February 25, 2024 Essay: Journey Into Exile

Feb 16, 2024

All I wanted to do was roll over, one more time, in my cozy bed. However, I told my mom I would accompany her to an immigration program on Saturday morning. What was I thinking? I need my sleep. After all, I was out late the night before with my friends at the Fordham Prep vs. Xavier basketball game. All I wanted to do was hit the snooze button for five more minutes. Heck, I would rather study for my SAT. But no, as promised, I walked to Wallace Hall with my mother for Journey Into Exile, an interactive immigration simulation exercise.

Within minutes of my arrival, I was no longer a privileged Upper East Side kid. I had become Mohammad, a 49-year-old refugee from Somalia looking to flee my country as soon as possible. I sat in my assigned camp with eight other simulated refugees, including my mom, who had become a 72-year-old widow from Burundi with no education or money. All eight of us campers had different stories, talents, and economic situations. But we all had one common goal. We needed to leave our country as soon as possible!

We had minutes to decide what three possessions we would bring on our journey. Would it be my phone, a bottle of water, the Bible, a blanket, my passport? Such decisions! All I had were the clothes I was wearing, $3k, oh, and they took my shoes. I would begin my journey barefoot. I only had 30 seconds to organize and leave my home that I would probably never see again. Maybe I wanted to bring a picture of my home or family with me?

Needless to say, my campers did not vote for me to attempt to flee our camp for the US. I ended up as an urban refugee living in Istanbul. I decided to take a dangerous job to make the most money quickly. Unfortunately, I was injured on the job. Could not afford my medical bills. That was the end of my journey.

Of the 42 campers in our simulated program, only one person made it to the US. One person!

Looking back, I am happy I spent my morning in Wallace Hall. I have a better understanding of what migrants around the world are experiencing—quick decision-making, which affects their future. The migrants want safety, security, and a better life. These are all things we never ponder when rolling over and hitting snooze in our cozy beds. I will congratulate the migrants who have made it to our city. They beat the odds! These people are not bad people. These people are fleeing horrific lives. Lives that may have been interrupted by natural disasters, slavery, crime, gangs, famine, or war.

As a junior at Fordham Prep, I am a Man for Others. It is my responsibility to assist my neighbors the best I can. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr said, “If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way.” This Lenten season, consider helping a refugee family in our city. Consider doing a small thing in a great way by donating clothing to the Little Shop of Kindness. Volunteer at the Church of St. Francis of Assisi Migrant Center, helping migrants complete asylum applications. Or attend the Church of St. Ignatius Loyola Stations of the Cross for Migrants on March 20th, followed by a panel discussion about what our parish is doing to welcome migrants through our Migrant Accompaniment Program.

Saint John the Baptist, pray for us. Saint Ignatius Loyola, pray for us.

— Anthony Lucarelli III, Parishioner