We need to talk about this. I’ve been reluctant. I wasn’t sure everyone would understand. And I wanted to be careful not to share anything that might put anyone in jeopardy. But it’s been ten years and I think it’s okay for me to share now. And yeah. We need to talk about this.
About 10 years ago I transferred from Edison to West View, our district’s dual language school. I was immediately embraced by the staff and community there, and felt right at home. I loved walking down the halls, surrounded in Spanish and children’s laughter. I loved the positive energy I felt there. And the staff! They were completely dedicated and committed to their students – they never worried about who was getting which lunch or planning period – it was always about what was best for the students.
Not long after I’d been at West View I began to realize that my students were dealing with things that I’d never had to deal with in my life – problems that I hadn’t even known existed. I feel embarrassed as I write this. I’d been so insulated!
After I’d been at West View a month or so, I asked my sixth graders to sit in a circle on the floor with me, and share with me some of what they’d been experiencing. And the stories started pouring out – I remember some of them said they no longer went shopping at a certain store because there were always agents there, waiting to look at their “papers.” I remember feeling shocked by this – I’d never needed to carry “papers” with me to prove I was a citizen – I didn’t even know that was a thing! One student who couldn’t find the words drew a picture that broke my heart – a Border Patrol van at night – children silhouetted in its search light, running into the woods.
There was the day one of my students looked up at me, with tears in his eyes, and told me he’d come home from school to find his entire family had been deported. There was another student whose father voluntarily returned to Mexico, hoping he’d be able to return to the States as a citizen some day – my student loved his father deeply and didn’t know if he’d ever see him again – his father had told him to stay in the U.S. and get his education – even if it meant they’d never see each other again.
These stories were eye-openers for me. I hadn’t realized!
Later, when I taught at a high school in another district, I had several students who shared their stories about escaping the violence and poverty in Mexico by crossing the desert barefoot – and risking their lives – in the hopes that they and their families could find freedom and better lives in the U.S.
If you are interested in learning more about the lives of these young people – my friend, Janice Blackmore, who worked with these students when they were in middle school, asked the students to share their stories and published them in a book called DreamFields: A Peek into the World of Migrant Youth.
(The girl on the cover is one of my former students.)