Immigrant Discrimination Through a Child's Eyes

By Trevor Barton 6-12-2012
Ryan Rodrick Beiler /
Photo: White House march for immigration reform in 2009. Ryan Rodrick Beiler /

We made a circle for our guided reading time. I sat down in my trusty old Hinkle rocking chair, and my students sat down crisscross applesauce on their red carpet squares. My second-graders’stomachs were full and their energy level was low. They were ready to hear a story.

I held up our book, Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom, by Carole Boston Weatherford, and they looked with wonder at Kadir Nelson’s cover illustration.

I use reciprocal teaching in my guided reading lessons, so I move from powerful predicting to careful clarifying to quizzical questioning to super summarizing to help my struggling readers develop the skills they need to become great readers. I began the powerful predicting part of the lesson by saying, "Let's take a picture walk through this book and predict what we think is going to happen in the story."

When we turned to the fifth picture in the book, we looked at Harriet Tubman sleeping under a full moon among foxes, raccoons, and possums in the underbrush of some woods. One of my students raised her hand and said, "It looks like she's hiding from somebody." Another said, "She looks worried so somebody must be chasing her."

I was guiding my students to know the life and work of Harriet Tubman and to understand the contributions she made to the South and to the North before the Civil War. I was trying to help them understand how to make, revise, and confirm predictions in a story. These understandings are parts of the state academic standards for social studies and reading.

As we took our picture walk, though, something happened that reminded me that I'm not only a teacher in my classroom. I'm a learner, too. Jonathan, a serious and soft-spoken Latino child, raised his hand and said, "That picture reminds me of my dad. He tried to come here from Mexico. The police chased him and made him go away. He was scared like Harriet Tubman."

Wow. I will always remember the sincerity in his eyes as he connected his life to this great children’s book. He helped me understand that the story of Harriet Tubman is still being lived out today in the lives of Latino families in my school and across the country.

Mary Bauer and Sarah Reynolds authored the report “Under Siege: Life for Low-Income Latinos in the South for the Southern Poverty Law Center.”

They explain, "Latinos in the South—many of whom came here to escape crushing poverty in their home countries—are encountering wide-spread hostility, discrimination and exploitation."

This report helps us understand the struggle for life that many of our Latino students take on, a clandestine struggle like the one Harriet Tubman made all those years ago.

Learning from my children is a vital part of what I do as a teacher. The last picture in the book is of Harriet Tubman sitting with a staff in her hand. She is looking straight ahead with calm, courageous eyes and a weathered, compassionate face. Below her are the words, "Well Done, Moses, Well Done."

On that day in a guided reading class in a small inner-city elementary school in Greenville, S.C., Jonathan was our Moses.

"Well Done, Jonathan, Well Done."

Trevor Scott Barton is an elementary school teacher in Greenville, SC. He is a blogger for the Teaching Tolerance project of the Southern Poverty Law Center

Photo:  White House march for immigration reform in 2009. Ryan Rodrick Beiler /

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