|Day 28 of 31 at TWT!|
It was just a regular day; I had helped A. in first and second period, and then she begged me to come to art as well. As we walked to art, we chatted in Spanish, and A. brought up her future plans. She shared that she really wanted to go to college, and I assured her that she would do great in college, given how hard-working and studious she was. Shrugging, she said she didn't know if she'd be able to go. Probably money? I started talking about scholarships when she interrupted me:
"Porque yo soy ilegal." She said it so nonchalantly, as if she was saying "because I have black hair" or "because I'm wearing a blue shirt." Outwardly, I didn't miss a beat. "I know there are some colleges in California that accept illegal immigrants..." I read that somewhere, where did I read that? "And I think President Obama is working to make it easier in more states..." I don't know much about this, I'm going to have to find out more...
Inside, my heart was pounding and my head was spinning. What did she have to go through to get here? Was she stuffed in the false bed of a truck or the trunk of a car or something even worse? Did she have to hike through the desert? Did she do it with family or friends or alone? Despite all the "wonders" bouncing around in my head, I didn't want to make a big deal about it if she didn't.
A few days later, the subject came up again in first period. Dying of curiosity, I decided to ask how she got here. She looked down. "Uf... Eso fue muy feo." ("Ooh... that was very ugly.") I didn't press it.
But through our conversations over the next several weeks, she shared bits and pieces of memories that helped me patch together a rough picture of her life:
When she got to the U.S., a kind lady
took her and a friend to McDonald's,
where they stuffed themselves because
they were "very weak, pale, and skinny"
from the journey. (Must have been really
rough and must have taken a long time...)
Her parents, who were separated, (and
used to yell at each other a lot when they
all lived together in Mexico) were
already here in the U.S. for some time.
(Mom here, Dad in Colorado.) (How long
has it been since she saw her dad?)
While she lived in Mexico and her parents
were here, she and her little sister lived with
their grandmother, who "mistreated" them.
(Mistreated? How? I didn't want to ask.)
Her little sister still lived (at the time)
in Mexico with the grandmother.
(How awful to be separated from
your parents and then from your sister...
Was the sister still being mistreated?)
Her mom had a new boyfriend here, from
Colombia, and they lived (at the time) with him.
(Is he a U.S. citizen? How did they get an
apartment? Is their legal status part of why
they've had to move so many times recently?)
Her mom worked in housekeeping
at a local hotel. (What if she's deported
some day while A.'s here at school?)
After hopefully going to college in the U.S.,
A.'s dream was to move back home to Mexico,
where she'd then be able to get an excellent job
because of knowing English.
(I wish all the people who claim illegal immigrants
want to steal our jobs could hear this...)
A few months ago, several girls attacked
A. while she was walking home. She
had to fight back, and although she told
her mom, they knew they couldn't call
the police for fear of being deported.
(I can't imagine feeling like you can't
call for help...)
All that, and she was only in 8th grade. All that, and she came to school every day with a smile on her face, eager to work hard and learn while surrounded by a language she didn't know. Now I knew the source of her determination: she had a clearer plan for her future than most students her age, and she knew that doing well in school was the path to achieving her goals. At her age, I was riding bikes and playing with friends and breezing through school without a care in the world except getting some boy to like me...
Now I didn't just care about her. I admired her. She wasn't just a wonderful student. She was an amazing person.