I am told high school kids don't care much about politics and as a high school history and government teacher I generally must agree. However it has been a difficult stereotype to adhere to recently. With Donald Trump decisively clinching victory in my home state of Indiana I have been asked the same questions, and heard the same concerns again and again. To be clear, I teach at a school with one of the highest populations of Hispanic students in the state of Indiana. I think you can see where this is going.
Surprisingly we are not an urban school; in fact we are located in a very unique small town in the central part of the state, where corn, John Deer and absurdly cheap 44oz cups of pop (soda) dominate the culture. Despite that, we have a very large population of Hispanic immigrants that does not exist anywhere else in Indiana.
Now that nothing is stopping Mr. Trump from a Republican nomination my once weary students now seem to have genuine fear for the future, and in particular my Hispanic students. After election day, one of my adamantly conservative students came into class asking what she should do when it comes time for the general election. "I don't know what to do, I can't stand Hillary but there is no possible way I can vote for Donald Trump and I am a Republican!" It was beautiful to be able to tell my naïve yet fresh-faced student "welcome to American Democracy".
Really though, take a moment to imagine if this were the first election you ever had the chance to participate in and how it might affect your view of politics.
With heightened tension and fear I thought a short writing exercise could work as a sort of catharsis for the impending calamity that they all seemed to be sensing.
I posed a simple question. How would you feel if Donald Trump became the president?
This is what my Hispanic students had to say. (All names changed to protect identity)
Maricela, a 17-year-old junior said, "If he becomes the president I would be angry, sad and mostly scared. I feel this way because of the things he has said towards Hispanics and how much hate he has towards us. What really concerns me is that he will try to deport all of us."
One of Maricela's classmates Emanuel stated, "I would be scared, but more disappointed that after all this country has gone through it would break down and it would be like it was during the civil rights movement. I feel this way because Trump is an idiot and doesn't know what he is talking about. My concern is that there will be more violence and discrimination than there already is."
Much of their worry is either of discrimination or deportation; imagine dealing with that as a legitimate fear when you were 16 and 17 years old on top of the acne and the fear of asking someone to prom. Oh and of course the crippling poverty that most of our students now deal with.
For example, Josue one of the nicest kids I have ever met, said he is afraid that he will be deported, lose his friends and be forced to move back to a culture that he cannot remember. Emily at least keeps a sense of humor about Mr. Trump, "I don't think he can deport all immigrants but if he becomes president, America will fall because he has the IQ of a potato."
Another student was more concerned, "I am terrified for my parents because they are here illegally, they work three jobs to provide for us, their daughters, what they never had." So many are just afraid of being separated from their families like Gabriela who said "I know so many families that will get separated, I may even be separated from mine. I know immigrants aren't supposed to be in a country they are not allowed in but for families who've worked and educated themselves it is not fair."
Now, what is my purpose for sharing this with you? I can promise you it is not to make a point, or start an argument. It is simply to give my students, especially the most disenfranchised, a voice that they otherwise would not have. Many do not have social security numbers let alone will they ever be able to vote, but they are still impacted by the political process.
See, as a teacher of history I so often have to teach a narrative of the world as seen through the eyes and spoken through the pens of white men. Therefore I believe it is critical to hear history as it is being made, through the voices of those who will likely not be heard in the history texts of tomorrow. Before you finish this article please remember the words of the great Howard Zinn.
"I wonder how the foreign policies of the United States would look if we wiped out the national boundaries of the world, at least in our minds, and thought of all children everywhere as our own."
― Howard Zinn
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