The first-place winner of the American Immigration Council’s 24th annual (2020-2021) Celebrate America Creative Writing Contest was Kyla O’Halloran, whose poem “Welcome: Two Syllables, One Word” was submitted by the Chicago Chapter. Kyla’s poem examines the impact a simple, welcoming message can have on someone’s life.

Welcome: Two Syllables, One Powerful Word

You stare down at the patio of your new home. There is a mat lying flat on the cracked concrete floor. A mat where generations of people

Family and not family Have stepped their Muddy

Wet Snowy Grassy

Boots and shoes on the one mat that you stare at now. Yet, somehow, someway,

Your eyes don’t pay much attention to the mud

Or the damp straw that lay a top of the dark gray rubber

Your eyes pay attention to the word embroidered on the straw. The two-syllable word.

The seven letter word.

The most important word in the world to you. Welcome.

And as you step into your new home, you remember. You remember the walk.

You remember the run.

You remember the crying.

You remember all of it.

Including the border.

A sudden flash of darkness hurls over you Your thoughts have taken control of your eyes The stars are shining over your head

Making it look like they can swallow you whole And bring you back home.

Where you came from. But then you realize You are going home To the USA

To America

To welcoming opportunities


You see your mom Your dad

Your sister

You see the look on their faces The sweat

The tears

The desperation and determination to go to your new home The ground is

Muddy Wet Grassy Bumpy

You mind plays with you and makes it seem like the grass monster is chasing you Your head turns around

No one there

You keep on walking

Your Dad tells you only 20 more miles That is nothing to you

Considering the 2,000 miles you have already walked And ran

Hours pass

But the hours seem like days How much longer?

How long has it been?

How are we going to make it? How is this possible?

Is this pointless?

Will they turn us away?

Send us back?

But then

After what seemed like forever You see the border

You see the soldier He says

“Welcome home”

And even though you don’t understand what he said You sense that he is welcoming you

Welcoming you to opportunities To jobs

To schools


Toa new home And with that

Your thoughts bring you back to present day You stare and the mat one more time

The one word seeps into your soul Sticks in your mind

Your thoughts say ‘Welcome’ to you And you say ‘Welcome’ back

For it is two syllables Seven letters

And one powerful word That means the world to you.