To know Stella is to love her.  If you’re skeptical about the future, if your teenage angst has resurfaced as old-man-rage, then I recommend you spend some time with Stella.  She just might be an unassuming dog and horse whisperer for cranky middle-aged men who can no longer control their loss of faith in our better angels.

Quiet, unassuming.  Much more character than most.  Sweet and kind.  An always present sense of fairness.  Strong, young moral compass.  And, a faith in all that is good.  And family first.  Always family first.  I had been waiting for Stella to show up for years.  I knew she was coming.  Stella had two older sisters about ten years or so her seniors.  I had both.  I met their family multiple times over the years.  Let me stop here for a moment.

Working Hard For The Family

This family?  This family is my America.  Proud parents beaming to be here from Mexico, giving their daughters greater opportunity.  Dad works multiple jobs to make this happen but never makes it seem like a burden.  He doesn’t see himself as overworked for substandard pay.  He’s a strong man giving a gift to his family.  And he quietly bubbles over with pride and honor.  This family is his passion project.  This family is his small business.  This family is his dream, his mission.  And business is thriving.  His older girls are excelling.  Mom and Dad came to every school function.  They took full advantage of our AVID program and our after-school homework and study programs. Those girls were on every field trip to visit local colleges in order to let their hopes and dreams brush up against a reality that was waiting for them.  The girls were born here so they qualify for all aid.  And if his family is his thriving small business, we are his local bank.  We have invested and stood proudly by their side.

When Stella is old enough, I recognize her slightly more structured face from the times I met her as a toddler.  And by having Stella in my class, I can tell you that business is still thriving.  The older girls are in college.  Both push Stella because they are now deeper stakeholders in the dream, pulling everyone along.  Again, this is my America.  You can keep your border walls and woefully inaccurate stereotypes of immigrants and asylum seekers.  I know the truth.  Again, and again, from family to family, I know better.

About halfway through the school year, Stella’s mood has shifted.  Her light has dimmed.  She sits a bit sullen.  I find a quiet moment to ask why she is not the same.  At first, she does not want to tell me anything.  And I’m not sure if she is fearful of trouble or has some shame about something.  Finally, she speaks.

“The ICE Man came,” she says flatly.  At first, I’m clueless.  It sounds like something out of an urban legend like The Candyman or the Mexican legend of the weeping mother, La Llorona.  A mythical boogeyman of some sorts.  And then, it registers.  And I realize I was halfway right.  It is a known boogeyman, but very real.  ICE — Immigrant and Customs Enforcement.

The story goes that Stella’s father had finished cleaning an office building later than usual, so instead of going home, he figured it would be easier to just pull up to the construction site a few hours early and nap in the car.

World Turned Upside-down

Unfortunately, Dad was woken by a knock on his window.  That’s all it took.  If you say The Candyman’s name enough times, he will appear.  And if La Llorona looks you in the eye, it is an omen of tragedy to come.  When the ICE Man knocks on your car window at five am, it is much the same.

Dad is in ICE custody now.  Could be a year or more before anything happens.  I take Stella at her word.  To compound the anguish, Stella’s grandmother is dying and Dad cannot be there to say good-bye.  And yes, Dad can no longer give his gift to his family while in custody.  Business will suffer.

Sadly, there isn’t anything we can do.  We don’t have an after-school program that covers this.  This is not my America.  Family first has become a privilege, and no longer a core value.  Every policy.  Every single public policy has a family at the other end of it.  Like Stella’s family.  Like my family.  Maybe yours, too.

This felt too sad to write.  And I avoided it for months.  But somethings just need to be said or written.  Some stories must be heard.  Please.  Put families first.  Always.  It’s your best bet, morally and politically.  Somewhere tonight, a beautiful child is finding it hard to sleep.  Not because of a fictitious boogeyman, but something far worse than shadows toying with your imagination.  For tonight might be the night that the Iceman Cometh.


For more inspiring classroom stories, please check out Mr. Bowen’s recent bestseller, Our Kids: Building Relationships in the Classroom.

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