In the swelter of an early October day, Alesmar, a 25-year-old Venezuelan mother, stood at a bustling Manhattan street corner, her son’s tiny hand clasped in hers. Dressed in a casual tank top, her dark locks neatly tied in a pink scrunchie, she chose not to reveal her last name. Her journey to New York was far from smooth or easy. It began in La Guaira, a major port city in Venezuela, and ended here on the buzzing streets of the Big Apple, after two strenuous months of travelling on foot and by bus, with many instances of being forced back towards the south.
Alesmar painted a vivid yet grim picture of her journey – how each Mexican state they encountered repeatedly denied them passage, sending them back in the direction they had labored from. Their time in Mexico would become the longest and most arduous stretch of their quest for a better life in the United States.
However, Alesmar’s struggles bore fruit when she finally arrived in New York, where she now lives in temporary accommodations with her two young sons, ages four and eight. Being absorbed into the colorful palette of Manhattan’s Public School 111, her children are thriving, learning English, and gradually adapting to this unfamiliar country where their lives have started anew.
Attending a school long known for its diverse student body – students of varied backgrounds hailing from Ukraine to China, Tibet to Venezuela – they are among the multitude of newly arrived students. Public School 111 has recently seen a surge of incoming students, with more than 120,000 migrants arriving in the city since the spring of 2022. These new students bolster the already large Hispanic population of the school, which stands at 56 percent.
Sheltering the newcomers in temporary housing facilities doubling as hotels and motels, the city is facing a high demand for asylum applications. The swell of migrants also implies nearly 30,000 children adjusting to life in the city’s public school system.
David Banks, the NYC School’s Chancellor, insists the city is prepared to offer the best resources to the newcomers, filling the void left by about 120,000 families who vacated the public school system during the Covid-19 pandemic. The school, though not back to its pre-pandemic strength, sees incoming students each day.
Currently, 36 percent of the school’s nearly 400 students are living in temporary housing, a stark increase from the standard 10 to 20 percent in typical years. While early surges posed challenges, such as hiring additional staff to handle overpopulated classes, the school is now well-prepared to face the influx.
The school, as a Title 1 institution catering to children from low-income families, receives federal funding which assists students in meeting state academic standards. It also provides necessary tools like backpacks and facilitates English classes for parents.
A large portion of the burden rests on the shoulders of a dedicated staff, comprising three specialized English teachers and an extensive support system including social workers, psychologists, and physical therapists. Specialized instruction eases the integration of English learners into the system, focusing on repetitive immersive learning, vocabulary enhancement, and other key linguistic skills. While it could take years to build strong English competence, the spirit of patience, acceptance, and resilience remains high amongst teachers and students alike.
The Manhattan woman’s story is not an uncommon one. Another similar story belongs to Diana Amezquita, who had arrived from Bogota, Colombia, a few months prior. She dreams of learning English for better job opportunities and a better life for her children, hoping for a chance to resume her work in human resources.
Despite the daunting language barrier and the struggles from the absence of her partner, Amezquita exhibits tenacity in the face of adversity. Her conviction and spirit manifest her faith in making it through her hardships in New York in the pursuit of better life prospects.
“I have always liked to think big,” says Amezquita proudly, emphasizing her passion for the betterment of her children’s lives as well as her own. With high hopes and strong will, these stories of struggle, survival, and hope encapsulate the human spirit’s ability to adapt and thrive even in the most challenging scenarios.