The New Kids Summary

Brooke Hauser

The New Kids

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The New Kids Summary

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In her 2012 journalistic chronicle The New Kids: Big Dreams and Brave Journeys at a High School for Immigrant Teens, investigative reporter Brooke Hauser goes in depth into the lives of teenagers who are facing a universal challenge, navigating high school as a new student, and challenges that are specific only to recent immigrants to the United States. Hauser spent a year researching the lives of students enrolled at Brooklyn’s International High School at Prospect Heights, a school where every single student is in the process of learning English because they come from more than forty-five countries and speak more than twenty-eight languages. The resulting book is particularly relevant now when the DREAM Act of President Obama has been replaced by President Trump’s unremitting policy of making immigrants feel threatened and unwelcome.

Hauser’s project is twofold. On the one hand, she wants to demonstrate how teenagers face similar concerns about friendships, fitting in, and learning the culture of a high school no matter where they are from. On the other hand, the personal stories of the teens she profiles are gripping because of the hardships, challenges, and impossible odds they’ve had to overcome in order to be where they are today. Relying not only on interviews with the students themselves, but also with teachers, parents and grandparents, friends, and neighbors, Hauser brings the kids she met and befriended to life. Some of those featured are:

  • Seventeen-year-old Jessica Tan, who comes to New York to reunite with a father who abandoned the family seven years earlier. However, when she arrives, her father’s new wife is unhappy with her presence, forcing her father to choose between the two of them. When her father chooses his wife over his daughter, Jessica has no choice but to live alone in a small closet-like room in the apartment of a Malaysian hairdresser – a family friend. Her father sneaks out to cook her a spicy Hunan dinner every night, but she eats it alone because he must eat with his new family. Her eighteenth birthday goes by without him visiting – he is too busy with his new wife.

 

  • Ngawang Thokmey escaped from Tibet through Nepal and made his way to India when he was eleven years old. To succeed in the escape, Ngawang stayed hidden inside a tiny, coffin-like suitcase for 24 hours while smashing around in the back of a truck that crossed the mountains from Lhasa to Nepal and eventually to India. Two years later, Ngawang and his brother have joined their father in the U.S. In school, they and other Tibetan students keep a delicate truce with the Chinese immigrants.

 

  • Mohamed Bah, a fourteen-year-old student from Sierre Leone, grew up the son of a diamond miner and refuses to discuss his childhood. After winning a visitor’s visa from a US church, Mohamed either flees from or is lost by his Connecticut host family on a visit to New York City. Either way, he is now on his own and unable or unwilling to unravel the mysteries, secrets, and lies that surround his background. The book describes Mohamed’s attempts to get US documents, which seems hopeful after his teacher, Cindy Chatman, becomes his legal guardian.

 

  • Chit Su is a Burmese refugee who spent three years in a Thai refugee camp after fleeing Burma’s military junta. She is a recent arrival who shuts down in the face of the fact that she is the only person to speak her language in the entire school – making communication extremely difficult. After coming into her own somewhat, Chit quietly leaves for Chicago, although she sometimes reaches out to her teacher online.

 

  • Yasmeen Salahi is a young woman from Yemen who clings to her conservative culture and devout Muslim faith in the face of pressure from those around her to assimilate more with US mores. After her parents die, eighteen-year-old Yasmeen has an arranged marriage to her cousin Saif, and then battles to become the legal guardian of her younger siblings. It is unclear whether Saif will allow her to continue her education after marriage.

Hauser also profiles several of the school’s dedicated and multiculturally diverse teachers:

  • The principal is Alexandra Anormaliza, who came to the U.S. from Ecuador at age nine and whose vision of the school is as a happy, diverse place.

 

  • Student adviser and “fixer” Dariana Castro who helps with everything from scheduling to explaining to Yasmeen why everyone is shocked by the idea of her marrying her first cousin.

 

  • Ann Parry, an English and social studies teacher, juggles her students’ priorities (cultural demands that they drop out and work, their parents or sometimes their children) with the requirements that students pass state Regents exams and, hopefully, prepare college applications. A key moment is Ms. Parry helping Ngawang craft his escape story into a college essay.

 

  • Another social studies teacher, James Rice, does his best to explain how financial aid works for colleges in the face of cultures that refuse to reveal parental income. Mr. Rice convinces Yasmeen not to drop out of high school just because she is getting married.

The book ends as the 2009 school year ends – with the commencement that sees the students and their families celebrating their accomplishments.

An epilogue fills us in a little bit on what happened to some of the students afterward. Mohamed worries about being deported, Yasmeen has started classes at community college, and Jessica has received a full scholarship to college.