As a college student moving to a new city for the first time, I could not have been more excited to arrive in Austin, Texas. The city had a thriving film and music culture, fantastic food, and an amazing college campus. However, moving to Austin there was one thing that surprised me: the racial and economic divide that exists in the city. The city is neatly segregated into the far wealthier west side where most of the White and Asian residents live and the lower-income East Austin where most of the Black and Latinx residents live. As a result of this, many of the students in East Austin go to under-resourced and unequal schools compared to their peers on the West side.
When I joined and later became president of Students Expanding Austin Literacy (SEAL), a student organization that provides college-aged reading buddies and mentors to elementary school students in East Austin, we aimed to help teachers and educators reduce this gap. The work I did in SEAL helped ignite a passion in me to work in education. It’s the main reason I will work as an elementary school teacher after graduation. And it is why the UnidosUS event I attended this semester troubled me so much.
UnidosUS is a Latino civil rights and advocacy organization operating in the United States. In their event, “Living in a Climate of Fear: Voices from the Classroom,” researchers presented research on the effects immigration policy and rhetoric have on UnidosUS-affiliated classrooms. Despite the fact that a majority of Latinos in the United States are American citizens, they still feel the irreparable effects of harmful rhetoric and strict immigration policies.
According to their report, “A Generation at Risk: The Impact of Immigration Enforcement on UnidosUS-Affliated Classrooms and Educators,” 92 percent of survey respondents reported seeing students express fear over ICE. Furthermore, 80 percent noticed an increase in immigration related absences and 76 percent said parents’ involvement decreased due to what they believed to be fear of immigration enforcement. Policy in America can directly affect children’s experience and feeling of safety in the classroom, potentially hurting their development for years to come.
When I think about my future in the classroom, I know the students I will serve will likely deal with these issues: Living in a country that does not make them feel welcome. Living in a political institution that calls them criminals before they even know themselves. Living in a society that does not value their contributions. I know as a teacher my job will involve ensuring they know that they matter. I will need to be cognizant of the policies and the rhetoric harming them and work to subdue it. It won’t be easy, but it’s work I am committed to doing and it’s work everyone in society needs to do to make sure Latinx students are always welcomed in this country. Our nation depends on it.