In the fall of 2001, just 17 days after Sept. 11, 17-year-old Farid Nabi moved to the from . Soon afterward, he started classes at Hillcrest High School .

 

The soft-spoken Nabi says he was “nervous” about the reception he would receive.

 

          “I don’t look Asian,” he says. “Most of the kids assumed I was Hispanic. They didn’t know until they asked.”

 

          And when they asked?

 

          “A lot of students thought he was the enemy,” says Jane Davis, an ESL teacher at Hillcrest.

 

          Nabi says he was called names and taunted by some students, and admits to it being “a little bit” difficult to make the transition. But he is quiet when he talks about that time in his life, and he doesn’t seem angered by it.

 

           This is probably because Nabi has seen and lived through much worse than what a few misguided high school students could dole out. The Taliban murdered his father outside the family’s house. His mother and sister, he says, couldn’t be outside the home without a male escort and, per the strict Taliban rule, had to be covered from head to toe.

 

          “It was really hard,” he says simply.

 

          Nabi’s eyes belie his youth. They have the expression of someone who has seen more than his fair share of tragedy, and are already lined by a few wrinkles. Behind those eyes, Davis knew, was a story.

 

 

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Every year, Hillcrest holds an event called International Night. There are students from more than 60 countries in its classrooms.

 

“Walk down the halls of Hillcrest High School ,” Davis says, “and you can hear about 30 different languages.”

 

She adds that Hillcrest is unique in that it has more variety in its international students than most DISD high schools, largely because a greater proportion of immigrants and refugees choose to live or are placed in this neighborhood.

 

This year will mark the fourth year of International Night. The school had something like it a number of years ago, but it had phased out until Davis and her colleagues Brenda Lang (who’s no longer at Hillcrest) and Vera Csorvasi decided to get it going again.

 

“We wanted to educate Hillcrest about the different cultures we have at the school and give students a chance to show off their talents and tell their stories,” Davis says. “Some of them have amazing stories.”

 

Like those who survived the late ’90s conflicts in Kosovo. Or those who immigrated here to escape the civil war-ravaged country of .

 

“Last year, we had a Sudanese student talk about the things he’s thankful for,” says Csorvasi, who is also an ESL teacher. “And he was saying, ‘I’m very thankful I have water to drink.’ American students who haven’t been to third world countries or countries where there is still fighting, they get to know other parts of the world.”

 

But International Night isn’t meant to educate only American teen-agers about the conflicts and dangers on other continents. It’s also about culture: food, dancing, singing and celebrating differences.

 

“It’s like taking a tour, a tour of the world,” Csorvasi says. “It opens up their frame of mind, their perspective. They see things they haven’t even imagined.”

 

“It gives you an idea of how many varieties of cultures, how many wonderful things are out there,” says Jennifer Vega, a senior who came here from Puerto Rico four years ago.

 

The annual event is hosted by members of the International Club, and about 1,000 people attend each year, Davis says. Many are drawn by the food (donated by local restaurants and families) and the entertainment — mostly in the form of traditional singing and dancing performed by the students.

 

As president of the Latin American Dancers and an International Club member, Vega says she performs four times throughout the evening.

 

“International Night gives the students a chance to shine,” Davis says.

 

 

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Last year, it was Farid Nabi’s chance to shine. And his opportunity to tell the story behind those eyes.

 

“The great irony was that no one hated the Taliban more than Fahid,” Davis says. “And yet, because of where he was from …”

 

So Davis approached Nabi before the event with a question and a request: Did he want to carry ’s flag during the opening processional, and would he give a speech telling people about who he was and where he came from? She also asked the student body president, who is Jewish, to stand by Nabi’s side as he gave his speech.

 

Both students agreed, and Davis still tears up at the memory of it. She’s not the only one.

 

“He made me cry,” says Sophie Ghebrkidan, an Eritrean native and president of International Club.

 

“Me too,” Vega chimes in, adding that there weren’t many dry eyes in the house.

 

“He went from here to here,” Davis says, indicating low and high points. “He became the stud of the school.”

 

Though he admits to being nervous before the big night (“He didn’t really want to carry the flag,” Davis says, adding that he was afraid of the repercussions from other students. “But he said yes because he’s so polite.”) Nabi says things have gotten better for him at Hillcrest as a result of his participation in International Night.

 

“Afterward, I thought it was better to give the speech,” he says. “People here don’t have enough information about the situation in .”

 


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