Immigration can be and often is a complex and divisive issue. I have been writing about immigration for three decades.

The subject is also personal. I’m a child of an immigrant father and grandson of immigrant grandparents. I live among immigrants, with and without papers.

However, for this immigration column, I’ll let a group of talented fifth-graders express their clear thoughts on the subject. This group of 10 youngsters participated in a creative writing contest sponsored by local attorneys affiliated with the American Immigration Council.

Immigration attorneys Gloria Goldman and her son, Mo Goldman, have sponsored the exercise for 17 years. Immigration is a life and death matter for Gloria Goldman, the daughter of Jewish immigrants and survivors of Nazi death camps. Others in her family perished in Auschwitz.

The students’ prose and poems celebrated our immigrant past and present, expressing optimism for our future. The students wrote about immigrants’ contributions and their enrichment of our communities. They waxed about our national fabric being made stronger by immigrants and their experiences.

The authors were awarded certificates and gift cards. Mayor Jonathan Rothschild judged the writing.

The 10- and 11-year-old students, with family members and their teachers, shared their words over pizza and cupcakes Friday at the Valencia Public Library on the south side.

“Imagine a society with no diversity with only one culture, the same food, clothes, religion and ideas. That would be a society with no diversity,” wrote Milagros Padilla of Senita Valley Elementary in Vail. Hers was judged the top entry.

Joseph Sierra of Elvira Elementary in the Sunnyside district wrote a story about 16-year-old José and his younger brother Cruz, who left their family for a better life. They struggled in their new home but did not forget their family back home. “In the end José never stopped sending $96, a letter and a bottle of American sand.”

In her essay, María Verdugo of Lourdes Catholic Elementary in Nogales wrote that her father told the family they were moving north of the border. She asked her father why. “My dad thought hard ... ’Because I got a better job, and it will change your lives.’”

Cesarina McDaniel of Borton Magnet School likened the U.S. to minestrone soup made up of different ingredients. “This broth we live in from ocean to ocean is our mixture. Each ingredient brings its own color and flavor.”

The daughter of a German-born mother, Anna Klein of Senita Valley wrote she is fortunate. “My family celebrates different holidays, which is fun. I managed to learn to speak the German language, which my friends think is cool.”

Another Elvira student, Lydia Duarte, wrote a poem about the immigrants’ dream to improve their lot in life. “They come to America for many reasons you see. To go to school, to find work, to be free. Without immigrants we wouldn’t be able to eat all the yummy foods of all sorts. Wouldn’t have all the games, the music, the sports.”

Michelle Quezada, also of Lourdes Catholic, wrote in a poem, “Immigration is good for us, we meet new people just like us.” And she ended with, “America is a land of immigrants, That’s why there are people like me and you.”

Wheeler Elementary student Lauren Webber wrote that she is glad this is the land of immigrants “because we get to learn about where they are from and learn exciting things about them. If we didn’t have immigrants we wouldn’t be where we are now.”

Her schoolmate Lexianna Silcox wrote about her Norwegian roots and about how she appreciates the diversity of food and clothes brought by immigrants, like Norwegian potato pancakes and skirts.

And Rachel Figueroa of Mountain View Elementary in Rio Rico rhetorically asked, “Have you ever considered that if the United States wasn’t a nation of immigrants, it wouldn’t be the same?” She wrote immigrants bring with them their culture, food, religion and stories. In return this country gives them freedom.

“Our freedom counts!”

So do the children’s voices.

Ernesto “Neto” Portillo Jr. is editor of La Estrella de Tucsón. Contact him at or 573-4187.