Building Bridges Across Campus

When upper school languages teacher Abdoulaye Ngom left his native Senegal 22 years ago  for a teaching position in Massachusetts, he began his journey as an immigrant in the United States.

Ngom’s story is a part of “Building Bridges: Portraits of Immigrants and Refugees,” an exhibit organized by the Center for Inclusive Excellence. “Building Bridges” includes eight members of The Masters School’s faculty and staff along with several other people who came to the United States as immigrants, refugees or asylum seekers from around the world. The exhibit seeks to challenge myths and stereotypes about immigrants and refugees as a way to prevent bullying and hatred towards this group of people.

“It is an opportunity for my colleagues and students to know me better because all immigrants don’t have the same cultural backgrounds and stories related to their coming to America,” Ngom explained.

“Building Bridges” is part of a series about immigration led by Esperanza Borrero, dean for inclusive excellence, along with CIE coordinators and upper school English teachers Pilar Méndez-Cruz ’12 and Mariah Peña. “We were hoping to show the variety of different stories people have when immigrating to the United States,” Borrero explained. “By including Masters community members, we hoped people would feel even more connected to those stories.”

Although middle school visual arts teacher Vicente Saavedra was born in the United States, he and his parents returned to their home country, Venezuela, when he was two years old. When he turned 18, Saavedra returned to the United States on his own and described his immigration experience as surreal and at times like a roller coaster ride.

“We all feel proud of our journey and our accomplishments in light of the many obstacles,” he explained. “Our stories need to be shared as an example to those who need to understand more and perhaps find inspiration to improve their lives.”
In addition to Saavedra and Ngom, several Masters community members shared their personal stories: David Downs, junior varsity boys soccer coach, of the Netherlands; Kristina Gremski, upper school science teacher, of the Czech Republic; Lodz Pierre-Juanso, upper school languages teacher, of Haiti; Pascal Maharjan, upper school math teacher, of Yemen; Ilona Shinkar, middle and upper school French teacher, of Belarus; and Karin Tucker, associate director of college counseling, of Israel.

Borrero asked upper school visual arts teacher Rachel Langosch to capture images for the exhibit. “It’s my hope that in my work, the viewer may gain a greater appreciation of the faculty members' stories and that viewers may hold more empathy for the important stories that were told within this project,'' Langosch shared.

“Masters values diversity and this exhibit lines up with our mission,” Ngom added. “This is also a good learning opportunity for our students to understand the people with whom they’re sharing the same campus.”

“Stepping up to do this was not easy for me so I guess it was difficult for my colleagues too,” Saavedra said. “I loved reading their stories and learning how different they are from mine. Some wanted to come to the U.S. Some were forced to leave their home country for a better life, but we all fulfilled our dreams and goals.”

“People have said that it is a really interesting and beautiful exhibit,” Borrero said. “It highlights how different everyone’s story is which helps us remember that when we think about immigration policy or an immigration ‘crisis,’ we are actually talking about individual people with individual stories about why they have uprooted their lives to live here.”
Borrero plans to bring the middle school students in her identity and belonging seminar classes to the exhibit to appreciate the experience as a group together.
“Building Bridges” is on view on the garden level of Masters Hall through the end of the month.

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