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New book gathers stories of young Minnesota immigrants

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Kao Kalia Yang, young writers answered questions.
Author Kao Kalia Yang, standing, answers questions with new "Green Card Youth Voices" writers at Common Good Books in St. Paul on Tuesday.
Doualy Xaykaothao | MPR News

A new book collects personal essays of students from 13 countries who all have one thing in common: They call Minnesota home.

The book, "Green Card Youth Voices: Immigration Stories from a Minneapolis High School," is made up of writings from 30 students while they were attending Minneapolis' Wellstone International High School. 

Willian Alonzo was born in Guatemala.
Willian Alonzo was born in Guatemala.
Doualy Xaykaothao | MPR News

One of those students is Willian Alonzo, who was born in Guatemala. He wrote about how gangs in the city of Quetzaltenango tried to recruit him. 

"They said, if I did not join them, other gangs would fight or kill me," he said. "One day, I took a bus from my city to the border of Guatemala and Mexico. I was there one night, and I found someone to help me to pass the border. We walked for like five hours in the mountains. I took many buses through Mexico, and also I took the train, the Beast." 

The train was called Beast, he said, because "when immigrants are coming to the U.S.A., they have to take this very dangerous train, and hundreds of people die because extortionists would throw you off or shoot you."

Another young writer, Zaynab Abdi, wrote about how she grew up in Yemen and had been separated from her mother for 16 years. She won a green card lottery and was eventually reunited with her mother in the Twin Cities. Abdi said writing about her journey to America was "amazing", but she also learned about other immigrants.   

Zaynab Abdi, from Yemen, autographs a book.
Zaynab Abdi, from Yemen, autographs a book.
Doualy Xaykaothao | MPR News

"We are all different, different religion, different culture, different language," she said. "But this different shouldn't make us separate, it should make us strong."

Kim Deprenger, a teacher at Lincoln International High School, said there aren't enough books out there about the immigrant experiences. 

She says she loves the Green Card Youth Voices book because her ELL students can relate to the young people.

"For students that aren't immigrant students, they really need to hear these stories," Deprenger said. "They have no idea what these kids have been through and what their lives were like before they came here. Most Americans cannot imagine it."

A few of the writers read their work Tuesday night at Common Good Books in St. Paul, and MPR News' Doualy Xaykaothao was there.

To hear from the writers, listen to the full story using the audio player above.