In my classroom, there is a little boy from Honduras. He speaks Spanish — that is the language of his heart — but he is learning English and tries with all his heart to learn new words and strange phrases that will allow him to live in his new world here. He is 9 years old, with dark hair cut straight across his forehead in a wonderfully crooked line. He has deep brown eyes the color of a plowed field, eyes that sparkle like starlight at night off a pool of calm water. He has big dimples that catch teardrops when he laughs until he cries, or when he cries until the sadness in his heart resides. He has a broad smile that is sometimes mischievous but most times full of joy.
Sometimes I wonder ... what is he thinking as he closes his eyes at the end of the day, or opens them at dawn?
"I hope my new world will embrace me," he thinks tenderly, "and not call me an illegal alien ... and not try to tear me apart from my Aunt ... and not try to tear me apart ... and not place me in the shadows ... and not make me a shadow.
Mami, can you hear me in the dawn? Will my words reach you over the land, over the land, to the valley, between the mountains, to La Esperanza, to Honduras? Help me, Mami. Please. I don't want to be a shadow here.
There, I was a human being. I walked beside you, Mami, my hand in yours, over the alfombras, the colored sawdust carpets on the streets, color, beauty, on Viernes Santo, Good Friday, and it was good because I was with you and with people who love me. And I sat beside you, Mami, your arm around me, under the midnight fireworks, after the late-night dinner, on Nochebuena, Christmas Eve, and the colors sparkled in your eyes, and in the colorful light, I loved you, and you loved me, and I was a human being.
Here, I might become a shadow, Mami. Is there no Good Friday on people's feet; is there no Christmas Eve in people's eyes? Are there only people, Mami, blocking the light, with angry faces and hateful words and violent hands, trying to make me a shadow? I am afraid, Mami. Help me. I am afraid of the dark. I don't want to be a shadow."
Is this what he is thinking?
Then I don't have to wonder, for I know this is happening as he lives his life day by day.
A woman stands at the door of a clothing room. She looks at him with kind, brown eyes and smiles at him with a bright, warm smile. "Hola, mi pequeño amigo," she says. She shows his aunt a room full of clothes, beautiful clothes, for children of all shapes and sizes. He picks out a shirt with a picture of a soccer ball on it, a pair of jeans, a pair of soccer cleats, and a warm jacket — none of them brand new, but all of them new to him. They are clothes his family cannot afford to buy at a store. Yet here, they can pay a little money to help another family with their needs and take home clothes they need for him. He is so happy. "I wonder," the woman asks as he and his aunt say, 'Adios,' if I can write down anything you would like for me to pray about for you? This place is more than just clothes. It is a place to show love." She listens to his aunt and writes down their struggles and their dreams, and sees him, and knows he is not a shadow.
The guidance counselor at his school calls him to her office at the end of the day. "Here is a backpack, Tomás. It is filled with food that your family can use over the weekend. It is from a group called Mission Backpack. They want to make sure you have enough to eat before you come back to school on Monday."
How could she know that sometimes his family runs out of groceries by the end of the week? How could she know that they have only rice and beans ... that his aunt cooks them in the morning and they eat them for breakfast, lunch, and supper ... that he closes his eyes at night and dreams of meat ... that he dreams of something sweet ... that he dreams of food? How could she know? She knows, and writes down his name for Mission Backpack, and sees him, with caring people sees him, and knows he is not a shadow.
On a Friday, I, his teacher, am about to call out the winner of the 'student of the day,' an award I give to a student who has worked hard and behaved well for the whole, whole day. I wish you could see the hope in his eyes just before I call out the winner, and the happiness when I say, "The winner is ... Tomás."
That look of hope and happiness, the face of Tomás, the life of Tomás, is what I hope you see when you hear the word 'immigration.'
He is not a shadow to me.
He is not a shadow.
Trevor Scott Barton is an elementary school teacher in Greenville, S.C. He is a blogger for the Teaching Tolerance project of the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Image: Illustration of a boy, Xomi / Shutterstock.com