Wednesday, April 6, 2011

we just don't know

So many of us just don't know real hardship. Many of my students do. And let me tell you--they are the most humble, happy, loving people I know. Let me share some of their stories:

Emilia: Emilia went to first grade in Mexico for the first time when she was 7. Then her parents split up and she moved. She returned to first grade again when she was 10. She never went to school other than that. She is one of my brightest and most advanced students. She has been in the US for 20 years and now that she is a grandmother, she's taking the time to work on her own education and learn English. There just wasn't time while raising a family and working.

America: America has been in the Level 1 class for 4 or 5 years. She tries hard. She learns slowly, but she comes, and I am definitely seeing improvement. I'm so proud of her. Last year when the students were supposed to write about an important day in their past, she wrote about the day her husband died in the hospital in El Salvador. Just about broke my heart. She moved here 5 years ago to be near her daughter (and now her grandchildren as well).

Jaime: Jaime was a karate master in Mexico. He owned his own academy and his students were nationally ranked. He earned a scholarship to teach workshops in Michigan one summer. When he tried to get his visa, the agent he was working with accused him over and over of buying his papers. He was denied the visa. He lost the scholarship. He came to the US anyway a few years later for his family.

Ana: She and her husband tried for years in Mexico to get pregnant. They did the fertility treatments they could afford. Eventually her husband moved to the US to work. He came home occasionally. One time he came home for a month and they were lucky enough to get pregnant. But because he had only been home for such a short time, people in her town gossiped that she had cheated on him and was pregnant by someone else. When she should have been rejoicing, she was instead having to defend herself. She and her son eventually paid a coyote to bring them to the US and join her husband. They now have a daughter, too.

Morena: Morena comes from a family of 11 or 12 children. 2 of the children have epilepsy and 1 is a quadriplegic. She came to the US to work so that her family back in El Salvador can afford the medicine her siblings need.

Freddy: Freddy works here so his sister can go to college in El Salvador. He should be in college, but instead he's here paying her way through college. He loves his family.

George: George moved to the US so that he could afford to buy his parents a house in Mexico and take care of them. Now that he's here, he misses the small town life in Mexico. He says there are too many drugs and problems in East Palo Alto, but his daughters have been here their whole lives and don't want to move to Mexico. He misses it.

Gerardo: Gerardo has been here for 2 years. He has a 6-year-old son back in Mexico whom he misses dearly. When I commented on how hard that must be, his eyes lit up like I've never seen before and he said, "But I get to talk to him on the phone every day!" I almost cried.

Santos: Santos is an older gentleman who has an 8-year-old daughter. She is his life. They are best friends. The mother lives in Redwood City but is barely a part of the little girl's life at all. He calls himself her mommy and her daddy. Santos never went to school in Mexico. Not one day. Now he is going to school to learn English for his daughter.

Victor: Victor came here to work for his family. The plan was for him to work for 5 years and then go back to Mexico to be with his wife and kids. He was here for 2 years when he found out that his wife (and the mother of his 3 kids, the love of his life) had found someone else. She got lonely after he left. His heart was broken. Unfortunately this is a common story.

Juan: When I had the students write what they used to do when they were little, Juan wrote that when he was a boy in El Salvador, he used to "bathe in the river and hide from the war." As a child.

Vanessa: Vanessa is in her early 20s. When she left El Salvador to come to the US, it took her a month to complete the journey. We buy plane tickets and travel in a day.

My students work as house cleaners, in housekeeping, in construction, in masonry, in landscaping, painting. It's hard work. If you ask them if they like their jobs, every single one of them will say yes.

Those with children are making sure their kids go to school so they can go to college. Some of them have kids in college.

As we live our cushy lives, we sometimes forget that other people are raised without education, leave the place they love to provide a better life for their children, and live in a foreign land with a foreign language they don't understand. And for the most part, they are genuinely happy. I'm honored to help them learn English.


Julie Laughlin said...

so amazing molly. thanks for posting. i think this sheds light on the 'closing the border' issues our country is always struggling with. these are good people who are trying to provide for their families just like the rest of us! i'm glad you are their teacher!

mj said...

thanks for sharing, molly. i think this goes to show that we rarely know the whole story of someone's life. and on the flip side, we might think someone is living a cushy life with no problems or heartache yet we just can't see it. we're all struggling somehow. i just love that these people you teach each week still see the good, have a positive attitude and are willing to work hard to fulfill their dreams. an example to us all, no matter what we're struggling with.

Kim said...

Molly, those stories are so heartbreaking and inspirational. Reminding myself of people who are struggling like that is such a good way for me to keep things in perspective. Like, it's not the end of the world that I don't own a house or have enough budget to do some of the things I want to do. These people have to scrape by just to get some of the things they need.

Yards said...

Hi Molly--this is Cristina (KC's friend). T/y for sharing this! Reminds me of my mom's students who showcase the same vigor despite tremendous hardship. I grew up as little as 5 minutes away from where my mom's students lived, but their worlds were so different. The bona fide happiness & graciousness of those kids who had so little has been a constant source of wonder & envy for me.

Yards said...

Sorry to write so much, but another thing that is so inspiring abt the Latino community is unending generosity. I just had to share this recent story abt 1 of my mom's students (1st grd): the grandfather died, so the dad went to Mexico for the funeral. He couldn't leave his mom alone so decided to bring her back w/ him. They hired coyotes but were caught at the border. The mom was sent back & the dad has been in jail ever since. Since he hasn't worked, his family (wife & 4 kids) became homeless. Another family (single mom w/ 3 kids) instantly took them in & they are now all sharing a 1 bdrm apt.

Amy Carter said...

man, i almost started crying while reading these at work. they are amazing stories and very motivating. we have it pretty easy here.

Rach said...

I really loved this post. Really, really loved it. Thanks!

Tamra said...

Thanks, Molly. This reminded me of the guy I worked with at the golf course in Hollister. He had been working there for years and years, knew little English, and must have had very little money, but all his kids were college graduates. He worked hard to give them a life better than what he had. That impressed me.

Hopefully we're all trying to do and be better!

Sarah Agrella said...

I think we could all use posts like this to give us perspective on what people in other countries go through and remind us how lucky most of us are in the US. Thanks Molly!

Mer said...

I loved this post. Thanks for writing this!

Dianna said...

Thanks Molly. I almost cried. Life is tough and it's good to hear that these people are doing their best and are happy with their life despite all the struggles. I'm glad you can help them.

Emma and Dan said...

Inspiring. Thanks for taking the time to share these stories with us.

Shannon said...

people are resilient, aren't they. And loving. And kind. And persistent. And I'm so glad that you know so many good and wonderfully hard working people. You never know by looking at someone what their story is. This is a good lesson to remember the worth of souls. We all have our own story to tell; and they are all worth hearing. Thank you for sharing.