My school is a school for newcomer immigrant English Language Learners. With recent events at the Mexican border, I have been thinking about the parents of my students and their journeys in coming to the United States with their children. This past week, I had the opportunity to speak with the father of Marcos. * Marcos is a student from Peru who came to the U.S. when he was in the 9th grade.
This past week, Marcos won an award for graduating seniors from the Bronx United Federation of Teachers. Marcos and 30 other students each won a laptop, a wireless printer and a backpack full of supplies, all to set them up for success in their first year of college. At the awards ceremony, I sat next to Marcos’s father and learned more about him.
“Next week, I’m going to three graduations in one day,” Marcos’s father told me. “All three of my children are graduating from different high schools in New York. When I first came here, I knew nothing. No English, nothing about the United States. I came here alone and found work in construction. Then my sons came. Eight months later, my wife and daughter came.”
Marcos’s father has attended every single parent-teacher conference our school has ever hosted while Marcos was a student. I imagine Marcos’s father did the same for his other children, which is partly why each one was able to persist through high school despite their varied entry points. Marcos’s father always scrutinizes Marcos’s report card and shakes his head with any grade below 75. In a mix of Spanish and English, he probes the teachers, finding out what Marcos needs to do better.
“I only had 5 years of school so I want all of my children to study,” he told me. “This is all I wanted, that they learn to study, so I push them.”
When I meet my students’ parents, I’m inspired by them. They have courage, they work long and hard hours without complaint, they learn as much as they can, they are humble. My students’ parents are willing to make sacrifices and be uncomfortable so that their children can have another opportunity.
The photo above is our school’s Welcome sign, which welcomes parents and students in nine languages. The word “Welcome” can be said in a perfunctory manner, as in “You are here. We will tolerate you.” The word “Welcome” can also be said as if one means it, as in “You are here. You are welcomed. And your presence is a gift.”
*The names and identifying features of students have been changed.
Photo credit: Julie Nariman