Imagine being seven years old and being told you are moving away. No one likes to move right? Kids are separated from friends and moved out of their current school, and parents have to worry about much packing and cleaning…and then unpacking and then more cleaning… and well the process is tedious. Now, imagine being that same seven year old kid except you are moving to a whole new country — where they speak a different language, where you need a visa to get in, where the only way to ever return to your country to visit your family and friends would be on a plane. That was me.
Immigration is a whole new world and unless you know what you are talking about, you really should not speak on it. No one knows or understands what it is like to leave literally everything behind in hopes of finding a better life for yourself and your family. My family and I left Colombia… and what I remember was not terrible. My mom was a stay at home mom, I went to private schools, spent many days with my grandma, and I had many friends. How did we get here? We got on a plane. Easy. I cannot even imagine being a person who has to flee because they are in need of asylum or refuge. I cannot imagine having to walk for hours and hours with my parents — without food or water. For us, it was simply because my dad had to provide for my mother and his three young children, and in Colombia, he did not see a future for our family.
The hardest part about coming here as a 6 year old was the language. I had to obviously start a new school, but even if I wanted to make friends, things were ten times harder because of the lack of knowing the language. Luckily, I quickly realized that not everyone spoke English — there were people from all over the world, but where I was living, there were mostly Puerto Ricans, Cubans, and Dominicans. Also, my school had a dual language program and my classes were literally in Spanish for half the day. Looking back, I was blessed. When we left Orlando and moved to Kissimmee, things got more difficult but if it wasn’t for us moving, learning the language would have been delayed.
In Kissimmee, there were still people from all over. I was still able to speak to my friends in Spanish but my class was just in English. My teacher was patient and his focus was to get us to pass the FCAT. I still remember wondering how the hell I was supposed to pass a standardized test where I had to write a 5 paragraph essay when I barely knew any English. Too bad, so sad… I had to figure it out. If it wasn’t for my teacher believing in me, I would have never done it. I started scoring higher than the kids in my class who knew English on practice essays and when FCAT came around, I had a passing score. I still remember the happiness that brought to me. I was only 9 years old, but damn… what an accomplishment that was.
I think that’s why I became a teacher. I came to a country feeling like I would never be accepted and the people who accepted me without hesitation were my teachers. I know there are impatient, rude, racist teachers… but I got lucky. That’s why whenever I get blessed with my ESL angels, I let them know right away that I understand them. I was once in their shoes. At the same time, I tell them they are going to have to work hard, they are going to have to talk English… that’s the only way they’ll ever learn. Standardized tests are already difficult enough for those who are fluent in the language. I always remind my ESL students they have to work twice, if not three times, as hard.
I get students from all over, but mostly from Venezuela. I have learned to love these kids and their stories so much. It is truly unbelievable what people are going through in Venezuela. If you know someone from there… I advise you to sit down with them and have them explain it to you.
I wish people would stop and realize that yes, illegal immigration is illegal… but sometimes it is necessary. Immigration is “annoying” but this OUR world and we are all entitled to the same rights and freedoms. Why would we deny anyone the right to have a better life? It’s just something that goes way beyond my head and I will never comprehend it. At the end of the day, kids are not at fault. Welcome them with open arms so you can help raise strong, intellectual, caring human beings.
Remember. It takes a community.