Becoming a parent is to experience life, the daily trials and mundane tribulations, with new poignancy.It is to experience past, present and future simultaneously, to somehow find a little sadness and a bit of nostalgia at every joyous milestone and a little fear even in victories. There is certainly a new, heightened awareness of the ephemerality of life. And with that, the urgent need to hold on, to document, to each adventure, each passing moment.
Today, my journalism students celebrated their newspaper’s tenth anniversary. Donald Trump, the president-elect, is on the cover. It is the third presidential election that The Harbinger covers.
The senior editors surprised their staff, and me, with a small celebration — there’s never much time in a newsroom, even a student newsroom, for self-congratulation — and they praised the students on a job well done.
“Remember that you are a part of something special and that you are leaving your mark on this publication, on this room and on this school,” they said.
One of them turned to me and asked, “so how does it feel to have steered a publication for 10 years?” And I wasn’t sure how to answer.
I had a flurry of emotions and ten years worth of memories: an amalgam of faces, conflicts, stories, deadlines, layouts. There were breaking stories and broken hearts, celebrations and disappointments, tears and laughter.
It’s high school, and every staff grapples with telling their story, with the desire to leave their mark.
And they do. Each staff builds on the progress of the one before it. And in this way, they are each a part of an even bigger story.
There are 22 student journalists working out of our newsroom. They are reporting, writing, tweeting, blogging, streaming video, documenting the year. While The Harbinger alumni, scattered across the world, continue to learn, grow and succeed.
So, how do I feel? I feel incredibly lucky to be a part of their story.
My son is only three months old. He’s so little that even that phrase, my son, sounds foreign. Yet already I have planned imaginary future conversations.
I’ve thought about time-outs during the terrible twos, about both of us blinking back tears on the first day of kindergarten, about homework and curfews, heartbreak, victory and defeat.
But today I find myself thinking about a whole other conversation, one that is much more complex. How will I teach him who he is? How will I instill a sense of culture and family history?
No doubt, many parents wonder the same. But, as President Obama shakes hands with Raul Castro, I wonder what my son will think of it.
My story is hardly unique.
I was born and raised in Miami, a place unlike any other, a city in the United States but somehow worlds apart from it. I grew up between English and Spanish, a bridge between my families’ suffering, loss and tragedy and a new life in a new world. Like many others, I inherited my family’s pain. Their sense of loss, their forever exile, is something I grew up knowing and feeling as though it were my own.
My parents’ Cuba, their parents and grandparents’ Cuba, became a place alive only in woeful memories or impassioned political arguments. It became an archetype, a place that lived in our collective unconscious, a place we knew and felt and understood because of the hurt and loss embedded deep into the core of our existence.
I wonder how to explain that, how to explain their sense of loss. I wonder too, how to explain to him my sense of loss, a sense of exile and estrangement from a place I never knew.
How do I preserve their history, their stories when even I grapple to make sense of it all? Especially as those stories become a little cloudy.
My father is gone. So are my grandparents. My mother doesn’t discuss her life there much. Some of those memories buried deep in her unconscious, the trauma too much for her to bear.
There aren’t family photos or ancestral artifacts to tell the stories of what life was like before, during and after the revolution. All those things stayed behind as families fled.
Histories were lost.
And now I rack my brain, trying to remember the good and bad, the laughter and the tears, and I try to imagine how I will share them with my son. Will I remember them? Will I do them justice? And what will he make of it all. What will he think? Will they form part of his identity? Will he listen patiently? Dismissively? Will he be curious? Will he feel Cuban? American? Both? Neither? Will he also yearn for a place that exists only in hearts and minds of a generation that is fading away?
If I lived between worlds, between languages and cultures, somehow — like the city in which I live — both American and not, what does that make him?
I don’t know.
And my parents’ Cuba, even the embellished romanticized memories, is even further away, less tangible.
Family stories, like history itself, fade away and I can only imagine how my son will see it, how he will see me, and who he will become.
Miami is a mirage, attracting wanderers and exiles, adventurers and Dreamers. She was born here, her roots planted deep in the shifting sands, bridging Ayer and Tomorrow. She lives and grow between realities — between Sueños and Memories, somewhere between Cuban and American. And the waves, they just keep washing it all away.
My kids are off to college. It is a bittersweet moment. I am – of course – incredibly proud of them. I’m excited for all of the experiences and opportunities that lay before them; but I am also sad, and a little worried, because they will be on their own and so far away from home.
I won’t suffer from empty nest syndrome, however. I still have more kids to help get into college, about 150 of them this year. I’m not referring to biological children, but to my school kids. And, for about 180 days that begin on Monday, school will be their second home, where they’ll learn, work, laugh, cry, write, calculate, interpret and grow up.
And teachers are an integral part of all that.
Teachers returned to school last week, to unpack, rearrange, set up and plan for the first day of school. I walked in to school this morning, fueled with a double dose of caffeine, to send and answer emails and begin all the heavy lifting. They call these days work days for a reason. There is a whole lot of work to do. There are desks to move, boxes to carry, activities to be planned.
And, as we sit down to plan lessons – juggling texts, secondary sources, standards and activities—it could all become a little daunting. Will I reach them? Will they get this? Is this rigorous enough? Is it too rigorous? Does this lesson infuse the common core standards? In the midst of all the work there is to do, it is easy to get a little overwhelmed, maybe even wallow a little in self-doubt.
Just as I was in the midst of all that, four of my girls sauntered in. Each of them is heading to college this week. Each has spent some time at their respective schools, from one year to three, depending on the visitor – Harvard, Columbia, University of Florida, Florida State University and University of Central Florida—to get acclimated. And each came back home, to their school home, to surprise me and to talk hurriedly and excitedly about their summer.They wanted to tell me how well-prepared they felt. They wanted to thank me. These are the moments that teachers live for. They are the reason that we trudge to and from trainings and professional developments, why we learn and adapt for changing standards, tests and curricula. It is not for higher teacher merit pay or for school grades – although both are nice – but for moments like these, when Aileen tells me, “I was one of the few freshmen in the class and I got an A,” or when Crystal says that she used her notes on Othello to tutor her friends and classmates, for the moment when Gaby said, “at first I was intimidated by their GPAs and SAT scores,” but then she realized – they all realized—how much they learned in high school. They realized that they were prepared for college, and – best of all—they came home to tell me all about it.
I am preparing for my eleventh first day of school. As kids can attest, it is both exciting and nerve-racking. What will Monday bring? The only thing that I know for sure, are that at each desk will sit a student who – whether she knows it or not—is building her future. My job is to help her shape it, to make sure that she, and all of her classmates have all of the tools that they need.
Over the years, I’ve lectured and graded, proofread hundreds of college application essays, helped students complete their FAFSAs, written letters of recommendation and worn the dozens of hats that teachers do each day. I’ve been there to console them after rejections and losses, and to encourage them to push through. I’ve been there to celebrate acceptances, triumphs and awards and to shake their hand on graduation day.But, most rewarding of all is hearing from them. Opening my inbox to find an email from a student who graduated in 2008 with exciting career news; running into a former student and finding them happy, healthy and successful; and, of course, welcoming a former student home for a visit as they talk excitedly about their lives.
Yes, most rewarding of all knows that we reached them. They learned. They navigated through the seas of adolescence, the drama of high school relationships, the trials and tribulations of pretests, post-tests, lectures, essays and assignments and that – through the cacophony of all that—they heard us, they listened, they learned, and they appreciate it.
They call Miami “the Magic City.” Fitting because, it’s always able to reinvent itself.
I was born in Hialeah Hospital in 1981. History is full of eras; but, this specific moment was the beginning of change, an almost traceable line of demarcation.
My mother fled Cuba in 1969 when she was 19 with her sister and my grandmother; my grandfather, a political prisoner, joined them five years later. She met my father after he arrived here in 1979, after 20 years as a political prisoner.
I belonged to two different worlds. I was an American. But, at the same time, I was Cuban. I didn’t quite fit either group. In many ways, it’s the story of the city in which I was born. Hialeah, a city in the United States that just doesn’t quite feel like the U.S. Hialeah is part of South Florida, a metropolitan area; yet, it feels totally different from Tallahassee, or Tampa, or Titusville, and worlds away from “the South.”
It is different. And the Hialeah of my childhood, even more so. Hialeah, like South Florida isn’t just one place, it is many simultaneously. As such, every major street carries at least three names. Red Road is NW 57th Avenue, West 4th Ave or, la cuatro.
In 1981, Miami was just barely recovering from a riot and an influx of Cubans that arrived on the Mariel boatlift — events that shaped public discourse, policy and dinner table conversation for years.
My parents’ first home was in a community called Lago Grande. It was so new that there was nothing nearby. In fact, it seemed like it was in the middle of a forest.
My grandparents lived in East Hialeah, back when there were no Spanish-speaking neighbors. To visit, we passed the Holsum Bread factory and the smell of bread filled the car. We passed Hialeah Racetrack, filled with photographers and Quinceňeras donning poofy white gowns, taking their iconic pictures, and visiting the pink flamingos and peacocks. There was a biandero that drove by and sold yucca and chorizo, as well as an ice cream truck whose Pink Panther ice cream bars with gumball eyes that, inexplicably, always tasted better than those at the store.
Hialeah’s 49th Street was always busy. Vendors walked up and down selling fresh churros — coated in fine granulated sugar that always managed to make a mess, making them contraband inside my father’s car – and little white paper cones of roasted peanuts. There was Lionel Playland, Luria’s and La Canastilla Cubana.
Most of those original stores and businesses are gone now, like Jumbo Supermarket — where Cuban bread disappeared as soon as it was out of the oven — and Latin American — where I first saw ham hanging from the ceiling. The McDonald’s where I met Ronald McDonald and had my face painted is still there. These two restaurants lay one across from the other and pretty much reflect the story of my childhood. They were the homes of my first Cuban Sandwich and Happy Meal.
The landscape has changed, just like the hot spots have changed.
Ocean Drive wasn’t as popular as it is today, but the beach was always full of visitors. I bounced over waves — wearing pink floaties and building sand castles on beaches — wearing Coppertone sunblock, because that’s what the little girl on the billboard used. We parked at Penrod’s, today Nikki Beach. And one of the major rites of passage into teenhood was taking a leap off of the South Beach pier.
Everyone loved the Dolphins, Don Shula and Dan Marino. Everyone remembered their perfect season. All this started to change in the 90s.
At 5 we moved, our family now included my new little brother, and I enrolled in a new school, Ben Sheppard Elementary.
In third grade we moved to Miami Lakes. Again, right next to the “forest”. This was the edge, and newest part of town. Everything south of NW 149th Street was filled with dense trees. It wasn’t uncommon to see a lost raccoon or possum run out from amongst them.
As kids, we rode our bikes into “the forest” and half believed we’d find monsters, wild animals, and maybe even Tarzan. We never did, but that didn’t stop us from telling tall tales of outrunning wild boars, moose and all kinds of creatures. Those were the trees eventually plowed down for new homes and for Barbara Goleman Senior High.
In the 1990s Art Deco became cool and South Beach was the place to see and be seen in. The Hurricanes became champions, we got a basketball team, and there was a struggle to protect decency; Sheriff Navarro banned a 2 Live Crew record, Palm Beach banned female hotdog street vendors wearing thong bikinis.
Like today, there were plenty of political scandals; somehow, hundreds of dead people voted in a mayoral race. There was an exodus of immigrants; thousands of Cubans braved the sea on rafts, tires and just about anything that would float, prompting President Clinton to enact the Wet Foot / Dry Foot law.
Hurricane Andrew arrived on what was supposed to be my first day at Miami Lakes Middle School. Other than downed trees, we were fine. But South Florida wasn’t as lucky. School was delayed almost two weeks and many kids were displaced, left homeless by the storm.
Eventually there was a building boom and Miami’s skyline changed. High rises went up. At that time, my mother was a Vice President at Capital Bank and excited to move into a modern building in the “new” downtown and even more so when it appeared in the movie Bad Boys. But, after 5:00, downtown died. Stores and businesses closed and shuttered their entrances.
I attended Hialeah-Miami Lakes Senior High before the FCAT, when kids carried beepers, not cell phones. Football was big. Everyone attended the game versus Hialeah High, our biggest rival. The coveted T Trophy always resided at HML.
After graduation I attended the University of Miami and completed a double major in journalism and English. My husband and I, high school sweethearts, married and moved to Miami Lakes. I teach at Miami Lakes Educational Center and he is a CPA with a small firm in Hialeah.
We stayed close to home. But home keeps changing. The Miami of my childhood doesn’t exist anymore; but, neither does the Miami of 10 or even 5 years ago.
The landscape changes, the cause of political strife changes, but Miami’s allure always remains. In many ways, Miami really is a Magic City; it is forever new and forever different, always changing, growing and evolving.
But some things remain unchanged; you can find anything that you need in Hialeah and all the streets there still have three names. But, la doce, Ludlam Road, 67th Avenue is now also Flamingo Road, but that’s a whole other story.
This story First Appeared in The Miami Herald in April 2013, as part of their partnership with History Miami’s project: Miami Stories: http://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/community/miami-dade/miami-stories/article1948842.html and on History Miami’s site: http://www.historymiami.org/research-miami/miamistories/miami-stories/details/neyda-borges/
There are thousands of students in Miami-Dade County that are forced to live in the shadows: bright, talented students whose legal status in the United States prevents them from realizing their dreams. As educators, we often only hear these stories at the end of the school year – if at all — when graduation is upon us, and it is too late for us to help. Too often these kids remain silent and afraid, because there is so much on the line.
This year, I met one such young man.
Giancarlo Tejeda arrived in the United States when he was three years old. His parents fled their native Colombia, escaping the bloody turmoil at home, to provide their children with the opportunity to grow up free from the fear of repression and violence.
It’s a story that is very American. All of us are here because we searched for freedom. Unfortunately, Giancarlo and his family are undocumented immigrants. For his entire academic career, he has kept this secret, concerned that if people knew, his family’s safety would be in jeopardy. So he and his family have lived with the constant fear and anxiety of being discovered. They’ve worked hard at whatever work was available and possible, who now had to face the reality of starting anew in a foreign land. Many young people face these challenges, and although their legal status and the need for reform may be controversial, the trouble they face is indisputable.
You would never guess at Giancarlo’s struggles by looking at him or observing his behavior in school. He is a fantastic student, excelling academically and socially. He is graduating magna cum laude, in the 92nd percentile of his class, and has — throughout his time at MLEC — won various awards in competitions ranging from programming and engineering to science and technology.
He never told anyone about his immigration status, not his friends or favorite teachers, not his school counselor, not even the schools to which he applied. He never complained. He never asked for help or for sympathy. He always wanted to be held to the same high standards as everyone else.
I just learned of his situation and felt that I had to help. Giancarlo was accepted to New York University and the University of Florida. NYU is not offering him any financial assistance because they consider him an international student, ineligible for financial aid. This is yet another obstacle. He cannot apply for federal aid or student loans. He is worried that his dream, which is so close that he can almost touch it, may be forever out of reach.
I look at Giancarlo and see a talented young man with a long resume of academic success. He had the brilliance and steadfast tenacity to learn and grow and excel. Imagine what more he could have done with just a few more resources. Imagine if the fear of discovery had not been a heavy presence in his home. Now imagine what he will do and what he will accomplish with a college education and what an impact he can make on the world.
There are far too many students like Giancarlo in Miami-Dade, too many children that have grown up here, that don’t know any other home. We have already educated and cared for these children in our public schools and in our communities. Why not give them the opportunity to come out of the shadows and give back to the only neighborhoods they’ve ever known?
To help Giancarlo achieve his dreams, visit his crowd-funding site: http://www.gofundme.com/rb6p5dtg?pc2
Watch his interview with CBS4 : http://cbsloc.al/1CtekSi