I spoke with my mom Tuesday night. She’s a teacher in a fairly large community college in Oregon. Her students are immigrants, all women, many of them mothers, working hard to earn credentials in Early Childhood Education so that they can one day play a prominent role in the lives of children here in the U.S. My mother speaks of them often, about their dedication, their work ethic. And about the new fear they feel in our country.
She told me a few nights ago she exited the classroom briefly to run a few copies in a room down the hall. While running the copies, she suddenly overheard shouting. It was a man’s voice, unfamiliar, and it seem to be emanating from her classroom. “That’s strange,” she thought. She didn’t recognize the voice.
Attuning her ears, she began to make out words and phrases like, “Go back to Mexico! You know, they’re over at the grocery store right now rounding up people like you and deporting them! You should be over there, our country doesn’t need you!” Horrified, my mother quickly left the copy room and hurried back to class.
Entering the room, she looked around. The owner of the vile voice had slipped out and was no longer there. Her students all sat like statues, some visibly shaken. “What is going on?” my mom asked the statues. Silence. No response. As her eyes scanned the room, the fear in their eyes was plain, stark. No one spoke. “Remember, I promised you I am someone you can trust,” my mom reassured the students softly, probably holding her anger in check– for now. “What happened?” she repeated. At that point, a few of them began to slowly explain that a man had entered the room shortly after my mom had left for the copy room. Upon entering, he suddenly began unleashing an unsolicited verbal assault, some of which is recounted above.
“We’re going next door,” my mom announced. “Let’s go.” Taking the lead, my mother stalked out of the room, into the hall, and knocked on the classroom door adjacent to hers, her students reluctantly in tow. The instructor next door was reluctant to allow her entrance, citing how ‘busy her class was presently.’ “This can’t wait,” my mom insisted. And so she and her students were all allowed entrance into the room. With the help of her immigrant students, my mom identified a man sitting in the front row. White. Male. Mid-forties, most likely. Maybe 50. “Do you have any idea what you have just caused?” my mother seethed.
The following moments ensued with my mother insisting her students share how his words had made them feel. Right to his face. She reports that he then mumbled something during the pause where an apology would have been appropriate- but she didn’t think it was an apology. Upon returning to their own class, it was agreed to keep the door of my mom’s room locked from now on. There would be a secret knock for entrance. This must never happen again.
Later, an incident report was filed. And Thursday the college is hosting a “Rights of Immigrants” forum. And the dean emailed my mom, thanking her for “protecting her students.” And… yeah…what will change? Now that this type of behavior is modeled, condoned, and championed from the highest ranks of our republic, what will matter when it comes to curbing impulsive, hateful behavior like this?
But that day, my mother was a hero. She stood for the rights and decency of all humanity, and for the promise of this country. She committed an act of social justice. In the face of bigotry, she said no. She stood up for those welcomed here by the Statue of Liberty, the Constitution, and all our ancestors. She stood up for immigrants. And it is likely that those hard-working and lovely students in her class feel, perhaps, a little less fearful now. At the very least, they know someone cares about them.
I’m so proud of my mom today.