Meet Sai Lakshmi Balaji

Behind every great story, there is an inspiration that kicks it all off. The focus on these posts, personally, has been on education or lack thereof for new Americans. The story was inspired by Sai, a woman that works at Sam’s Club and was mentioned very early on in the first story. When I initially spoke with her, I had no idea how big of a piece she would have within the grand scheme of things. However, during our first meeting, she pointed out that a major problem with immigrants coming over to the U.S. was the lack of education they were getting in their home country or the fact that they were not getting proper education here, which led to dropping out of school. While some people can thrive and become successful without education, most need it and it is a very important aspect in ones life because it can lead to better opportunities and help build a stable future.  Continue reading

Diamond in Little Italy

Photos by Drew Patrick


There is no place that bring together cultures, races, genders, and ages quite like a good old-fashion Barbershop. Erie’s Little Italy, has one of the best. Sitting in the heart of Little Italy lies Ruiz Barber Shop.

Little Italy known today only by name, started falling out of favor as factories moved out and the initial Italian immigrants moved with them. Little Italy is working on improving  the area, with the help of grants given to the Sisters of Saint Joseph’s Neighborhood Network. Today the area has become a Multicultural Community.  In an area that deals with its fair share of blight,owner Cesar Ruiz and the Barber Shop has become a beacon of light.

Ruiz barbershop on W 18th street sees patrons of all ages and backgrounds. Conversations about Sports, Politics, family, you name it. With a talented and knowledgeable staff  it truly is a place that you can embrace your own unique style.


Check out the complete Ruiz Barber Shop Transformation:

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For more information on Ruiz Barbershop check out their Facebook Page. 



Life in a refugee camp

Prakash Limbu’s story of growing up in a refugee camp, and his journey of moving  to and living in Erie, PA.

By Anna Ashcraft

Prakash Limbu is a typical 19 year old college student at Gannon University. He works, goes to college and plays soccer. Yet, a lot of people may not know he came to this country as a refugee, when he was in eighth grade.
In 1989, Nepalese and Bhutanese people began to have conflicts over religious and cultural freedom. Fear of persecution and freedom of religion led thousands of people to flee Bhutan.
Limbu’s family arrived in a Bhutanese camp in Nepal in 1990. There were around 120,000 Bhutanese and Nepalese people in camp. Limbu was born in the camp in 1997.
A camp is not an ideal place to grow up. They did have schooling for the children, such as English, accounting, trigonometry, science, chemistry and physics. There also were organizations in camp such as UNCF (United Negro College Fund) and HHO (Holding Hands Organization), the Red Cross, and others helping with education, food, schooling, and medical.  However the inequality of care and distribution was rampant. Prakash had a large family of seven children.
“Even though they provided everything, it wasn’t enough. Some families had 7 kids or 5 kids, a big family, so it’s hard to adapt in that kind of situation and survive. We didn’t get much money. We couldn’t afford to go to college or university back in Nepal because it was tough for us. It provided us up to high school,”  Limbu said.
There were also many problems such as religious disputes and trafficking. There were instances of things like sex trafficking, exploitation and even organ harvesting. There was a clash between Hinduism, Buddhism and Christianity, which created religious disputes as well.
Then a rebel group sprang up in 2007. A Bhutanese leader rose up as a leader of the rebel group. The rebels had heard about the IOM (International Organization For Migration). They are an organization that resettles immigrants and refugees. People can go to the U.S. or other countries like UK, Norway, Denmark, Canada, Australia, New Zealand or the Netherlands. The rebels didn’t take well to being resettled and wanted to go back to their country.
In 2006 and 2007 there were protests. The people hated the leaders and rose up against them. In one of those protests, three people got shot. After that people began to chose resettlement and slowly, people began to move. In 2008, 2009 and 2010 everybody started leaving.
Limbu’s father worked in a coal factory in India during their lives in the camp. He would travel from Nepal to India. He did hard labor; going inside holes and cutting coals to sell. He would work, then come home to provide money and essentials to Prakash’s mother and the family. He had a family of five sisters and two brothers, many children to provide for.
“We never got to exchange our clothes; it was hard to ask for money, like one piece or two pieces just to eat new things. We had no cell phones, no computers. We had never heard about this kind of technology that we have here. It was very doomed, sad, and congested at the time.”
Limbu’s father did not want the family to resettle in the U.S. He did not think it would be an easy place to adapt to. He then said “We don’t know about America. It’s not what we see on television. People are different there. Who knows what happens tomorrow. We should stay in Nepal. It doesn’t matter how long it takes. I will do everything to give you the best life.”
Eventually he agreed it would be best for the family to go to America. The family filled out a form in 2008. The process for resettlement began in 2010 and the family was ready to go soon after.
His father passed away suddenly by heart attack in 2010, before the family left for the U.S.
Prakash moved to Erie, PA on January 26, 2011. He began eighth grade, after having already completed ninth grade in Nepal. “The language was different, the culture was different, fundamental beliefs were different, people were different.
“ I don’t know what to say. I have to feel fear about myself, fear about if I can offend others by my gestures or my language, or my body style, or my verbal. It was very hard for me to learn all those things when I was 13 or 14. My English was not great, the American accent was very new to me and it was very hard to comprehend at the time.”
Then he learned about bullying.
“I started learning about bullying. I’d never heard about bullies. I got bullied, I didn’t even know about it. I got into fights. I got beaten by, I think, six kids. I fought back and almost got suspended. I was new, and I had never experienced this kind of thing. I thought America was very friendly. That people were really nice and welcoming.”
His mother encouraged him not to give up. She said “you have a very long way to go. You have to make your own future, your own life. There is no one to help you out. Trust in God, and do your hard work.”
He began playing soccer. He played games against Cleveland, and Fairview. They won a lot of games and he scored many goals. He started to get recognition from his peers. He also got recognition for being top of his class in english and science.
He soon graduated from middle school and went to high school. Then he got a job in sales and began taking college classes at Gannon. He would commute from school, to work, then to Gannon. “I did up to grade nine in Nepal, so it was easy for me. There were so many Nepalese and Bhutanese kids at the high school, so it was easy for me to exist there. I had friends to talk to, it was a small school. The teachers were very nice and open about it, they knew about cultural differences and it was very nice for us to be in that school.”During high school he took 15 college credits at Gannon.
Limbu graduated from high school in 2015. He gave a speech at his graduation to all his fellow graduates, Bhutanese refugees and all.
“It should not drag you out of success or all the goodness that this country offers. You just have to work hard and stay motivated, stay positive. Stay away from dysfunctional negativity that surrounds you. One day you’ll be accepted by this country as a successful immigrant or a successful person.”
Limbu attends Gannon University and is currently ending his freshman year. He is majoring in Physical Therapy.
“My freshman year is almost over and it was a very good experience. It was not easy being a refugee. Being an immigrant from another country, to learn and adapt in this situation. To learn the language, and all the cultural diversity that this country has. It was very tough. You can imagine being an American and going to China and learning all the languages and learning about the culture and their history, its really tough. I found it hard for me, but I just wont give up,” Limbu talked about.
Limbu and his family are all American citizens now. One has to live in America for 5 years in order to become a citizen. It is around $750 per person to apply for a citizenship. Once you have a green card, you have to live in America for 4 and a half years longer in order to apply. You also have to take a test in order to gain citizenship.
“All the successful people this country have today are mostly immigrants. Even Albert Einstein is an immigrant from Germany. He is one of the greatest scientists that we have ever had. There are so many great people, even Barrack Obama is not even American, his father was an immigrant and he lived most of his childhood in Indonesia. There are so many great people that are not from this country. Since those people came a long way, did hard work, and became successful people, why cant we be successful one day. We should not give up on those things,” Limbu said.
“ For me and for us is was not that hard, but for my parents it was very tough. To face all those situations; fear of persecution, and all those hardships. I am very thankful to my parents and all the hard work they have done and the sacrifices they have made. I always say that to my mom.”

Living “The Dream”


Born in Nigeria, Africa, and third child of six children.  His last name means “surpassing wealth,” and his career would agree.  Hakeem Olajuwon grew up in a small neighborhood with a close family.  “They taught us to be honest, work hard, respect our elders, and believe in ourselves,” said Olajuwon.

It’s not often you meet someone over six feet tall, but Hakeem clocks in at a towering seven feet tall.  This would give him an amazing advantage in his career, and would also help him earn his nickname: “The Dream.”     Continue reading

Baseball and a Dream: The Story of Successful Businessman Fernando Aguirre

By Karlee Dies


A boy. A favorite sport of baseball. A dream. And Determination.

Fernando Aguirre was born and raised in Mexico City. His love for baseball started out at an early age.

As a kid around 12 or 13, his father took their family to San Antonio, Texas to play in a baseball tournament.

“At that time, my dad used to speak very good English and we saw him interact with people and he would speak for all of us, the family. He would order food and take us shopping and whatever we wanted to do,” said Aguirre.

It was at this time that in admiration for his dad’s speaking abilities that he too wanted to speak English like he did.

Continue reading

Light at the End of the Tunnel

Though there are many downsides that new Americans are faced with when they come to America, there are also many immigrant students who have good experiences that outweigh the bad.  While most are bullied for their accents or clothing or choice in music, etc. there are also a large portion of students who don’t have those unfortunate experiences.

For one student who came from Bosnia to America in 2013, Adina Spahalic, she has had mostly good experience.  Coming to Erie, Pa to attend a local high school and play tennis, she faced some of the similar stories that many other new American students have.  She recalls, “in Bosnia, we would call lettuce ‘green salad’ in literal translation, and I would always say ‘green salad’ when I first moved here and people would always laugh at that.”  This is just another tell tale story of a new American trying to overcome the boundaries that come with living in a country that doesn’t speak your native language.  Spahalic even remembers that the way people would laugh at her mis-translations was mockingly, not endearingly.  Another recollection was when she would go to fast food restaurant establishments: “The menus were so complicated and I would need a long time to decide what I want, and people in line behind me would get angry with how long I was taking. I would get rolling of eyes from the people in line.”

Beyond these small instances when Spahalic had to deal with the rude, impatient behavior of Americans who don’t have the compassion or empathy for people coming to America and all the adjustments they had to make, she overall has had a pretty positive experience since being in America.

Today, Spahalic has state champion tennis titles under her belt, as well as a continuing education at a local college in Erie, Pa.  While she did spend some time back in her home country between her completion of high school and beginning of college, she has hopes to get her degree here in America and find a job and become a permanent resident of the country.

She has had her fair share of being made fun for her Bosnian accent; however she shares that a majority of the reactions she has gotten from Americans about her accent have been that they find it “cute.” Additionally, she stated, “People usually respond very positively to the fact that I’m from a different country and usually ask me a bunch of questions.  I do get teased for my accent but I wouldn’t call it bullying because no one has made me feel especially badly about the way I speak.”

In a demographic that is known to have to endure plenty of bullying and shaming and even abuse, it is a refreshing fact that there are also many new American individuals who have had nothing but mostly positive experiences and are happy they are able to come here.  Spahalic’s situation is definitely somewhat rare, considering she came here by choice and has had an education set up for her as well as a very successful athletic career in addition to having plenty of good experiences here.

With the increasing numbers of immigrants infiltrating into America from other countries every single year, it’s in the hopes of many that welcoming and empathetic behavior will only increase as well so more new Americans can feel nothing but welcomed and loved in “the land of opportunity” and truly live the “American dream.”


Home in America: Pittsburgh, PA


As a young girl growing up in Guyana, she was content watching her father make art.  She grew taller, she grew older, but she also grew in her love for art and knew at an early age that it would be a significant part of her life.

Executive director of the Kelly Strayhorn Theater in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, janera solomon has been able to share her love of the arts with the entire community.

She considers herself to be a rule-follower, but spells her name in lowercase as a form of rebellion, a safe form of rebellion.  She began writing it that way in elementary school and has been doing so ever since.

solomon came to America when she was nine years old.  Her father worried about the country’s future, but more so about his four daughters and their futures.  solomon explained that Prime Minister Ptolemy A. Reid had become progressively more conservative, worrying artists and intellectuals alike.  More so, the country’s economic crisis was lowering the living standard.  Like other countries in the Caribbean region, Guyana struggled because its most common exports yielded low income.  Continue reading