By Isidro Leonardo Interian Ucan
I was four years old when we left our hometown of Yucatan, Mexico, our hands empty. Immigrating to Oregon was a difficult decision for my parents, but in the end the opportunity outweighed the risks. My parents strongly believed that education would be the key to our success.
I remember waiting at the bus stop on my first day of kindergarten, asking myself “¿A dónde voy?” When we arrived at school, I had no idea what classroom I was supposed to enter. A teacher asked me, “What grade are you in?” I responded in Spanish, “Kinder.”
I trembled as I walked into the classroom. Most of my classmates spoke English; the teacher mispronounced my name. I felt unwelcome.
Throughout elementary school, I struggled to communicate with my classmates and my teacher. Every night, I practiced English with my brothers and sisters at home, and every day, I got a little better at it. Still, my accent didn’t go away.
I worked hard to become bilingual, biliterate and bicultural, but the school system never seemed to value me for who I was. They wanted me to assimilate. In middle and high school, if I spoke Spanish, people told me to go back to Mexico. They called me hateful names like “wetback” and “beaner”.
At home, my family encouraged me to value my cultural roots and heritage. I did. I still do.
Every summer, my family and I worked in the fields. From sun to dusk, I had to pick strawberries, blueberries, and grapes. Even though we were paid only $1 per bucket, it brought hope to all my family. In Mexico, we didn’t have that opportunity.
Thanks to my parents, I’m no longer working in the fields. I’ve been teaching for four years. I’m a third-grade, two-way Spanish immersion teacher, and someday, I would like to be a principal. By returning to my community, I’m able to help the children who are still working in the fields gain the skills they need to seek higher education.
My greatest goal in life is to bring social justice and empowerment into public schools. It is important for students to be in classrooms that honor and value their native languages. It’s important for educators to understand where students are coming from and provide them with the tools they need to be successful.
As an educator, I uphold equity and justice for all.
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