As a student at the International High School at Lafayette, in Brooklyn, N.Y., Sandra Staniszewska was a tomboy, a class leader and an undocumented immigrant. Here she answers questions about her experiences as an immigrant teenager and her particpation in the award-winning documentary "I Learn America."
Tell us your name and how old you are.
My name is Sandra Staniszewska, originally came from Poland. I am 20 years old now but soon to be 21.
What is your immigration story?
My immigration story was decided by my parents to give me and my brother a better, new and successful life in a big city full of dreams and opportunities. We came (in) 2007, my brother and I entered the U.S. for the first time and since (then) never left. Creating a new life from all over again.
How did you find out about the International High School at Lafayette?
After my middle school, I applied to several high schools around my house, and one of them was Lafayette High School. Was the closest to my house, and it had the program for international kids that it would make me feel more safe and comfortable. So my mother and me went for orientation and sign to go for International High School at Lafayette on Sept. 1, 2008.
What was it like to be a part of the documentary “I Learn America"?
At the first, I totally did not know that this would be turned into a screening movie for others. It felt good at the beginning, because I felt like I'm important that camera loves me and follows me everywhere. But then when I start growing up and moving up the grades, the following camera was kind of getting (in) the way, because I felt like I couldn't do everything or show everything I do in or outside the school. But looking at the movie now, "l Learn America" made a huge impact on my life and decisions I'm making now as an older adult outside high school.
How did you feel after seeing the film for the first time?
Seeing the movie for the first time was exciting and shocking at the same time. Seeing with my parents next to me and people I've never seen before or never talked to, for me was very shocking and taking breath away for a minute. Didn't expect some of the footage that would be put into the final piece. I never saw it when it was edited, so to see final piece at last with all the people and parents was shocking. Was funny and good to experience the moment of excitement to be in the camera light all over again.
How has your life changed since being a part of “I Learn America"?
My life hasn't changed much, I'm still the same Sandra that was in the movie back then and the one that it's right now. But two things has changed (definitely), I've (grown) up to make smart and right decisions for me and people that care for me (family, my best friend Jen, other friends). The last thing that changed was stop being afraid of who I am, where I am and how I live. No matter if you illegal or legal in U.S., we all are consider as the same human beings with identities, cultures and immigration background in some way.
Do you think it is important for others to share their immigration stories?
Some may say it's not easy to share what they've experience in life, for example death, separation, loneliness, depression, etc. But sharing those experience with the ones that care and want to listen, it's very, very relieving. Everyone has a story to tell, everyone wants to share it, but either they don't have the support for others to listen or they don't know how to share it, because they are too afraid of doing it by themselves. Therefore, the immigration websites and organizations are the great opportunities to start to share and hear a story. It would make a huge change in this new world that many young immigrants call Dream Act.
What do you want others to know about young immigrants in America?
In the movie, I wanted people to open their eyes and hearts to see who am I and where I came from and that being different isn't bad. Now I want others to know that being young immigrants in America isn't easy for them to make decisions. Young immigrants aren't harmful to the America, for sure they're the dream for the America. That's what I want others to think and know about us as young immigrants that didn't choose this life by ourselves.
In the documentary "I Learn America," Sandra represents a teenager finding the confidence to assert her identity in a new land with new freedoms.
Watch "I Learn America" — Sunday, Jan. 19, at 9E/6P