“If you don’t understand the past, you’re not going to get the future.” Isabella Ruiz grew up frequently hearing this advice from her grandmother Nilda Maria Aguirre. Now as a sophomore Isabella is a history enthusiast. For the second year in a row, she qualified for the National History Day state competition. This year’s project holds a special meaning for her as she worked with classmates Zykia Howard and Barrow Alexander to document her grandmother’s immigration to the United States from Cuba.
“My grandmother is one of the most inspiring women I know,” says Isabella. Isabella had never watched a documentary before her Upper School history teacher Vincent Hoang encouraged her to transform a classroom assignment into a documentary inspired by her grandmother’s journey. Being open to new projects and full of excitement, Isabella dove right into the effort and thus, “The Expense of Freedom” documentary was born. Early on her classmates volunteered to help and the three students traveled to Hammond to interview Nilda. The trio poured over documents, photographs and treasures that Nilda had kept since arriving in America in 1961. They also sat down to film her as she shared what it was like to leave her homeland at the age of five with one suitcase and her favorite doll.
Isabella and her team ended up with 45 minutes of raw footage. There was the story of young Nilda defending her doll from airport security and the tale of Nilda’s father nearly being pulled from the airplane. Nilda described what it felt like to be in a new country without her extended family and the people she knew. There is also a deep sense of gratitude for the freedom that Nilda and her parents gained. Nilda has always told Isabella that the family didn’t come to America for wealth, but for a better life and the opportunity to embrace the American dream. Part of that dream included education. Nilda is a passionate advocate for education. Isabella says her grandmother often reminds her that education is something that no one can take from you and that while materials may disappear your education sticks with you.
“The Expense of Freedom” documentary is something that will stick with Isabella and her partners Zykia and Barrow for some time. Isabella says it was nice to share the experience with her classmates as the two knew little of the Cuban immigrant experience prior to this. “The experience gave great insight into the struggles of the Cuban people in that era,” says Zykia. “Working on the project gave me a greater appreciation of the things immigrants have to endure to gain the opportunities provided in the United States. By researching information, I’ve learned many new things.”
Projects such as “The Expense of Freedom” documentary are a great example of the hands-on learning and in-depth exploration that occurs at Episcopal. “I am so proud of the excellent work our students did during this project,” says history teacher Hoang. “As one of their many advisors, National History Day embodies the learning process and what we strive to accomplish here at Episcopal. From brainstorming to producing a viable product, the students are able to learn and grow from the entire process. This year was an exceptional year as students produced a wide variety of works - from documentaries to in-depth papers; the breaking boundaries theme provided a vehicle for them to push their creativity to the fullest.”
For Isabella and her family, “The Expense of Freedom” documentary is much more than an assignment. The experience has provided them a meaningful way to preserve the powerful story of a young girl and her family embarking on a journey to freedom. To watch “The Expense of Freedom” click here.
Congratulations to all of the Episcopal Upper School students who recently participated in the History Day event at the West Baton Rouge Museum.
Senior Research Paper
1st place - Muskaan Mahes
2nd place - Tanya Mencer
3rd place - Emily Lynch
4th place - Zoe Marceaux
Senior Individual Documentary
1st place - Fox Garon
Senior Group Documentary
1st place - Isabella Ruiz, Zykia Howard, and Barrow Alexander
1st place - Carter McLean
2nd place - Muskaan Mahes
Semifinalists - Fox Garon, Emily Lynch, Zoe Marceaux
Additional participants: Ruby Friloux and Ellie Williams