Times Of Change,
We move. On and on. Over endless waters. On crowded, hot—unfamiliar—smelly decks. They’re full of strange sights. At least we could afford the ride—after selling almost all of our things. Yeah. We’re immigrants. Moving on, and on.
But we’re afraid, we don’t know what’s waiting for us when we dock. What will the literacy exams be like? How will we earn money and where will we live? Will they let us in the country, or will we be sent out to go elsewhere, like the leafy vegetables on your dinner plate that end up thrown away? It’s happened to other immigrants—but not all. We have hope in that.
We’re afraid, but the natives are afraid —of us—too. And this fear of us turns to hatred. Hatred for what? Being poor, different—different in smell, looks and habits than they usually see. Just like we’re nervous about the boat we’re on now—because it’s different than our norm, and so we start to hate it. We start to hate this new country too, as we near the land. I can almost hear the calls from the shore. Dozens of people in fancy coats and china teacups open their windows, doing their daily business… until they see our ship. Now the hatred is coming before they even open their mouths—coming because the people want to keep their country the same. “Are you about to come and spread some disease here?” “Why did you come here?” “This is our country, not yours!” “We don’t want you here!” “This is not a place for dark skinned people!” It makes me shudder. My mother comforts me and says that those wealthy people are plagued with a disease too—It’s called Xenophobia.
But we aren’t here to visit. We’re here to stay. We were pushed out of our country, out onto this boat with no knowledge of what to expect. The only thing I know when I dock is that we’re different and not respected for that in this country. “Don’t play with those kids, they smell like garlic.” We’re gonna have to live with that—though we don’t like it—with the little thought that we can have a better life here.
-based on the perspective of an immigrant, 365 words
We Have No Hope,
But Still We Live
Everyday from on the coast, up and down the country before I even see a speck of light in the sky, many children put on their tattered clothes and leave their shanty town. Down to the beach. To shuck oysters.
All day—everyday—they reached down and grabbed oysters, blisters forming on their fingers like flaming red beach balls. Watching their blood spread underneath the grim and wet sand just as the sun’s light spreads across the land as it rises. This was what they did. Especially kids. Most were illiterate—almost none went to school. One didn’t even know her name. They most likely wouldn’t ever get an education anyway.
Starting as soon as they could wield a knife, the kids shucked. Too young, in my opinion. Of course: they were cheaper and more manageable than older workers—that was why they were hired.
Sons and daughters of slaves. Immigrants. Brought to America to shuck oysters for almost nothing in return—between 60 cents to $1.25—while the oyster industry earned millions. Like giving one friend a quarter cookie and another a whole. I thought at the time: that’s one pretty unfair deal. But the kids still did it because they needed to earn those cookies for their families… no matter how many were given…’cause that’s not a choice for them.
Now that didn’t mean the kids liked the work. One girl was close to tears as she shucked. Tears that fled to the sea, longing to get away from their life. Under all that dirt, the kids were angry for having to work each day. Under all those holes and tattered clothes, they were hopeful that if they kept on working they would earn enough for their family. Someday.
When they walked home at 5 pm, all that hope they feel to ever get away from working but still earn enough seems like a speck of sand on a long beach…not if anyone keeps it safe and gathers more…
-based on the perspective of people working to end child labour on the children, 329 words
Choosing My HIll
The mill. Where I start my climb up the hill. The hill my family’s chosen. Generation after… generation. Where’s the top? I don’t rightly know, but I guess as a doffer it would be my where my mother stands… up at the top, not too smart but still in command. It’s the money, I know, that keeps us going. Never in starvation and never so wealthy. I think we’re on the lower side.
The problem is me. Me—I’m left-handed. Me—I’m eleven. Me—I’m always disappointing them— there’s always another broken end on my cotton thread. May as well just…start again. The oily floor has the tracks of my hard work here, but ‘soon’s I mess up, it’s like pourin’ on some water—it’s all washed away… and there’s no money for our dinners today.
I think this is a useless climb ‘cause I’m falling down again and again… and again. I’m not just bringing myself down but my family too, ‘cause our wallet’s steadily becoming thinner and thinner. Our hope too dwindles… off of the spindle.
I want to go to school where I can learn to read. Get an education, get the grease of my heels. My friend, he’s decided he’s done with the mill. He says: I want to get out, I want a different hill.
So I think it’s time to choose my hill. Where I want to go. How I want to live. Do I want to work in a mill and get cuts—nasty cuts—on my hand? And keep on messing up ‘till I fail my family? Or do I want to one day be a teacher in a school. Earn more money for my family. Not just money by the spool. My family’s chosen their hill, but I can do different. I can change it if I want. I’m leavin’ my family’s bee hive. Nothin’ ‘cept me’s gonna save their lives.
-based on Counting On Grace, 311 words