Our City and Nation’s Loss

October, 2006

Last Wednesday, Philadelphia and the nation, suffered a devastating loss, yet only a handful of people know about it.  School records will record Juan’s departure as a sixth grade student transfer. Government statistics will show his family’s deportation to Mexico as yet another success story in the government’s cleanup of undocumented aliens. Those who knew Juan will see it differently.

This is because they were there to hug their classmate good-bye Wednesday afternoon when he, tears streaming down his face, told them that he was leaving and would never see them again.  They too cried, knowing that their school had lost one of its best friends and citizens.

We’ve all heard the rhetoric – immigrants, specifically Mexicans, are a drag on our economy.  They strain our hospitals and schools, stealing the tax dollars of hard working, law-abiding Americans.

Having taught in a predominantly Latino middle school in south central Los Angeles, I understand the roots of these stereotypes.  Our public services are vulnerable to abuse and I’ve known some undocumented immigrants who take advantage of them.  However, I also understand that this profile is the exception, not the norm.

But examining the complexities of the immigration debate is not the point of this editorial.  It is instead to lament the loss of a great Philadelphian.  Juan was among the kindest, most respectful, and well-rounded students I’ve worked with during my six-year teaching career.  He embodied all those qualities that most Americans strive to possess.  He was among the top students in his class, athletic, and wildly popular among his classmates and the school staff.  Therefore, it is little wonder that he brought a few hardened twelve year-old boys to tears and one staff member to grieving sobs, amidst cries of “I love you.”

Now, Juan’s back in Mexico, probably for the rest of his life, and if we are to believe the current administration, maybe he has to be in order for the rest of us – good, law-abiding Americans – to be safe.  Yet, it still all seems a little unjust, knowing that Juan took far better advantage of being American than most of our citizens, including those whose lineages have been here for centuries. He made our city and nation a better place.