For his first 10 days of fifth grade in his California elementary school, Rafael Anaya sat alone at lunch. Having just moved to the United States from Mexico, the 10-year-old navigated his classes, hallways and recess without knowing any English. He would come home and cry almost every day.
“I didn’t understand anyone,” Rafael said in Spanish, in a phone interview with The Washington Post. “I didn’t know anyone.”
Then, last Wednesday morning, a girl in his class came up to him with a note in Spanish, scribbled in ink on a folded piece of paper.
“Hello Rafael, would you like to sit with me today,” the note read in broken Spanish. “Look for me and I will show you where I sit. We could be coloring or just telling scary stories. Thanks for your time. Signing, Amanda.”
The classmate, Amanda Moore, had noticed Rafael sitting alone at lunch, and tried to introduce herself to him, but he couldn’t understand her. So, not knowing any Spanish, she decided she would use Google Translate to write him the note — in his native language.
She told her mother about Rafael as they drove home from school the day she met him. First, she asked her mother, was it okay to give a note to a boy? She was only 10 years old, after all. Then, from the back seat of her car, she read her note, and her mother recorded it on video.
“I broke into tears,” her mother, Kimber Kinard, said in a phone interview with The Washington Post. “This is probably the sweetest thing I’ve seen in my life.”
“It shouldn’t be news, but it is because of the world that we’re in,” Kinard said. “It should be human nature to reach out.”
The following morning, Kinard made sure to linger in her daughter’s classroom to watch as Amanda handed Rafael the note. After taking a moment to decipher Amanda’s handwriting, Rafael stood and gave her a hug.
“The whole class stood up and applauded,” Kinard said.
Since that day, Amanda has been sitting with Rafael at lunch, playing with him at recess, and helping him understand the teacher and assignments in class. Before he met Amanda, Rafael would constantly tell his stepfather, Jesús Madrigal, that he didn’t want to go to school — he just wanted to go back home to Michoacán, Mexico.
“Since that time,” Madrigal told The Post, “he’s changed his mind totally.”
He’s starting to understand more English, and Amanda is adamant on learning Spanish, too, Kinard said. She has been using an app on her phone, and checking out Spanish books from the library to learn new words.
“We are both going to be bilingual by the end of the school year,” Amanda told her mother.
At an assembly a few days after Amanda wrote the note, the school named her student of the month for her kind gesture. Kinard was watching in the audience, and kept looking at a woman nearby, who, like her, was crying.
“I realized that it must have been his mom,” Kinard said.
On Monday night, while Amanda was trick-or-treating for Halloween, a boy in a Star Wars mask came up to her and grabbed her arm. When he lifted his mask, Amanda saw that it was Rafael. The friends soon realized that they live on opposite ends of the same street. Amanda and Rafael spent the rest of the night trick-or-treating together, for Rafael’s first Halloween in the United States.
The 10-year-old said he hopes other kids can learn to be like Amanda, and reach out to new students like him who are still learning English.
“So that when they get here,” Rafael said. “They can feel happy.”
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