Dear Immigrant (Legal or Not),
Thank you so much for coming into my life. Many of you may have been a student of mine at some point in my 20 plus years as a teacher, but I feel it is I who has been the one learning and growing as a person because of you. My first year as a fifth grade teacher, I was fortunate to be placed in a school with a large population of immigrants. Many of you were larger than my 5’0 self which was a little intimidating at the time, but we smiled at each other and quickly started learning together. As an adult education teacher for the last 15 years, I have been “Teacher” as you took on the task of learning English. It hasn’t been easy. Many of you have struggled with undiagnosed learning disabilities, lack of previous education, unstable work schedules, multiple jobs, unpredictable transportation, and family lives. Despite all that was going on in your lives, you have ALWAYS taken the time to greet me at the beginning of class with a smile and “thank” me before leaving. Throughout the years you have taught me how fortunate I am to have an education. I used to think an education was a given, but now realize it is a privilege that should be highly respected. Many of you have come to my class with little or no education and have made outstanding progress. You felt defeated many times, but you hung onto your dream of having an education and continued on. I wish I could say it was due to my amazing ability as a teacher, but I know it isn’t. Many of you have also come to the US with more education than I could ever dream of possessing and have graciously accepted help from classmates who may have only five years of school, but whose knowledge of English was higher than your own. I love each of you for your determination to be your best.
Thank you for taking the time to share your language and culture with your peers and me. I apologize that I still can’t pronounce many of your names and thank you for being so patient with me. While I have had up to nine different languages spoken in one classroom, I am ashamed to say that I still only know English and a small amount of Spanish. Over the years, I have received more gifts than I can count. Many of you have baked goods during special holidays so that I could be included in your time of celebration. Others have invited me into your home. You have made me the special guest. It is in your home that I have learned to appreciate even the smallest of material items. Many of you came with nothing and have worked hard to get where you are today. When you invited me to a party and I hesitated because my children were young or because they were teens, you always said, “Bring them. They are invited too.” I love that family is a priority for you. (We have missed many US parties due to the fact that we didn’t want to leave our children at home while we attended “adult only” parties.) A gift I will always hold close to my heart is when my father died. With many of my friends I felt like his death was uncomfortable and it was easier to move on with life than mourn for the emptiness I felt. However, my first day back with you, a long line was formed at my desk and each person spent a few minutes hugging me and struggling with their English to share a few special words with me. I felt so loved. I have shared so many stories with you over the years about my family and you have listened and shared your own stories. It is when we discuss our families that I know how much we have in common. We all want the best for our families, we worry about our kids, and we struggle to know if we are always making the best choices. Thank your for sharing intimate parts of your life with me. You have honored me over the years when you have stopped by my classroom to share that you passed a challenging class, that you didn’t need a translator at an appointment, when you became a citizen, or your child got good grades in school. You have shared new jobs and promotions, photos of your family, and photos of yourself without your headscarf so that I could know you better. In difficult times you have asked me to keep you in my prayers as your family was going through a tough time, shared personal stories of losing husbands and children, abuse, loss of parents you haven’t seen in years, ridicule in the workplace, etc. These stories are very personal and it has meant a lot that you trusted me with them.
I am a better person today because of the experiences we have shared over the years. Many times you may not even be aware of the impact you have on my life, but you do. I have admired you helping a classmate who speaks a different language to learn a new vocabulary word. I have sat in wonderment as you share how the person sitting next to you would have been your enemy in your homeland but is your friend in the US. You have torn down walls to be the best US citizens you can. I think about each of you often. I try to keep an open mind and remember that we each have our own past and present. I try to be like you and appreciate my government, education, and family. And like you, I try to smile each day, say “thank you”, and never give up on my dreams.
This political season we are seeing a lot of hate towards immigrants in the US. It breaks my heart. I often wonder if those who criticize immigrants have had any experience with immigrants. I don’t think they have because if so, they could never say the hateful things they do. When you hear these things, please know that we don’t all feel this way. Many of us know the sacrifices you have made for your family and yourself, the kind hearts you possess, and the amazing citizens that you are to this country. Please know that despite what you see and hear in the news, many of us appreciate the long work hours you often put in, the respect you give your children’s teachers and your own teacher, the amazing neighbors you are, and the forever friends you are to many of us.
With much love and appreciation,