Telling Our Immigrant Stories

March 14, 2023
Archer Coalition
Telling our immigrant stories
Type: Event
Topic: Immigrant storytelling and empowerment
Organizer: ARCHER

Telling Our Immigrant Stories is a program that included a student contest of literature and art and an online symposium.

1. Telling Our Immigrant Stories Contest

ARCHER launched a representation contest entitled, Telling Our Immigrant Stories, in September 2022.  We invited college students (“traditional” and “nontraditional”) who identify as immigrants, migrants, refugees, asylum seeking individuals, or members of a given diaspora to submit writing and/or art through which they shared their immigrant story. This story had to connect in some ways to ARCHER’s mission statement.
Entering the contest was free of charge. 
We invited submissions in several categories: essay, poetry, fiction, visual art, and drama.
The winners were announced live during ARCHER’s Telling Our Immigrant Stories Symposium.

2. Telling Our Immigrant Stories Symposium

The Symposium was held in February 2023. You can watch a recoding of it above and on your social media.

Guest Speakers


The symposium featured an impressive line of speakers along with the contest awardees. Novelist, dramatist, and the Edwin A. Morris Professor of Comparative Literature at Washington and Lee University, Domnica Radulescu, Associate Professor of Ethnic and American Studies at the University of Oklahoma, Waleed Mahdi, musician Ana Everling, poet Alina Stefanescu, and writer Julia Lieblich shared messages of support as they described their immigrant stories.


At ARCHER, we believe that storytelling has the capacity not only to connect people, but also to alleviate trauma.



First place

The Somber Blood I Carry by Rose Pearlswig

Judge’s comments: This powerful poem viscerally describes the experience of intergenerational trauma that leaves heartbreak in its wake. The line, “Maybe I am the weak link” is a gut punch to the reader, a reminder that some pain feels too strong to survive. And yet the very act of writing this poem is a testimony to resiliency.

The Somber Blood I Carry


            I believe it’s all genetic. I think it’s been passed down, life line to life line until one little link has all the pain the genes can carry. 

            I have that gene. 

            It cannot be removed. 

            It is too deep in the brain

            And too bound to the blood. 

            Perhaps I am just weak. Maybe I am the weak link. I am the gene that could not hold 100 years of pain, I am the one who collapsed under the weight. 

            This sadness was a long time coming

            From the slaughter of a nation

            To the camps of nightmare and horror

            This sadness is not just my own. 

            Tell me you understand this was not a choice, but an inborn burden. I was born in the grey, I was born hurt and numb. 

            There are numbers on my arm

            They have been counting us since day one. 

            It is our heritage to be scarred. 


            We all know we have our ends, it’s a human condition. Born, grown, and wasted away, while still wishing on forever.


            I survived genocide two generations back; half of a century isn’t enough to ‘put a lid on it’. 


Rose Pearlswig studies at Virginia Commonwealth University where she is working towards a degree in Elementary Education and Training.


Second place

Sarmale by Dana Serea

Judge’s comments: A beautiful poem full of the imagery of preparing food and remembering. “I dip into the juice soaking in the ocean between us” captures a grandmother and granddaughter separated by sea but united by aromas and voices” —  a relationship that can survive time and distance.


Grandma’s wrinkled hands fold over my fingers. 

“Like this,” she says, scooping the minced meat 

and placing it on the grape leaf, 

cradling it like a newborn. 

Her bony index finger rolls the mixture, 

then tucks in the edges to seal it. 

She gives me a toothy grin, 

then picks up a new leaf from the jar. 

“Tell me a story,” I whisper. 

She places the stuffed grape leaf into the pot, 

then wipes her hands on a napkin.

“Once, there lived a grandmother 

and a granddaughter who were separated by sea, 

but they were always close.”

In the tiny cottage, her voice fills my ears,

and the stars lean in to listen.


The sound of Christmas carols rings through the kitchen.

“Can you hand me another grape leaf?” Mom asks.

I sift through the jar and weave out a wet leaf.

I continue where I left off, the dollop of meat mixture 

nestled between my thumbs. 

“Fold, roll, then tuck,” Grandma’s voice flows into my thoughts.

Mom places the kettle on the stove, 

and the familiar scent flutters through our house. 

I sit down at the dinner table in front of my steaming bowl of sarmale,

my lips hovering over the stuffed grape leaf. 

The aroma tingles my nose, and I wonder, 

“How is Grandma doing? 

Is she also eating sarmale and thinking of me?
Does she miss me as much as I miss her?”

I dip my bread into the juice, 

soaking in the ocean between us.


Dana Serea is a first year student at Princeton University who loves writing. Her work has been published in The Daily Princetonian, Poets Without Borders, Lunch Ticket, The Louisville Review/Cornerstone, The Red Wheelbarrow, Apprentice Writer, Canvas Literary Journal, Bluefire, and in the Poetry Society of Virginia anthology. Dana won a Scholastic Art & Writing National Gold Medal, as well as 1st place in the 2022 Poetry Society of Virginia High School Poetry Contest, 1st place in the 2021 Renee Duke Youth Award Poetry Contest for Human Rights, 1st place in the 2020 Ringling College for Art and Design “Storytellers of Tomorrow” Writing Contest, multiple Gold and Silver Keys, and several 3rd places and honorable mentions in national contests for her poetry and prose.


Third place

My grandmother’s hands by Dana Serea

Judge’s comments: A skillfully rendered poem about a woman who will forever touch your life. The first line is particularly evocative: “The Daube River flows from her veins.”  I see the calloused palms that braid your hair, sprinkle carraway seeds, make dresses in the colors of zinnias, and touch you from afar.

My Grandmother’s Hands 

The Danube River flows from her veins,

down calloused palms and ridged layers of skin,

through fingernails encrusted with soil,

her proud warrior scars. 

Her knuckles are the Carpathian Mountains 

that I climb to reach her beating heart. 

These are the hands that gently braid my hair,

their textured wrinkles folding over my locks,

the hands that comb through spring blossoms

and whisper lullabies to slumbering lambs.

They’re the hands that light the fire in the stove

and roll out pastry dough,

the fingers that brush luscious egg wash 

and sprinkle pungent caraway seeds. 

They guide the scissors and needle through fabrics

to make dresses in the colors of zinnias. 

When I leave, they’re the hands that wipe my tears,

a soft touch that caresses our last embrace.

Each summer, I ask my grandmother to hold my hand 

even when we’re far apart. 


Dana Serea is a first year student at Princeton University who loves writing. Her work has been published in The Daily Princetonian, Poets Without Borders, Lunch Ticket, The Louisville Review/Cornerstone, The Red Wheelbarrow, Apprentice Writer, Canvas Literary Journal, Bluefire, and in the Poetry Society of Virginia anthology. Dana won a Scholastic Art & Writing National Gold Medal, as well as 1st place in the 2022 Poetry Society of Virginia High School Poetry Contest, 1st place in the 2021 Renee Duke Youth Award Poetry Contest for Human Rights, 1st place in the 2020 Ringling College for Art and Design “Storytellers of Tomorrow” Writing Contest, multiple Gold and Silver Keys, and several 3rd places and honorable mentions in national contests for her poetry and prose.


Honorable mention

things we would prefer to forget (Lower-case “t” is correct.) by Vaidehi Bhardwaj

Judge’s comments: This poem vividly describes how the memories of home come back to us through sites and smells, and how we can choose to remember or try to forget. “It sometimes scares me how the air of my chosen country can smell like the one I left behind” is a beautiful, revealing line I will not forget.

things we would prefer to forget

it sometimes scares me,

how the air of my chosen country can smell like the one i left behind–

the smoky-sweet aroma of burning yams,

the impatient crush of too many ghostly bodies,

and the sting of petrol fumes.

it makes me wonder if we are really as different as we pretend we are. if we really leave behind as many things as we pretend to, strapped into suitcases and duffel bags. it makes me wonder if there are things we don’t like to remember. 

i speak of the old country with pride, with nostalgia, with gentle love.

my parents speak of it with fear. with light disdain. with condescension.

as if living in the land of the white man has absolved them

of the responsibility to their roots.

i wonder what they would remember if they touched this tender wind.

i wonder what they would try to forget.


First place

We All Tell Lies by Paul Okparaoyibo Chukwuma

Judge’s comments: A beautifully written and sophisticated story rich with dramatic scenes, riveting dialogue, and vivid characters and descriptions: “He was cast in the ways of the whites and the only one among us that wore trousers like the master.”  You capture Zonga’s idealization of whites despite their ugly behavior: “Not that I have seen any ugly whites as they are always beautiful.” And the piece captures his surprise when they fail to live up to his expectations. I was so engrossed in this story, I did not want it to end.

Mangiza was leading a long line of us to the plantation. On getting to the field, we realized it was ready for harvest. The field was partitioned into two, one of the hectares for cacao and the other for cereals. The men amongst us oversaw harvesting, while the women carried the baskets filled with the crops to the waiting cart.

That day Mangiza assigned me and Ntcheza to work in the cacao farm. Mangiza nicknamed Reuben Snitch Magi, and he was our leader; he was knowledgeable in the ways of the whites and the only one among us that wore trousers like Master. He even had a cloak hung in his sitting room that was fondled by Master. And he wore a flappy white shirt with a pair of cream trousers. 

After he was done with his instructions, he took his seat underneath a shade and brought out his snuffbox – his eyes felt the sting.

We had been working, when suddenly a voice startled me.

“Good morning Zonga!”
“Oh, good morning Msitmu! My love, how are you doing?” I responded as I turned towards the woman.

Her response was drowned by her puff as she was carrying a heavy basket filled with cocoa only a few feet away from me. I quickly ran to help her with it and my eyes fell on her dark shaved armpit, soft and steamy with beads of sweats caressing its surface tracing down to her full breast.

Msitmu was a chubby nubile damsel, with deep chocolate skin and a beautiful face. As she walked away with the basket, her colossal hips and stuffed buttocks danced joyfully to the rhythm of her footsteps, and I looked on…

“Zonga! Zonga! Lover boy!” Ntcheza yelled, slapping me across my arm.

“Ntcheza, stop it! Why did you hit me?” I protested.

“You better go and pay her bride price!” Ntcheza said laughing as he flaunted mimicking Msitmu.

“You know I would. But the time is not right yet!” I said as I grinned.

“The time is not right, but the time is right to rape her with your naked eyes – my friend! Be careful!”

“Oh, come off it! Just continue loitering until Master comes and sees you like that!” I said pointing at the entrance. Ntcheza quickly turned and ran straight to his portion.

Ntcheza Kanrotse and I were born on the same night. We grew up as close friends, and like me, he is the only other person in our camp that nurses the dream that someday, we would pay for our freedom.

Later that day, with few cocoa beans left to harvest, my tired hands danced in hesitation as my stomach rumbled. The yam porridge I ate for breakfast was spent, and I was starving. Some minutes later, I saw Mangiza leaving the shade, and I knew Master was around.


Master walked in with Mangiza or Reuben as Master loved to call him. 

Master, Lord Donald Clapton, was an angelic being with blonde hair, a Godly shaped pointed nose, and the tall gait of a gentleman. He wore sleeves and trousers which made Reuben’s outfit look inferior. And he was walking with class; chest puffed, broad shoulders and a calm glance.

Master told tales of the blacks’ bad breath, ape lineage, barbaric humanity, and inferiority. He thought most of us were like fleas only valuable to him on his farms and during laborious tasks. He never touched the blacks, only spoke to them, but he had a special liking for Reuben. Master also loved hunting.

Reuben was showing Master around the farm – the spots that needed fertilizers, the growing crops, and then the harvesting process.

As Master was walking by, I was both afraid and wanting to show off; something came over me, the cocoa bean that I was harvesting slipped and emptied its bowels on the floor. I froze.

“Sweet Bridget! Who is that Jack?” Master exclaimed.

“That is Zonga Kululu, Sir!” Reuben fumbled.

“After the day’s work, bring that Jack over!” Master said.

“Yes sir!” Reuben responded.

As Master and Reuben continued with their inspection, I was uneasy with thoughts of my fate at the close of the day’s work.


I accompanied the others to the farmhouse, where we kept our tools and did a little work–arranging the baskets of cocoa close to the processing machine. As we were done, I was led by Mangiza to Master’s quarters. At his door, Mangiza knocked and Mrs. Polly opened and ushered me in while Mangiza returned home.

Mrs. Polly was an old woman, who was both the cook and the “Head maid” of the house. Head maid as she loves to pride herself because Master was against blacks working full time in his house; so Mrs. Polly supervises blacks in menial labour and chores around the house and once they are done, they retire back to Coloured Villa.


As I accompanied Mrs. Polly into the sitting room, she told me to kneel close to a stool at the foot of the curtain partitioning the bar from the sitting room. I could see Lady Rose and Lord Brooks discussing in the sitting room. Lady Rose was laughing to his mavericks. But their positioning made them obscure to me.

Lord Brooks Hugh was tall and handsome with curly brown hair. He was the only fellow with boots that shone brighter than Master’s. He had an aura that stood out. Like Master, he was superior.

Lord Brooks was fond of blacks then, so the saying goes, until Buladisa, a very beautiful maid of his stole his money and was about fleeing with it. And Lord Brooks shot her as she tried to escape–only God knows! After that incidence, Lord Brooks was now brutal with all, treating both male and females alike. Even to the extent where he touched breasts and buttocks of females when things went missing, and if they were not found, the people were made to strip! 

But unlike Master, he was soft spoken, smiled a lot and did not hunt; rather he loved poetry. His rendition was always heard piercing the quiet ambience that persisted in Master’s quarters, to the enjoyment of Master and the admiration of Lady Rose and Mrs. Polly.

Lady Rose Clapton, Master’s wife, was fair to behold. She had deep dimples on her cheek, full curly blonde hair, full lips and a chin with parting. She dressed like a lady of the house in raiment, oozing of affluence and class. And her grace, civility and humility shone. Not that I had seen any ugly whites as they are always beautiful but Lady Rose had no equal.

She was humane; she was the only white who took the pain to call me by my first name–not the usual, Hey you!–And went beyond that to my surname which she sweetened to “Kololo”. She had once rocked a black child and even visited on special celebrations.

As I knelt down, I saw ivory and relics from Master’s game in glass frames hung around the room. Everything in the room was unique and nothing was out of place.

Then, I heard footsteps close to the door, I quickly bowed my head. and Master walked in. He walked straight to the sitting room.

“Hey, old boy Donald!” Brooks said smiling with raised hands.

“How are you, Brooks? We hardly see you around!” Master said as he walked towards Brooks.

He reached for Brooks’s stretched hand and changed his mind.

“I should wash–farm and germs are insufferable!” Master said as he winked at Brooks.

“Has Rose given you anything to drink?”

“Yes–precious water!” Brooks said as all laughed.

“Mrs. Polly, get me my hand glove!”

“For what?” Brooks asked.

“That Jack over there destroyed a cocoa pod today and I intend to teach him a lesson!” Master said pointing towards me, and the others shot a quick glance at me.

“Oh! They never learn. Bush monkeys.” Brooks said.

Mrs. Polly emerged with a glove and a whip and handed them over to Master. As Master was wearing the glove, she said

“Is this really necessary? Just for a cocoa pod!” Lady Rose hissed and left both men with disgust.

Master and Lord Brooks walked towards me, and I quickly lied down facing the floor. He whipped me several times. I started to count to ten so I could manage the pain, but when I got to ten, the pain would become so severe, that tears began to roll down my cheek. With me in tears, Master was satisfied, and he said to Mrs. Polly:

“Make sure that this Jack remains in the backyard till midnight!”  He took off the glove and handed it and the whip to Mrs. Polly.

Later as I was led out by Mrs. Polly, both men went to sit at the bar and drink.


At the rear of the house, behind Master’s bed chambers, I knelt. For several hours, all I could feel was my jerking knees. Then, I heard voices at the front of the house; they belonged to Master, Lady Rose and Lord Brooks, and I reckoned that Master and Lord Brooks were heading out. 

Master spent Friday nights like this with his group of hunters and would return Saturday night. Then, Lord Brooks would head home. I could hear Lady Rose returning to the house, and my heart gladdened.

Hours later, it was raining and I knew that soon Lady Rose would come to my rescue as she usually did; even without it raining. But to my amazement, the hinges of the door didn’t shriek, and I soon had goosebumps all over.

An hour to midnight, and I heard the sound of Master’s carriage. He knocked at the door for a while, and someone finally opened. 

Some minutes later, I was startled as the window of Master’s bed chambers flung open, and I could see from a distance Lady Rose naked in his room. Her full breasts reminded me of Msitmu; the night I snuck into her room when I was cold and her tits were no different from Msitmu’s. 

She held the window frame upwards as a man crawled out with his back facing me, wearing white pants. I was lost in thought as the man’s exit reminded me of mine that night after I had done “Piom-Piom”–slept with Msitmu.

The man landed on the lawn, with Lady Rose quickly shutting the window after him. He wore his trousers briskly with his shirt hung round his neck, looked at me calmly with his forefinger pressed against his closed lips, and charged towards the direction of the farmhouse bare chested.

Then it dawned on me who he was: Master’s friend, Lord Brooks! And what he had done with his friend’s wife. I was moved with rage because this was a sin, both to a black man or a white man. But my anger was soon bottled up, and I felt sorry for Master.

Did I seen something? Yes! But how would I speak of it?

I just knelt, mute and sullen. Mrs. Polly later came and freed me.


Paul Okparaoyibo Chukwuma studies at the University of Benin. He has a personal website/blog –

Second place

It’s All about the Nerves by dN eQ

Judge’s comments: This is a story that seemed simple and straight-forward: a gathering of friends indulging in teasing and sharing the accomplishments of their family members at a reunion. The dialogue is realistic and charming: “A wife does not embarrass her husband in front of other husbands.” Then, the announcement of a young man’s death changes the mood of the party and the story. But after a moment of acknowledging the most profound of losses, the party continues, as does life. Skillfully rendered.

(Editor’s note to writer: The quotation marks go after the final punctuation mark in all but a few cases.. “She walked the dog.” End complete sentences in a quote with punctuation, such as a period. When you begin a sentence with a number, spell out the number. “Forty people came to the party.”

Two men were standing in the street. People were walking past them. Оne of them often looked at his watch.

“Stop looking at your watch all the time, there is time, they are not late, calm down,”

“Fine,” the second barely answered.

Another man, whose name was Kum, took out a cigarette from his pocket.

“Do you want a cigarette?” asked Kum.

“No thanks, stop smoking too, I’m fed up already,” answered the second.

Kum lit the cigarette and took a deep breath, as if he wanted to smoke the cigarette all at


“How long can we wait?”

“I don’t know, I smoke.”

“If they don’t come in a minute, I’m leaving.”

Kum looked at his friend strangely as if to say, “You won’t do it.” Kum’s friend looked around and saw those who should have arrived earlier.

“Look, there they are,” said Kum’s friend.

“They walk slowly, like they’re on their first date. Wave to them, make them hurry”, said Kum.

Kum’s friend waved to them, signaling that they should walk quickly. They saw their friend waving and quickened their paces.

“I’m off. You meet them and bring them to us.”

Kum left. Those whom Kum and his friend were waiting for finally arrived.

“As always you are late.”

“So it turns out.”

“No time, Eni, how are you?” asked Kum’s friend.

“Fine. ”

“That’s it, let’s go.”

Eni, her husband, and Kum’s friend went into the building. Opening the big door, they entered a long hallway.

“What a long hallway, where are we?” asked Eni.

“Somewhere. The name of this place will not tell you anything.”

They approached the next door, which was also big. They walked in silence, each with his own thoughts. Sounds were heard behind the big door. It was clear from the voices that many people were talking at the same time, but it seemed to them that there was an argument going on. Kum’s friend opened the big door.

“Where is everyone?” asked Eni.

“I don’t know,” replied Kum’s friend.

“Maybe we came late, or I don’t know,” said Eni’s husband.

“Why isn’t the light on?” Eni continued.

Suddenly lights turned on. They saw people sitting at the same table. There were about 40 of them. The people sitting at the table were not young, but already aged.

“You were always late, back when we were studying at the institute,” said one of the seated people.

“Well what to do?” replied Eni’s husband.

“Sit down, everyone is waiting for you,” said Kum.

Eni, her husband, and Kum’s friend approached the people. All were fellow students.

“Оur class gathered again! But we are not in a classroom like at the institute. This is a restaurant, there are no, teachers, no bell,” said Are.

“Everyone is in their seats, and the first lesson has begun,” continued one of them with a smile.

Օne of those sitting tapped on a glass with a fork.

“This instead of a bell,” said Ben.

Everyone laughed. At that time the waiters approached the table. They were carrying barbecued meat. They put the barbecue on the table and left.

“Everyone’s glasses are full,” said Ka.

“Yes, everyone’s glasses are full,” they all answered at once.

“I don’t have anything to drink,” said Ka’s wife in a low voice.

Everyone started laughing.

“A wife does not embarrass her husband in front of other husbands,” said Ka.

“What did I say?” said Ka’s wife, looking upset.

“What would you like me to pour for you–wine, whiskey, vodka, or champagne?” asked Ka.

“I want some wine,” answered Ка’s wife.

Ka poured wine for his wife and continued teasing her.

“So always, without me, she doesn’t exist,” Ka said with a laugh.

“Perhaps the opposite,” said Lia.

“That’s it, no need to talk about it loudly,” answered Ka.

Silence fell around the table. All looked at Ka, waiting to hear a toast. Ka resumed the interrupted speech.

“Well, 30 years have passed since we graduated from the institute, and we have not forgotten each other. We are meeting today for the third time, and the last time we met was 10 years ago. I will first toast to this meeting,” Ka finished speaking.

40 people raised their glasses. The men began to eat barbecue, and some of the women were eating barbecue and some were eating salad. After the last meeting, the class met again 10 years later. A lot of things happened this past decade, and they all wanted to share with one another about their life, children, affairs. What and how. What they did, what they didn’t, who worked, who didn’t work. Who had a grandchild, who didn’t have one yet. Everyone was talking.

Everyone was talking, and no one listened anyone. The meeting  turned into chaos.

“Stop,” shouted Are.

“What?” everyone jolted.

“I understand everyone has a lot of questions and interesting thoughts they want to share with each other, but you all talk at once. Let’s do it in order,” spoke Are calmly.

“You haven’t changed at all, Are. You have always been very orderly, and you still are,” someone said.

“What do you suggest? asked Lo.

“I suggest, that without getting offended, all fellow students, like in class, stand up and tell us what has changed over the past 10 years,” said Are.

“We know nearly everything about each other—who works, where, who has children, what successes we had…”

“Ok, let’s start,” said Kum.

“Nice, only after we raise our glasses in the name of our children,” said Ka.

Аll drank. All put the glasses on the table, then again everyone took a piece of barbecue. One of them did not take the barbecue, but silently watched the others eat. He stood up. It was Are.

“Since the suggestion was mine, maybe I’ll start first,” spoke Are.

Тhere was silence at the table, and a couple of them became a little sad.

“I’m starting,” continued Are, “As you know, I have two children–a daughter and a son. My daughter works.”

“Where?” asked Lia.

“She,” he looked at his wife, “She works in a bank and my son works at the telephone company. My daughter got married, and my daughter’s husband also works at the bank. His position is higher. My son is not married. That’s all,” Are finished his speech.

“Аll is well, only it’s not good that your son is not married,” added someone.

“Yes,” almost everyone agreed.

A woman got up from the table. She was not tall and had short hair. She was wearing a brown dress. There was little makeup on her face. She spoke in a low voice.

“You all know me, my name is Sia,” she said.

“When we all gather, you all get crazy…” one of them wanted to joke.

“Shut up, don’t interfere. Sia, you can continue,” said Lo.

“You know I have two kids–a daughter and a son. My daughter has been married for a long time. She has children too. I’m a grandmother. My son is also married but lives in another country. He works as a salesman. My daughter doesn’t work. Thanks for listening.” Sia finished.

“Great! When did your son go to live in this other country?”  someone asked.

“No, it has nothing to do with the topic, we’ll talk about it later,” said Eni.

Again the waiters approached with the second course. This time they were carrying meatballs. They put the meatballs in place of the barbecue and took the barbecue away. People started helping themselves with the meatballs. They ate in silence, without speaking. While they ate, someone remembered what happened at the institute, during exams.

“Do you remember,” someone wanted to ask Je something, but they couldn’t find Je. “Where are you, Je?”

“I’m here,” replied Je.

“There you are! Do you remember that exam, I don’t remember in which class, but the exam was on a different lesson than what we expected,” he said.

“Of course, I remember. But we passed the exam,” Je added.

They continued to eat. The meatballs turned out to be delicious. They enjoyed the dish. Sometimes, whispers could be heard. Suddenly one of the people stood up. He was a pleasant looking man. The man was their fellow student and wanted to talk about the changes he had experienced over the past decade.

“Now it’s my turn. I also want to share. We have four children–three sons and one daughter. Our sons are married, two live abroad, and they are fine. The third son is here, he is a doctor. He has a girlfriend, they are fine too. In the future, maybe a wedding will happen. The daughter is not married, but she has a good job,” said the pleasant looking man.

“Don’t think everything will be fine,” came from the end of the table.

Everyone spoke about their children, what they were doing, whether they were married or not. Almost all were married, working, almost half of them lived abroad. All were fine. Their lives were made.

“Who is left? Who has not spoken yet?” Are asked.

A husband and wife sat looking at each other despondently. The wife wanted to get up, but the husband held her hand so as she didn’t move. The husband leaned in to whisper something in her ear.

“It’s not necessary, shut up, don’t talk,” said Isa’s husband in a low voice.

“Everyone spoke, I want to speak too,” said Isa.

“If you love me, you won’t, ok?” begged Isa’s husband.

“No”, Isa raised her voice.

“As I understand, everyone shared, yes?” Ara asked.

“Yes”, several people replied.

“No!” said someone.

“Who said no?” asked Ara.

“Isa didn’t share,” continued someone.

“Well, we’re listening,” said Are.

“As you know my name is Isa, and the man sitting next to me is my husband. We are working….”

“We know what kind of work you do,” Ka interrupted.

“I’ll continue. Well, as you know, we had a son. Besides him we had no other children. After he finished his school, he enrolled into the military institute. He graduated with excellent grades. He worked at a military base. All was good, he received many medals and diplomas for good service. He was not married…” Isa stopped midway through her speech.

“You said everything, now sit down,” her husband shouted.

“A month ago he was killed in the war. He was defending our country from the enemy. He was posthumously awarded two medals: the first for services rendered to the motherland and the second for bravery… I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to spoil your mood, but I know he also deserves praise. He was a fine man,” Isa finished.

Dead silence fell around the table. Everyone was petrified, and nobody seemed to breathe. They looked at each other. No one wanted to talk. Isa took her seat. The tension was broken by the waiters who came to bring another dish. They laid a large fish on the table. Everyone took a small piece of the fish and ate in silence.

“Let’s drink, just drink, without talking, just drink,” someone suggested.

Everyone soon became drunk. Тhey continued to eat without saying a word. However, after a while, conversations resumed.

“You’re not married yet?” asked Fea.

“No, ” the man answered.

They talked about different topics, cracked jokes, and sometimes laughed.

“You what?  Are you serious…”

“How do you cook that…”

“Did you watch the football match…”

“When you have a headache, you should…”

“It’s all about the nerves…”


dN eQ studies at the Armenian State University of Economics, Armenia.



First place

The Immigrant  by Dana Serea

Judge’s comments: In this essay, you skillfully capture an unfamiliar world – a grocery store with hundreds of spices and brands of coffee – and a man who feels helpless because he cannot ask in English for the bread that tastes like home on his tongue. The metaphor of English as a wide river is vivid and powerful. The ending is  particularly beautiful as your father learns to mouth the words in a new language.

He arrives to JFK, luggage and passport in hand. This is a new world, a river spiraling with millions of people, flowing into the ocean. 

He sinks on the bottom of the Manhattan streets, dizzy from the blinding lights and deafening sounds. He’s looking for a job, but doesn’t know where to find it. 

He walks into a grocery store, amazed by the hundreds of spices and brands of coffee. He watches a mother pushing her crying child’s stroller while she looks for tomato sauce. An elderly man’s coat nudges his shoulder, rushing to checkout. He trips over his own feet as he stares at the aisles packed with food. More people shove past him with their crumpled lists. Another man bumps into him, yelling, “Move out of the way!” He stares at the man in confusion, but before he could open his lips, the man dashes to the condiment aisle.  

His eyes gaze over the endless stands of fruit glimmering with berries, apples, and oranges. His fingers brush over the delicate tangerines. He steps closer and takes in a waft of their cool, citrus scent.

He realizes he doesn’t know how to ask for bread, for the bread aisle. He doesn’t know how to ask for anything. He doesn’t know how to say bread. He uses his hands, trying to communicate by pointing fingers. He feels helpless and ashamed. Where is the pâine

Bread in America is never the same as in Romania. Good bread is rare, and tastes like home on the tongue. You can only find it in special bakeries, not in the supermarket. But he doesn’t know that yet. And after tasting good bread, you’re thirsty for water, but even the water is not the same. 

English is a wide river. He was thrown into it, and now he must endure the currents of language. Each day he’s drowning, gasping for air. He’s alone in the most crowded body of water.  

For him, Romanian is a gentle stream. In his old language, he has full control, but not here. Not yet. I imagine him trying to navigate through this new life. He doesn’t know how to say, “How do I get home?” 

He has a thick, incomprehensible accent, slowly floating in the rapids. He struggles to shape words in his mouth, rolling consonants on his tongue, choking on simple sounds, and learning how to get from pâine to bread, from apã to water. 

At the evening school of English as a second language, he sits next to people from different continents, uttering WA-TUH, BR-EAD, like small children. “A boy and a toy,” they repeat. “A cat and a mat. A dog and a frog.” He wants to make a joke, but his words drown in silence. 

How does he start swimming? He first flings his arms, self-conscious and afraid of being pulled under. Then, he discovers he can float, his feet rising to the surface. He takes his first stroke, then the next, until he feels the flow of the waves carrying him. 

He says slowly, “Nice to meet you.”

WA-TUH. WA-TER. Water. 

He’s my father, swimming in the English language in the United States.


Dana Serea is a first year student at Princeton University who loves writing. Her work has been published in The Daily Princetonian, Poets Without Borders, Lunch Ticket, The Louisville Review/Cornerstone, The Red Wheelbarrow, Apprentice Writer, Canvas Literary Journal, Bluefire, and in the Poetry Society of Virginia anthology. Dana won a Scholastic Art & Writing National Gold Medal, as well as 1st place in the 2022 Poetry Society of Virginia High School Poetry Contest, 1st place in the 2021 Renee Duke Youth Award Poetry Contest for Human Rights, 1st place in the 2020 Ringling College for Art and Design “Storytellers of Tomorrow” Writing Contest, multiple Gold and Silver Keys, and several 3rd places and honorable mentions in national contests for her poetry and prose.

Second place

Some Miles Across the Sea by Sa’Nya Polo

Judge’s comments: I will remain haunted by these lines:

One where for the first time, I no longer wanted my ancestry. I no longer wanted the dark shades of my skin, and the curl of my coils. I no longer wanted my queso frito, and Marc Anthony playlist. I didn’t want my car’s Jamaican Flag and my grandmother’s oxtails. I wanted none of it. Nothing that could hint to the rest of America that I was other. Because that summer I had a revelation I cannot live the American dream if I’m dead.

Sadly, you capture a brutal coming of age when a young man understands that his very skin can put him in danger. I am glad you are shouting. You need to be heard and this essay needs to be read.

My father said that the boat was cold. His mother held him closer. Her hijo, her baby was trembling with every ripple against the waves.

The Dominican Republic is 1,997 miles away from the center of the U.S, but I live in North Carolina—only 1,294 from the Dominican Republic. Only 1,000 miles away from the history of my ancestry, and the whirling bodies of my lineage.

Before I was born, my father taught me Spanish. He would call out to me as I dwelled within the belly of my mother with whispers of the life she would give me. Life in America. Life with the American Dream.

And then when I was eight, I saw Trayvon Martin’s body on my living room TV.

I didn’t (couldn’t) understand why my mother and father and brothers were crying, but I cried too.

It was years later, with the images of George Floyd’s body engulfing (like the raging fires found in California) any screen that my gaze was unlucky enough to meet. That’s when I cried alone. Because I understood.

I spent the summer before I began to apply to college inside my home hiding from a biomedical virus, only to be trapped inside with another pandemic- one spreading quick and fierce throughout society.

One where for the first time, I no longer wanted my ancestry. I no longer wanted the dark shades of my skin, and the curl of my coils. I no longer wanted my queso frito, and Marc Anthony playlist. I didn’t want my car’s Jamaican Flag and my grandmother’s oxtails. I wanted none of that. Nothing that could hint to the rest of America that I was other.

Because that summer I had a revelation I cannot live the American dream if I’m dead.

I won’t get a dream job and millionaire husband if I’m dead. In fact I get nothing but a mourning country and a broadcasted funeral.

So, take it. Take it all. Everything that makes me who I am. Take the whirling bodies in the sea and the plastered names in the papers. Cut away my rolling tongue and set my skin aflame if that’s what you must.

But I must live. I must live because there are those on the boat that didn’t. Because if I die, it will have all been for nothing.

So, I must, I wail.

So, I must, I weep.

So, I must, I scream.

Do they hear me?

Do you?


Sa’Nya Polo is a student of Creative Writing at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

Third place

Black Lives Matter by Okparaoyibo Chukwuma Paul 

Judge’s comments: A well-researched and passionate essay that raises the central question: Does writing a counterfeit check, stealing a phone or holding a knife justify the taking of a life? As you say, it only leads to “pain, regret, loneliness and bitterness” and more killing in the name of vengeance.

Do you think so? Or should I just call it another aphorism used to soothe a crying child from his usual sporadic tantrums. Is the word “Black” only restricted to the skin colour? Of course not, any sojourner—immigrant—is Black for as long as his foot is not in his homeland. Black lives all over the world are smeared with daily threats, humiliation, pain, hatred, discrimination and even murder, but why?

People subject their fellows to dehumanizing treatment and racism—he is a nigger, he is coloured or oh, he is not one of us! Who says we must have the same skin tone, voice, agility, physicality, sexuality, height, hair, colour of lips or even fingernails for us to live together?

If it was to be a must, why don’t brothers and sisters have the same finger print? All we see is mass injustice hidden in the disguise of immigration credentials.

According to data collected by the Washington Post, police shot and killed at least 1,055 people nationwide last year (2021), the most since the newspaper began tracking fatal shooting by officers in 2015. That is more than the 1,021 shooting in 2020 and the 999 in 2019.

Black people, who account for 13 percent of the U.S population, accounted for 27 percent of those fatally shot and killed by police in 2021, according to Mapping Police Violence, a nonprofit group that tracks police shootings. That means Black people are twice as likely as White people to be shot and killed by police officers. From this statistic, it can be inferred that some groups are not needed. But when Serena Williams wins the grand slam – the whole of America rejoices; when Lewis Hamilton wins the formula one (F1) world driving championship – the whole of Britain rejoices; or when Lebron James soars to win the final point that secures the Olympic gold medal – the whole of America rejoices; it shows that at moments of sincerity (sports spirit), nothing matters – no distinction and all become one.

In America, Dante Wright (20 years old), Andre Hill (47), Manuel Ellis (33), George Floyd (46), Breonna Taylor (26), Atatiana Jefferson (28), Aura Rosser (40), Stephen Clark (22) and others were all killed by police officers.

Dante Wright of Minneapolis, Minnesota was killed in the company of his girlfriend – the excuse was that the police officer mistook her taser for her gun. Andre Hill was killed because he emerged from a garage holding up a cell phone in his left hand. Manuel Ellis was murdered when the police slammed the patrol car door into him as he was walking home from a convenience store. George Floyd of Minneapolis, Minnesota was suffocated to death because he was alleged to have tried to use a counterfeit $20 bill. Breonna Taylor was killed at home. Atatiana Jefferson was killed at home in the presence of her eight-year-old nephew. Aura Rosser of Ann Arbor, Michigan was killed at home and the young Stephen Clark of Sacramento, California was standing in his grandmother’s backyard and officers thought he was holding a gun – shooting him 20 times but later found out that Clark was only holding a mobile phone.

So counterfeit bills, mobile phones, carrying knives or even sleeping in one’s car is no yardstick to take a human life because no human is a single entity. A human has a long chain of relationships – work, family members, friends, sport, leisure, skills, role models, contributions, followers. Once life is gone, such relationships cease to function and what is left is pain, regret, loneliness, bitterness, hatred, un-patriotism, un-forgiveness, vengeance and every other vice that society at large detests.

The most important factor for any movement to have an impact is the change in psychology.

The psychology of the offenders needs to be updated to the reality of present times. We need to believe in unity.

So every individual should be taught in whole the balance that his fellow brother brings to the smooth running of the nation, whether Blacks (broad view) or Whites. Otherwise, any movement even when it is important, would only be like an adrenaline rush, which fizzles over time and only makes such inhuman treatment to linger. The root solution is teaching people’s hearts how to love immigrants without reservations.

And I hope that lives would matter – not only Blacks – but all lives would matter everywhere in the world. Remembering what Dr. Martin Luther King said: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”


Paul Okparaoyibo Chukwuma studies at the University of Benin. He has a personal website/blog –

Honorable mention

My Non-Typical Immigrant Story by Belen Garcia Vazquez

Judge’s comments: A compelling essay about how life can change in an instant. One moment, your 23-year-old brother was a happy young man full of plans. Suddenly he was in bed fighting for his life. You honor your brother by telling both your stories, and I cannot help thinking how lucky he is to have such a sensitive, caring sibling to help him navigate this life.

My brother once told me that “the process will be long but not impossible” and from that moment this phrase has marked me for life, because I had to understand it from a very early age and above all put it into practice. My name is Belen Garcia Vazquez, I was born in Veracruz Mexico, and I have been living in Denver Colorado for 6 years. I am the youngest of 3 children (my brothers are Miguel and Israel), and I can say that despite being the youngest with 9 and 5 years difference respectively, I am very close to my family, especially to my brothers, even despite the conditions.

At the age of 13, I emigrated to the United States, and coincidentally it was not for the most common reason, better known as The American Dream, but because my older brother Miguel suffered an accident, an electric shock that should have meant immediate death.

However, my brother’s case was peculiar because he survived after almost a month in a coma, 3 micro infarcts in the ambulance on the way to the hospital, and many ice beds to reduce the swelling in his body that the electricity had caused. This tragedy forced me and my whole family to leave everything in Mexico to get here. Without a doubt, at age 13 it was a hard blow, firstly the fact of having to be the one who broke the bad news to the rest of my family in Mexico while my parents were still traveling with the uncertainty of whether my brother would survive or not. The weeks and months after the accident felt strange because I still had to continue with my normal life, go to school, and at the same time take care of the business that my parents had just started and in which there was a lot of investment both of money and time.

Eventually, the time to visit my brother came. I remember that I only packed a small suitcase because my plans were only to visit and return. However, my parents’ plans were not the same because they had already contemplated the idea of living in Denver until we knew what was going to happen with my brother’s situation. When I got here, it was even more difficult and tiring because even though I felt that I had already overcome the situation, for having said it out loud so many times was very different from facing the reality. I perfectly remember the day I saw my brother again in a hospital bed completely paralyzed but still conscious knowing who we were. I also remember the fact that no one prepared me to see him, because the last image I had of him was of a 23-year-old happy young man, full of life and plans, and now he was in bed fighting for his life. I remember that the days after that were not very different, a new school, a new family to stay with, new to food, a new language, a new country, a new climate, everything new, but despite all that I was grateful that my brother was healthy. His diagnosis was quadriplegia with a possible recovery if he could have  a lot of therapy because he was a 23 year old trapped in the body of a baby, who had to learn to do everything all over again, and although no one prepared me or my family for this process, that in effect it would be long but not impossible, we began to do everything that the doctors and therapists told us and more with love and patience. I remember all those nights that I accompanied my parents in hospital rooms because as a good Mexican family, they never leave their own by themselves, even if they are in a hospital with 24/7 care.

With time, things began to improve. I already had friends at school, my brother’s improvement was evident, the food began to be better, and the weather no longer affected me so much because being from a beach in Mexico, the cold here had initially no comparison.

But all that was of little relevance if I knew that my brother was fine and that my family was close even with the terrible circumstances. Over time I learned to continue treating my brother as I had always done because despite his new disability, he was still the same person in my eyes, and although his situation and accident changed our lives 360 degrees, the fact that he was our center of attention helped me feel the immigration issue a little less heavy because absolutely nothing compared to the situation in which my brother was. He inspired inspires me every day to be strong and resilient. Although an experience can be traumatic, we must learn to live with it and get the best out of it. In my case, I had to learn and educate myself about the aspect of living with a person with a motor disability, which implies clarifying many times that he can perfectly understand what we say even if his voice sounds like that of a baby or even if he speaks slowly.  My brother’s experience has also been the subject of multiple essays and conversations about overcoming barriers and resilience.

Although my story is not long and it fortunately has a hopeful ending, it is part of who I am, and where I am right now writing this. If anyone had told me 6 years ago that I would be sitting in a university cafeteria writing my immigration story, surely, I would not have believed it because leaving one’s birth country is complicated in itself. Adding to this my brother’s situation, I would have thought it would be impossible. However today it is a reality, and I am part of the 14% of the immigrant population of this country that has become my second home.


Belen Garcia Vazquez is a student at MSU Denver.



First place

Single entry by Isabelle Rizo

Judge’s comments: This is a beautiful and elegant design full of evocative imagery that brings to mind music and celebration, peace and harmony.


BIO: Isabelle Rizo is a Romanian Chicago-based award winning internationally exhibited artist, hypnotist, and tarot teacher. She uses her research in traditional Romanian folklore and brings a contemporary interpretation to her abstract multimedia works. Her emphasis on social practice and narrative invites community members to become participants in her artwork by allowing space for viewers to discover their own narratives. No theme is too hard or taboo when it comes to healing, and Isabelle works as a death doula, occultist, and herbalist to deconstruct topics such as quality of life, slow sustainable living, madness, and personal spirituality. Isabelle has been featured in Prague College, Zero to Travel Podcast, The Golden Romania, Holistic Fashionista, LVBX Magazine, Ajala, and Entrepreneur Magazine. She studies at the School of the Art of Chicago. Follow her at