Introducing the YTFG Fellow Blog

We’re excited to launch a new blog series authored by our YTFG Fellows! Enjoy the first blog posting of this series — a reflection on our Houston meeting site visit to the Las Americas school written by Amanda Shabowich.  Las Americas thoughtfully blends social emotional programming with academics and English language services to prepare newcomers for mainstream public schools.  Stay tuned for regular blog posts throughout the year!

What I Saw at Las Americas was Love

by Amanda Shabowich
Las Americas is gated, and shares a campus with another school. We’re met outside, and ushered past what look like shipping containers with ramps. Outside is hot, all Texas sun and greenery. I never knew Texas was so green, so lush with plant life. Las Americas grows their own crops, we learn, this year the children want to grow corn. They already know how. 

We’re fed dobladas y pan de coco. A mother is there, she got up at 4 in the morning to make this food for us. It’s 9 o’clock now, and she serves each of us her recipe from Guatemala. I feel guilty. Where was I at four this morning? In my hotel room I didn’t pay for, clothing tossed around the room, souvenirs still in their bags. 

Our guide doesn’t say much about where the kids are from, not all at once, but we know. We’ve seen the photos of children and families crossing the border, or freezing cold under aluminum blankets. We’ve read the stories of what happens on the long and dangerous journey to America and in those detention centers. We know how our country has hurt them. We know how their country hurt them too.

We go into a classroom, an elementary level class, and the AC makes you forget it’s 90 degrees outside. There are children everywhere, which is no surprise. They told us the school started at maximum capacity this year, three hundred and sixty students. 

There are children gathered around a boombox, holding tiny books with massive headphones on their heads. They are reading aloud, “This…is…coral”. 

There are children sitting in the classroom library, each reading the same book silently with intense focus. 

There are students at computers. A program shows a mouth moving and they all wear the same giant headphones I saw earlier. I wonder if those are the same giant headphones my elementary school had fifteen years ago. 

I went to see movies with my computer teacher. Working on them made me so excited, and I still think I’m able to type quickly because of Mavis Beacon and the games I learned on. My mother and I spent a lot of Sundays together playing computer games and eating snacks. It was not a thing she did with my sister, just with me. It was ours. I wondered which children had mothers still. What they did with their moms. What it felt like to be scared she won’t be home when they return from school. 

There are students gathered around the teacher and a projector, reading together. A book that says “I can do it” over and over again. I hope they know they already know how to do so many things. 

I look at these children, all of them more independent than I ever was. I needed others so desperately. I needed to be affirmed, to be told what to do, and was so proud at how well I took instruction. I think of the instructions they have had to follow, just to survive. Just to get here. Just to be prepared for what could happen. I think of how they must need people desperately too, and affirmation, and direction–they just don’t have that luxury. 

Some of them catch my eye. I have tattoos and purple hair and a colorful t-shirt on, I figure I must look really striking to them. I’m the youngest person in our tour group. I hope they can tell that I’m so excited to see them. I smile so big my cheeks hurt, and I try to look at all of them. I wave at some girls giggling and whispering to each other in the back of the room. I remember being those girls. 

I remember my father dying when I was in elementary school. I remember my mother wanting so bad to shield me from his alcoholism and declining health. Then my grandfather died. Then my great aunt. Then my grandmother. My mother always tried to protect me, to keep the bad out as much as she could. I think of the mothers of these children and what they have had to shield  their children from. What they hadn’t been able to protect them from. The trauma and terror of it all.

I think of my depression, how it led me to dark places and moments, reminders of traumas I couldn’t face. I think of these children, all they’ve had to overcome just to be here in this moment. How grateful I am to be here with them. I think of all the things I would have never experienced if I had given in to those gloomy feelings on bad days. I think of all the things they’re going to experience: how they can heal and love others and share laughter and build friendships. How much life is ahead of them. How much they deserve.

Las Americas moved me. Not out of pity, sympathy, or white guilt. It didn’t even move me because I love children. It moved me because it reminded me of how precious childhood is, and how expansive the life in front of them is. It moved me because I am so incredibly angry at the way our country treats migrants and asylum seekers. It moved me because their funding is on a shoestring. They do not have the money to continue to pay crucial support staff, staff that these children have come to know and trust. And it moved me because learning is so beautiful, so transformative, and we owe it to these and all children to provide them schools that are safe, welcoming, meet their needs, and truly love them. What I saw at Las Americas was love. 
Amanda Shabowich is a YTFG Fellow with the Economic Well-Being Work Group.  She is a Boston native who works as a Launch Project Manager at United Way of Massachusetts Bay and is the Merrimack Valley & Alumni Coordinator at Boston Day and Evening Academy.