ENMU senior project to highlight immigration in America

Hailey Vandewiele wants you to see growing up in America through the eyes of Ariela, a teenage girl who is the epitome of a teenager growing up in the "1.5 generation."

Vandewiele, an Eastern New Mexico University senior and a native of Oregon, described the 1.5 generation as the group of immigrants who come to the U.S. fairly young, but only know the states as their home, or as the generation between the first and second.

Christina Calloway: Portales News-Tribune

Hailey Vandewiele, right, acts as her character teenage Ariela as she sings a tune about her disagreements with her mother about their Mexican culture. ENMU Instructor of Music Kayla Paulk accompanies Vandewiele on the piano.

She has channeled her desire to teach empathy and compassion for immigrants in America into a senior project that incorporates her love of the arts and her Spanish minor. She encourages the community to watch her production set for this Friday on ENMU's campus.

"It's a fictional story I've created based on interviews I've read and people I've talked to," Vandewiele said.

Beyond her research for the project, Vandewiele used her friend and fellow ENMU student Molly Chavez' coming-of-age story to inspire her script. Chavez will narrate Ariela's story for the show.

Vandewiele said Ariela's story starts in Mexico, where her father decides to move to the U.S., and she and her mother soon follow.

But Ariela's father eventually gets deported and is killed attempting to cross the border back to the U.S.

Christina Calloway: Portales News-Tribune

Eastern New Mexico University senior Hailey Vandewiele rehearses her lyrical dance piece for her senior project production Tuesday. He. She. They. USA., will incorporate a story, dance and music to tell a story of an immigrant youth in America.

Vandewiele says after the death of Ariela's father, Ariela grows up in the U.S., dealing with an array of issues from what typical teenagers face, poverty, her mother's alcoholism, and hate for her Mexican heritage, not knowing she wasn't born a U.S. citizen.

"She grows up as an American because she has access to public education," Vandewiele said.

The idea for this particular story evolved when Vandewiele asked Chavez what life is like in America growing up as a Hispanic female.

"I think I gave her a little more than she bargained for," Chavez said.

Though Chavez is an American citizen and a native of Belen, her relationship with her mother and struggles with identity helped write the story.

"A lot of the script is based on what I went through with my mom," Chavez said. "We were poor for the majority of my life but I never felt like I was lacking anything."

Chavez said her mother has overcome her issues with alcohol abuse and has served as an inspiration for her dreams, especially doing so as a single mother.

"My mom really shaped the young woman I am today," Chavez said. "She instilled in me to treat everyone with love and respect. I succeeded greatly in life because of her."

Chavez said in addition to being a good friend of Vandewiele's, she wanted to help her spread the message of understanding and tolerance for people of other cultures.

"The ignorance people can have about immigration, I think that's what motivated me," Vandewiele said. "There's evil in the world that happens because it's so easy for us to dehumanize each other."

Vandewiele said she's using music to spread her message, using 13 songs in the show to symbolize Ariela's growth in America.

"Music is a shortcut to your emotions," Vandewiele said. "If I can tell the story and have people watch it and see it, they can somehow achieve an understanding. It will bring them back to the reality that we're all people."

She hopes her message will move people to push for changes in policies to help the 1.5 generation become citizens.

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