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‘We will not be discouraged’: Soldiering on for the success of our children

Guest contributor | December 14, 2016

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By Erica Valente

I have always believed that education is the path forward for all families. A few years ago I joined other families at my children’s school, 24th Street Elementary, to lead a campaign for change. Many parents, like me, volunteered hundreds of hours to improve a school that was in the bottom 5 percent of the entire district, where less than 30 percent of students were able to read or do math at grade level.

Even though the odds were stacked against us, we came together as parents to exercise our rights under the Parent Empowerment law and demand change. For many families, this was the first time they had ever publicly supported a petition or stepped out of the shadows to demand something better for their children.

Through hard work and political struggle, we were able to pool our collective strength and negotiate a historic district-charter collaboration to run our school. I believe this campaign and the many other recent organizing efforts within the Latino community have created more hope and optimism within our community than ever before.

That hope, however, is now being shaken. The night of the election, I stayed up until midnight to see the final results. I was certain that Hillary Clinton was going to win.

In the months leading up to the election, my daughter Jessica – now a student at Cal State Northridge – and I had been closely following the news together, reading all the propositions, and discussing the issues so that she could make well-informed choices. I was so proud and hopeful when she voted for the first time in her life.

But as the night went on, I was in disbelief at what I was seeing.  By midnight when most of the results were in, I cried in disbelief.  Hillary was so qualified, and Trump had said so many offensive and hurtful things – I was sure Hillary would win.

The next morning I felt like I had awaken from a nightmare. My daughter Ashley called me at five in the morning, anxious about what Trump’s election meant for immigrant families like ours. Ashley is now a young adult who regularly reads the news. She had confided in me that she was scared by Trump’s offensive language targeting undocumented families. Ashley was angry that when Trump says that any Mexican immigrant can roll over and have a kid to get citizenship — implying that kids like her, who are American citizens, are not entitled to the same rights and protections under the law. I had to calm her down and reassure her that everything would be OK. But the truth is that I am not sure.

Now families like mine have to worry about harassment, deportation and whether our country will continue to welcome us. While I am thankful that many school districts and local governments are taking a stance to reassure families that students’ rights will not be violated, many of us are anxious. The next four years under Trump are going to be scary for the Latino community, especially for undocumented families. Trump has publicly announced that he is going to repeal DACA, which means that children like my nephew who was brought here at 6 years old and has called Kentucky home since then, now has to fear that he will be sent to a country he does not know. In many ways, this feels like a return to the Pete Wilson era when immigrant families were targeted for political gain.

My dream is for another America. When I was 18 years old, I came from Acapulco, Mexico, admiring the values and the opportunity this country has to offer. I had to leave the university where I was studying to be a chemical biologist because my family and I couldn’t make ends meet.  I needed to work to help my family.  I came here idolizing the educational system, and I believed in my heart that this was a country built by immigrants and that unlike Mexico, where opportunity is often tied to class and money, America was different.  This country was the place where anyone could work hard and have access to a high-quality education.  I still believe in the promise of this country.  Because of our work together on the parent-led campaign to transform 24th Street Elementary, many in my community now have the tools and knowledge necessary to organize and make sure that our leaders listen to our concerns.  We know that organizing is our only path towards having real power, and we know how to build relationships, strategize, and take action together.  The issues we face now are on a larger scale but we will not be discouraged.  No matter who is president, we will continue standing up for ourselves and our place in this country.  We will work together to fight for our kids, our communities and our families.

Erica Valente is a mother who helped lead the successful parent trigger campaign at 24th Street Elementary in 2012.

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