Juan’s mom shows up, make-up smeared, holding his younger brother. My Spanish isn’t great, but I can understand the message. We’re going to Mexico. And if they don’t want us there, it’s back to El Salvador. His dad works construction while his son constructs sentences and equations and whatever else it takes to make a dream.
Juan is a gifted mathematician. Would it make it any less tragic if he couldn’t do long division?
As his class walks to P.E., I deliver the news and watch him crumple up like an old paper bag. He weeps. Big tears. Huge convulsions. And I wrap my arm around his hoodie, in an awkward camp counselor side hug. I’m weeping, too. It has been only eight months, but I care about this kid.
It doesn’t matter that he calls this place home. It doesn’t matter that he has learned English. It doesn’t matter that he is working harder than I ever worked in a land that was taken from his people by conquest. It doesn’t matter that he is an amazing math student who is learning English at a breakneck pace, because his village was hit-up by drug violence fueled by a deeply American demand.
I drive home in tears, not just for Juan, but for all my students who have faced a similar experience. I get it. He is, in the public’s eye, an “illegal.” And this is why I cannot treat immigration in a theoretical way. this is why I cannot treat it as if it is merely a political issue. This is why I am convinced we have lost touch of the deeply human need for survival that drives a family to uproot their lives in a search for esperanza.
And this is why I will never be neutral on the issue of immigration. Because, ultimately, I believe in hope. I believe in my students. I believe that they are the future of our nation.