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Book explores immigration story

“Aquí & Allá/Here & There,” a book sponsored by the Periclean Scholars Class of 2013, tells the story of a young undocumented woman’s journey from Mexico to the United States and how she eventually achieved the American Dream.

Elon Associate Professor of Business Communication Brian Nienhaus talks to Drucila Pérez Salas during a book launching Jan. 17.

Growing up in the small Mexican town of Piedra Parada, Drucila Pérez Salas never thought one day she would call Burlington, N.C. her home. Nor did she ever imagine her life would be the subject of a book.

Like many other residents of the Chiapas region, Salas’ childhood was poor. That was the main reason why her parents decided to immigrate to the United States and later bring her to be reunited with the rest of the family. The details of her difficult journey, her mixed emotions as she begins a new life in the U.S. as an undocumented immigrant and the process of achieving temporary legal status through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program are all part of “Aquí & Allá/Here & There,” a book written by Blanca Zendejas Nienhaus and sponsored by the Elon University Periclean Scholars Class of 2013.

“I never thought I would come to this country and have a car, have a cell phone,” Salas said in her native Spanish during a book-launching event Jan. 17 at Elon’s Lakeside Meeting Rooms. “Words cannot describe how happy I’m to have this book. … Thanks to all the students who visited my village and all the members of the university who supported this work.”

Tom Arcaro, a professor of sociology and founding director of Project Pericles at Elon, said the Periclean Scholars Class of 2013 wanted to partner with Chiapas by creating a lasting relationship, both locally and abroad. “The end product was so much more bountiful than anyone would have ever imagined,” he added.

Those efforts brought the class in contact with Nienhaus, who learned Salas’ story after coming in contact with her as part of the Plaza Comunitaria Alamance, a Spanish literacy program backed by the Mexican government through the Mexican Consulate in Raleigh.

“This book is the story of a life, a life like many others,” Nienhaus said in Spanish during the event, as her husband, Elon Associate Professor of Business Communication Brian Nienhaus, translated for the mostly Latino crowd present.

Author Blanca Zendejas Nienhaus signs a copy of her book, “Aquí & Allá/Here & There.”

That story starts in Piedra Parada, a town the Periclean Scholars visited in winter 2013. “Thanks to the students in the Periclean Class of 2013 for turning their eyes to Mexico and Chiapas” and realizing there is an extensive community from Chiapas in their own backyard, she said. “In a very important way, these students became ambassadors to open up the university to this community.”

Francisco Javier Díaz de León, consul general of Mexico in Raleigh who attended the event, said Salas represents countless other immigrants from Central and South America who have come to the United States looking for a better future who are now proud members of their communities.

“She is an example of tenacity, of not giving up, of pushing forward to the future,” Díaz de León said. “She is a Mexican, yes; she is a Chiapeneca, yes; but she is also a Carolinian. That’s very powerful and that’s very important.”

Partial proceeds from the book sales will go to support Hogares Sanos, a community health project in Burlington established by the Periclean Scholars Class of 2013 that will be continued by the Class of 2016.

“Hopefully this book will contribute to the deepening in the relationship between Alamance County and the people of Chiapas,” Arcaro said.

Keren Rivas,
1/21/2014 12:45 PM