Brentwood teacher compiles book by immigrant children

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As Long Island struggles with its own gang slayings, many refugee children from Hispanic countries say they came here seeking asylum from gang-related violence at home.

A number of unaccompanied minors who fled Central America for the United States shared their stories of fear, determination and hope in a book that began as a class project at Brentwood East Middle School.

"There was a gun...I got scared, because I had never seen a gun before so close to me," 12-year-old Ismael Carpio said through a translator. He was speaking of the gang-related smugglers paid to bring him across the border after he fled his native El Salvador.

When asked if the gun-toting gangsters threatened him, he said no, but they did threaten his sister. Eventually, Ismael was captured at the border and released to his mother, who had already lived in Brentwood for six years.

"Students come in traumatized, with a lot of fear," says Maria Mendoza, the teacher behind the project.

Mendoza says that the book shows her students they can be successful.

"When you do that, you don't join a gang," she says.

Ervin, a 10-year-old who is also from El Salvador, says he saw a friend die because he had joined a gang.

In fact, the gangs left emotional scars on many of Mendoza's children.

"We could not go to school in peace," recounts Elmer Rivera. "Gang members would tell us that if we passed by their territory, they would kill us."

To come here, Rivera crossed a Mexican river filled with crocodiles and spent days camping in the woods without food, he says.

Classmates endured other tragedies.

"When my brother was only 6 years old, and I was 9, my parents died due to the gangs," says Mayra Parada.

When asked what he wants to do here in America, Ervin has a simple answer. "My goals are [to be a] good student and [do] good work," he says.

Other students in the book wrote that they wanted to get educated, obtain good jobs and help their families.

"My goal is to be a scientist to help people with illnesses that have no cure," one child wrote.

Mendoza says she wants her students to know that despite the violence they've survived, they can achieve their goals.

"They are innocent," she says. "They are victims of their environment and circumstances."

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