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Clarissa T's picture

Blistering heat assaulted my face and dried out my mouth instantly as we left the airport terminal. My mother ushered me into a taxi. The air in the backseat was hot and gritty, it pinched the back of my legs and crunched between my teeth. From my window I could see a silhouette of a lone mountain in the distance and miles and miles of sand. My mother said “Clarissa, this is your new country.” As I watched this new landscape roll past my window I instinctively knew it to be stifling and cruel. Such  an enormous contrast from the rains and the tropical beauty of my Panama. This was the climate and the roots of my father's Native American and Mexican ancestry and my new home.


My first day of school was a confusing, frightening, and humiliating experience. I could not communicate with my peers and that made me angry and even menacing. The order and rigidness was unlike my culture. The only one who reached out to me was another Latina. One of my teachers. She was immensely kind and hands-on like I was accustomed to. When she was not present, I feared the other teachers with their rigid and stern movements and expressions. I dreaded school. The entire year I felt out of place and never learned anything.


The following year, I spent a semester back in Panama before settling in Central Texas. On the bus to school my view consisted of hay bales and farms. The school had a bilingual immersion program for the small number of latino students. Unfortunately, we were often targeted and bullied by the other children. They called us too dark or told us we smelled funny. One group of girls isolated me for being dark and playground time turned into running away from the brown girl. Besides the low number of students of Latino heritage, most of the children were racist and bullies. The knot in my stomach from a full day of ostracization, only receded on weekends when I was safely with my mother. I only had her to hold my hands through this transition. Her stoic poise through all of her new changes and difficult moments made me plow through the racist encounters. She insisted there was no excuse not to succeed and all A’s were expected. The strictest manner and respect I had learned as a child were still expected even amongst the turmoil I felt.

I started first grade in a brand new school that also accommodated the children of migrant farmers in the area. I was relieved to see more students like me. That year I was lucky to have an exemplary instructor who forced us to use our new language in class and for girls to speak up and participate. It gave me the confidence I needed. By the end of the year, I was considered an honors student and admitted into a high-achieving group that received one-on-one time with an instructor during my second grade year. My second year teacher made an effort to communicate with my mother, and insisted that I spend one day a week with bilingual immersion students and teachers. It gave me a sense of wholeness to know this woman from a world I did not quite understand, yet who valued who I was when I came into this world. I spent that year developing into a strongly motivated student with an unwavering work ethic and strengthening Spanish skills I needed.

By the time I began third grade in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, I had learned the mannerisms and the expressions of my new world. I began to make friends, but also continued close relationships with my teachers. I never forgot Ms.Sheeler when I moved to the DFW area. This particular teacher did something that moved me the most. She gave us a light bulb pin. She explained to us that in darkness, our minds, our brains, our perseverance in the quest for education would turn on the light. It is dear to me and a symbol of my core values. I kept it through many difficult moments and hours through the journey of adjusting to the United States into my adulthood. My inspiring teachers and their unbiased treatment of me helped me succeed and fight the racist and debilitating policies towards Latinos in Texas.

I am currently in a state with a huge, verbally degrading and xenophobic opposition towards migrant children. Unfortunately, among this opposition are people who are also educators. I have worked with a few of them directly and heard their disparaging remarks. I feel compelled to do something, anything. These vulnerable children whose  parents have chosen life for them must not be harassed and degraded. We as a community must feel compelled to make an effort for refugee children.

These children are suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and unimaginable life long psychological effects. I never had to face any of that to arrive here. I can't imagine how much harder my adjustment would have been along with all the emotions that undocumented children experience. They have survived hunger, thirst, fear, sexual assault, detachment from loved ones, and now an adjustment to a whole new world. In addition, many of them are in detention, facing court trials, and being sent to homes where no parent is present. In contrast, I was fortunate enough to have my parents in my young life. I feel compelled to speak out and advocate for them in any way that I can.


When I embarked on my project, Todos Nuestros Niños, I knew that my contribution would be rather small. But anything is better than sitting idly by and doing nothing. I believe at the core, everyone just needs one person to reaffirm their value and if they're good enough. It is a question we ask ourselves all of our lives.

These children, as I did, can feel the hostility or face it from their surroundings because of their background and skin color. They will almost all face poverty and little to no counseling or therapeutic resources for the horrific journey they faced.

The project embarked in June of 2014 with the focus of making children feel that they're welcome here and hopefully inspire confidence in their harrowing experience.


The knitted items are special in that the children can tell they're homemade. They're inscripted with a special message inside a red heart, “Hecho a mano para ti." Made with love for you. That they matter.


I hope that this message, like my light bulb pin in third grade, will inspire and help them a little through their struggles that most of their fellow American peers cannot imagine. At Todos Nuestros Niños (All Our Children), we choose love for these children.


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