Immigrants Make Us Stronger

August 6th, 2019 | Rocío Figueroa

This weekend was a hard one for us as a nation.  The recent mass-shootings in once safe public places have left many of us with heavy hearts.  Anger, disbelief, fear, confusion, and sadness are all legitimate reactions to events that are motivated by hate and xenophobia.  As I processed these events, Fred Rogers came to mind. While this connection might seem odd at first, its deeply seeded in my love for my family and this country.

My family and I immigrated to this country from Argentina in 1990 when I was five years old.  Mr. Rogers on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood was my first English teacher.  I still vividly remember the wonder and joy I would feel as I slowly connected the meaning of the words he said to the images and actions on the screen.  As my first teacher, Mr. Rogers taught me so much more than the language, and for this, he forever holds a special place in my heart. Mr. Rogers used his very public platform to continually encourage us to look out for the positive things in the world and accept those around us.  These are teachings that I carry with me to this very day.  

You see, the events of the last few days have burdened my heart.  As an immigrant, I love this country. I love it so much that I chose to renounce the country of my birth and become a US citizen.  It pains me to see when tragedies occur in the country I love. Immigrants, like myself, have contributed so much to this great nation.  So in the spirit of Mr. Rogers, I would like us to take a moment and look at some of our immigrant neighbors with a sense of joy and gratitude for their contributions to this nation and to humanity. 

 

Name Country of Origin Contribution
Madeleine Albright Czechoslovakia 1st woman US Secretary of State and US Ambassador to the UN
Isabel Allende Chile World’s most-read Spanish author
Albert Baez Mexico Co-inventor of the X-ray microscope
Irving Berlin Russia Composer & lyricist
Sergey Brin Russia Co-founder of Google
Liz Claiborne Belgium Fashion designer
Steve Chen Taiwan Co-founder of Youtube
Oscar de la Renta Dominican Republic Fashion designer
Patrick Ewing Jamaica Athlete
Arianna Huffington Greece Co-founder and former editor-in-chief of The Huffington Post
Wyclef Jean Haiti Musician
Mila Kunis Ukraine Actress
Yo-Yo Ma France Musician
Rita Moreno Puerto Rico Performer
John Muir Scotland Conservationist
Natalie Portman Israel Actress
Carlos Santana Mexico Musician
M. Night Shyamalan India Director
Levi Strauss Germany Invented jeans
Nikola Tesla Croatia Inventor of the AC motor
Eddie Van Halen Netherlands Rock Guitarist
Elie Wiesel Romania Author & Nobel Laureate

 

Each of these people remind me that we are stronger together than apart.  Mr. Rogers reminds me that we can use our influence to act in and model kindness.  

As school starts around the nation, please join me in recommitting to creating safe, caring spaces for our students.  We don’t know what they will be bringing with them, but the chances are that they are feeling things deeply, just as we are.  They will need some time to help them process the events of the summer, and they will need us to stand in Mr. Rogers’ shoes, helping find the good in the world and all its people, regardless of their race, creed, or country of origin.

If you would like some additional resources that may help you address these things with your students please check out the following links:

 

US Immigrant Contribution Lesson Plan

Article on how to help students process violence in the community

Article on how to support students after the recent shootings

Teaching Tolerance

 

If you’d like to continue the conversation about how to make your schools and classrooms more equitable for immigrant students and English learners, please reach out to me at rfigueroa@ensemblelearning.org.

 

Rocio Figueroa is the Director of Equity for English Learners at Ensemble Learning.