As I watched the election coverage Tuesday night, the only thing I was thinking was “what am I going to tell my students tomorrow?” I teach government at a high school for recent immigrants. Some of my students are here legally, many as refugees, others are undocumented, and some came without documents and have since been granted asylum.
I decided to write them a letter to explain how I was feeling. I invited them to respond. Here is an excerpt of the note I gave my class on Wednesday, along with the reflections they shared in response:
“I know that many, if not all of you, came to this country with hope that our government would protect you from many of the problems in your countries. I feel like my country has let you down. We tell the rest of the world that we are this great place and I feel like many of the lies we tell others are becoming clear. I know that many of you are scared right now. I want you to know that I am scared too.
I know that Oakland, California is still a good place to be an immigrant. It’s not as good today as it was yesterday, but the people here will try to protect you and your families from whatever Trump and the Republican Congress try to do about immigration.
I also know that America has a bad history of racism that is still happening today. I also know that that racism exists to help rich white people keep power. Because I am white, I also have never personally felt the pain, the frustration, the anger, the sadness that happens inside of people who experience racism every day. I want you to know that your teachers love and care about each and every one of you and that the fact that we cannot protect you from these things and this election makes me feel devastated and weak.
I also know that ordinary people have changed many things in America and have helped this country to improve. This gives me hope. I believe that you are the future of America. Immigrants have always been the hardest workers in America and we have hella hard work ahead of us. Now is more important than ever to know your constitutional rights and to be active politically. The rights you have in the constitution still exist. Learn them and use them to protect you! Take the citizenship test! Study, pass it and vote!
I want you to know that you have power when you vote, but also when you join together with other people to fight for what you believe in. Dolores Huerta and Cesar Chavez called it “People Power,” and it is a very powerful thing, but it only exists if you choose to use it. This country is changing to be more diverse. This can change the results of elections in this country if people use their People Power. In two years there will be another election for senators and members of the House of Representatives. The way to change this country to be better for you, your families, your little brothers, sisters, and cousins is to care about the country and to do your best to change it for the better. Learn English so that you can talk to other people, explain your ideas and tell them your story. Get a degree from college so that you can influence more people with your ideas and your money. Keep studying and learning how things work in this country so that you can use them to help you. Join political organizations that reflect your beliefs. Fighting with People Power is stronger than fighting with weapons. Fighting with People Power takes work and time, it takes many people, and most importantly it takes the ability to not give up when things get difficult. Out of everyone I know, you are the people who I believe will never give up. You have faced many challenges already to make it here.
Please don’t give up on this country and please keep fighting with us to make it a better place for everyone.
Here are some of my students’ responses. I have identified each student only by their home country and age to protect their identities:
“I’m feeling hopeless and destroyed. I’m saying this because I have lots of dreams and hope for my future. When I heard Donald Trump won, my first question was ‘why did people vote for him?’ He is racist and stupid. He doesn’t understand how hard it is to be an immigrant in this country and how we achieve our goals. There is no need to blame immigrants. We are here today because of our knowledge and hard work. I have no life in my country. I know that nobody can send me back anywhere but I’m still worried for the immigrants without papers who came here full of goals and dreams” — Female, 18, Sri Lanka
“I can’t believe how racist America is. Is American so racist that they chose an ignorant president just because they agree with his thinking about Latinos and Muslims? Most of my friends are Latinos and Muslims and I think that they are great people … Immigrants are not bad people. Immigrants are trabajadores.” – Female, 18, Guatemala
“I wish I had a country, because I was afraid [in Thailand], and I’m afraid here.” – Female, 18, Burma
“I’m worried that this country is not going to be any better than my country. Nobody listens to women in my country, and now the president will do the same here?” – Female, 18, Afghanistan
“It is a very disturbing sad day. When we go from an evening of joy to a morning of sadness we have flipped history. No one ever thought this day would come when our president would be a person who doesn’t want the best for our future. It doesn’t matter because we will fight against anything that takes away our hope. Everyday I go to school to learn with my friends for a better future and today I hear our president wants to take away the hope from my peers who are immigrants and undocumented. It doesn’t matter where my peers are from, from Mexico or Guatemala or from Burma or from Yemen, we fight together. In the end it doesn’t make a difference. We are all human and I will fight for them all … Today we fight a new battle for democracy and the right to live free in our America.” – Male, 17, Yemen
“All my dreams can fall down because of a decision that people made last night. I don’t understand how a person who says bad things, that hurt people, is the head of a country … I have faced many troubles in order to come here. I don’t know how but I have to continue.” – Male, 18, El Salvador
“I am worried because I am an immigrant who is black, a woman and queer and this country just elected a man who is against everything I am.” – Female, 17, Rwanda
“I still feel angry and sad for the people who came here for the American dream. And I hate how Donald Trump wants to change the American dream to an American nightmare. I just want to keep thinking and express how I feel and I want to change people’s minds about immigrants. — Male, 18, México