Immigrant Students In Oklahoma Tell Their Stories

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Above Photo: From Livingindialogue.com

Diary of Some Webster Kids: Advocacy in Action was written and edited by the students.  This is the third year that middle school students have published a book. Some chose to remain completely anonymous, while others have adopted a low profile. Their book opening, at Commonplace Books, was a wonderful experience. We can all learn from these wonderful kids and their dedicated teachers. This is part one of a two part review. 

At the beginning of the 21st century, the Oklahoma City Public School System was on the brink of collapse. White flight and suburban sprawl had reduced the student population by nearly 50%, and as No Child Left Behind was implemented another 6,000 black and white students left; virtually overnight student population dropped by 1/6th. These students were replaced by 6,000 Hispanic students. Now the OKCPS is majority Hispanic. The district of 46,000 has more than 17,000 bilingual students and more than 13,000 English Language Learners. By the way, it is a testimony to the motivation of ELL students that their attendance rate is second only to that of Asian-American students.

Middle school English Language Learners have just published a great new anthology, Diary of Some Webster Kids: Advocacy in Action. It is written and edited by the students.  They chose the Dedication:

“Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”  Elie Wiesel

The preface was written by 7th graders, who explained:

“During the teacher walk out, we felt really bad, because the teachers were speaking out for what us students need, … Now, we can speak up for ourselves too with our stories.”

Numerous stories began in Mexico and Central America. Anonymous explained in “Gunshots” that his mom had been a “coyote,” passing immigrants from Central America to the U.S. She “never got caught by la migra, … she was caught by the sicarios in the frontera,” and that was more dangerous. It was only after she became pregnant that 5 minutes of consecutive gunfire in the plaza convinced the family to migrate and “the fear of losing our most beautiful thing that finally made us leave.”

Dahila didn’t want to leave Mexico but her family “set her by force because things in Mexico were very dangerous.” She had papers but the officer said, “You are not from the United States … you are like those Indians, who are lying around.” Dahila was intimidated by the process but it caused a delay that made her Grandma happy. By the time they were approved, the scanners were turned off so they got through with the tamales in their bags that she brought from Mexico.

The students had complex feelings about their migration to America, as well as visits back to Mexico. Cristian was born in Denver and grew up in Mexico, but his story had a happy ending when his mom followed him to Oklahoma. He has learned to speak English but still needs to improve on reading it and pronunciation. Carlos didn’t like being grilled by the police at the border but Oklahoma “is very different but nicer.” “It was a long journey,” he concluded, “but it was worth it.”

Alexa’s last day in Mexico was devastating because she missed her grandma’s sister’s funeral. But as her mom said, the family would be “going somewhere where we are all going to be safe.”

Victor also was reluctant to leave Mexico because he had to help his grandfather feed Mimoso and the other cats. Since coming to America, “I worry about the cats and my grandparents falling when they are alone.” He likes school, and life is not as good in the U.S. but he can still have a telephone relationship with his grandparents.

In “A Wonderful Experience,” Jasmine recalled a trip to Mexico. Her Grandma warned about staying away from the “bad guys” but introduced her to dancing and granted her freedom. “I like the way she trusted us to go places after a while,” Jasmine concluded.

Geovanni also loved his 2 week trip to Mexico. He’d worried about his lack of Spanish skills, “It actually turned out to be really fun. … My parents said I would be shy but I proved them wrong by going to my grandpa for mini Spanish lessons.”

The anonymous author of “Shopping Trip” recalled a sadder relocation. His or her mom was caught shoplifting some of the food she could not afford at Walmart. “We tried to fix the problem, but my mom got sent back to Mexico. She did everything she could so we could have a happy life.”

Given the challenges these immigrants face, it is no surprise that some occasionally break the law (even though documented and undocumented immigrants have lower crime rates than other Americans.) A couple of authors worried about uncles and who have violated the law. Karina concluded, “I love my uncle more than anything and I will continue to support him in his recovery. I hope he never does anything that puts him back in prison.” Another Anonymous has an uncle who is locked up even though another person was convicted of the crime. His chapter concluded, “God, please help my dad find a lawyer, to get my uncle out of that place.”

When discussing major and minor offences, the students revealed their own moral core. Estefany, a second year newcomer, described a mentally ill neighbor with a gun who abused his mother. The lesson is, “It’s not fair that he hit her when that woman gave him life.”

Jason, “a good little kid,” wrote that he “still had my teddy bear, I was also smart I knew how to build ramps and a bridge. I also knew it was bad to steal.” After shoplifting a cylindrical case for nail polish with light green with glitter inside, “All I wanted was forgiveness.”

Anonymous talks about fighting in elementary school after being called “a bi***” and being suspended for 7 days. He concluded with words to his mom, “I promise I will stop fighting. Having anger like that is like having a scar that I have to show all the time. … It hurts me for hurting people for no reason, that is what I have to live with as I grow older.”

Not surprisingly, these situations can contribute to family breakups and disorder at school, but the stories are more complicated than the political arguments about them. Tania’s father left the family on Christmas. A few days later she did badly on a test. Then she heard her dad say, “I’m good mi cachetona.” So, now “I understand that sometimes it is better to accept things as they are and do the best to be well.”

A.C. wrote about the jailing of his dad. Before then, “I was a good kid when my dad was around but once he left it was all over. I started being bad at school, started talking back to teachers … But worst of all, I started talking back to my mom, yelling at her, telling her it was her fault …” A.C. concluded, “If my dad loves me, that’s something I need to hear. I’m ready to give up on him. I have been trying to avoid this pain inside me … I care but not enough to keep him in my life.”