Thursday, June 21, 2018

My Purpose: An Introduction to "Why We Came and How We Got Here"




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From my Facebook, about two weeks ago:

Hot off the press...after weeks and weeks of writing, re-writing and editing, this labor of love is finally complete! In this, our 15th edition, my students share some pretty compelling stories of why they came here and how they got here.

Like the generations of immigrants who came before them, these youngsters made their oftentimes dangerous treks here to escape extreme poverty and a very war-like environment.

They’re all great kids and they were afraid to share their stories because, well, we all know the attitudes towards immigrants these days, and so the only way I could get them to share their stories was to promise to publish them anonymously.

I’m very proud of ‘Why We’re Here and How We Got Here: True Stories of Young Immigrants,’ and I am thinking about publishing this as a PDF. Please click ‘like’if you’d want a copy. Thanks!

In the past couple of years it's become evident to me that I have a purpose in life.  It's something that I'm not yet totally comfortable with, but I find myself being driven by it.  From my own actions and reactions to the things going on around me lately, it's become pointedly clear that the things I'm doing are as natural to me as anything else in my life, ever, and so when the recently heated debate about immigration came bubbling to an ugly surface, I decided I had to act on it.  I put myself wholeheartedly behind what I do, what I live, and what I believe, and this is my truth.

It is with that in mind that I pointed my class' annual magazine in the direction of laying stories bare.  As one who teaches some social studies in my classroom, I know that primary sources of information, sources coming from those who have had actual experiences connected to a topic, are the best kinds of sources to go by, and so what better way to convey the stories of today's immigrants than to hear from them.  

Me and my students began this undertaking about six weeks prior to publication, and I'm proud of them for sharing what they experienced.  I've learned a lot about immigration from them that I never knew before, and I think that sharing the stories beyond the area of my school district is a worthwhile endeavor.  So I begin with my own introduction to the publication, a piece that lays out the process behind it.  Read on and stay tuned for some of their stories...

Dear Readers,

Welcome to “Why We Came and How We Got Here,” the latest version of our ENL Magazine. We began publishing this annual collection in 2004 in the hope that readers might gain a new perspective on our students, an often-misunderstood group of youngsters. To this point, I believe that goal has only been partially achieved. With the political climate of the country the way it is these days, misinformation and misunderstanding about the immigrant experience has reached an all-time high, and so our purpose for this year’s edition takes on a greater significance than ever before.


A Class Project Leads to a Mission

Early in the school year, the students in my ENL class completed an autobiographical project. This wasn’t the first time I’d ever assigned such a task, but it was the first time I ever really had to sell them on something. You see, with today’s immigrants drawing such open criticism and anger, I wanted to gain a better understanding of their stories. I wanted to know the real reasons why they came here and what they went through in making their way here. Even though I’ve been working with these kids for so long, even I wasn’t aware of the real answers to these questions.

Virtually all of the students were reluctant to tell their stories, and it was a hard sell to get them to do so. I had to assure them that the things they were going to share would stay within our group. In addition to a written piece, the students were also required to make a presentation to the class, sharing not only their personal stories of why and how they came to be here, but other such things as what they’d put on their bucket lists, some of their favorite things, and even their hopes for the future. It was during these presentations that my eyes opened wider than they had in fifteen years.

For more than two weeks, each of my students came to the front of the class to share their auto-biographies, and I learned things that I may have suspected over the years, but never really heard told so openly. Laughter and tears, and plenty of anguish permeated the room with each presentation, and those watching even just one of them either commiserated with the speaker or became consumed with empathy.

Empathy. It’s a word I often use in my classroom and one that I wholeheartedly believe everyone needs a little more of. If we make an effort to empathize more, we might just gain a whole new awareness that we didn’t have before, and hopefully these new perspectives might make this world a more tolerable place.

Once our presentations had finished, we continued with the theme by tackling the NY Times bestselling book, “Enrique’s Journey” by Sonia Nazario. It tells the story of a boy from Honduras who makes the harrowing and dangerous trek to the United States in search of his mother who had abandoned him when he was only five years old. Once again, memories were jarred by the many stories found in the book. 


A New Mission

When the time came to begin working on this publication, it seemed that general attitudes towards immigrants had become even worse than before. New stories and videos showing harassment towards immigrants, more specifically Hispanics, seemed to pop up every day on social media. News outlets cover raids and roundups of undocumented immigrants, families being forcibly separated, children being held in secretive, jail-like camps. The list of stories goes on and on and the more we hear, the worse the situation becomes.

In the poem, “Push and Pull,” I speak of the plight of the many generations of foreigners whose desperate situations led them to immigrate to this country. Each group of immigrants had its own reasons for coming, and most often it was to flee danger or poverty. The stories of today’s immigrant are no different, only the rules have since changed.

So I thought that perhaps we, our little group of immigrants who chose to settle here in Southold, might do our own little part in helping people gain a better understanding of who they are and why they came. Their stories are sometimes raw and always very personal, and show just how desperate these immigrants must be to undergo such a dangerous journey that they are not guaranteed to finish. I believe that the immigrant population in Southold is a microcosm of the greater immigrant population and their individual stories reflect the experiences of the whole.

Again, selling this idea was a difficult task. Some of the stories contained within are highly personal, and I am sure that still there were difficult details that were omitted because of their emotional impact. I convinced my students that this undertaking will be worth it if we get even one person to see immigration in a different light. The idea of their stories being published elicited an even greater protest than the project had, and so in the end we decided that all of the stories published would be anonymous. I encourage you to read on with an open heart and an open mind.

Thank you,

John Myers













Wednesday, June 20, 2018

A Different Kind of Separation

From my Twitter, on Monday, edited:

This morning, one of my students, a 14 yo boy from Guatemala, came to school to take a final examination. When I came by to check on how he was doing, he wasn’t doing very well at all. It had already been an hour or so into the test and he was only on question #8.
“Did you study?” I asked.
He looked up at me and with tears in his eyes he said no. He gathered himself and added, “My mom is getting deported,” he told me.

It seems a local immigration lawyer took all their money, $7ooo, and never filed her papers in court seeking asylum. The judge dropped the case and ordered her out of the country in 30 days. Daniel can stay because he had the luxury of being abandoned by his dad when he was a baby. He is not my only student to have suffered the same fate.

Daniel and his mom were abandoned by his father when he was a toddler and are all one another has in life. Back in Guatemala, they were poverty stricken, oftentimes eating only one meal a day, and at 13 years of age, Dan was already within the sights of the local gangs, who would not take no for an answer once
they came calling.

His mom became desperate and reached out to an uncle for help in getting money to come to the U.S. The two of them traveled for weeks, a long and treacherous journey that had them walking for up to fourteen hours a stretch and going without food or water for up to two days.

Luckily, they made it here safe. That was a little less than two years ago. In that time, Dan has learned a lot of English and does what he can to help the two of them survive, working whenever he can to bring money into the house. They are still poor, but rich in comparison to their life back in Guatemala. They're both safe, too, and they still have each other. Well, for now. So they’ve lost all the money they’ve scraped up to an unscrupulous lawyer and in less than 26 days they will be separated barring some sort of miracle.

Daniel is the sweetest of boys, always with a smile on his face and a willing hand to help others by translating, helping with homework, and even cleaning the teacher’s desk for him. Now he faces being all alone at 14, the only other person in his life being ripped from his side.

Dan’s is but one small story in a million stories. He’s lucky he’s got me...I refuse to leave him totally abandoned. Thousands of others are not so lucky. Today’s immigrants are no different than the ones who came before them, leaving their families, their friends, their homes, everything, to escape poverty and danger. Only the rules have changed. We changed them when we starting not liking the places that they came from and we all need to know that.

To be continued...


Friday, February 9, 2018

A Year's Remembrance


I could never say enough, Owner, dearest friend, to thank you for the love you gave to me, until the end.
I’m sorry that I hurt you by saying my goodbye. You gave me such a happy home, I lived a happy life. I leapt and played and laughed in ways you maybe couldn’t see. Of all the pets you might have loved, I’m glad that you chose me.
It’s okay to miss me, for I miss you too.
It’s okay to bow your head and cry if you have to.
However hard it seems today, your dear sweet heart will heal.
For now, my friend, remember me and feel what you must feel. But don’t give up on loving, Owner, dearest friend. Although the cost is oh so high, it’s worth it in the end — to know that you made this pet’s life the best one it could be. It should be no mystery why you meant the world to me.
So here’s my final word, my friend, this is my last wish: Find another lonely pet, then give to them my dish. And every time they make you smile, know that I’m smiling too, still so proud to once have been a dearest friend to you.
Love, always.”

A year ago this morning, I was awoken to one of the most terrible phone calls of my life.  My little Diego, who had been in the hospital for three days, was under cardiac arrest, and the vet was calling to see if I wanted them to revive him.  Before I could even process what they were saying to me, I heard the woman on the other line say, as clear as day...

Oh, I'm so sorry.  He just passed.  

He was barely nine years old.  It was a snowy morning, one that I will never forget.  As with the passing of any loved one, I mourned the loss of my cute little fluffy monster, and I watched with great heartbreak the broken heart of Dylan, the brother who he'd left behind.  For months, Dylanito was so sad, and every interaction with him only made me feel sadder for myself, and even more so for him.  As they say, time heals all wounds, and this is very true.  Though it took awhile, Dylan and I have both healed from Diego's loss.  I eventually got used to having only one little kitty around the house, and he got used to being the only kitty around.

I sometimes wonder if Dylan even remembers Diego.  I have no idea how a cat's mind works.  Every once in awhile I'll say his name aloud to see if there's any recognition in my little, eleven-toed panther, but there is none.  That's a good thing, I guess.  He's definitely been over his mourning period for months now, and that helped me get out of mine...but I will always remember my sweet little sunshine.  

A few weeks after Diego had passed, my mother sent me the following poem above.  In times of sadness, it brought out the tears that helped release the pain.  I wanted to share it here in case any pet owner out there has the need to hear it too.  

It's hard to believe it's been a year already.  I haven't thought much of him lately, but Diego will be in my mind all day today, and Dylan will get a little extra loving, too!    Here's the recitation of the poem, Owner, Dearest Friendby Vivian Matthews:

Monday, January 1, 2018

A New Year's Do or Die Reevaluation

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Happy Freaking New Year!  Today is as good a time as any to once again take a step back and reevaluate our lives...well, my life anyway.  After what has been the shittiest and loneliest New Year's Eve of my life, the rock bottom of my 2017, there's no place for me to go but up, but not without some self-reflection and action.

I've been suffering from the flu since coming home from Philadelphia on Friday morning.  Not that I've been to the doctor, but I've had the flu before and I know the feeling...congestion, chills, severe aches and pains, etc.  Sans a phone call and a text or two, I've been completely alone for the past 72 hours and I'm feeling very alone.

I can't help but think that I'm the only reason for this.  I know and believe from Dan Millman's The Life You Were Born to Lead that by nature I can be a loner, and so my solitary tendencies, especially lately, have indirectly pushed the people in my life away.  Now in the state of mind that I am currently in, I could just say piss off and keep it that way, or I can try and do something about it.  What I think I'm actually going to do is reevaluate my relationships and maybe do a little bit of both.

So, resolutions...  Oh my God, there are so many things I need to resolve about my life.  A couple of years ago, I actually made a list of the things that I hated about myself.  Here are some of the ones that I still struggle with...

I smoke
I spend too much time alone
I feel stuck
I feel alone (haha, yep, that hasn't changed.  It's maybe even gotten worse!)
I owe money
I procrastinate
I am taken for granted
I'm just plain weird!

Yup, these are just some of the things that I struggle with each and every day, and if I keep doing the way I've been doing, obviously, then these things are never going to change.  So it's New Years...time to really evaluate how the heck I've been living my life.  I need to define what happiness means to me, because that question is ever-elusive, and once I do, then I need to figure out how to get there..  

Regardless, this is a mission, perhaps the greatest do-or-die mission of my life because I really can't take it any more.  If I succeed at at least one or two of these issues, then it's for the good.  If I fail, well...???  Stay tuned!

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