Every year, my students read Night by Elie Wiesel.
Following completion of the novel,
I assign them the tasks of writing their own memoir.
Maria came to America when she was five years old.
Wrote that she had to cross a river
before she ever knew what it meant to swim.
Ran through knee-high grass
as if the field were made of landmines.
Hid under the belly of trucks—
amid concrete and fertilizer
so as not to leave a scent for the dogs.
She did not know why she was running,
but she knew that her mother cried
every night for her father.
She knew she was beginning to forget
the outline of her daddy’s face.
She knew that he worked 18 hours a day
Just to provide them with the food they could barely
find at home.
She knew that he loved them
and wanted to remember what it felt
like to hold his daughter is his arms.
But Maria was five.
She doesn’t remember life in Mexico.
She remembers Kindergarten,
and middle school graduations.
She is more American, than any slice of apple pie
but that is not what we tell her.
We punish Maria for just following directions,
for being a child, who was simply listening to her parents.
We tell her parents that they are wrong for wanting a better life for their family.
We tell her that a 4.0 isn’t good enough.
We tell Maria that college wasn’t meant for girls like her.
We say too much brown skin.
We say too much accent.
We say where’d you come from.
We say you don’t have a number, so you don’t exist.
We have embedded apathy onto the eyelids of this country
and now we can’t even see what’s right in front of us.
It’s hard to convince someone to do well in school
when the law tells them that it won’t matter—
when you’re a number before you’re a face.
How convenient, that we forget our own history.
A country of immigrants
who were once told
we didn’t belong.
An assemblage of faces
simply waiting for our country to see us.There may be small errors in this transcript.