Because I have dedicated my life to “the others” of America. The immigrants and refugees. The Muslims and the Coptic Christians. The students who arrive to school on Day 1 with no English and are terrified.
As an ESL teacher, I have spent day after day and year after year with a group of people that is often shunned by Americans. They are told to “learn English or go home.” They are ignored. Or they are laughed at. They are discriminated against. Or they are invisible.
I first became an ESL teacher because I wanted to work with people from other countries and cultures. Having partially grown up in Thailand, I went to a high school where I, as a white person, was a minority. I had friends from India, Taiwan, the Philippines, Thailand, Korea, England, Nepal, and more. I had friends who were Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, Sikh, and even Zoroastrian. And I learned that despite our differences, we could value and love each other. As a result, I always enjoyed working with people who were different than me.
As my years of teaching ESL wore on, I became more and more aware of the experience of immigrants in this country. I began to listen to my students, and I began to see what they valued, how they had been deeply hurt and disappointed, and the joy and determination they had. Their stories began to change me. They began to change the way I thought about government. I voted Democrat for the first time in 2008, partially because I saw the positivity and compassion Obama had for immigrants, and he promised immigration reform.
Donald Trump built a campaign against these people. He claimed that our borders aren’t safe and that we need to build a wall. The truth is that President Obama has deported more illegal immigrants than ANY other president, and he focused on those that had broken the law. (Obama also created DACA, which provided deferred action to young people here illegally.)
Donald Trump says we need to make Muslims register because they are dangerous. Does that not remind you of Hitler and the Jews? Of Japanese Americans during WWII? Our country is built on religious freedom, and the idea of a religious registration is unthinkable.
The truth is that Muslims are not ISIS. ISIS and Muslim terrorists represent a very small minority (less than 1%) of Muslims worldwide. Compare the KKK or Westboro Baptist Church members to all Christians in the world, and you’ll get it. Almost all Muslims condemn Muslim terrorism and extremism. Also, the most common victims of ISIS are Muslims, not Christians. And most terrorist events in America are done by citizens and legal residents.
Donald Trump also says we shouldn’t accept refugees because they are a danger to us. However, refugees are people who are fleeing danger and looking for a safe place to live. To understand why Syrian refugees are coming here, read this. To experience a refugee’s journey, watch this video on your phone. Furthermore, out of the 784,000 refugees who have entered our country since 9/11/01, only 3 have been arrested for plotting terrorist activities.
The election of Donald Trump is, quite honestly, an insult to my career, to my lifelong passion, and to my day-in and day-out work with immigrants and refugees. I have given my life to educating kids and teens who are navigating two languages, two cultures, and constant discrimination.
But more than that, his election is an insult to my students. This is a group of people who are already mistreated, and Trump’s language about them has further alienated them. My students feel hated, unvalued, and scared.
You might ask, “But what about the illegals?”
What about them? Jesus told us to love our neighbor. He didn’t say “just love the legal neighbors.” In fact, he told a story about a Good Samaritan who helped a Jew, a person he was supposed to hate.
My job is to love my neighbor. My job is to educate and value my students. I don’t care if they are legal or illegal, and by law public schools can’t require proof of legal status and can’t deny a free, public education to students who are undocumented. Legality is irrelevant to my job. I am to educate and care for every student who walks in my door.
My act of resistance is simply to keep going. On Monday I go back to school after a much-needed 5 day weekend. Some students will pay attention, eager to learn English. But at least one student will put his head down during class. I will catch a few students with their cell phones out. Someone will probably refuse to do work at some point. Some students will not understand, even with picture support and my limited Spanish translations, and I will have to find the patience to explain it again. Teaching public school is very hard. But every student will see me smile and greet them by name when they enter my room, will hear me say I am happy to see them, and will know that at least one American in this country has their back.