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In Defense of Immigrants

 

I originally intended to write an essay about the greatest job of my life but then thought I could tie it in nicely with the latest bit of bad news from corporate cabal in the White House. I know that I’m probably not telling most of you anything new re: the breathtaking stupidity of Trump but Jesus Christ! does he ever think before he opens his mouth or before he commits his asinine acts? It is heartening to see how many people are taking to the streets & the airports in protest against his ban on Muslims. This is going to be probably the most reviled presidency in my lifetime? And what this moron doesn’t seem to grasp is that rather than making America safer from terrorist attacks, his words & actions are actually fanning the flames of hatred for America. Okay, now that I got that out of the way, I want to share with you my experiences over the years in dealing with immigrants.  

Jeri & me in my ESL class at Van Nuys HIgh School

From the time I was about 19 years old until the time when I met my future wife, Jeri, 28 years old, I probably worked at over a hundred Micky Mouse jobs i.e. flipping burgers, pumping gas, warehouses, factories, delivery jobs, etc. etc. etc. And I worked with primarily Mexican immigrants in many of these jobs & they were always friendly & generous even though they often had very little to their name.

Moreover, several of these jobs that I worked at were dangerous or more precisely, the Mexicans were usually given the most dangerous jobs i.e. at Lynx Golf Mfg. they worked in the paint booth and weren’t even given masks to protect them from the harmful fumes. I was always impressed at how happy & easy going most of them that I met were. And they’d often invite me to their homes to drink beer and share a meal. I’ve never met any other people who made me feel so welcome & at home when I paid them a visit.

Furthermore, when I was a senior in high school, one night my brother, a friend of his, & me got jumped by a gang of Mexican-Americans from an area in Paramount called Dog Patch. There were probably 15 or so of these “tough guys,” and they were beating us with tire-irons, baseball bats, etc. What probably saved me from getting killed was that they were so tight around me that it was hard for them to connect every time. Anyway, they heard the sounds of sirens & jumped in their cars & took off and I was picking myself up for the last time from the street i.e. they kept knocking me to the street but I kept getting up because I knew that if I stayed down, they’d kick my ribs in, etc. So as they pulled away, I was yelling at them to come back. I heard some time later, I think it was a few days later, that I had put five of them in the hospital.  

Tony Baye (one of my best friends) on left, me, & Keith after one of our volleyball games

I brought this up not to brag but to point out that if anyone had reason to hate Mexicans, it seems that it’d be me? But I have always distinguished between individuals and don’t judge an entire race by some assholes. Okay, let’s fast-forward to my early 30s when I became a substitute teacher & an adult education teacher.

some of the Volleyball gang, Jeri on the left

By the way, several years before I became a teacher, me and a group of friends played volleyball almost religiously ever Sunday & we got drunk together, partied at each other’s homes, went out nightclubbing together, camping, etc. and this circle of friends was made up of whites, Mexican Americans, blacks, etc. and I loved the feeling of warmth & trust that existed amongst us.  

mine & Jeri’s apt. with Ray Sharp on left, Johnny Mendoza on right

To return to the subject of my teaching, in L.A. at that time, you could obtain an Emergency Teaching Credential if you had a B.A. degree and had passed the CBEST test i.e. basically not much more challenging than a high school degree, though I did meet a few teachers who failed it several times, Ha! Ha! And I also was awarded an Adult Education teaching certificate. It took me a few months to start getting called fairly regularly for substitute jobs & when I got a position as an ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher at a nearby high school in the evenings working with adult students who were mostly from Mexico, I was making pretty good money & jokingly said to my wife, well, this is the first time I’ve ever made more money than you but I have to work day & night. We chuckled. 

one of my ESL classes at Van Nuys High

Things were going along fine for about two months when out of the blue, I got a letter from the Commission on Professional Teaching Standards which basically said, shame on you, you lied on your teaching credential application. I was both pissed-off and depressed because I’d finally found a profession that I loved and was fairly good at & now they’re going to pull the rug out from underneath me. And before I filled out that goddamn application, I’d showed it to Jeri’s long-time friend from childhood who was a lawyer & I showed it to a professor of mine who was also a lawyer and they both told me, nah, don’t worry about it Rob. You see, I got busted for pot when I was 19 years old, did my three years of probation and was told by my P.O. that I didn’t have to admit the conviction on any applications, or even tell the police. 

Johnny Mendoza & Tony Baye were special friends & I asked them to participate in my wedding

When I told my adult students that I had to leave them, they were upset and because of their limited English, they couldn’t understand why I could no longer be their teacher. In fact, they composed a letter or petition asking the administration to allow me to continue teaching them because as they said in the petition, “He’s a good man and he treats us with respect like no other.” And they all signed the petition. That was hard. On my last night, they gave me a nice, briefcase they’d bought me.

Bottom-line, I couldn’t teach for about six months and had to hire a lawyer, who couldn’t even find my records but I managed to & he was charging me something like $300 an hour? I also came up with more ideas for my defense than he did i.e. I suggested that I get letters from the two lawyers who had advised me that I didn’t need to disclose my arrest from over a decade earlier. I was told that I might have to travel to Sacramento to appear before this commission & the lawyer said he’d charge me $1,000 for his flying up there with me. I decided, the hell with this jerk and called him to tell him that I no longer required his services. He spent a half hour trying to convince me of the error I was making & it amused me but I kept my cool and the last thing I told him was that I appreciated his concern but wanted to be clear that he couldn’t charge me for any further services and I’d pay him what I owed him and that was it. 

Jeri & two of her students

I guesstimate that I probably lost close to $20,000 due to the lawyer’s fees, the psychologist’s fee, and the six months of not being able to work. Anyway, it eventually was resolved and I didn’t have to go to Sacramento. And I slowly built up a reputation as a good substitute because I followed through and saw that students did their work. I had a lot of tough days with students who acted out in class and I sent plenty of them to the referral room or the dean’s office. My wife was a full-time teacher at Van Nuys High School where she’d graduated from. She taught special education & gradually, the other teachers in her dept. would request me to substitute for them when they were absent. I also started getting requested to work in the ESL dept because I’d completed a long-term assignment for them and like I said, I was developing a reputation as a reliable guy and a genuine interest in helping students. 

I’d tutor students for free on Saturdays at local library i.e. student with red shirt

To my amazement, one day when Jeri came home she told me that they needed a long-term substitute in the ESL dept. at her school & that she’d suggested my name to the principal. I went in the next day for a brief interview and was told that the position was mine if I wanted it. I was ecstatic because I’d developed a real fondness for the ESL students at Van Nuys High. 

I had two, two hour “block” classes composed of students mostly from Mexico, Nicaragua, & El Salvador along with a handful of students from Egypt, Vietnam, India, & Peru. These students were such a pleasure to teach because they were so polite & respectful and truly appreciated my efforts in teaching them English. I have a fairly good sized vocabulary of Spanish words but I’m definitely not fluent. And I would constantly ask them what the Spanish word is for different objects. I’d also ask the other students how to say things in their languages. 

Continuing on, one day as I was signing it in the main office, the principal’s secretary said that he wanted to interview me right then. I was glad that I was wearing slacks that day because I usually wore blue-jeans. The interview consisted of the ESL dept. chairman, the English dept. chairman, & the principal. And what blew my mind was that it was so relaxed that I didn’t feel anxious or any sense of anxiety. The hardest question they put to me was, “What would you say is your greatest challenge in the classes you’ve been teaching?” I had to reflect for several seconds & then said, well, there is this one student who can be a bit childish at times but he’s a good student. I was then really floored when the principal said to me, “Well Rob, I know that I can speak for all of us and we’d like to offer you a full-time, year round position in either dept., which dept. would you prefer?” I reflected for a few seconds and said, the ESL dept. because as I said earlier, they were such a joy to work with, hell, they’d stop at the doorway to the classroom and ask for permission to enter even though I kept telling them, No necessario. I was on top of the world! 

Maria, sitting on window sill came to library for tutoring

I believe that it was about a week or so later that I went to the school district’s main office to apply for another long-term credential because my previous one had expired i.e. it’s a separate credential from the Emergency one that allows you to work 30 days in any one position—six school weeks. And that’s when I got the bad news i.e. because I hadn’t taken six units of teacher education courses for my regular teaching credential, they wouldn’t renew my long-term credential. You see, I’ve never taken a single education course and I knew that Jeri and our son & I were planning on moving back up to Oregon and had heard too many stories of courses you take in one state not being recognized (accepted) in another state. 

I think this student got the most emotional when I said I had to leave

It was one of the most depressing days of my life when I had to tell my students that I had to move on. And when I did, several of the girls started crying & tears welled-up in my eyes as well and I left the room out of embarrassment. I had a few more days left that I could remain their teacher so I decided to throw them a party. I forget what snacks I brought but I also brought my little, boom-box and some of my homemade cassettes of my music. My music didn’t go over real well so I let them play their music and I took the pics that you see here. Moreover, I asked them to say something into my cassette recorder and a few of them protested saying that their English wasn’t very good but I reassured them that it didn’t matter, I just wanted to have their voices on tape for myself to enjoy and some of them left me a message in their own languages. I wish I could find the pic of all my students surrounding me & singing a song in Spanish to honor me.

In conclusion, I went back to day-to-day substituting for the rest of the school year and would occassionally cross paths with a few of them in the hallways and they often pleaded, “When are you coming back to be our teacher?” Their imploring eyes and heartfelt words touched me deeply every time I saw them and I will never forget these precious students nor the joy I got from teaching them. So when I hear of this petty tyrant in the making i.e. Donald Trump, and his racist remarks & policies, it gets my blood boiling because he has no idea of what a national treasure these students & immigrants from around the world are to our nation. And I say that this girly-man should have the Statue of Liberty tore down if this is how he’s going to treat the immigrants fleeing from not only their own tyrants but also often from the bombs our military/industrial/congressional complex love to manufacture and drop on them! 

Statue of Liberty Inscription – The New Colossus

“Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,

With conquering limbs astride from land to land;

Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand

A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame

Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name

Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand

Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command

The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!”

cries she

With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your

poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

—Emma Lazarus, 1883

Addendum

I almost forgot a very important thing I left out when describing my students at Van Nuys High i.e. the students from El Salvador & Nicaragua had witnessed horrific events like I hope I never have to experience. The Death Squads that were financed and trained by American special forces, etc. and whom Reagan the Rodent compared to our founding fathers. My political awakening began in the early 80s and if most Americans were aware of our sordid history, I’m confident they’d never have elected such a piece of shit like Trump!

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