February 22, 2011

In Their Shoes...

This semester, I started an internship at an alternative high school. I have only been working there for about a month and a half, but I can tell you that I never expected it to have this much of an effect on me.

If you're not familiar with alternative high schools, they are schools with more flexibile curriculum. Typical students that attend alternative high schools are students who lack motivation and are struggling in school, have been in trouble for sluffing or need to get credits quickly so they can graduate on time.
Most of the students at this high school in particular are from lower income families. The majority of them are Hispanic- a lot of them coming from immigrant parents, or are immigrants themselves. I wouldn't hesitate to say that most of them know someone in a gang, or in worse cases, are in a gang themselves.

Going into this, I knew that I wanted to help the students there. I knew that I wanted to help them apply for college and prepare for their futures.

But unfortunately, I also had some stereotypes, judgements and preconceived notions about them. I hate saying it, but it's true.

I honestly didn't think that many of them actually wanted to change their lives.

I thought most of them would reject me because they could care less about their futures, and only cared about what they were living for now.

I assumed that the reason that these students were at this high school was because they simply didn't care to push themselves harder.

But I was extremely wrong.

Every single one of those students has plans for themselves and their future. As many of them have told me, they want to "make a better future for their family than what they had growing up."

Many of the backgrounds that these kids have are heartbreaking.

Here are a just a few of them...

A 17-year-old girl that lives with her aunt because her parents are both in jail. If that isn't enough, when this girl comes home from school, she takes care of her aunt- feeding her, cleaning up after her, bathing her- because her aunt is handicapped.

A kid that is an immigrant from Mexico, living here with his mother. He is intelligent and hardworking, but he feels like he can't go to college. Not because he's scared, or because he doesn't have good grades, but because the job he has at a fast food restaurant helps his mom pay the bills. And he can't see how he can sacrifice his job to go to school, let alone pay tuition.

A 15-year-old boy who used to fight in the streets for money because he came from such a poor family.

And lastly, there was a boy who attended the school before I started my internship there. Him and his family were living here illegally. His parents wanted a better life for him and his brothers. Here is a short speech he wrote for one of his classes.

"I am an Immigrant in America
Mexican immigrants come to the United States to have a better life for their families. Most come in search of what is called the "American Dream." the American Dream is living in the USA legally with their family. Another reason that they come is because the USA is so close to Mexcio and the dollar has more value than the peso.
Most of the time it is the man of the family who comes here to work. They send most of their money back to Mexico to their families so that they can start their own business and have a home of their own. Others come with their entire family; mom, dad, and the kids. The reason for this is because they want their kids to have a better life and education. But there are also those who just want to make easy money; they sell drugs or do other illegal things. But mostly, those who come here work all day under the hot sun so that their families can live the right way instead of living as illegal immigrants.

I am an Immigrant
When I wake up the morning my parents have already gone to work. I see them come back home so late at night, it makes me wonder, "Should we really be here?" I rarely see my parents and when I see them, they are too tired to do anything. I know that they work all day long for my future.
I am in Immigrant.
But I am confused. I am confused because some people say that my parents are breaking the law, that we are illegals. I ask myself, "How are we breaking the law if all we are doing is working for a better future?" I want to know if I am also breaking the law because I am the son of two Mexican immigrants and I was born in Mexico.
I am an Immigrant.
But I have lived in the United States all my life. I speak English and I have lived my life mostly like an American. Yet, I am not. I know it is hard to live like this becaus I have lived it. I know how it feels to be the only son out of three children that does not have permission to live in the country.
I am an Immigrant.
Everyday I think that I am one day closer to being 18 years old. When I turn 18 I can be deported.
I am an Immigrant.
But-- I am an immigrant in America... I have hope that some day soon I will be able to finish my education, and be able to get a good job so that my children will have an easier llife that I had. I hope to become a citizen. That will make my life better.
I am an Immigrant in America."

I asked one of the teachers what ever happened to the student who wrote this. She told me he had come in to her classroom after he graduated, and told her he was being deported. However, he wasn't being deported with his family, he was being deported alone. An 18-year-old boy, barely out of high school, being deported to a country he has basically never lived in.

When I first started at the school, I wondered to myself "Where are these kids parents?" I was almost angry at them because it seemed like many of them weren't there for their kids. And while this isn't the situation for all of them, I now know for a fact that many of their parents are working long hours just to keep their family afloat. And while these parents truly want to be home to make sure their kids are going to school and doing what they should be, they have to choose between that, and putting food on the table. Don't tell me you wouldn't do the same thing.
With all of the uproar and debates on illegal immigration, it is easy to see illegal immigrants as the bad guys, as people that are using up our tax money and taking our jobs. As much as I hate to admit it, I have held a similar opinion at times. 

Have you ever thought of it this way? These people are good enough people that they are willing to leave their home country and risk so much to support their families and make a better future for them. I am not saying that it is 100% right, but I am saying that you have to understand where they are coming from. You have to understand their desperation. And I am willing to bet that if you had the circumstances that they had, you would do the same. What I am saying is not me trying to throw around politics, it's about human life and the right that every person has to a better life and future.

I grew up with a pretty priveliged and sheltered life. I knew this stuff existed, but never knew it was happening so close to home. I never realized that there were most likely classmates that I had growing up who went through similar experiences.

I know I am all over the place with what I am writing, but I guess that it comes down to this... 

Because of my experience at this high school and the students that I have worked with, I am learning to and striving to put all judgements aside.
To put all stereotypes aside.
To not judge someone before I really know their background and circumstances.
To do everything I can to understand where a person is from and why they think, act, dress, or feel the way they do.
To really try to walk in other people's shoes before I form my opinion.
And while this is something I should have been doing my entire life, I am going to work on improving it now.

This is my challenge to myself and to you.



  1. Love it! I teared up when I read it! That is so crazy to hear about that stuff let alone know people first hand! I love you tosh! Your going to do great things! (:

  2. Thanks so much Porschea :] I love you too and miss you a ton! I'm coming to visit tomorrow!