I wish I was better at retaining facts.
I wish I was better at entering into those complex conversations where I could defend my point of view, factually, until the death.
But I can’t.
I can tell stories.
So, that is what I am going to do.
And it is related to the debate on immigration.
I also know that if you are going to listen to me, you need to know that my voice is credible.
So, here’s a condensed version of my experience in this area.
* I taught ESL at the high school and community college level for years.
* I worked for an agency part-time that helped families relocate to the Bay Area from other countries. I would tutor the children and often the moms in English, as well as help them get acclimated to living in a different culture (grocery stores can be daunting!).
* I lived overseas and taught EFL in the Czech Republic.
* I worked as an executive assistant for a NGO that brought scholars to the U.S. from the two-thirds world to get their masters and doctorate degrees with the sole purpose of returning back to their native countries to teach and raise up leaders.
So, the stories.
First, I want to tell you about Alberto (all names have been changed).
Alberto was one of my high school freshman.
Alberto had recently come to the U.S.
Alberto lived in a home with his entire extended family, which meant he slept in a garage with 12 of his siblings and cousins.
All of the adults in Alberto’s home had two jobs. So, it was up to all the kids to look out for each other and cook the meals, and clean the home.
Alberto fell asleep at his desk almost every day. He ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and spicy Fritos chips from my classroom stash every day.
He also has the best sense of humor, the hugest smile, and never once complained about a single thing.
He was never late, he showed up every day, and he was very aware that his success at school was mandatory for his survival and that of his family.
Maiko was a high school sophomore. She and her family had been relocated to the Bay Area from Japan due to her father’s job with a major tech company. I tutored Maiko in English once a week after school.
Maiko wanted to know everything there was to know about American teenage life. She was already fighting with her mom over the type of clothes she wanted to wear, and had surprised her mother with a more updated, American haircut within the first week of her arrival to the States.
Her mother watched me very carefully to ensure that instead, Maiko was learning strictly English grammar and conversation. We did sneak in a couple of current movies with the subtitles on and convinced her mom it was relevant to learning diction and expanding one’s vocabulary.
I remember arriving one day at Maiko’s home to find a huge puddle of water on the kitchen floor with live frogs hopping about.
That was dinner. 🙂
Maiko’s was highly motivated to learn English and to adopt American culture. Her desire was to stay in the U.S. permanently.
Bao and his family arrived to the U.S. from Vietnam under the sponsorship of a distant relative. He never told me exactly why, but it was clear that the family had been forced to flee.
Bao’s family was very poor. Bao often wore the same clothes week after week. And even though in most high school classrooms, this might have been cause for bullying and cruel jokes, in this particular ESL class, there was an unspoken camaraderie among all the students.
Bao also had undiagnosed learning challenges. When one’s native language is not English, it is very difficult to address these learning challenges. So, he and I muddled through it as best we could together.
Bao’s family attended every single school event. All of them.
And every time they had any sort of celebration that included food, I was gifted a portion.
At the end of the year, he and his family were crying and hugging one another, and me, in pure relief and elation that he had made it through his first year of American high school.
I only saw Maria part of the school year. She was never fully present and kept to herself. She was the daughter of migrant workers. And as such, she was often either moving from available crop to crop, or she was needed to help pick the crop and add her income to that of the family’s. She had been all over the state picking the crops we buy in the produce section of our grocery stores.She was 16 and in my freshman high school Academic Reading class.
Manuel was in gang initiation. I watched the change in him throughout the school year. He came in a vibrant kid, and by the end of the year, he was solemn and brooding. Manuel was initiating for a gang in which all the members took a great deal of pride in being recent immigrants from Mexico. They held those ties tightly. As a recent immigrant himself, Manuel was desperate to find a place to fit in and to have some sort of identity outside of “immigrant”.
I could go on and on with more stories.
I think it is vital to put a face to immigration.
I am fully aware these stories will most likely not change anyone’s mind on the issue.
For me, these precious kids are in my heart.