Monday, May 4, 2015

immigration reform . . . from the bottom up

"Esteemed Mr. President, 
 "My name is María Dolores, but I can't give you my last name or anybody's last name or where we live because I am not supposed to be in your wonderful country. I apologize that I am here without permission, but I think I can explain. My teacher at my new school, Mr. B., said for our first big writing project we could write anything we wanted. So I decided to write to you because I understand you are the one in charge of the United States."

So begins María's letter. Her honesty is disarming. Her letter pulls me in.

"Mr. B. came around, checking on our first paragraphs. When he saw my blank paper, he suggested I write about my family and our culture. But I am too afraid to call attention to our family being from Mexico because my classmates might turn us in. And it is not as simple as all going back to our homeland, because there is a division right down the center of our family. My parents and I are Mexicans and my two little sisters, Ofie and Luby, are Americans."

Are immigration issues too complicated to explain to children? Here's a child ready to explain it to grown-ups.

"I have seen you on the television, Mr. President, saying that you want democracy for this whole world. I sincerely hope you get your wish. But that will mean that if everyone in this world gets a vote, the majority will not be Americans. They will be people like me from other countries that are so very crowded and poor. We would be able to vote for what we want and need. So this letter is from a voter from that future when you would want to be treated as fairly as I am asking you to treat me."
María's request is simple, though fulfilling it is not.

"Please, Mr. President, let it be okay for my father and uncles to stay here helping this nice family and helping our own family back home buy the things they need. Every week, my father and his brothers each contribute forty dollars to send to our family in Mexico. This total is more than their father used to make in a whole month. He was a farmer, working from sunrise to sunset. But now he is an old man, Mr. President, as old as you are—although he looks much older. But the companies that buy corn and coffee did not pay enough for him to be able to even buy the stuff he needed for the next planting.
I know this must seem like an untruth because coffee costs so much in this country. The other day Tyler's mother took us to Burlington, and after she bought us ice creams, she stopped by a shop where all they sell is different kinds of coffees. A big cup was almost two dollars! Mr. President, please believe me that those two dollars are not reaching my family. In fact, as Tío Armando says, we have come north to collect what is owed to us for our hard work back where we came from."

The complexities of immigration reform unfold in this award-winning book by Julia Alvarez. Her story, Return to Sender, is the story of two children — a young farm boy in Vermont whose family is on the brink of losing everything, and a young girl from Mexico whose father and uncles move up North to work on that farm. These families need each other to survive.

Tyler and María are only in 5th grade, but together they face big challenges that require every ounce of courage and generosity they possess.

We need stories like these — stories that help us to see the world through someone else's eyes, stories that make us angry and yet fill our hearts with compassion we didn't know was there. The plot takes a number of unexpected turns, so to find out what happens, you'll have to read it yourself! You won't be sorry you did.

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