By: Liza Inbody
Every person we pass in the hall or sit across from in class has a unique story to share. Jenks Public Schools prides itself on its diverse student population. However, most people can admit that, unfortunately, we tend to gravitate towards people with similar interests and friend groups as ourselves. Therefore, we are unable to embrace the variety of people we interact with each day. Immigrants represent a large population at Jenks, many of whom have left their country to find sanctuary in Jenks.
Paola Entralgo, 12, and Juan Soto, 12, are Jenks students that left Venezuela, a country broken by crime, hyperinflation, and shortages of food and medicine. A total of 5.4 million people have left Venezuela to escape the ongoing crisis, says The UN Refugee Agency. According to the United Nations, one out three Venezuelans are food insecure today, this equates to 2.3 million people. Crime is also prominent in Venezuela, making it difficult to live securely.
“There were problems affecting every single class, like electricity, drinkable water, and food,” said Soto. “But there were also big problems regarding safety, like robbery, murder, and kidnapping. We were really concerned for our safety to the extent that if it was 7 P.M. you couldn’t go outside because the sun was going down and that’s when it would get really bad. You couldn’t live your life, it was really tough.”
Poverty is also a commonality in Venezuela, as 90% of Venezuelans live in destitution according to the National Institute of Statistics.
“We saw a lot of people homeless and picking up food from the trash,” said Entralgo.
Paola Entraglo and her family came to the United States to find refuge from these issues. However, America was not the utopia that she expected it to be.
“In Florida, I experienced racism because I spoke Spanish,” said Entralgo. “A lot of the kids made fun of me. That was really hard for me. I thought it was going to be like in the movies. I wanted to go back to Venezuela so bad, I would cry everyday. I just didn’t like going to school.”
Another challenge that Entralgo struggled with was a major cultural shift.
“The place I lived in Florida, not many people spoke Spanish,” said Entralgo. “So, I was alone, I didn’t know the language. My whole life changed when I moved to Tulsa.”
Entralgo was fortunately given the opportunity to move to Jenks. After the move, the language barrier and social aspects drastically improved.
“I learned more English in Tulsa than I ever did in Orlando,” said Entralgo.
She further explains that the yellow program at Jenks played a big role in improving her english.
However, the last time Entralgo has seen much of her extended family was when she left Venezuela at age 13. This is the hardest obstacle that she has had to overcome and is still a sensitive topic.
“I miss them everyday and love them very much,” said Entralgo.
Juan Soto explained that the biggest mental shift he made when first arriving in America was adapting his mentality of safety. During his interview, Soto pointed to his gold chain, explaining that he could not wear this back in Venezuela or he might get robbed. Similarly, he could not carry his phone in public, a practice we do everyday in America, without the fear of it being taken.
“Even when we moved to the United States, we were trying not to use our phones in the streets because that’s something you cannot do in Venezuela because people could take it,” said Soto. “We were not doing that for the first month, we still had that mentality because it’s built into you because of necessity, it’s not something you decide to do.”
A major culture change Soto noticed was in education. At Jenks, we have the ability to customize our own schedule to fit our individual needs and interests. This was not a privilege granted in Venezuela. Jenks also equips their students with resources to build a future for different types of paths after graduation, such as Naviance.
“My favorite thing about Jenks is the education opportunities that they have here,” said Soto. “I got to realize what I want to do in college, I got to realize what I want to do in my life, I got to realize what I like and don’t like. I am doing concurrent classes- and having the opportunity to see what college feels like is something I’m really thankful for.”
The Jenks staff also greatly impacted Soto’s transition to America.
“ELL teachers are the best,” said Soto. “They care so much about their students. Even though I am out of the program, I still go to my teacher’s classrooms just to say hi because they really show that they care about you. There are really good people here that are willing to teach.”
However, Soto believes there is little representation of the immigrant activities on announcements or Jenks Instagram pages.
“On Instagram, you won’t see a single immigrant activity that they promote,” said Soto. “I feel like I have to ‘white- wash’ myself. You don’t see the integration of immigrants in their culture. Even the Spanish Club can be more representative of each country.”
Each day we are surrounded by all types of students with fascinating stories to be told. As you interact with people, it is important to understand that our differences create unity that makes the Jenks community so important.