This is why they come...
Every year, my class publishes what we call our ENL Magazine, a collection of writings by my students, all recent immigrants to the United States At first, the goal of our little publication was to teach people in our community something about today's immigrant experience, but with all the fervor out there about immigrants these days, I feel that it's important for people to learn some things they do not know.
I've been working with immigrant students for 16 years now, and in that time I've learned a lot of things I never knew before, things which inspire me to be their advocate as best I can. Before I begin to share their words with you, I'd like to share some of the things I've learned over the years...
- Like elsewhere in the U.S., the population of immigrant students, especially from Central America, has grown and continues to grow every year.
- The young people I work with are just that...young people...kids. If they had had their way, they'd still be home in their countries, with their families and their friends. The great majority of them did not choose to come here, but most know why they did.
- I have had students from many countries, representing five continents and more than twenty countries. I have both documented and undocumented students, and every single one of them is a human being who deserves as good a life as anyone.
- My students have experienced things that you and I will never experience. The only gun I've ever seen has been in the holster of a police officer. I've never seen or heard a gun used, and I've never seen one used on a relative. Many of my students have. I've never been threatened with my life by scary people hanging around outside of my school, or have had my family extorted for money for 'protection,' nor have I experienced threats to my mother or father or younger siblings. I never walked for days on end in the hot desert sun without food or water, or been made to ride in vehicles with literally dozens and dozens of strangers in a cramped little space, or holed up in a strange house, hiding in darkness, terrified, waiting for a signal that it's time to move on. I've never seen dismembered body parts or been threatened with a machete or made to swim across alligator-infested waters in the darkness of night. I've never experienced these things, much less as a child.
- How desperate does a parent have to be to set their children off on a journey such as this? Pretty damned desperate! I once was told by a student that his little brother of 12 years had just left El Salvador on his way here. For six weeks, his mother had no way of knowing where he was or if he was safe all that time. All she had was God.
I think you get the idea, but that's just me talking. Now I'd like you too hear from some of my students. I've published excerpts from this magazine in the past, and now that we have a new edition, I'd like to share some more.
This world, this country has a great shortage of empathy, and especially on the part of many who claim to follow Jesus, probably one of the most loving and caring people who ever walked this Earth. It makes me sad. Even so, I still feel in my heart that there are people I know who will turn their backs to these stories. Ignorance truly is bliss!
I can tell you firsthand that it's really hard to get these kids to share their stories. I tried my best to convince them that they have an opportunity to help somehow, and believe me, there is plenty more to tell far and above what I will share here, but even I may never hear it. In the meantime, here's the first piece I'd like to share, a piece entitled A Terrible Loss. It is a story that was borne out of one sentence this anonymous student had written in another piece and I thought it worthy of attention, so we created a separate essay. This story is true. I've listened to him speak it and I have seen photographs. Please read on and stay tuned for more from We Are... (warning, some may find the following content disturbing)
A Terrible Loss
Something sad happened just one week after I came to this country. My best friend, Cristian, who lived with his mother in the same town as me in Guatemala, was killed by gangsters. She was murdered, too, by the same killers I escaped from just a couple of months earlier. It hurts that I could not to go to the wake and say goodbye to him.
You see, when the gangsters approached him to ask him for money for protection, he decided to not comply. He tried to fight back. He lost. He tried to use his fists to fight off the gangsters, but they had guns. My poor friend was shot in the chest, and then they shot his mother, too. Both of them died.
The news was a blow to me because we were like brothers. We were friends ever since we met five years before in school. It was also especially hard because it decimated practically everybody in his family, and left his sister without parents and without a brother. My friend’s father had died when Cristian was very young. To this day I don’t know whatever happened to his sister.