Lower Merion High School alumna Liliana Velásquez recently visited Bala Cynwyd Middle School for a series of talks with students about her memoir Dreams and Nightmares/Sueños y Pesadillas – a harrowing story of hope, perseverance and survival during her search for a better life.
"By telling my story, I feel at peace, unburdened," said Velazquez. "Everything that was on my mind, all of my suffering and all of my dreams – my destiny – now are kept safe in this book."
Liliana explained to students how at the age of fourteen, she fled horrific violence and poverty in Guatemala and headed out alone for the United States. On her trip through Mexico she was robbed by narcos, rode the boxcars of La Bestia, and organized 30 of her fellow Central American bus passengers to convince the Federales who had arrested them to allow them to continue on their way. Finally, she made it to the U.S. border and traveled across the Sonoran Desert, where she encountered death and was caught by U.S. immigration.
After four months in a detention center, she was placed in foster care while the courts decided whether to deport her. She spent a year in in a horrendous foster situation and eventually landed on her feet with a family that loves and protects her. After having to recount her story of abuse several times, the judge determined it was too dangerous for her to return home and finally granted her a green card. After graduating from Lower Merion High School last year, Velasquez is currently taking college courses and works to support her family back home. She plans to attend nursing school in the future.
Each year since 2013, an average of 50,000 such unaccompanied children have been arrested at the U.S. border, and their fate is decided by the immigration system. Velasquez's story is uniquely hers, but it is also the story of tens of thousands of children who have fled violence and poverty in their home country to make a safer life in the United States. In this time when the issue of undocumented immigrants is causing great divisions in our country, much is written about them; but little is told by them in their own voice.
To learn more about Liliana, her memoir, and ways to incorporate the important lessons covered in this book in to your classroom, click here.