This weekend was a hard one for us as a nation. The recent mass-shootings in once safe public places have left many of us with heavy hearts. Anger, disbelief, fear, confusion, and sadness are all legitimate reactions to events that are motivated by hate and xenophobia. As I processed these events, Fred Rogers came to mind. While this connection might seem odd at first, its deeply seeded in my love for my family and this country.
My family and I immigrated to this country from Argentina in 1990 when I was five years old. Mr. Rogers on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood was my first English teacher. I still vividly remember the wonder and joy I would feel as I slowly connected the meaning of the words he said to the images and actions on the screen. As my first teacher, Mr. Rogers taught me so much more than the language, and for this, he forever holds a special place in my heart. Mr. Rogers used his very public platform to continually encourage us to look out for the positive things in the world and accept those around us. These are teachings that I carry with me to this very day.
You see, the events of the last few days have burdened my heart. As an immigrant, I love this country. I love it so much that I chose to renounce the country of my birth and become a US citizen. It pains me to see when tragedies occur in the country I love. Immigrants, like myself, have contributed so much to this great nation. So in the spirit of Mr. Rogers, I would like us to take a moment and look at some of our immigrant neighbors with a sense of joy and gratitude for their contributions to this nation and to humanity.
|Name||Country of Origin||Contribution|
|Madeleine Albright||Czechoslovakia||1st woman US Secretary of State and US Ambassador to the UN|
|Isabel Allende||Chile||World’s most-read Spanish author|
|Albert Baez||Mexico||Co-inventor of the X-ray microscope|
|Irving Berlin||Russia||Composer & lyricist|
|Sergey Brin||Russia||Co-founder of Google|
|Liz Claiborne||Belgium||Fashion designer|
|Steve Chen||Taiwan||Co-founder of Youtube|
|Oscar de la Renta||Dominican Republic||Fashion designer|
|Arianna Huffington||Greece||Co-founder and former editor-in-chief of The Huffington Post|
|Rita Moreno||Puerto Rico||Performer|
|M. Night Shyamalan||India||Director|
|Levi Strauss||Germany||Invented jeans|
|Nikola Tesla||Croatia||Inventor of the AC motor|
|Eddie Van Halen||Netherlands||Rock Guitarist|
|Elie Wiesel||Romania||Author & Nobel Laureate|
Each of these people remind me that we are stronger together than apart. Mr. Rogers reminds me that we can use our influence to act in and model kindness.
As school starts around the nation, please join me in recommitting to creating safe, caring spaces for our students. We don’t know what they will be bringing with them, but the chances are that they are feeling things deeply, just as we are. They will need some time to help them process the events of the summer, and they will need us to stand in Mr. Rogers’ shoes, helping find the good in the world and all its people, regardless of their race, creed, or country of origin.
If you would like some additional resources that may help you address these things with your students please check out the following links:
US Immigrant Contribution Lesson Plan
Article on how to help students process violence in the community
Article on how to support students after the recent shootings
If you’d like to continue the conversation about how to make your schools and classrooms more equitable for immigrant students and English learners, please reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rocio Figueroa is the Director of Equity for English Learners at Ensemble Learning.