Last week, I visited a teacher's class and conferred with third grader Jorge (pseudonym) as he brainstormed words to use for an ABC poem. He wrote a list of letters down the side of his paper and already had the letter A completed: All the way down in Honduras is where I’m from. He asked me to help him with the other letters when I sat down to confer.
“I’m writing about Honduras. I’ve got the A, but I need to think of other words for the other letters.”
“Tell me about Honduras,” I replied. “I’ve never been there.”
“The food is amazing. We have these things called baledas and they are tortillas and they are filled with these smooshed beans and they are filled with cheese and sour cream. Oh gosh, they are so delicious.”
“Well, there you go, you have your B word. Somehow you can think of a way to write about baledas in your poem. What’s next?”
“I know, I’m going to look up Honduras on my Chromebook and get some ideas out of there.”
Jorge opens his Chromebook looks up information about Honduras. He sees several C words like Central America and Caribbean Sea. He decides he’s going to write about the flag when it comes to his F word. But when he contemplates D he turns to me, gives a serious look, and talks.
“D can be for dangerous. Honduras is a dangerous place. They don’t have rules over there like they do here. Over there, you can ride in the back of a truck. It’s legal. But we have to wear masks over our heads and bend down. You can get shot. My sister has a friend from school who was shot in the head and died.”
Jorge continues. “My mom says we’re never going back. She brought us here because she wanted us to have a better life. She snuck us across the border. She was pregnant with my brother when she came but she didn’t have good nutrition. She just ate ham. That’s why my brother has some problems.”
I ask, “Do you ever go back?”
“Every summer,” Jorge replies. “My dad makes enough money to fly me and my brother back in the summer and we spend the whole summer with him. My mom doesn’t go. She says she never wants to go back to that place.”
Jorge writes for bit, then talks again.
“I like Honduras better than America. The baledas are so much better over there. They are huge! But I don’t like the toilets. Every time you go to the bathroom, you have to go fill up a bucket of water and throw it into the toilet. I don’t like that. But, here in America, I don’t like the kids in my neighborhood. They keep calling me Mexican. I AM NOT MEXICAN! I am a Honduran! I hate when they call me a Mexican.”
I wonder. What happens now that there’s a travel ban in our country and a President who seems to disdain all sorts of brown people. Will his mother risk sending him over the border again? Will Jorge ever see his country again? Will Jorge ever see his father again?
I worry. Brown children, from various Latin American countries, are growing up in a country where their own President disdains them. And his behavior somehow normalizes discrimination. Jorge experiences it now in his neighborhood.
This is Jorge’s America—and it’s different from Donald Trump’s America.
About the Author
Brian Kissel is an Associate Professor of education at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. His focus is writing instruction. He lives in North Carolina with his wife, Hattie and three kiddos: Charlie, Ben, and Harriet.