The night before my last day with my ESL (English as a Second Language) students, or as I like to call them Exceedingly Stellar Learners, a flood of emotions overwhelmed me and out came this piece. I wanted to write a piece that portrayed the struggles and barriers my students have had to overcome, and through that show what they are truly capable of achieving once they discover the power of their voice by standing up.
NOTE: Please excuse me if the Arabic, Thai or Chinese is not translated correctly. I only speak Spanish as a second language, but I wanted to show the various cultural backgrounds of my students in the class
To my ESL class: Our time has come to an end. It is our last day. Eyes brimming with tears filled with dreams, memories and hopes for the future. What can I say? What words of wisdom can I leave you with? This is what overwhelmed me as I sat and asked for peace and surrender.When you think of me and our time together I don’t want you to think of the way I laughed at your spontaneity or goofy ways, or the way I promised treats on the last day, or even the difference between plants, animals and MCAs. I want you to think of yourself. This is what I want for you, something you have denied far too often. This was our first, and is now, our last lesson.
I want you to think. Piensa en todas las barreras que se enfrenta cada dia.
Think off your father trying to follow the path, crooked and narrow, along the highway known to few but death. Crossing la frontera hoping the Rio Grande would baptize him to new life, only to find it stole his last breath.
Of your dad أب caught in the cross-fire of a man-hunt and a search for weapons of mass destruction. Who knew that day he drove so far to seek a better future for you, one free of violence and shame, he would be labeled a “terrorist”, and forced to carry the blame that no man, Arab, Muslim, Jew, or Christian should have to face.
Of your mother working around the clock, through all hours of the night, fighting so you can live and will not have to see the pain The price she bore when she carried you across the desert is engraved upon your forehead, a sacred touch of sacrifice that cuts through her like a knife as you wander without direction crying yourself to sleep at night
De tu mama y papa, of your grandmother ยาย and grandfather ปู่ , of your Uncle 叔叔 Leo and your single-parent mom
This is where you come from and who you are. I have seen, heard and felt only a glimpse of what these broken shards of glass must feel like as they tear away a piece of you with no regard for who you might become.
I want you to think. Think of all the lies, all the deceptions all the labels society has put on you.
Think of the laws that kept your mom from going to the store that day when you were so sick in bed and crying. Your mom shed tears too, but these were ones of shame. Without a driver’s license or a social security number, her existence remained hidden and out of sight. Who knew that living in the shadows could bring you and your existence into utter doubt and silence. How could a mother deal with that kind of shame, anytime you asked for water or medicina your mother didn’t have the heart to tell you the truth that in El Norte freedom looks the other way, especially for “un ilegal”
Think of the time you could not eat at the restaurant because the waiter did not serve “Arabs” muttering “terrorists” under his breath. You thought to yourself “why does my little brother, at the age of five, have to endure this?” He wouldn’t stop crying. You were so humiliated as you had to tell your mother who sat looking defeated as you told her the reason why you were being ignored, cast looks at, with placed orders of greasy fries waiting for a much more “peaceful”—and much less Arab–family
Think of the time you slept on the streets. You never knew mothers could be treated like that, especially ones with seven children. You had to learn fast that rent, and grace, don’t come free in the land of opportunity. You were left to move, never in one place too long, learning how to guard yourself from the pain of waking up those early mornings to find everything gone.
I want you to think of all the lies from racism, and classism and sexism. All of the labels put on you that left you cold-hearted and blind, told from a racist society that nursed you into accepting your own decay, to accept a dehumanized identity from the first time you opened your eyes
Now, I want you to think of all the potential, all of the dreams that were never truly crushed—although that’s the way it seemed—that were buried deep within bursting to breathe free. Think of your power, your grace and your pride.
Of the time when you were the subject of conversation in the staff lunchroom, the “lazy, good-for-nothing, never-will-amount-to-anything Mexican”, now swelling with pride as you began to believe in yourself, you rose to be the leader you always knew was inside.
Of the times when you wrote, read and asked so many questions that left me in awe. Forgive me for not seeing your brilliance, your intelligence, and your spunk. Who knew just a year before you could not share these flood of questions. They were just yearning to flow freely from within, waiting to burst forth from inside!
Of the time when you opened my eyes the very first day, with your excited question, and then warm invitation of friendship as you said, “Do you know any Spanish people?! Well, now you do!” Who knew on that field trip you would reach for my hand and show me the kindness that had not often been received by those weary, yet strong little hands
Finally, I want you to think of your attendance. I want you to think of the importance of roll call every day. Not just weakly replying “here” in the midst of giggles from your peers. But, to stand firm and tall full of of power, grace and pride. To stand up and to claim your voice in attendance, in roll call.
To show pride in your name
When people ask you “are you for real?”
To show you too have hopes and dreams that will not be crushed
despite las barreras que se enfrenta
To prove your families’ suffering was not in vain
That your father’s death along the highway brings new life
That the death of your dad can lead forth to redemption
That your mother’s ceaseless work day can provide the pay for a better and brighter day
To leyes racistas that keep you and your gente from living the life you always dreamed of
That tell you that you cannot belong, that you cannot be strong, that you cannot live on
In the face of adversity, you stand as living proof to prove them wrong
To tell your familia’s story of suffering, perservance and pain
so that when they tell you to shut up and sit down,
or that “it is not important how it is pronounced”
that you will show them the scars on your hands
So, no one can deny that this did not come from an oppressors’ hands
And during roll-call I hope that you say it all boldly
I hope you stand up and deliver your name in front of all those who laugh and mock,
And in saying it I hope you realize that it was not me who gave you this voice,
But it was you
Who stood up
You who believed
You who kept dreaming
You who led me to join with you in la lucha
And You, who stood up
During roll call to say
I am here
ESL class, my Exceedingly Stellar Learners, had it within you all along
Love always. May you forever continue to dream. You will always be in my heart!