Anonymous Undocumented Harvard Student #3
Harvard, Class of 2009
Teachers, counselors, administrators, community members, and elected officials ... You, ALL OF YOU, LIED to me.
Every time you told me "hard work pays off," every time you said, "if you try your best, you can succeed," and every time you advised me, "believe in yourself and you can make all your dreams come true," you LIED to me.
The first time you told me such lies was in 1995, when I was a third grader, newly arrived from Mexico. You guided me to learn how to speak English correctly and without an accent. But, that was not enough for me. I WANTED to learn to sing in English, to laugh in English, to dream in English, and you APPLAUDED me by allowing me to speak in front of my fellow students, in front of teachers, in front of parents.
You also guided me to learn to write in English. You taught me how to spell properly and to use proper grammar. But, that was not enough for me. I WANTED to learn how to play with language, how to make it beautiful, how to make it ugly, how to mold it as one molds clay, and you ENCOURAGED me. You gave me awards praising my efforts: "Most Outstanding Essay," "Excellence in writing," "Writer of the Month," and told me that this was just the beginning. "Keep up the good work," you said with your hand on my shoulder, "and you can do anything you want to do in life if you stay in school."
You gave me the incentive to do so by placing me in the Gifted and Talented Education (GATE) program in fifth grade where you showed me how fun learning could be--with field trips, with guest speakers, with opportunities that the rest of the school would NEVER have because I was special and so were my classmates in the fifth grade. You pampered me academically and introduced me to the "web of learning" that exists, where knowledge leads to more knowledge that is interrelated and connects the world. You gave me the key to this web because I was in "the smart class" and thus ENTITLED to better classrooms, better teachers, better books, and better access to education than the rest of the school. Then you promoted me to junior high school where you promised "new learning adventures" and counseled me, "Continue earning straight 'A's;' you are very smart and you can succeed."
So, I started sixth grade with high hopes. Only, without a warning, you kicked me out of the GATE program. I should have known THEN that you were lying. I should have known that this was the first step you would take to separate me from those who, you KNEW, truly had an opportunity to succeed. After three years of top grades, after I had achieved amazing English skills, after I had wowed my teacher in fifth grade, you removed me from the Honors classes without double checking my grades, without analyzing my standardized test scores, without even GLANCING my way. And, when I begged you, my counselor, to change my class, when I continued to show up at your office to tell you there had been a mistake, you sent me back to class with a warning never to show up with that request again. I did not understand why, and until this day, I cannot make sense of it. You did not listen to my VOICE, the voice of a twelve year old PLEADING to be allowed in the door that you had once held open for her.
I did not care. With or without you, I would DREAM. You told me that I should not expect field trips or labs in my classes, that there was not enough money for US. And then, YOU, my science teacher, LEFT ME and was replaced by several long term substitutes whose job was to sit at their desk, read the newspaper, and occasionally take a nap while I was stuck using ten year old books to complete a mindless assignment. So, I went home, went to the library, and while the GATE class prepared to dissect a cow's eye, I paced back and forth in my back yard memorizing its different parts and functions, knowing that my class would never EXPERIENCE education the way "the smart class" did. Even so, I would not miss out on that knowledge, because I still held the key you had once given me, and no matter how much you would try, I would refuse to give it back.
It was during this time that I said, "One day, I will go to Harvard." It was during this time, that I understood the pain of being marginalized by my current classmates for having such lofty dreams and by YOU because you no longer wanted me in the classes that would help me get there. And, as I dreamt, I also finished all the work I had for the rest of the semester. It was then that YOU, my Language Arts teacher, spoke for me and convinced the counselor that I was in the wrong class. You said, "You are smart, and the Honors class will be a better fit for you. One day you'll be someone great." It was on that day, that I let out a sigh of relief because the promise of success and greatness was still a promise that was held out for ME. You said so before and you were saying it to me again.
I continued to go to school every single day--until the eighth grade, when muscle spasms in my back prevented me from getting up the day after I was rushed to the emergency room. I cried. I begged my mother to ask the school nurse for the wheel chair, so I could use it throughout the day. This way, I would not have to miss a day of school because I WANTED to learn. But, as I fainted from the pain, I realized that my perfect attendance would be blemished and I hoped that I could compensate by a perfect academic record. You PRAISED my desire to learn by awarding me medals: "Principal's Award," "Outstanding Scholar," "Outstanding Leadership" and told me as you smiled for the picture my parents were taking of us, "You are a great student, you can be anyone you want to be if your academics continue to be strong. But, you also need to be a leader."
Meanwhile, rumors of the DREAM Act echoed in the nation
I joined ASB, became the Commissioner of Renaissance, a club that praised academic excellence. Instead of ending school at 2.30pm, I stayed at school planning events and having meetings with the teachers for the benefit of the student body. I LOVED to see change happen when I was proactive and I LOVED to see the effect of positive change on my fellow classmates. I LOVED being a leader, and I became good at it. "You're ready to move on to high school," you said and added, "Keep up the good work, and you will surely achieve your dream of going to Harvard and becoming anything you want to be."
It was 7am when I showed up for my first day of high school, in the summer. I went to pick up my schedule and read "Basic mathematical functions and English Language Development." You gave me the wrong classes, AGAIN. But, I showed up to the class because I did not want to be marked absent and when I brought it to your attention, you yelled slowly "the class is not hard--you can do it." I would have understood you, even if you would not have YELLED. But, you did not listen to MY voice. I had passed Algebra I with an "A" and I had passed Honors Language Arts with an "A," and I had passed science and ASB, and even P.E.--all with "A's," and I did not know WHY you had given me classes that were below my skill level for the second time. This should have been a reminder that I was not ENTITLED to the successful path that you, in your LIES, had promised me time and time again in the past.
But, I walked out of your class and snuck into the counseling center, cutting in front of at least fifty other students to let You know, my counselor, that my class was wrong. "Yes," you responded, "A bright young lady would get easily bored in this class. Do you want to take geometry?"
And I accepted because that would be a new challenge. It did not take me more than a week to earn the top grade in my class which was full of sophomores, juniors, and seniors. "Why are you here, eighth grader?" a friend asked, and I told her that one day, I would go to Harvard. "But," she said picking up an eraser, "Mexican girls don't go to Harvard." I dropped my pencil and asked to be excused.
In the bathroom, I looked at myself and finally understood what you had been indirectly TRYING to tell me with the scheduling "mistakes" in my classes. I was MEXICAN and because of that I HAD NO RIGHT to DREAM the dreams I was dreaming to LEARN the things I was learning to KNOW the things I knew--I had no RIGHT to DESIRE the success that YOU had PROMISED me. But, I did not care. Because now, I had taken command of the path that you helped me carve, of the motion in which you helped to set me, of the goals you once allowed me to have.
And yet, you never admitted to these lies. In fact, you were quick to silence the voice of my friend, saying, "Believe in yourself and you can do anything." At Back to School Night you told my parents you were VERY pleased with my work and reaffirmed that I had a bright future ahead of me, that you were confident that I would one day be running the school if I chose to or the city. But, I told you that I had fallen in love with Literature and with Education and that one day, I WANTED to return to teach at my high school because I still believed in the power of education to transform lives. You cheered my decision and flattered me by telling that I was already more qualified than twenty five percent of the teachers there. Meanwhile, I had to continue working hard, trying my best, staying on top of my academics and my extracurricular activities.
So, I continued to earn top grades and to be involved in my school and my community. And, it was not a problem because I LOVED the idea of helping my community and my school; I loved the idea of promoting academic excellence as president of the Honor Society. I loved the idea of learning and researching topics that we would never discuss in school (because they were too advanced for what we were trying to accomplish in class) through the debate team and winning team and individual speaker awards. I did not mind coming in to school at seven in the morning for debate class and leaving at six in the afternoon after calculus tutoring only to walk through a poorly lit street, so I could be at the library at six thirty to begin my community service.
And, one evening when I was sixteen years old, after a group of four guys threw me inside a car, made me take off my clothes, and were so close to RAPING me, I locked myself for months into shades of black and grey clothing; I stopped wearing makeup; I stopped looking at myself in the mirror, and I kept silent...because if I spoke out, I would no longer be allowed to go to the library to plan events that would promote literacy, and so close to the time of applying to Harvard, I could not allow this to happen. There were things more important than a TERRIFYING twenty minutes--i.e. a dream that I had been holding on to for now four years--and I thought myself stronger than this event. I chose to follow the path that you helped to set out for me because it was the path that I knew lead to success. And when I finally spoke, it was because fears, nightmares, and tears began to interfere with my normal activities, and I knew that I had to do anything in my power to CONTINUE on that road towards my dreams. My voice was heard, and I was ASSURED that my dreams and the doors leading to them were still WIDE open and ready for me to go through them.
You set out to prove that this was, in fact, the truth. You wrote letters for me, praising my "innate abilities" my "natural leadership" my "love for learning" and gave me you highest recommendations as I applied to Harvard and Princeton. And, on April 1st, 2005, six years after my initial dream, you SWORE that the letter Harvard had sent me admitting me to their school was PROOF that "hard work DOES pay off, that if one dreams and works hard ANYTHING is possible."
So, I took my admissions to Harvard and walked among the world's brightest and most talented human beings--Nobel Laureates, poets, scientists, authors, historians, students--all glued together by our different passions and desire to produce change in the world. And, every time I came back home, you reaffirmed your pride in my accomplishments and you reaffirmed your OWN work because my enrollment at Harvard also meant that YOU had done something right in educating me and that the system actually DID work.
THEN, I started taking a mental roll call of all my classmates. Half of them had dropped out of college. You KNEW that only HALF of the class I started with as a freshman would be there on graduation day, and you KNEW that only a fraction of those who went on to college would make it out with a degree. You KNEW and yet, you had told THEM the same things you had told me--all those empty praises and that empty encouragement had also been directed towards THEM.
But, during my breaks from Harvard, you insisted that I focused on ME, on what a SUCCESS I was, representing my teachers, my schools, my district, my CITY at one of the most elite universities in the WORLD. My hard work, OUR hard work was finally being recognized, even more so as I continued to be successful at Harvard. During my senior year at Harvard, I was a full time student teacher and earned straight "A's" in all my other classes during the ENTIRE year. I received my Bachelor's degree and my teaching certification on June 4, 2009.
Right now, you are burning to throw more praises at me, to congratulate me, and offer a warm hand in recognition of my success. But, I will not allow it...because the piece of paper I received MIGHT stand for a world class education that I received at Harvard, but it is ALSO proof of your LIES. You told me I could be whatever I wanted to be. You told me that I would be someone great. You told me that I would be successful. You LIED.
Instead, I remain hidden, I remain quiet, I remain in fear. Because, at any given moment, a white van with the letters INS inscribed on its side can come and take me away from my family, from my friends, from the people that swore on the life of the AMERICAN DREAM that I would realize ALL my dreams. But, you LIED. You KNEW that for those students whose parents brought them to the United States "illegally," there were different rules, different paths, different dreams, NONE which truly included the LUXURY or the FREEDOM of success. You KNEW that even though the doors of Harvard had opened up for me, the doors of the real world in the United States remained closed with barbed wire and snipers barring my entrance into it. Yet, you sing a victorious song for me.
Meanwhile, my dream of HELPING the future dreamers of my city is indefinitely on hold while I continue to fall down from the cloud on which you allowed me to climb, each time faster and faster into a pit of disillusionment but a pit full of TRUTH.
I have done EVERYTHING you have asked from me and I have done MORE because the bar you set for me was NEVER high enough. I have done EVERYTHING short of DYING in order to chase this carrot that you placed in front of me when I arrived in the third grade, and I have done MORE. I have fallen in LOVE with learning, with education, with reading, with the potential of the students of my community. I have done EVERYTHING you have asked of me and MORE. You KNEW my place in this entire game of the American Dream--you KNEW I did not have one--and yet, you vowed that I did, perhaps quietly hoping that by the time I left Harvard, something miraculous would have happened to allow your lie to go unnoticed.
But, I am DONE...done with participating in a system that perpetuates injustice, inequality, and LIES...done remaining hidden, SILENT, lest the dreaded white van come and deliver me to where YOU KNEW I belonged--outside of the door of the United States, the door of my dreams, the door of my GOALS.
When you return to your classrooms, most of you will probably continue POURING lies out of your lips, attempting to silence the voice that spoke to you today because it would be unthinkable to look at your students in the face...to look at them and confess to them the lies that you have proliferated. Look at Maria and tell her she will NEVER be an astronaut, look at Ramon and tell him he may not even graduate from HIGH SCHOOL, look at Luis and tell him he will NOT be a medical researcher, tell Karla that there is nothing but minimum wage jobs waiting for her in her community after she graduates from Yale as an undocumented student...come up and tell ME that Harvard will be the greatest thing I ever do, that I will NEVER teach, that the students of my hometown do not DESERVE a Harvard educated teacher.
You WON'T. You will choose to continue spreading LIES because these types of truths are UNSPEAKABLE. As for me, I am DONE with your lies, and that is why I speak now. And this is why I choose to leave. DO NOT wait silently for something to hopefully happen between now and the time when your students are old enough to realize the emptiness of your words. This is MY call to ACTION and to REAL change, to bring a change that may not benefit ME at all, a change that might not bring ME out of the shadows and into the classroom where I wish I could be with ALL MY HEART, but a change that will help each one of YOU to look at your students in the eye everyday and with confidence continue to impart the education you are trying to impart today.Anonymous Undocumented Harvard Student #3 (21 March 2010)
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It's taken me much too long to do this. Better late than never. People have been asking me for these stories ever since our coming out event at Harvard on March 10, 2010. Through Harvard Act on a Dream, we... Read More