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Educational Journey (Take 2)

Uninhibited's picture

Reflective Writing in Response Groups #1

Critical Issues in Education


Table of Contents


  1. Learning in the Island
  2. The Great Escape: Immigrating to the United States
  3. The Trouble with the Accent
  4. Girls Inc.
  5. Propellers: The Role of Mentors
  6. Posse
  7. Bryn Mawr



II. The Great Escape: Immigrating to the United States


            I sat in my 5th grade classroom on a warm September day, having just arrived to the United States after what felt like a 10-hour trip from the Dominican Republic. My eyes were red from all of the crying I had done the night before and my heart heavy with all of the resentment I felt towards my parents. “You don’t understand” I would tell them as we packed our bags the night before our flight. “I can’t start over now that I’m almost finishing elementary school, I won’t survive without my friends.”  At the moment, the dramatic cries of a nine-year old girl did little to convince my mom that we should let my dad make the trip by myself and that we should stay in the DR, after all her and I could always make it together. She knew, however, that my mind and heart, did not understand the tremendous sacrifice we were all making. After all, our great escape from financial insecurity also meant escaping from our family, our language, and our home.

            My parents left the Dominican Republic, like too many immigrants, with suitcases full dreams and a mind filled with fear. “Will we make it this time?” “Will I be able to find a job”, and knowing my mom “how will this affect my daughters” but our country had faced such stark financial instability that the fear of failing in the United States seemed better than the idea of staying.  After much convincing from my father, the summer of 2001 my mom agreed to move to the US, having been seduced by the idea that the land of opportunity also meant the land for the continued success of her daughters.

            On the first day of school, my mom woke me up with a kiss, trying to hide her nerves under a smile I knew too well. She told me not to worry, that it would be all right and that if I needed anything I should reach out to my cousin who was attending the same elementary school.  Walking into the school felt very strange, after all, not only was I unfamiliar with the neighborhood and the school, but I also didn’t understand why we had to take a yellow bus to school, the language that other kids spoke in the yard, and the incredibly autonomy with which American students carried themselves. I vividly remember sitting in the second row of the classroom on that first day, not attempting to make conversation or friends. Then as the teacher walked in, she said something in English that I couldn’t understand which prompted all of the kids to get up and move towards the back of the classroom. As I grappled with realizing that at least for the next couple of months I would be in a constant state of not understanding, my body stood still and a single tear ran down my face. As much as I tried to hold it in, I couldn’t believe that the student, who always got in trouble for talking too much on the island, would be sentenced to silence. “This is my punishment,” I thought, “for talking to much” as I ruminated on how different I felt that first day. 

            I spent the next few months absorbing the language like a sponge. By December I could already read, write, and communicate with the teacher and other students. As it turns out, Massachusetts had taken away it’s bilingual programs the year before I started school, so I was placed in an “immersion” program, which really just meant that I would learn English…by force.  I fell in love with the idea of learning though, and I was amazed at how different the curriculum was from my learning on the island.  It was there that I began to question how many names of other cities I could learn if I lived in another part of the world. How many words that exist solely in one language and can’t be translated exist in the world, and how many “important people” make it into different textbooks. The Great Escape as it turned out, went from being “the worst experience of my life” to a desire to constantly be in a state of escaping.


The main idea that I carry with me as I remember my personal immigration story is how much more meaningful and less scary it would’ve seemed if my parents had been honest and clear with me as to why we were leaving the country. In their eyes, I was probably too young to understand the broader economic reasons that made leaving a decision that they had to make; however, I think that even children understand that concept. I pull from Delpit in thinking about how important it is to be clear about goals, both when making a decision on behalf of someone but also in being able to foresee positive consequences. For example, I think that my parents could have been explicit about saying that there were more educational opportunities for me in the US and also more jobs for them. I understood all of this retrospectively, but the experience itself was extremely unsettling because I didn’t know what the goal was. I think that Freire, I think that Dewey is also helpful here is helping me frame the idea that children are not empty vessels and that both freedom and control are necessary to make their experiences meaningful.