Eva Masadiego just completed her first year of teaching 4th graders in Phoenix. I met her a month ago and she shared the stories of the children in her classroom, many who are immigrants, some who are undocumented, and all who are in school to get the access to the life opportunities a great education affords. Eva also shared her own story of growing up in an immigrant family in California.
Eva's mother told her, "Whatever you choose to do in life, make sure you are helping people like us. We need you." Those words drive Eva's work in her classroom. She grew up with the expectation that she would go on to get her own college education and eventually be in a position to pay it forward. She is now doing that and encouraging her students to share their stories, to come out of the shadows and share their experiences about the difficulties of their families living in constant fear. Knowing they have a space to do this means the world to them. In fact, teachers are typically the first adult that undocumented students will ask for help.
It is for this reason and the countless stories of children across our country who are living in the shadows and being denied the opportunity to a great education that Teach For America has taken a position in support of the DREAM Act. Our mission is that "one day all children will have access to an excellent education." So when we say all, we do mean ALL. While the politicians debate the details of what is in the immigration reform bill of which the DREAM Act is a part, millions of children's futures hang in the balance, wondering if they will have opportunity to pursue an education.
The economic factors are clear for why the DREAM Act should pass. Clearly a more educated and better educated society will contribute to our country's long-term strength. However, it is much more than that for me. On the day she graduated from college, Eva's father said to her, "If I were rich, believe me that I would buy you everything in the world, but I can't. The only thing you will inherit from me is an education and know I did everything I could for you to graduate." For me it is really about one of the central narratives in our country's history: immigrants seeking opportunity and a better future for their children. Expanded opportunity for most immigrants, just like Eva's father, is the most important and often only thing we can give to our children. For so many of us, myself included, we are standing on the backs of the sacrifices are own parents made and it's imperative that, like Eva, we pay it forward.
As we near the 237th birthday of this great nation, as Americans celebrate with barbeques and parades, as we sing "America the Beautiful," "This Land is your Land" and other patriotic songs, my hope is that undocumented children will be able to see themselves as part of the fabric of what our nation is about and all of the things that make this country great. I hope that Eva's 4th graders will have access through a great education to all our country affords and I hope that Eva's father will always feel like it was worth it.
You can find the full text of a blog post from Eva here.