My students are afraid.
I teach English as a Second Language to young children in Baltimore public schools, and to adults at Baltimore City Community College. And I see their fear every day.
I get it. I am the son of Mexican immigrants. But I am an American, too, and I understand the fear and anger of people on both sides of the immigrant issue.
The threat comes from our new president and members of his administration.
For many people, the very name “Trump” elicits fear and anger.
The increase in ICE raids across the country, and the threat to dismantle Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) has only made it worse. DACA has lifted so many immigrant families out of fear and into hope, with opportunities to study and find work, to build their families and thrive. Losing DACA would be devastating.
But I tell my students, “Don’t be afraid, and don’t get angry; get smart.” My job as a teacher is to empower children by cultivating their minds, their greatest tools to empower themselves. I tell them, “We will fight to keep DACA as law, but we’ll be smart about it.”
My speech on behalf of the AFT at the #HereToStay rally in Washington, D.C. at the historic Metropolitan AME church.
Those who oppose DACA may be heartless, but they are not brainless. They are mobilized; they have a plan, and they have many tools. But we too will mobilize; we too have a plan ― and we have millions and millions of tools. We have each other all across this land and we are united and that makes us very powerful. We are going to have our voices heard. We are going to fight the smart fight and keep DACA and protect children.
I remember when I first became an ESOL teacher, my supervisor told me, “Don’t just be a teacher, be an advocate. Advocate for these kids.” And I have, because even within the public school system, immigrant children need a voice.
My parents made a choice to come to America to make a better life for themselves and their children. I am proof these children will grow to become contributors to our country. I was one of those children. Now I am here, and my students know I am 100% with them.
There is a storm of fire coming. And we can either hide in the bunkers and pray for the best, or we can mobilize and fight the flames together. I say we fight together, side by side, arm in arm.
Fight the smart fight. We will fight it together.
Jose Torres is a teacher in Baltimore public schools and a member of the Baltimore Teachers Union. He also teaches English as a Second Language at Baltimore City Community College.