Viewpoint

My son shouldn’t be made to feel scared at school because I’m an immigrant

Immigration protesters walk along East Trade toward the square at Tryon and Trade in uptown Charlotte, Monday afternoon.
Immigration protesters walk along East Trade toward the square at Tryon and Trade in uptown Charlotte, Monday afternoon. dhinshaw@charlotteobserver.com

My 8-year-old son came home from school one day last fall and told me his teacher asked him about his citizenship papers. “Mommy, you always forget,” he said, worried I had forgotten to sign some field trip permission slip. “It was embarrassing.”

I stopped fixing his snack.

“What did you say?” I asked.

“She asked me where I was born, and then asked me if I had citizen papers,” he said. “I know you and daddy were not born here, and she asked where I was born. I got so nervous that I forgot I was born in Virginia, so I said Colombia because I love my family in Colombia. Then she asked me about those papers you didn’t send.”

I didn’t know what to tell him.

head shot Blanca Hernandez 2
Hernandez

I had not listened to the news in front of my children since that one morning I had to explain what the word “rapist” meant, and that then-presidential candidate Donald Trump was not talking about me or their Grandpa in Mexico when he called immigrants from my home country rapists and murderers.

Now I had to explain why his teacher, in front of the whole class, questioned whether he was a legal citizen (he is, as am I, not that it matters).

My son is 8 years old; he should not feel scared or embarrassed at school. Our new president’s insults and rhetoric against immigrants has legitimized this type of question being directed at someone who looks like me, or my son. If it happened in one of the best A-rated schools in our area, what could happen to other children that, like him, have a Spanish last name and brown skin?

According to the Pew Research Center, there are 890,000 Hispanics in North Carolina. I wonder how many of them have experienced this kind of fear, or even worse, for their families. The United States should not be a country of fears and discrimination; we are better than that.

I am downhearted with the way that people around me have expressed their support to the kind of bigotry expressed by the current administration. This event has motivated me to stand up, not only for my son, but for all of the other parents who might find themselves in my situation, feeling betrayed by teachers and neighbors as I realize that the fact that I was not born here, and possibly my skin color and accent, do indeed bother them.

I am just like any other mom who wants the best for her children, which is why I marched in the rain alongside a couple hundred others on Monday in Charlotte, and in solidarity with thousands across the country. My heart is full of love for those mothers and fathers who only want their children to have a better future.

It is my wish that my voice will somehow help those that are not as fortunate as I am. That the color of a child’s skin won’t prompt questions from teachers, police or anyone, about whether they have their papers. As my son said, it’s embarrassing, but even worse, it’s dehumanizing.

Blanca Hernandez is a Mexican-American mother of two children who lives in Union County. She is the co-founder of United Women for Change, a group formed after the November election to empower individuals in the area to promote inclusiveness and diversity.

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