By Vanessa Vargas
I was born and raised in (South Central) Los Angeles to Mexican immigrants who, like so many before them, had immigrated to the United States in pursuit of their American Dream. Every day since I can remember they have tirelessly worked their fingers to the bone fueled with the hope that their children would one day go to college and have opportunities that they could only dream of.
For my teaching residency I was placed in a neighborhood adjacent to where I grew up. It is a community no different than the one I grew up in and one I knew very well because of its proximity to my childhood home. It was a community notorious for its underperforming schools, poverty, and high crime rate. But I knew better. I knew that its residents were much more than the statistics that defined them to the outside world. The residents were people like my parents and neighbors. It was a community of immigrants who daily strived for a better tomorrow despite great dangers and lack of opportunities. These were not the Mexican immigrants Mr. Trump had so infamously alluded to at the beginning of his campaign.
As my training continued, every day in the classroom confirmed that I had made the right career move. Parents welcomed and embraced me. They happily opened up about their children and their lives and were ready to be partners when it came to their children’s education. If they missed parent conferences, it was only because, like my parents, they too worked tirelessly to provide their children a chance at a better future.
Day by day more students became more comfortable around me. Eventually my little third graders relaxed and allowed their unique, quirky, and loveable personalities to shine through. Every evening my sister (also my roommate and confidant) patiently listened as I shared the funniest or cutest thing that Edgar, Oyumi, Angel or Michelle did that day with uncontrollable glee.
As tensions in the election ran high I was reminded that more than half of the students in my classroom where the so-called “anchor babies” that Trump deemed did not have American citizenship despite having been born in the United States. It was in moments like these that the hope and promise I felt for my students turned to fear.
Despite this fear, the truth is that my optimism for the future of my students never wavered. During the first few months of my training, the threat of a Trump presidency was out of sight out of mind. Working with likeminded individuals and residing in a state that always went to the democratic candidate, the threat of Trump didn’t seem like a threat at all. In fact, to me, that threat seemed unlikely to last, therefore, there was nothing to fear that is, until the evening of November 8th.
On November 9th at 12:28am my colleagues and I received an email from our Area Superintendent that perfectly captured the tone of that evening and what I was feeling as someone embarking on her teaching career. In it Mrs. Kate Ford caution us that an election “like this one” is potentially very upsetting and alarming. She rightly noted that, “The chasm that is so starkly evident after this election is almost impossible to understand, for us AND for our students. Over 50 million people voted for the candidate who often threatened, dismissed, criticized, and spoke in hatred towards groups of people to which many of us proudly belong and/or support.” Mrs. Ford concluded with one very poignant and necessary reminder, “However, despite our own possible deep distress, concern, and confusion, we must be strong for our students.”
For the first time, on the evening of the election, my hope was completely overshadowed by fear for my students. Many of them are the sons and daughters of undocumented immigrants or immigrants themselves. Under a Trump Presidency their future seemed dark and uncertain.
I decided to become a teacher because I wanted to make a difference. Specifically, I wanted to protect, educate, and most importantly, empower my students. Every day in the classroom has taught me that teaching is not a neutral act. For better or for worst, the moment we step into the classroom, we are agents of change.
As I hesitantly and with great anticipation wait to step into my own classroom, my primary goal is to empower all of my future students and humbly assume my role as their teacher remembering that under the upcoming presidency my students are among those that have the most to lose.
The stakes are high and the consequences of failure run deep. That is why, now more than ever, we must tirelessly work for our students fueled by hope never fear.
Vanessa Vargas was born and raised in South Central Los Angeles. She attended Harvard University where she received a B.A in Sociology. She is currently working on obtaining a Masters in Education from the University of the Pacific. In the not too distant future she hopes to teach in communities similar to those she grew up in.