By Chuck Conder, CNN | http://bit.ly/AfCdYl
February 22nd, 2012 08:14 AM ET Los Angeles, California (CNN) :: For the better part of a century, Hollywood High School has been known as the high school of the stars: Judy Garland, Carol Burnett, Sarah Jessica Parker and James Garner are among the famous alumni.
But Judy Garland might not recognize her old alma mater today.
When she attended Hollywood High in the 1930’s the student body was almost all white.
Today, it is predominantly Latino, and made up of teens whose families came to America from every corner of the world.
“Hollywood has always struck me as a place where it doesn’t matter where you are from,” said Principal Jaime Morales, who immigrated from Nicaragua. “You are welcome here.”
School valedictorian Karla Samayoa’s parents fled political turmoil in El Salvador. Though she was born in America, she still feels a strong connection to her Salvadoran roots.
“Immigrants bring new blood, fresh ideas. They prevent America from becoming stagnant,” she said.
School officials say the surrounding neighborhood has been gradually transformed by waves of immigration over the last 30 years.
Filipino and Korean-Americans neighbor new arrivals from Thailand. To the west, immigrants from Russia, and Armenia have settled next to new residents from Central America and Mexico.
For a 17-year-old that we will call “Maria”, the future is far from certain. Her family brought her to the United States when she was six months old.
For her, school is an island of safety, “I feel I can be myself, without being judged.”
While her grades are good, college may be out of reach since she is an undocumented immigrant from Mexico.
“I’m just like any other teenager trying to succeed in life,” she says. But her undocumented status is a challenge many of her classmates do not face: she fears the possibility of deportation.
Alexander Moshensky’s parents came from Ukraine. He sees the diversity as a benefit.
“I’ve learned to speak with different people,” he said. “Maybe that will …help me get a job.”
And in the end that may be most important lesson at Hollywood High.