“I Teach Public School in Southern Most Texas” is an Alumni Op-Ed written by David Casebeer, Class of 1986.
I am a retired Air Force officer, and a public school teacher in southern most Texas. I am concerned about the negative commentary about just who can attend our public schools. The reemerged political xenophobic posturing really bugs me! In order to abate these “new” Latin and Asian “trespassers”, we erected our own “Iron Curtain” on our southern border. Is this not like the “wall” that “protected” the good communist from western decadency and materialism? Did not President Reagan say, “Tear down that Wall?” Must we continue to erect barriers? Have we reverted to the 19th century parties of “No Nothings,” Nativists, and other anti-immigration attitudes?
My commissioning oath demands that “I support and defend the Constitution of the United States […] So help me, God.” That simple statement of values puts me in a challenged position. How do I support law, when that law preempts constitutional protection, or as Lincoln said, referring to expansion of slavery, “by the better Angels of our nature?” As a citizen and a public servant, how do I support laws that contradict my oath of office, my personal values, professional ethics, and a higher moral code? Just how would Chief Justice Taney’s constitution view of Dred Scott’s rights, that an African-American, as a slave, even a freedman, could never be a citizen, fly today? It took the fourteenth amendment to the Constitution spell out citizenship, and who and how a person could be a citizen.
This reverberates daily in our work and our classrooms. It is not only the “undocumented” student that affects our American classroom, but those who are English language learners, which unfortunately, includes many who hail from multi-generational American backgrounds unaccustomed to high functioning academic rigor. Moreover, I have taught far too many children, who come to high school unprepared to read, write, or think critically. These are children who need our positive attention, not to be pawned off for someone else to bother with, or as in a shell-game, hope that the “pea” will magically appear. What is truly to fear, as Franklin Roosevelt suggested, “But fear itself.” We worry about the alienation of our population into neighborhoods of that of foreign domain. Yet, by the second or at least third generation, English is the standard of communication and the home language languishes.
All of us, native born or not, are represented by our congress. All have the right of petition. All born on our American soil are citizens of the government of the people. My Mayflower ancestors were immigrants, as were my manumitted “Dutch” forbearers into Penn’s woods. A “Pennsylvania Dutchman” was not a “homey” attribute, but a slur. So by 1775, my people were “American colonials,” subjects of and then traitors to England. In the patriot ranks, alongside my family, were freeborn and freed (and some not either) people from a menagerie of genetic blends, with the same goal of life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. At this same time, a friend’s family settled into a Spanish land grant north of the Rio Grande River. After Texas independence and subsequent statehood, this became disputed territory and a prime factor for our 1846-1848 war with Mexico. What of the people? As my spouse’s students’ suggest, “we did not cross the river, the river crossed us.”
We are a nation of immigration. Immigrants have and continue dig our canals, harvest our fields, build our roads, bridges, and cities. Some were ripped from their homes and chained into slavery and others into labor. Our nations’ strength continues to be built by immigrants. Fear, prejudice, and hatred rise from cultural, economic and religious mistrust, bad experiences, and jingoism. I recall a film that came out a few years ago, “A Day without Mexicans,” in that some rejoiced, at first, when “Juan and Juanita,” vanished and then recognized the reality of just how deep our immigrant roots are. Emma Lazarus wrote “Give me your poor, your Huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” Is this not the point, America?