Immigration is a never ending debate in the good ol’ US of A. Especially exasperated this year because of the upcoming election. This is not a political soapbox post by any means. Although I am not very political, being an ESL (English as a Second Language) instructor,I have a bit of a different perspective.
I recently came across a section in one of my favorite magazines that polls people on random things each month. This particular month one question was, “If you found out your neighbor was an illegal alien, would you alert the authorities?” The answers leaned toward yes. As I read that, I realized that not many people realize just how many people are here that are undocumented and that it is not so cut and dry as “calling the authorities”.
In my 5 years teaching ESL to immigrants, I have come across many people that are undocumented, but being a teacher, my first obligation is the well-being of students. Schools and colleges are not in the business of immigration enforcement. Some came many years ago, some recently crossed the border and others were led by their parents out of their dire situations.
I am not saying that I agree with forgoing legal immigration processes by any means. I just feel that when I hear comments like, “they are here just to utilize public assistance” or “they are taking jobs away from citizens”, it shows that we (American citizens) don’t know the real stories of these immigrants and/or we may have forgotten that this country was founded by immigrants. Most immigrants that I have met are concerned with living a safe and happy life. They are concerned with family and giving their children the opportunity to attend school. I have heard many stories of why they came and even how. I have spoken with and read the writings of legal and undocumented immigrants and all have a common theme…. hope for a better life.
I’d like to share a few brief stories of some students that I have had the opportunity to have in my classes.
The first is of a 1st grader from Mexico who walked across the border with her parents. Mind you, the US/Mexico border is no walk in the park. You have to cross desert and a river. Many don’t make it because of dehydration, starvation and/or being killed by vicious gangs. I asked this girl how she ate and she said that her grandmother packed sandwiches in her little backpack for the trip. I also asked how she kept up with the adults and she said that her dad carried her at times. How many 1st graders do you know with such stories?
Another story is from a woman who came across the border years ago with a then week old infant. She said that although she was thirsty and hungry during the trek, the baby was kept alive by breast milk for days. She risked her child’s life and hers because narcos (gangs of drug traffickers) had taken over her small town and it was just too dangerous to live in peace anymore.
A different student had witnessed beheadings and narcos kidnapping family members in her town.
Recently in my adult class, I asked the question, “What were you surprised to see when you first came to the USA?” The answers were quite interesting. Here are a few:
“I was surprised that everyone had a car. When my sister picked me up at the airport in a nice truck, I asked if it was hers. When she said that it was, that gave me hope that anything is possible” ~student from Mexico
“I was surprised that you could drink the water from the kitchen sink” ~ student from Pakistan
“I was surprised to see women driving” ~ student from Mexico
One exchange that had me giggling to myself happened between myself and an eighth grader who was a newcomer from Yemen. When I asked him what he thought of the US so far his reply was simply , “Scandal”. Mind you this was through an online translator, but it was funny to me especially because just a year earlier, I lived in a predominately Muslim country and had my eyes opened to the many differences.
Again my motives are not political, but I just wanted to share the perspective of the immigrant. I’m not quite sure, what we should do about our “immigration issues”, but I do know that they are people like you and I that are looking for the same things that most European immigrants were looking for 200 years ago.
Do you have immigrant stories to tell?