Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Raising their voices

Tuesdays at Two Writing Teachers!
"I read every one. So powerful!"
"These are amazing! Thanks for sharing!"
"I love these!" "These are beautiful!" "This is fantastic!"
"Very inspiring!" "What a great idea!"
"Thanks for doing this!"
"Their stories deserve to be heard!"

Each social media notification and email from a friend or colleagues is another balloon of hope and joy, gently lifting a little more until I'm ready to float away like the house in UP. When people see my students like I see them, they can't help but love them like I love them. Maybe, just maybe, the lawmakers I mailed their stories to will start to see them, and love them, too.

As soon as the President's immigration ban threw airports, homes, and families into chaos that Saturday night, my heart and brain started pounding. What could I do? My students would be upset. How could I honor their feelings? How could we make a difference? My mind drifted back to Inauguration Day, when my friends loved my students' quick reaction notes, and some encouraged me to send them to our legislators. That's what we could do! So much of this fear comes from ignorance. All that Saturday evening, I turned over ideas in my head for a template that would help my students teach lawmakers how hard it is to be an immigrant or refugee, and what amazing young people they really are. People need to understand how long it takes to prepare to come here and be approved, the severity of what many of them are fleeing, and the simple fact that these are innocent, sensitive, hardworking, incredible kids and families! That Sunday afternoon, as Husband kept Sweetie occupied with books and toys, I scrapped my original lesson plans for Monday and designed a one-page template that would help my students get to the heart of these important ideas.

I knew that if I framed it right, my kids would be excited to share their experiences, especially with a real chance to make a difference. Hope and power sparkled in their eyes as I explained that they should not write their names because we would really mail these to our lawmakers. Even so, I was astonished by how purposefully they spread out around the room and settled in to write, some with tear-filled eyes, so dedicated that they spent more than a class period and we had to continue on Tuesday.

When I began reading and compiling their responses, I found that, as well as I know my kids, there is always more to learn. And the more I learn, the more I love them:

You don't just decide you'll go to America and then go on Monday.
Responses ranged from a few months to 12 years!
"there are many gangs in El Salvador"

"India is not safe for girls."
"I can not study in schools because the school bombed."
"Every day people die. The people in my country now like monsters and the schools bad and no future."
"Arbil is better than other place in Iraq because if we go to the other places some people can kill us."
"That was so hard to live without dad."
"My dad has a kidney disease and he is come here to seek treatment."
"Hope to reduce my academic pressure... have a relaxed and happy school life and weekend" (from a Chinese student)
"Every day there was news about a thief who killed someone to steal something from that person. We felt that this could happen to us. People are starving."

"I was felt sad and scary living in Iraq and Syria because of the war. I can't go to school."
"distance my friends, so I can't see long time and I won't be able to school events with classmates."

"But that happened a lot of bad thing I suffered because we walked during the night and we had to cross a big river."
"...to finish our transactions was in Aman it was take 2 h to be in Aman at 7 a.m. We was do that for 10 years."
"We get interview and it is four interviews so it wait between the interviews years and years."
"because Trump became President and he want to kick us out of America that makes me mad and actually he ban the refugees for month so I was happy that my dad is coming, I don't see him for 6 years but now I don't gonna see him because of the bad rule from Trump!"

"happy because my life is preserved from the war / sad because I will miss my family in Iraq."
"I hope still living here because this country is wonderful."
Fear and hope, pain and happiness, education and family. Rugged determination, patience, wonder, and love. From China to Venezuela, the same dreams spread around my classroom.

All mailed off to our congressmen (local and federal offices) and President Trump!
Immigrants and refugees are not numbers. They are kids and families fighting for better lives, and they need our love to be stronger than our fear.