She sat down on the ground of the busy airport, her tiny little toddler legs aching with fatigue as she watched her mother frantically scrolling through the flight screens. Where was their connecting flight? People zoomed passed her, rushing and running, dragging luggage and yelling things that she couldn’t quite decipher, but she never lost sight of her mother. The little one clung to the bottom of her mother’s dress, little fingers sweaty and shaking. She was scared; there she was in a crowded building that she had never seen before in a country that she had never been in before after having flown across many continents. She looked up at her mother with big eyes and squishy cheeks that blazed red and flushed with apprehension. Her mother looked down at her and smiled and suddenly the little girl’s anxiety dissipated. How was it that her mother was still able to smile after they had been traveling through multiple countries for over 36 hours?
“Mwakhosela, mwana wanga?” (Are you ready, my child?) asked her mother. The little one clutched her mother’s hand and nodded.
“Tipite palali pano” (We need to go now).
Though this little girl’s transition into United States was a frightening occurrence at first, her story became a success—the “American Dream” kind of success. She grew up here in Tennessee. Though she grew up in poverty, she still managed to graduate from UTC with an undergraduate degree in Sociology/Anthropology, graduate from Vanderbilt with her master’s in education and is currently teaching while getting her doctorate at MTSU. Who knew this young lady could do so much, especially since she was an immigrant? Yet, here she is educating our youth, and inspiring others.
I tell this story, not because it is the story of my student, but because it is MY story; I was that little girl. I tell this story because I was the lucky dreamer whose dream was not deferred. My story needed to be told to combat the negativity shared within the media; the media does not appropriately represent the possibilities our students could have if we were more inclusive. I tell MY story because my dream was to get a college education, have a successful career, and help others.
Every single day, I remember how lucky I am and I am so grateful. But what about all the other unlucky DREAMERS? The pain that I feel every time I see an immigrant student in fear cannot be adequately described in words. It swells within me and pours out and I am sent back to that first day I arrived in the United States; the panic, the uncertainty. And I never want a child to ever feel that way, so this is why I advocate. I advocate so that the dreams of my fellow DREAMERS will not dry up or fester. Their dreams will not be a heavy load. Instead, their dreams should soar! After all, this country was formed by immigrants; immigrants are the thread that holds our seams together.
My parents sacrificed so much for me to be in this country, something I do not take for granted. So, every day I must, too, sacrifice for my students, because all means ALL and they are all of our children. So, I ask of you, all of you; how will you advocate for all of our children?
Leticia Skae is a Literacy Teacher Development Specialist in Nashville, TN. This is her 12th year in education and she specializes in diverse and urban education and earned her master’s degree in education from Vanderbilt University. She is currently in MTSU’s Literacy Studies Ph.D. program. She was a finalist in her district for Middle School Teacher of the Year 2017-2018 and a Blue Ribbon Teacher in 2016. Leticia has served on MNPS’ Transition Team, Mayor Barry’s Teacher Cabinet. She is an advocate for improving sociocultural perspectives in education and for teacher retention and teacher empowerment. Some of her hobbies include reading, writing, spending time with her family and tweeting. She also serves as a Hope Street Group Tennessee Teacher Fellow, engaging her colleagues in providing classroom feedback to the Tennessee Department of Education on public education policy issues.