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‘I am America’ poem wins Tucson student national prize

A Tucson fifth-grader reached back centuries into her roots to pen a poem about immigration and won second place in a national writing contest.

Maya Ohana, a home-schooled 10-year-old, is black, Cherokee Indian and Asian on her mother’s side and German and Scottish on her father’s side.

“I am the faces of those who walked ‘The Trail of Tears,’ ” Maya wrote. “I am the faces of enslaved cargo ship holds brought to America. I am the faces of the worker who built the railroad across the country.”

Maya’s poem “I am America” was one of 5,000 submissions in a creative writing contest jointly sponsored by The American Immigration Law Foundation and the American Immigration Lawyers Association. A student from Chicago won first place, and a student from northern California won third. The top five submissions were judged by some members of Congress and several children’s authors.

Maya learned in March that she won first place in Tucson out of 200 applicants and was informed last week about her national award.

“I wasn’t expecting first place for Tucson,” Maya said. “I was speechless with the second place overall.”

Gloria Goldman, a Tucson immigration lawyer who helped organize the local competition, said Tucson has never placed so high. The competition is meant to help children think about the contributions immigrants make, she said.

“I think it’s important to understand the positives of immigration because I think it’s the fiber of our country,” Goldman said. “It always has been.”

As part of the program, Goldman and handful of volunteer lawyers make classroom visits during the school year and talk with students about immigration.

Maya’s mother, DeRose Yuhuru-Ohana, a school nurse, learned about the contest from a bulletin board where she works.

“This is awesome,” Yuhuru-Ohana said. “It’s not every day you win a contest that represents the foundation of the country.”

When not writing poetry, Maya spends time raising guinea pigs and taking care of the family’s five horses, which she shows in 4-H competitions. She hopes one day to become a veterinarian.

The top 10 students from Tucson will be honored at a luncheon Friday at El Parador Restaurant.


By Maya Ohana

I am the faces you see of immigrants coming to America

I am the faces of the pilgrims who sailed across the Atlantic

I am the faces of those who walked “The Trail of Tears”

I am the faces of enslaved cargo ship holds brought to America

I am the faces of the worker who built the railroad across the country

I am diversity

I am sacrifices

I am civil rights

I am democracy

I am the mixture of sweet potato pie, tortillas, pretzels, fry bread, rice and pasta of many shapes and sizes

When you look at me you see faces of those from around the world

I am the modern day 21st century melting pot

I am the immigrant past, present and future

I am freedom

I am laughter

I am pride

I am America

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