By Lorenzo Atencio
The last bell rings. I get all my books and get ready to leave when our science teacher Mr. Mays announces to the class:
“Okay, one last thing. I have good news. The regional chapter of the Math and Science Association will have this year’s competition in thirty days. If you are interested in entering a science project, stay for a few minutes after class. As always, the winner gets a full scholarship to the state university.”
Seven students remain sitting as the class room empties. I turn to look at them. There are four nerdy looking boys from a different class, and my unshakable nemesis Cheryl Soisbee and her best friend Carol Porter.
When all that remain are sitting, Mr. Mays says, “Please take a parental permission form to be signed by your parents or guardians. Get them back to me on Friday. We will discuss your projects then. If you don’t have any questions, you may leave.”
As we walk out, Cheryl gives me a sideways look and says to her friend, Carol, “I didn’t know that ESL students are allowed to submit a project in the science fair.”
“What’s ESL?” asks Carol.
“English as a Second Language. You never heard?” asks Cheryl. “Oh yeah. I just forgot – the M E X I C A N S” says Carol.
They both look at me with a smug smirk and laugh. I had told myself to ignore them no matter what they do, but I am so tired of their harassment that I snap at them, “What is your problem? What have I ever done to you?”
“You were born.” answers Cheryl without hesitation. “I don’t like that you act like you’re an American. Now you want to be in the science fair. You have to know how to speak English to be in the science fair. You should just go back where you came from.”
“I have as much right to enter the competition as you do.” I say.
Cheryl’s answer is quick and automatic, “Prove it.”
I say, “I’ll show you at the science fair.”
“You’re going to have to speak English there.” Cheryl and Carol laugh again as they turn to leave, then Cheryl adds, “Maybe we should call Immigration.”
I feel like telling her to go ahead and call Immigration, but I hear my father’s voice in my head warning me of the consequences of being deported. I have no memory of Oaxaca, Mexico. When I was 4 years old, my parents brought me and my 2 year old brother, Marcos, to America to follow their own American Dream: a job and an education for their children.
Now I am about to graduate from high school and I desperately want to attend college. I have to figure out how I’m going to get Papa’ and Mama’ to sign the permission form. I’ll discuss it with Marcos on our bus ride home. He’s always a good listener.
Marcos sums it up for me. “Luz, you know how Dad is about being deported. Always telling us to stay under the radar and don’t answer questions. He doesn’t want to go back to Oaxaca.”
“I can understand that. I just want to be an engineer. I have always wanted to be an engineer. My only chance and my only hope of being an engineer is to win the scholarship to the university.
“Just talk to him. He’ll probably say this not a good time to be visible with half the country screaming for deporting all undocumented immigrants.” says Marcos. “But you’ll know what to say.”
“Let’s hope that Mom and Dad say yes.”
Later that night, as Papá reads the newspaper after supper, I sit next to him at the table. When he notices me, I begin, “Papá, I would like to go to college and study to be an engineer. Do you think that will ever happen?”
Mr. Arenado is slow to answer his daughter. “Hija,, it would make me so proud and happy to see you become an engineer. But your mama and I don’t have the money to pay for college.”
“What if I found a way of going to college without it costing you anything?”
“Are you going to rob a bank? Or maybe you will win the lottery?” Dad raises an eyebrow. Mom
I see an opening. “No silly. I can get it by doing extra school work. I can win a full scholarship to
“No se. I don’t know. That sounds too easy. What are you not telling me?” asks Papá.
“Well, it’s a competition to see who can make the best science project. I have an idea to make electricity from the sun to turn a small fan. It’s clean energy that’s being looked at by big companies.”
“You just sign this consent form saying that you give me permission to enter the science project competition. It doesn’t cost you anything.”
Papa’ asks “If you win, you will be in the newspapers, right?”
“Well, Papá, being in the newspapers seems to be automatic, but I can say I want my privacy and not allow pictures of me. The school doesn’t know if I have documents and they don’t care.” I argue.” No one will even know that I’m undocumented or from Mexico.”
Papá says, “Hita, when they see you in person, they will see a pretty girl with dark skin color and Mayan features and know that you are from Mexico. There are many people that resent immigrants to the point of hate. Someone will ask questions. This is not the time to be visible.
Papá says even more emphatically, “I sure don’t want to go back to Oaxaca. There is nothing there. No jobs. No food. No way,”
“Papá. Think about it. We’ve been in this country for thirteen years. How many jobs have you had? I think you’ve worked at every restaurant in town. French, Chinese. Italian. Que no?”
“Don’t forget Mexican restaurants,” adds Papá.
Mama’ says, “I feel like there is an angry mob carrying torches looking for us to deport us. I don’t understand what we have done that is so bad. We aren’t suicide bombers or terrorists. We come to work. Ms. Lopez says the immigration laws are being used to steal our wages and homes and to break up our families. They call us ‘illegal’ because it sounds like ‘criminal.’”
“Stop. Stop. Wait a minute. Who is Ms. Lopez?” asks Papá.
“Ms. Lopez is our civics teacher. We discuss the Constitution and immigration issues in her class. I like her.”
“She says they are turning the screws – intentionally putting fear into our lives. Papá, we have to push back. Whenever we are told that we don’t belong in America, we need to boldly say ‘yes we do.’ I want to enter the science fair to show everyone that I have the right to enter that contest. And because I can win.”
“Ms. Lopez thinks deporting 11 million immigrants is either a bluff or the dumbest idea she’s heard. She says they aren’t going to deport 11 million people.
Marcos chimes in, “That would be 11 million Walmart shoppers. What does Walmart say about that?”
I answer emphatically, “Now is exactly the time to be visible – and vocal. We can’t just roll over and play dead. “Papa’, things are changing. There is a revolution coming. Not a revolution like Pancho Villa’s. A revolution of ideas.”
“Si. We’ve earned the right to stay in America. I have pledged my allegiance to America every day in school for twelve years. I believed it when I was told that all men are created equal, and I still do. You’ve been working hard. You both have given your time and labor and the owners have succeeded.“
“That also means we won’t be able to pay the loans at the credit union, or our car payment, or our trailer payments if we are deported. Uncle Sam would be shooting himself in the foot to deport us.” says Papá with a grin.
“Why haven’t they deported us sooner? She says if they were going to deport us they could have easily done it with the technology available today. They just want to scare us to squeeze more out of us.Undocumented workers turn the wheels of our economy by our hard work. Who will turn the wheels if we are kicked out?”
“Maybe there’s an App for that.” murmurs Marcos
Mamá adds, “I wonder if the first lady can fix breakfast? Anyway, I’m ready to buy a truck and load up our possessions and go back to my beautiful state of Oaxaca where my family is, if we have to.”
Papá ends the discussion. “Your mother and I need to talk this over. We’ll give you our answer in the morning.”
That night I dream of a priest wearing a cape of brightly colored feathers, standing in front of the sun. He smiles at me and the brilliance of his smile washes over me and magically transforms me into a hummingbird of green and blue. I harvest energy nectar from the sun and carry it to all things in the universe. And with that task comes the ability to fly in any direction, up or down, forward or backwards, fast or slow, or just hover. It gives me a feeling of power and freedom.
The next morning, I barely feel traces of the power to fly, but I remember the dream clearly. When I describe it to Papa’ he says, “You dreamed of Huitzilopochtli, the Aztec god who causes the sun to rise. He is the strongest god of the Aztec religion. That is a very good omen.”
Then Papá looks at me and says, “Well, we agree that since we can’t give you college, we will not deprive you of an opportunity to go to college. We are willing to risk deportation because we agree that it’s time to come out and fight.”
Neither Marcos or I say anything until we walk out of the house and down the street. Then, Marcos raises his hand for a high-five. “You did it! I didn’t think you could ever change their minds.” I jump and slap his palm.
“Now I have to focus on my science project.”
As I think about creating electricity from the sun, I am reminded of last night’s dream. I know that Huitzilopoch is with me.
I exclaim to the universe, “I’m feeling like a hummingbird.”