WAVERLY — Pedro Castillo, a Hampton-Dumont High School junior, thought he was headed to Wartburg College for a campus tour as part of Latino mentoring program Al Exito.
But by the end of the trip, Castillo got to see the Midwest premiere of a documentary about the 2008 Postville immigration raid in addition to the tour. And he also got a homework assignment to complete with a Wartburg senior.
Castillo didn’t mind.
That’s because it gives he and fellow Al Exito classmates a chance to spread knowledge about Latinos’ importance to the United States.
“Hopefully, they learn what some of them did, like changing American history for the better,” Castillo said.
He was partnered with Cody Birely, and they quickly decided to focus on Major League Baseball player Roberto Clemente, an all-star on the field and a notable humanitarian.
Birely, too, is excited about the opportunity. It is part of his senior year Capstone project for a class called Latinos in the U.S. taught by Spanish professor Zak Montgomery. Birely’s double majoring in neuroscience and Spanish to enter the physical therapy profession.
“A lot of time in the therapy, it’s about meeting the person where they’re at and building up from there,” Birely said. “By having a second language and meeting people where they’re at and adapting to them, I think for me, is a lot more this idea that you’re serving others.”
Zane Strawser, a Wartburg senior double majoring in biology and Spanish, said it’s not just about learning the language but also the culture.
“Language is the thing … that we hear, but the culture is what’s deep-rooted in these people’s lives,” Strawser said.
He was partnered with Hampton-Dumont sophomore Joshua Tello Calles. Their presentation will center on Sylvia Mendez, a longtime civil rights activist.
The students spent about an hour with each other to home in on their subjects, part of public presentations this fall at both Wartburg and Hampton-Dumont High School. Over pizza, they learned a little about each other and began work on their project.
With that finished, they got the campus tour. Both Castillo and Tello Calles had been to Wartburg before but enjoyed making the trek to campus when they could actually see the college’s famed tortoises outdoors.
Finally, they headed to the premier of Luis Argueta’s “The U Turn.” The third film in a trilogy, it examines immigrants caught up in the Postville raid. Argueta spoke to the students beforehand. Castillo wants to be an engineer, like Argueta.
Argueta found his voice, however, with filmmaking. He learned about the Postville raid in the New York Times. Because he grew up in Guatemala like many of the immigrants working there, Argueta headed to Iowa.
It’s been nearly 10 years, and he’s still telling their stories.
“It’s not my voice that I want people to hear, it’s their (immigrants’) voices, and my hope is that the way they have touched my heart and transformed my life, these films will do something similar with others that see them,” Argueta said.
One thing the high school students and Argueta share is the desire to share the stories of immigrants and their positive impacts in the United States. Castillo and Tello Calles said they’ve seen increased racist sentiments at their school, and Argueta said the current climate is “extremely anti-immigrant.”
“I think that it is always important to try to see behind the headlines and behind the easy one-liners and get at the bottom of things and find out why is it that we’re doing what we’re doing,” Argueta said.
“At a time when we’re hearing a lot of voices that would make us more of an isolated country, we need to realize that’s impossible. We live in a totally global world, and we depend and need each other.