Last Saturday morning, I was walking downtown around nine thirty in the morning, heading for the library and Government Corner, one of my favorite council duties. It was cool and cloudy, very still, and voices carried. I could hear Dave expounding on the uses of a native plant while riding his bike downtown at least a block away. We waved as he passed. I love where I live, I thought. I am so rooted to this spot.
I passed the Mexican chain restaurant and wondered if one of my students was working there that morning. He’s a cook, moving up from prep a few months ago. When we read together, we talk about the tricks that cooks play on each other and the front end people, like turning off the walk-in lights when a friend goes in or hiding the knives. He’s practicing his English. We make jokes, too, about how lettuce and letters can sound alike, but you would not want to mix them up in conversation. Its’ a good sign, making little jokes in a new language. We enjoy our chats before we start reading.
My student came to the United States a few years ago. He was not safe in his village and his brother was already here. He has told me about crossing the border in Texas; his sister was caught and he had to make many phone calls to have her released and allowed into the country. He told me, too, about how his mother remembers the soldiers coming to their mountain village in the 1980’s looking for young men for the army and how they hid people. He came, too, because he wants to learn and he knew that, if he stayed in his country, he would have to work in the fields all of his life. His father did not like it when he went to school. He is here, now, in school, but he will not graduate. He came just at the worst time for an education—the beginning of high school. He had to learn a new language—his third—before he could learn the subjects, because, even if the numbers are the same in English and Spanish, the language of mathematics is not. He could not pass an English class, or Global Studies, or even Foods. He had PE and ELD classes. Now he is 18. He needs to work to support his mom and sisters; he wants to leave the restaurant and work during the day so that he can see his family and friends. He only speaks English in school.
It is hard living in a college town some days, like last Saturday. I’d been kept up by bellowing yahoos who were drunk and walking in herds down our street at midnight. So many of the herd seem to take an education for granted—there was never any doubt that they were heading for college and that they were not paying for it by working the Midnight to Eight shift for minimum wage on Friday night. It seems wrong that one young man, who crossed the border, risked his life, and works hard will not be in college next year—even if he could pass the math portion of the GED in Spanish—because he needs to take care of his family, while others appear to squander their chances on parties and beer pong. It is even harder to hear people complaining about immigrants and refugees coming to the United States, because they don’t know my student. If they did, they just might change their minds.