California 5th Grader Wins National Immigration Essay Contest
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California 5th Grader Wins National Immigration Essay Contest

June 1, 2011, 8:06 pm
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Maya`s entry was chosen out of more than 6,500 entries from fifth graders across America.
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For Immediate Release


June 1, 2011 - Washington D.C. – The American Immigration Council is pleased to announce the winner of its 14th Annual “Celebrate America” Creative Writing Contest. Maya Young Wong of Altadena, California, won for her poem entitled “My Grandfather Ben.” Maya’s entry was chosen out of more than 6,500 entries from fifth graders across America. As the grand prize winner, Maya will attend the American Immigration Council’s annual benefit in San Diego, California where she will read her winning entry.

Maya’s poem describes the life of her grandfather coming from his Guangzhou village in China to America, his “Gold Mountain.” In less than 500 words Maya, a student at Castelar Elementary School in Los Angeles, was able to tell the saga of her grandfather’s journey to the United States, working in a laundry business, becoming a soldier and getting married.

From China sailed my Grandfather Ben.
He came to America when he was four plus ten.
His Guangzhou village was small and poor
And he helped his mother with farming chores.
Every morning he gathered bits of firewood
And drew water from the well as much as he could.
From morning to night he slaved like an ox.
But it was never enough to fill the rice box.
So his parents said, "You'd better leave home
And go to America where you can roam".
Until you find a great place of your own.
America, Gold Mountain, is the place to go
Big and wide, and high and low.

To read the poem in its entirety click here or visit

Maya never knew her grandfather who died before she was born. But, she heard of his adventures from her grandmother who Maya describes as a “super, super, amazing storyteller.”  Maya admits it was hard choosing between the stories of her grandfather and grandmother but ultimately she thought her grandfather’s tale should be told “because he needed to be recognized for all the great things he did in his life.”

Maya’s teacher, Ms. Dianne Manke, has been teaching at Castelar Elmentary School in the heart of Los Angeles’ Chinatown for 40 years. According to Maya, “Ms. Castelar has been teaching us how to write poetry since September and will help us put together poetry books of our writings for graduation.”

The top entries from each participating chapter of the American Immigration Lawyer’s Assocation were reviewed by a panel of teachers, immigration attorneys and authors who narrowed it down to a top five. The top five were ranked by celebrity judges including Olympic Gold Medalist in wrestling, Henry Cejudo; the President of the America Federation for Teachers, Randi Weingarten; Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient, Gerda Weissman Klein; and Senator Dan Inouye. The winning entry will be read into the Congressional Record and the top five winners will receive a flag flown over the Capitol in their honor.

For more information contact Claire Tesh at


The Community Education Center strives to promote a better understanding of immigrants and immigration by providing educational resources that inspire thoughtful dialogue, creative teaching and critical thinking.  Dedicated to the American values of fairness, social justice and respect for all people, the Center is committed to making immigration an “everybody issue.”  The Center also highlights the positive contributions immigrants have made and continue to make to American society through its programmatic work.

Author: Editorial Staff
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