7th Graders Bring Immigration Crisis to the Stage of I.S. 289

With I.C.E. agents on his trail, Carlos (Nikash Khanna) hides under a table, with the help of his friends, from left, Noah (Tao Heng Chen), Luca (Alex Walters), and Mason (Wolfgang Koza). Photo: Carl Glassman/Tribeca Trib

May. 27, 2019

The plight of undocumented immigrants, sadly with us daily in the news, played out last week on the I.S. 289 stage with a youthful dramatic slant.

Each spring the school’s entire 7th grade class produces a play based on a social studies unit, and this one, “Hiding in the Shadows,” sprung from lessons on immigration. It featured Carlos, a Mexican boy in the country illegally (played by Nikash Khanna) who was just a regular kid, hanging out with friends, until a girl named Sienna (Hailey Huang) squealed on him to I.C.E. agents.

“Why do you hate me?” Carlos asks Sienna.

“I don’t hate you,” the girl replies, claiming that undocumented immigrants “take our jobs” and most are drug dealers. “I hate everyone like you.”

Carlos protests that his family has never been in trouble, and there are “plenty of jobs to go around.”

In the end, Sienna sees she is wrong and tries to atone for her ways by sending the agents on a wild goose chase. But will Carlos be safe? His fate is left in doubt as his friends—Sienna included—huddle around him for protection.

“Hiding in the Shadows” gave I.S. 289’s student audiences an introduction into the fears that undocumented immigrants face: court hearings, unaffordable bond demands, the threat of deportation and jail, and more.

“All my family wanted to do was come to America for a fresh start and more opportunities and look where that got us,” Carlos says.

Every 7th grader had a role in the production: script writing, lighting, carpentry, costume and set design, stage managing, public relations, photo and video documentation, and musical accompaniment, with an original score.

Overseeing it all was the student stage manager, Dolores Mejer, who got a lesson in more than immigration. “What I learned is that it takes a lot of work to do things like this,” she said. “It doesn’t just happen right way. You have to work, like, really hard to get it done.”

“There were definitely parts that were stressful,” Dolores added. “But I was really happy, and very proud of everything we were able to do.”