal by Aboubacar Diagne

Saying Goodbye by Jing Ying Lin

Moving to the USA by Jian Fang Liu

Strange by Weiye Li


Part III: America

Wishes by Lili Cao

Wishes by Jian Fang Liu

A Wish That Hurts by Mauricio Avila

Snow by Bing Hong Weng

Snowing by Chen Ling Zheng

Once Knew by Jing Ying Lin

Surprise by Stas Chimidov

American Lobster by Lili Cao

Full Everyday by Ali Toure

First Day of School by Kadiatou Toure

Rainbow by Feruz Khusainov

Deflated by Li Xia Huang

School Trip by Ali Toure

Him by Ann Nee Tan

English Rule by Aboubacar Diagne

English Rules by Ousmane Balde

Hate It by Li Xia Huang

What If...by Ann Nee Tan




About the Authors


Part I: Our Countries

Month of Happy
By Weiye Li

Today is New Year’s Eve.
The street is as brightly lit as daytime.
Even outside of my home,
the streets shine.

Every year we celebrate this huge festival with happiness.
We pray that everyone can get what they want this year.
Everyone is at home with their families.
Same as mine.

Everyone must wash their hair before midnight.
Otherwise, parents will blame you for breaking the rules.
My sisters will do what my parents tell her to.
Same as me.

No one can violate this.
The powerful order is like God’s words.
No one can violate this.
You must follow the order.

we all must wash hair before midnight.
We all must eat dinner together.
We all must help each other to prepare for the new year.


New Year New Look
By Chen Ling Zheng

Today is the New Year,
the biggest holiday in China,
the happiest holiday in China.
The houses are surrounded with lanterns,
and at night
the lanterns are all light up
like fairies protecting our houses.

In the new year people try to do new things
Even the door wears new clothes
Every door is decorated with red,
to bless our home with lucky words.

Everyone’s house is prepared with a lot of snacks
to show that we will have a lot to eat the whole year.
We stroll house to house in the neighborhood
to get snacks.


My Wonderful Island
By Lilibeth Toribio

My island,
my wonderful island.
Where everyone is like family.
Where everyone gives a hand
to help each other.

My island,
my wonderful island.
Where the alarm in the morning
is a chicken singing
or the sunlight that shines
through the window
like a flash of light waking you up.

My island,
my wonderful island.
Where the whole year is summer.
Where the beaches are heavens.

Blue, white, and red.
Blue, the color of the sky
of my wonderful island.
White, the peace that unites us all.
Red, the blood of our heroes
who fought to get our independence.

No matter where I am,
my heart will always be there.
Quisqueya la Bella.
Beautiful as a flower.
Always happy and energetic,
my wonderful island.

Through my veins runs the sabor
del merengue, bachata, y dembow.
Quisqueya la Bella.
Where everyone has this saborsito of
music inside.


Republica Dominicana
My wonderful island.
Dios, patria y libertad.


Ziqing Zhou
By Ziqing Zhou

My name is Zi Qing.

Grandpa Gong remembers
Mama and grandma were very sad
when they knew I was a girl.

So, ZiQing became my name.
In Chinese, “Zi” means son
and “Qing” means sun.

Even Mama wanted a son after me,
she also wanted me to be sunny.

Grandpa Gong made a nickname for me,
calling me Mu Di, Wood Brother.
But I hate this name,
because it sounds like a joke.
But Grandpa Gong said my Ba Zi,
and it was about missing wood,
and he also wanted me to have a brother.

So I nodded.

Whoever is born in China
must fall in love with males.

I still can't accept
my family calling me, Mu Di.
Wood doesn't move
until someone pushes it.
So does it mean I will be lazy like wood?

Now I am 10,
in the Chinese Lunar Calendar,
learning to write the alphabet
learning to solve
word problems in math.

Now I live with my grandparents,
Auntie Shen
and Shen's six children, my six cousins.

Auntie Shen is my grandparents' daughter-in-law,
She is my uncle’s wife.
Auntie Shen is a crazy woman
as crazy as a lunatic.
She argues with Grandpa Gong,
She beats her children,
She stays in bed for the whole day.

Although we live in a big family,
there is no happiness,
because of auntie Shen.


By Kadiatou Toure

I’m Kadiatou
I live in Conakry,
the Capital of Guinea.

I grew up in a family of
five brothers.
The oldest one is Alkal,
after him,
comes my twin brothers Sory and Mohamed,
the third one is Bangaly,
and after him comes Ali
and then me.

They all love me,
but Ali loves me the most.
Since we were little
he used to sing for me
when my mom left me
at home with my grandma.

That’s why
even if he does something that can make me mad
nobody can meddle in our problems
because they know when we are together
no one can separate us.


By Ying Ying Jiang

I lost something in the past,
and I still miss it.
There is nothing I can do.
When someone wants to leave me,
I’ve learned to just stand there and let it go.

I still miss my parents,
I still miss when they accompany me,
I still want them to get back together again,
but I know,
everything is gone.

My grandparents are my parents.
When I cry,
I have them,
They are like a warm fleece blanket.
When I am happy,
I have them.
Their love is like sunshine,
warm and precious.

They are my sunshine,
they are not my parents but,
they still give me parents’ love.
I know our hearts come together as one.
Whatever I do,
they are always by my side,
wherever I go,
they will always stand here waiting for me.


Immigrant Father
By Moussa Diaby

Having an immigrant father
is a huge source
of antibiotics
for all our problems in life.
With the low economy and a bad government,
it’s better to go to another country for a while.
Jobs are easier to get,
and the economy is higher.

My dad was in the United States of America.
in New York.
I had not seen him for what felt like a lifetime.
But I know it was worth it.
He was sending us money to take care of ourselves.

I always wished that I could join him one day.
I use to hear a lot of exhausting things about NY.
So whenever he calls me,
I ask him when can I join him.
But he always responded

Soon Moussa, soon.

That was one of my biggest dreams.


Not Enough
By Ying Ying Jiang

The greatest love in the world
is that of a parent.
They can do everything for you
no matter the reason.
I think
they will accompany me forever.

Happiness is short.
I can’t catch it.
When I was four years old,
my mother and father split up
and never ever got back together again.

My life wasn’t complete,
when they separated.
Nothing was enough for me.
They were very selfish.

My world turned black.
The feeling was so bad
like something you cherish so much,
is destroyed in moment.


Summer Vacation
By Feng Lin

is summer vacation.
Yesterday was a nightmare.
Every summer vacation,
we are like idle pigs.
We eat,
we play,
we sleep.

Mother is always like a broken record,

Get busy! Get busy! Get busy!

Everyone must go to the beach,
even if you dislike swimming.
No one can reject the
hot summer’s generous hospitality.
No one can stop me from
enjoying my summer and doing nothing.

We all fall in love with
is like a pretty girl,
smiling at me,
catching my heart.


By Bing Hong Weng

The summer carried the hot air,
the sunshine became stronger
hurting the ground.

In the evening,
the sun became a gentle lady,
the hot air was gone, little by little,
the sunset’s glow was red and drippy.

I sat in front of my grandmother’s house,
absorbing the power of the sunshine.

My grandmother gathered watermelon
from the fresh land,
splitting the watermelon in half.
The watermelon was redder
than the sunset’s glow.

I couldn’t wait to use my spoon to scoop the watermelon.
I ate the watermelon so quickly,
my mouth was like a vacuum.
The red pulp covered my face.
My grandmother smiled and said

You are just like an anxious little cat

I lifted my head,
and saw my grandmother bathing in sun
smiling gently.

I will keep this picture
of my grandmother
in my heart forever.


My Families
By Lilibeth Toribio

I'm so lucky because I have
two amazing families.
Two incredible families that always
support me and encourage me
to do my best.

My mom,
and little brother
on one side.

My father,
little sister
and little brother
on the other side.

I'm so grateful
to have two families
of superheroes.
They always try hard
to give me the best things.

They work hard to give me
the best education
and to encourage me to be a better person.
I have the best families
anyone could want to have.


The Announcement
By Moussa Diaby

September 17 is the day I will never forget.
It is written in bold in my mind.
It is the day my mom
announced me to
the biggest news possible.

I remember

I was out on the porch,
kicking a soccer ball around,
when she came to me.

We need to talk

Was the only words she said.

I knew it was important.
I raced to her room
like the speed of thunder.
I stood up,
in front of her,
immobile as a tree.
She revealed to me,

We are going
to join your father
in NY.

At first,
I was jumping
like a grasshopper,
jumping of happiness,
jumping of surprise
jumping of a dream achieved.

But then,
a sudden silence
destroyed my momentum.
A bunch of questions
raced in and out of my mind.

What about everything we have here?
Is it a good idea to leave?
How is our life going to be there?


I needed somebody,
somebody to talk to,
somebody who gives wise advice
somebody who can give me answers,
I immediately thought of Samba,
my best friend.


Bad News
By Ousmane Balde

Today is December 3, 2010,
a date I will never forget.

When I saw my father that day
I asked him to give me money
but he didn’t answer me.

I felt angry
but after
30 minutes he called me.
I ran like a horse
because I thought
he would give me money.

But after a fews minutes
My father said

Ousmane, you are my oldest child.

It was nice
to hear my father talk to me
this way.
I felt like he wanted
to tell me something
he hadn’t talked to me in this tone
for a million years.

Dad, I know you want to say something.

He looked me deep in the eyes

Ousmane, your mother and I
want to get you a visa
for the United States
to pursue your education.

I stopped breathing.
I didn’t know
what to say.
I started to cry
and then replied

I prefer to commit suicide.
I’m not going anywhere

I’m not leaving my friends
I’m not leaving my country
I’m not leaving my soccer team.
Guinea is the country where I was born
and the country where I grew-up.
Why do you want me to leave my country for the US?

My father believed the US has
an easier life
and better education
than Guinea.
That’s why he and my mother wanted
me to leave Guinea.

After a few minutes
I thought about my religion,

In my religion
God says
you have to follow
everything your father or mother
tells you.
That was how the decision was made.


By Bing Hong Weng

My last night in China,
my mother took me
to the beach in Langqi.

The breeze covered my face
like a girl touching the man she loves.
The sand caught my foot
and didn’t want to let me go
Ocean waves were leaping onto the beach,
calling me back,
to all the familiar things.
There were so many connections
with Langqi I couldn’t give up.

This is my homeland.
This is where I was born.
This is where I grew up.
This is where I would keep deeply in my mind forever.


Part II: Leaving Home


Should I?
By Ziqing Zhou

Eight years
flashed by
in front of my hands.
They are all gone.

Today is January 1, 2013.
The new year of everywhere.

Grandpa Gong has an announcement
for everyone in our house.

Mu Di’s Mama wants Mu Di
to go to America.
She doesn’t want Mu Di
to be a boy
who plays the whole day
and doesn’t study.
She already applied for a visa for Mu Di.
Mu Di will leave us
in the next few days.

I ask myself,
Should I leave our home?
Should I leave my sweetie grandparents?
Should I leave my lovely cousins?
Should I leave my “treehouse” alone?
Should I leave my friend, the old-fashioned bike?
Should I make some changes?
Should I be a good girl?
Should I go to America for a better future?

Grandpa Gong knows I am fighting inside my mind.
So he says encouragingly,
No more “Should I?”
You should go to America,
You should have a good education,
You should be a good girl.
You should chase your dream,
You should reach your bright future.

I know
I should leave.

I can’t let myself keep going down,
I can’t let myself keep playing,
I can’t waste my valuable time in my life.


By Stas Chimidov

At the time
I was a bird whose cage was open.
I was free to fly
but I had a stone in my heart
pulling me down and down.
I was on top of the world
and now I felt like I was in the basement.

While at the airport
I had a feeling
I forgot something.
I checked my dark cherry suitcase
and I said to myself

I took my favorite jeans,
my favorite t-shirt is here,
blue like a sky jacket,
which I took from my brother,
so what did I forgot?

After a couple of minutes
I realize that it wasn’t clothes.
It was part of my heart.
It was my Russian family


Leaving Half of My Heart Behind
By Mauricio Avila

Thousands of memories
like a flash of light
came to my mind
reminding me of
the things that I had done
and the things
that I would like to do
there is no more time.
No more.

The airplane is in front of me
waiting like the monarch butterflies
wait to fly north
leaving everything behind
in hope
of something better.

Walking through the airplane door
a voice came to me
flying through the air
hitting me from the back.
My best friend, Dayanna.

I didn't have time
to say goodbye.
There was no more time.
No more.

But she rode to the airport
and without breath to talk
hugs me from behind.
She whispers the words
I love you
with a broken heart.


The Hardest Moment
By Feruz Khusainov

The hardest moment
for my family
was when our relatives
were seeing off us.

My mother was crying
so much
that I thought
she would make a river
from her tears.

My father was a military man
with a stone soul.
But I still saw
a small river
on his face.

I was feeling that
I would never see my relatives again.
But it was most difficult for my parents
because they were leaving the country,
where they lived most of their life.

They were leaving their parents.
Which was the most important
for them.
But my mom told me

Life is hard
but if you want to reach something
you have to move on
and don’t give up in difficult circumstances.

My fears disappeared.
When you arrive to another country
what should you take with yourself?
You cannot take a lot of clothes.
You cannot take your furniture.
You cannot take your house.

We felt naked because
we were going to another country
without anything but some money.
My brother said
Money is not a major thing in life.
The most important thing
is that your family is with you.


Bye, bye Senegal
By Aboubacar Diagne

Our plane is ready to depart
after 5 minutes of being delayed.
Everyone was tight in their
seats and their faces were
full of fear and nervousness.

The airplane is like a coffin as my
grandmother always said.
The flight lasted for 8 hours
and was so boring like waiting in a hospital.

I could only see the ocean,
nothing else
and with the unfamiliar language, English
the people around me
made me feel

So I decided to sleep
because I was
missing my father and big sister
who I left behind.


Saying Goodbye
By Jing Ying Lin

Grandma was holding my hands,
the rain falling on her face.
I discover her wrinkles
and her cat eyes
that looked like red goji berries.
Grandma told me to help mother
take care of my sister,
she hugs me
and softly pets my hair.
She opens my stone fingers
and passes my secret keys to me.

My secret keys
that will lock my secrets
until one day,
one day when I come back,
I will open my secret cabinet
with my hands again.

Jingying, my dear,
don’t waste your second chance.
I believe in you,
you are not the silly one,
just the lazy one.
Try, try to study hard.
Try to define who you really are

Mother hugs grandma,
so deeply and heavily,
they both cry and smile.
We cross security
and stand behind the line.
I turn my raining face
and pretend to smile,
pretend to be excited to leave,
pretend that nobody sees me crying
but the tears fall into my mouth.

They taste bitter,
not only bitter in my mouth
but also bitter in my heart.


Moving to the USA
By Jian Fang Liu

I know that my mother
felt disappointed with me.
I am her daughter.
I should believe my mother.
I must follow my mother.
Because she is my mother.
Because she loves me the most.
Because she is the tree that protects me
while I grow up.

Inside of the airplane.
I have a cute sister and a lonely mother.
They are with me.
They give me security.
I have a new life waiting for me.
I can meet my father and my relatives.
I can learn English and make foreign friends.

I am coming to you,
I am going to enjoy you,
I am going to love you.

The sky becomes gloomy.
The moon comes out to dance in the sky.
It is dark and bright.
I gradually fall into my dreams.

Around me,
Everything, everyone, everywhere.
is sleeping like soundly like babies.


By Wei Ye Li

We are Apes
when we get off the airplane.

The language we talk
is totally different
from what we hear.

We are like trees standing still
following the hand gestures
they make.

Red hair, blonde hair,
blue eyes, green eyes,
fat bodies, round bodies.

A fat old man
with blue eyes
stares at me.

The man looks like a gorilla
because he twists his hands together
and wears a black shirt
with some white painting
around his chest.
He points at my pocket and says

I need to see photos of you!

I have no idea what he means
I remember I have some candies in my pocket
So, I give them to him.
The man smiles ironically.

Thank you. You do know what I mean, right?

I smile.
Welcome to America


Part III: America


By Li Li Cao

Starting a new life in America,
starting to study in America,
starting to improve my English in America.

I want be a bird in the world
flying everywhere
and seeing everything.

A future dream in my mind
is to travel the world with my lover
once a year
so that I can relax.

I love to eat and to play,
but only rich people can do that.
I am not rich
so I have to work hard
for my dream to come true.


By Jian Fang Liu

What I want
is to be in China!!!
I must be an adult.
I must grow up.
I must act like a machine.
Working and working.

My feelings are like dark clouds
covering the sky.
These clouds will bring rain
causing people to run away.

I wish my father can understand me.
I wish my family can be proud of me.
I wish happiness will come to me.
I wish my English will improve.
I wish I can do what I want and
be who I want to be.

My wishes are still sleeping.
in my brain,
in my mind,
in my body.
I hope they will wake up soon.


A Wish That Hurts
By Mauricio Avila

The same wish,
the wish that hurts me,
of having my mom with me,
has been hurting me
for almost eight years.

Since my mom left me
when I was young,
almost four years old,
I had been wishing
the same wish every birthday.

Now I don't believe it because
birthday wishes don't come true.
It doesn’t hurt anymore.

Now I know
if you want something,
look for it.
Don't wait for a birthday wish
in order for it to come true.


By Bing Hong Weng

Seeing snow has always been my wish.
But Fuzhou is too hot to see it.

Today was Thanksgiving.
My first big holiday in America.
I was so excited.
I ran to 42nd street
with my mother and my cousin
to see the parade.

It was too crowded, like a hornet's nest.
So many people in front of me
were cheering.
I couldn’t see anything.
I felt like an ant
caught in the crowd.

We got a chance to get close to the parade
and saw all the beautiful..
It was amazing.
The atmosphere was so exciting.

I love New York!!!

I shouted in my heart

After the parade
We waited for the bathroom
in starbucks
and then I saw the most beautiful view
I had ever seen.
It was like a ball.
It was clean and white.
It was from god to clean the world.

I imaged I was wearing a dress
and danced in the middle of the snow,
and the clean snow covered me,
like a snow princess.

I got my wish of many years
when I saw snow on my first thanksgiving.


By Chen Ling Zheng

Father says

Days are getting too cold
and it’s snowing outside.

Despite outside being colder than a refrigerator
it is still better than spring in my heart.
I’ve never seen snow before.

The snow falls like dandruff
but much leaner like white sugar
but much sweeter like sugar
but much fresher like the ocean wind.

I came out with thick pajamas
and my brother LinWei came out with shorts
and a winter jacket.

I’m so excited for the snow.
I feel like I can fly.


Once Knew
By Jing Ying Lin

Sunshine, sunshine, sunshine
everywhere making me think
the sun is just something
I once knew


playing in the sand,

kicking naughty stones,

napping under the stars,

jumping in front of the mango tree,

wearing my golden shoes to cross the sunlight,

and watching mother cooking in the kitchen

until the chicken’s smell evaporates into the sky.


By Stas Chimidov

When I hung out in a huge forest,
where the sunshine touched the ground
and I was sitting in the soft green grass.

Far far far away I saw a couple.
It was too far so I didn’t really pay attention.
Then the closer they got to me,
the more confused I became.

But when they got really close to me
so close it was like they were on my nose,
my head exploded with confusion.

I saw two boys holding hands and kissing.
I was about to throw up
because in Russia you will never see this.

For me it was the most terrible thing ever.
after few minutes
my mom said

It’s not Russia!
They are human beings too!

I realized I was wrong.


American Lobster
By Li Li Cao

I live in Chinatown.
Almost everyone who lives around me
speaks Chinese.
The first time I go out with my mother
we go to a big store
called a supermarket.

The supermarket has new style.
It is different from China.
I following my mother’s footsteps
to look for this supermarket.

Once in the supermarket,
my mom stops in front of a monster.
He has two long lines above his head
moving right and left.
He has two big hands that open and close.
I don’t know what is that.

Ma, zhe shi shen me?

Everything is new for me so
I have to ask her what it is.

Zhe shi long xia.

Long xia ~ lobster

It is an amazing thing I hear.
My Mom buy one
even though it is very expensive.

My Mom takes it home
and my father cooks it.

He puts the lobster in water
and about half an hour later,
the lobster comes out of the pot.

I open it’s hard clothes.
I see it’s white body.
It looks very delicious.
I put a piece in my mouth.


Full Everyday
By Ali Toure

Being fat for me,
was like being a celebrity,
because in my country they make fun of skinny people like me.
Small body on skinny chicken legs.
It was all new to me,
to eat more than five times a day.
In Guinea only rich people
can eat three times a day.

While I was sitting,
and watching TV,
my brother Sory,
brought me a paper bag.
The tag on the bag had a big M,
painted in yellow,
and a square painted in red.

What is this brother?

It’s McDonalds!
It is good for you,
because it will make you fat.

I opened the bag,
and inside was more paper
covering something else.
Suddenly the air was fresh
like the early morning,
in the valley of love in Kindia.
It was the effect of a small piece of bread,
that had the shape of a circle.
Inside the bread was a piece of meat,
separated by another piece of yellow.

I had never seen this before,
especially the red sauce and the little salad.
I didn’t know how to eat it,
but because there was bread,
I just opened my big mouth,
and bit the left side of the bread.

The bread and the piece of meat,
exploded in my mouth.
I couldn’t stop this delicious burst.
I was hypnotized by the savoriness.

It was a cheeseburger.


First Day of School
By Kadiatou Toure

Shy to speak.
Shy to look at my friends.
Scared to not make mistake.

But Emma Lazarus High School,
was a school where everybody
speaks a different language.

Sitting in a classroom
where everything is new for me,
where people are different
with yellow, white, and brown skin.
makes me even more shy
like I wanted to jump out the window.

A girl with long black hair,
chocolate skin and brown eyes,
asked me my name in English.
She had a Spanish accent.
Her English wasn’t good also
but she tried to speak to me.

Being new in a school
full of kind people
makes you feel
like you are in paradise.

It makes you love school.
It makes you be more open to people.
It makes you feel like you are in a new world.


By Feruz Khusainov

In Uzbekistan
I graduated from school
but I was feeling that I wasted my time.
In America,
I had a new chance for myself.

The first day in school was unforgettable.
I did not expect to see someone from my country
and it made me happy because
I knew I will not be alone at school.

This school was totally different from back home.
Everything was so comfortable to study.
Everything was new but also unfamiliar for me.
Everything was like a different world.
I will not forget my first teacher,
Ms. Sabalja.

In my country
teachers are old like Egyptian pyramids,
but in this school
my teacher was young
and pretty
and nice.

I will not forget my first question to her.

She said

Ladies and gentlemen my name is Ms. Sabalja.
I am your teacher, you can ask me any questions!

So I asked

Do you have a boyfriend?

She said

I do not.

Then my classmates laughed.
It was one of my loveliest days in school.


By Li Xia Huang

I am in ESL1,
the lowest of the low.
I saw many classmates
from different countries.
They look different and beautiful.
They speak different languages.

For me, it’s like a puzzle.
They said hello to me.
I was very tense.
They smile,
I feel good.

They’re nice.

The teacher put us into a group.
I saw a Chinese girl.
But she was not really Chinese.
She was from Malaysia.

She used Chinese to ask me

What’s your name?

My name is Li Xia.

Oh! My name is Ann Nee! Hahahaha…..!

She laughed by herself.

In that moment
I didn’t know
in the future I will have
a crazy friend - Ann Nee!

English is so difficult.
The first day I didn’t know anything
the teacher said.
I am like a snail walking slowly.

I want to say something
to my classmates,
but I don’t know how to open my mouth.
Help me!


School Trip
By Ali Toure

Witches forget, but mothers don’t.
My school organized trips,
and this was the second time,
that I was going.

None of my friends from Africa were there
I was the only one
but actually I didn’t really care.
I interacted with everyone,
and treated them equally.
All my classmates.

We arrived
and they gave us a card
that we used to pay
to play games.

I lost mine,
and I couldn’t receive another one.

While others were playing with their friends,
I was alone.
Alone like a soldier behind enemies lines,
without rescue.

Counting my steps,
I tried to approach a group of my classmates,
and they all turned their faces.
They didn’t want me there.

Another group did the same,
but this time asking me,
why I was following them.

I decided to stay far,
and accepted the situation like it was.

Time was going slowly,
very slow,
and I couldn’t wait to go home.

But I forgot
that there was an angel somewhere,
who could come to my rescue,
when I was losing patients.


Behind me,
I heard a voice,
a sweet voice,

I turned around,
looked down,
and saw a

Hazel was her name,
my Chinese friend.
She asked me
why I wasn’t playing any games,
and why I was alone.

I guessed,
she knew why.

She used her card.
We played a couple of games together.
She invited me to take pictures with her.
I felt happy.
and she put a smile on my face.
A smile that I won’t forget,
a smile that symbolized the start of a great friendship,
a smile of happiness.

Mothers forgive, but witches don’t.


By Ann Nee Tan

I didn’t know
the difference
between two girls loving each other
or a boy loving a girl
until I meet him, Stas.

The first day I saw him at school,
I would never have thought
that he would change my life in just a few months.

At the beginning,
we were always fighting,
and acting like enemies.
But after May 5, 2013,
our friendship changed.
Our friendship included a little bit of love.

Day by day,
His smile,
his expressions,
his actions
all strongly attacked my heart.

Stas and I always went to the movies
and after to eat pizza.
We spent time talking a lot.

And today, nothing has changed.
After the movies
we go eat pizza.
We talk a lot and we take pictures.

He is
one of the most important people
in my life.

I’m thankful God let me meet him in my life.
I’m happy that he is in my life.
I’m glad that he fills many colors in my life.


English Rule
By Aboubacar Diagne

Overwhelmed by the rules
that were overlapping in my mind

I hate English!!!
My brain is like a computer
that couldn't take anymore data.

I hate English!!!
Why does the word "person"
change to "people" in plural?
Why does the word "child"
change into "children" in plural?

I asked my teacher

Why don’t we just add “ S”
to person and child?

She answered me

Rules are rules.
I don’t know who created it,
but what I do know is that its makes sense the way it is.

I hate English!!!
I knew that this
was just the beginning
of my struggles.


English Rules
By Ousmane Balde

English is the hardest language
I’ve learned
in my life.

There are too many rules
that are opposite to French.
For example,
one of the rules in French
is to add an s
to the end of a verb in the second person tense.

But English is the opposite.
You have to add an s
in the third person tense.

I think the man who invented English
is a pirate
because he stole the French rules
to add an s
and put it in English.

When he was inventing this rule
it was easy like scoring a goal
without a goalkeeper.


Hate It
By Li Xia Huang

Only my American mother
calls me Li.

You have to hard work at English.
I hope you can be a nurse!
Being a nurse is a good job in America
You can make a lot money!
Since you’re in America
you will have a good future.

My American mother sat on the safe
and ate an apple.

And then she continued

You are very fortunate to be here.
Do you know how many people
want to come to America
but they can’t?
You’re luckier than them.

I hate that!
Why should I have to hard work?
Is this my responsibility?
Am I just a money-making tool?

I hate that!
I don’t want to be a nurse.
That’s not my dream.

I hate America!
Why give me so much pressure?
You change!
Don’t try to change me!

I want to leave America
and go back to China.

I go back to my room.
without responding to my mother.

I close my door very hard.
I hate this feeling.


What If…
By Ann Nee Tan

I think
what if
I stayed in Malaysia?
I would be eating a lot of Malaysian food
and I would never know that Malaysian food is actually the most delicious food in the world.

I think
what if
I stayed in Malaysia?
I would have stayed with my family,
and I would never have realized how important they are in my heart.

I think
what if
I stayed in Malaysia?
I would not be going to school anymore.

I think
what if
I stayed in Malaysia?
I would not speak English
and I would never have realize how important English is.

I think
what if
I stayed in Malaysia?
I would never have seen the snow or built a snowman.

I think
what if
I stayed in Malaysia?
I would never have known how to swim or save myself in deep water.

I think
what if
I stayed in Malaysia?
I would never have met Stas.



We would like to thank Thanhha Lai, author of Inside Out and Back Again, for inspiring us to write our stories. And the New York Public Library for supporting our poems and helping us share them with the world. Thanks to Emma Lazarus High School for giving us an opportunity at a better future. Thanks to Ms. Sabalja for encouraging us to share our stories and our life. And of course thanks to our families for always loving us and supporting us through thick and thin.


About the Authors

We are immigrants from many countries around the world. We all have our own stories but they are really very similar. We were all looking for a better life and found it here in America. We have been in the same class together for one year learning English at Emma Lazarus High School in New York City.