Eastern New Mexico University’s Hailey Vandewiele never imagined a variety show about immigration in America she created for her senior project would gain such a big audience.
The Oregon native just returned to Portales visiting several schools in New Mexico to share her story of Ariela, a Mexican teenager in the “1.5 generation” who moves to the U.S. at a young age and deals with issues ranging from poverty, her mother’s alcoholism, and hatred for her Mexican heritage.
Vandewiele describes the 1.5 generation as a group of young immigrants who only know the U.S. as their home.
“Here I am, this white, pasty red-head and people want to know how can I relate,” Vandewiele said of her own hesitation in sharing her piece. “You have those insecurities, but I wanted to reach kids who are in this generation and can relate and let them realize there are people out there who care about them and care about humanity.”
Ariela’s story stems from the experiences of Vandewiele’s close friend and fellow ENMU student Molly Chavez, who also traveled with Vandewiele’s show.
“It was actually really humbling to encounter all of the children that we did, to be able to share a story with them that related to them,” Chavez said. “The story was real when we first performed it, but it became even more real when we met children and teachers dealing with that issue of immigration.”
A group of professors who were wowed by Vandewiele’s piece pushed her to share her message with others, prompting the tour.
Vandewiele said Ariela feels she grows up an American because she has access to public education, a similar situation for students in the schools she performed in.
She felt the children would be able to relate to her portrayal of Ariela’s life.
“We got so much appreciation from them,” Vandewiele said. “We got these hoards of kids coming up to us after the show to hug us.”
Chavez said the performances built up her spirits.
“It made me feel like a million bucks,” Chavez said. “When a child tells you he wants to grow up and be like you, I think you’re doing OK in your life.”
“It was really wonderful,” Vandewiele added. “It was just received so well. Just getting feedback from them and seeing what they took from it, everyone can relate to it in a different way.”
Vandewiele has one more show in May in Clovis. Though she doesn’t have concrete plans after graduation, she has aspirations to further her education in teaching.