Students Share the Stories of Heart House Refugees


Some jumping up and down with excitement and others shying away in fear, the third to fifth grade kids at Heart House watched a big group of high school girls in plaid skirts and saddle oxford shoes walk into their classroom. After a series of icebreakers, the high schoolers asked the kids to tell them about their journeys to America.

On Nov. 6  the senior Contemporary American Literature classes hopped on a bus to Heart House to complete their most recent assignment. After many class discussions about immigration and refugees inspired by texts such as Jhumpa Lahiri’s “Interpreter of Maladies” and Philip Roth’s “The Plot Against America”, English Department Chair Janet Bilhartz tasked her class with interviewing refugee children and writing about their journeys to America.

Senior Katie O’Meara enjoyed the opportunity to integrate service into one of her every day classes.

We have learned about the idea of ‘service learning’ and Ms. Day emphasized how [going to Heart House] was true service learning because the service we were doing was integrated into our English class,” O’Meara said.

After getting off the bus and entering the wrong apartment building, the class lost more of their already limited time with the kids. Without the time to build trust, Bilhartz realized it was unrealistic for the children to open up and share their life story after thirty minutes with a stranger.

“The girls got the sense that a lot of them didn’t particularly want to talk about [their journey to America] and many said they didn’t remember coming,” Bilhartz said. “They also had no idea why they’d come, which is reasonable considering their age.”

However, not all was lost. O’Meara still learned many things about her eight-year-old buddy named Dot. O’Meara was shocked to learn that Dot traveled from Malaysia to America when she was only two months old.

“In my paper I mention that most two month old parents are concerned about their child getting neck strength and doing tummy time but [Dot’s] parents are moving her across the world,” O’Meara said.

Senior Katherine Pollock also had luck when talking to Samuel, a nine-year-old from Malaysia. Hiding behind his Spiderman book, Samuel was shy at first but after growing more comfortable around Pollock he told her a little bit about himself and his journey. He remembers it taking one year for him to get to America as his journey was a combination of traveling by car and by boat. After several mentions of water, Samuel told Pollock that he missed Malaysia because he used to swim on the backs of swans in the water and he can’t do that in the US.

“I am writing a third person narrative focused on Samuel and the symbol of water by contrasting the calm and quiet atmosphere underwater and the loud and busy atmosphere of Dallas” Pollock said. “Clearly his favorite place to be is underwater which shows his fear of coming to the surface and living in a loud and busy country like the US.”

Although not all the kids opened up about their journey to America, Bilhartz was impressed with how the girls used the information they had to build a story.

“[The experience was] not what we expected and in some ways it was disappointing but in other ways a lot of it was very interesting,” Bilhartz said.

Amelia Brown – Sports + Life Editor

Photo courtesy of Heart House