A little boy from Honduras is in my classroom.
He speaks Spanish but is learning English and tries with all his heart to learn new words and strange phrases that will allow him to live in his new world here.
He is 9 years old. Dark hair cuts straight across his forehead in a wonderfully crooked line.
He has deep brown eyes the color of a plowed field, eyes that sparkle like starlight at night off a pool of calm water.
He has big dimples that catch teardrops when he laughs until he cries, or when he cries until the sadness in his heart subsides.
He has a broad smile that is sometimes mischievous but most times full of joy.
Sometimes I wonder what he is thinking as he closes his eyes at the end of the day or opens them at dawn.
“I hope my new world will embrace me,” he might think tenderly. “And not call me an illegal alien … and not try to tear me apart from my aunt … and not try to tear me apart … and not place me in the shadows … and not make me a shadow.”
I wonder if he might say, “Mami, can you hear me in the dawn? Will my words reach you over the land, over the land, to the valley, between the mountains, to La Esperanza, to Honduras? Help me, Mami. Please. I don’t want to be a shadow here.
“There, I was a human being. I walked beside you, Mami, my hand in yours, on Viernes Santo, Good Friday, and it was good because I was with you and with people who love me,” he might be thinking. “And I sat beside you under the midnight fireworks, after the late-night dinner, on Nochebuena, Christmas Eve, and the colors sparkled in your eyes, and in the colorful light, I loved you, and you loved me, and I was a human being.”
I wonder if he fears that he might become a shadow here, asking, “Is there no Good Friday on people’s feet, is there no Christmas Eve in people’s eyes? Are there only people, Mami, blocking the light, with angry faces and hateful words and violent hands, trying to make me a shadow? I am afraid, Mami. Help me. I am afraid of the dark. I don’t want to be a shadow.”
I don’t have to wonder, for I know this is happening as he lives his life day by day. Two stories come to mind.
One day his family visited a clothing ministry. A woman stands at the door of a clothing room. She looks at him with kind, brown eyes and smiles at him with a bright, warm smile. “Hola, mi pequeño amigo,” she says.
She shows his aunt a room full of beautiful children’s clothes. He picks out a shirt with a picture of a soccer ball on it, a pair of jeans, a pair of soccer cleats and a warm jacket – none of them brand new, but all of them new to him.
They are clothes his family cannot afford to buy at a store. Yet here, they can pay a little money to help another family with their needs and take home clothes they need for him. He is so happy.
As he and his aunt say “adios,” the woman asks, “I wonder if I can write down anything you would like for me to pray about for you? This place is more than just clothes. It is a place to show love.”
She listens to his aunt and writes down their struggles and their dreams, and sees him and knows he is not a shadow.
Each Friday, a guidance counselor at his school calls him to her office at the end of the day.
“Here is a backpack, Tomás. It is filled with food that your family can use over the weekend. It is from a group called Mission Backpack. They want to make sure you have enough to eat before you come back to school on Monday.”
How could she know that sometimes his family runs out of groceries by the end of the week?
How could she know that they have only rice and beans, and that his aunt cooks them in the morning and they eat them for breakfast, lunch and supper?
As she writes down his name for the Mission Backpack program, she sees him and knows he is not a shadow.
On a Friday recently, I was about to call out the winner of the “student of the day,” an award I give to a student who has worked hard and behaved well for the whole, whole day.
I wish you could see the hope in his eyes just before I called out the winner, and the happiness when I said, “The winner is … Tomás.”
That look of hope and happiness, the face of Tomás, the life of Tomás, is what I hope you see when you hear the word “immigration.”
He is not a shadow to me. He is not a shadow.
A fourth grade public school teacher and member of First Baptist Church in Greenville, South Carolina.