School Daze

The month of May is coming to a close, and so too, the school year.
J.J. Maldonado is ending his middle school career with a flourish of good grades. This is not unexpected, as he is a good student. The other day, J.J.’s mother was showing off her son’s many awards.  Tucked in amongst the papers was a very fine certificate from the White House. President Obama had written J.J., offering him congratulations and encouragement and wishing him “the very best in the years ahead.”
Sr. Irma, a Daughter of Charity who knows the family well, sighed. “He is a Dream Act child,” she said, “he will need more than best wishes.”
The Dream Act, a piece of bi-partisan legislation that would offer a legal remedy to those who were brought to the United States as children, continues to languish in Congress, one more captive in the polarized national political scene.
A.B. Troncoso ended his high school soccer career with a bang. A.B. is an all-star defender and a senior, and when his team was awarded a penalty try toward the end of a playoff game, the coach sent him out to take the shot. His family was at the game, and they raced to the edge of the stadium seating, cameras at hand, watching, anxiously, as their brother raced toward the ball.
He hit a powerful shot that boomed! as it hit the bar. He had missed, barely, but he did miss.  As A.B. trotted off, disappointed, even as the sound of his miss continued to echo from across the way, his older sister Claudia, herself quite the soccer player, cheered him on. She knew the nature of setbacks—temporary in nature, offering an opportunity to recalculate and make the necessary adjustments. A.B. had one more game to play, and then he moves on to college, where he might just get more shots on goal.
Claudia is a Dream Act candidate herself, and so knows a bit about setbacks. She is a stellar student who graduated from college last May. Claudia was set to return to Mexico when her grandmother came to see her. Her grandmother told Claudia that she had taken a second job, and hoped that that income would help Claudia start graduate school in Brownsville. “Matamoros is no place to come to right now,” said Claudia’s grandmother, referring to the horrors of the violence of that failed city. Claudia did in fact begin graduate school, studying psychology in the hopes of having something to offer the many children of Matamoros who have been witnesses to the unspeakable, and who need someone to help them heal.
We move from May into the summer and an election season. There are those amongst us who wish to experience “the very best” and there are those amongst us who wish to help to heal others. They would like a chance to take shot on goal, and they are waiting to see if there is someone out there who would offer them that chance. In the meantime, J.J. and A.B. and Claudia recalculate the course of their lives, watching and waiting yet another setback—or a chance to score.

 

Mi voto es mi voz

bd541-03forumBy ten o’clock in the morning this past Tuesday, May 1st, 350 people had quietly filed into the McAllen Convention Center. Some had small American flags, others had stickers that proclaimed “Mi Voto es Mi Voz” (my vote is my voice’), and some had two or three toddlers in tow.

They had come to participate in the Rio Grande Valley Equal Voice Network’s candidates’ forum, “un foro educativo”, an “educational forum” meant to help the candidates understand the issues that were most important to us.

A couple of dozen candidates soon took their seats, looking confident and attentive. The lone woman candidate, someone who had changed party affiliation just two weeks ago, sat on the edge of her seat, smiling brightly and waving her hand at the crowd. She had been a local TV news personage and looked ready to go live.
The questions, I felt, were good ones. They had been created from several groups that work on the issues that dramatically affect the lives of our families: immigration, housing, health care, jobs, and education.
A  young woman was in charge of asking the first question. She began with a preamble—the issue was so outrageous as to require some explanation. She noted that undocumented citizens could not obtain a Texas driver’s license, and that this was a huge problem—for everyone. “There is no public transportation here, so you really do have to drive a car to go to work or to school. But if a person can’t get a driver’s license, how do the rest of us know if they can even see (reminding us that a driver’s test requires a vision screen)? How do we know if they have studied the rules of the road? And if you are a responsible person and want to purchase car insurance, if  you don’t have a license it becomes so very expensive.” She continued for a bit more and then she looked up at the candidates and said, “So what is your plan to change that law?”  And remained at the podium, looking them in the eye as one by one they answered the question.
The morning was long but people stayed attentive. The questions went to the heart of the matter—our community simply wanted to be treated fairly, and we are not. We pay higher taxes than anyone else in the state, and yet our schools are horribly underfunded. We want our children to grow up as healthy and happy as anyone else’s, but health insurance is out of reach when they do get sick (half of Hidalgo County’s residents have no health insurance), and, if our children want to exercise and stay healthy—well, the schools lock down the playgrounds after hours, there are few parks, and no sidewalks. Our hardworking family members who do find work are paid half of what someone doing the very same job gets in Austin.
The questions were about justice, simple justice. What I found troubling is that most of the candidates could not correctly pronounce the word “injusticia,” while some of the others didn’t bother using the term—they seemed to think everything was hunky-dory in our neck of the woods.
In the evening, a second event was held, this one in Brownsville. There was less of a crowd, but it was a school night and there weren’t as many candidates on the slate. All the same, 75 more folks filed into their seats and listened as the candidates fielded the questions.
I found myself sitting next to an eighteen year old whom I have known since she was three years old. She was to graduate in a couple of weeks and was thrilled. “I want to become a registered nurse, although I would really like to do research and discover medicines that people need.” I asked her what she thought about the forum and she beamed, “I love to listen to this, but I get so mad when they don’t answer the question.”
A question that was not asked that night (because we didn’t yet know to ask it) was the candidates’ opinions on a decision by the University of Texas and Texas A&M systems to raise tuition rates. The universities seemingly felt pushed into a fiscal corner when Governor Perry refused to allow any state programs to access the “rainy day” fund—a pool of money that has now reached $ 9 billion.  Perry supporters claim that the fund is for emergencies (in the past the fund has been regularly tapped to meet budget needs—such as education)—and that educational shortfalls do not qualify as an emergency.
This decision may well leave my young friend’s dreams withering in the blazing sun of Texas politics. Her family cannot afford the tuition at the local university as it is, and were counting on student loans and grants—but these have been cut as well.
At the end of the evening, I gave her a hug and wished her well.
I went out into the warm evening, practicing, over again, the word “injusticia.”
I had no trouble with the pronunciation–nor the concept.