Posts Tagged ‘Rivera High school’

Letter to Gates, McHugh, Casey RE. Former Student

October 22, 2009

Robert Gates

U.S. Secretary of Defense

1400 Defense Pentagon
Washington DC 20301-1400

 

 

Re: The War Budget Generally & Specifically the Sending of My Student to Afghanistan

 

 

Dear Mr. Gates,

 

I write to you as a former high-school teacher, a person of faith, and a citizen concerned for marginalized communities and our national values.  The current debate about funding and sending more troops to Afghanistan misses the point in that it frames the choice as between Iraq and Afghanistan.  War is not inevitable; conflict is.  War is not a viable long-term solution to conflict – it has never brought about real peace in any circumstance, unless it was the stillness of a cemetery. General Barry McCaffrey himself has said, “We can’t shoot our way out of Afghanistan;” this is not solely limited to Afghanistan but applies to war in general.

 

In a time of rebuilding after a worldwide economic crisis, Dr. King’s words ring louder than ever: “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.” The trillions of dollars funding the killing of other human beings overseas would be better served in feeding hungry children, funding small business, investing in schools, and enabling social welfare programs which have been gutted recently by many state and federal budgets.

 

One of my former students, Tony, is leaving for Afghanistan this week because of your orders.  He was one of the most intelligent and promising students I had the pleasure to work with as a high-school English teacher at Rivera High School in Brownsville, Texas.  Tony plans to one day attend law school and give back to his community.  Tony joined the military to fund his higher education. 

 

While he will be in my daily prayers, I owe more to my student than that.  I am writing to you in hopes that you will reconsider all our current wars and pursue peace-building, civil solutions with all parties involved.  I close with another quote from Dr. King:  “I speak as a child of God and brother to the suffering poor . . . I speak as a citizen of the world, for the world as it stands aghast at the path we have taken. I speak as an American to the leaders of my own nation. The great initiative in this war is ours. The initiative to stop must be ours.”

 

Please take the initiative to end our current military engagements, for Tony, for me, for our nation, for the world.

 

Respectfully,

 

Matthew Webster

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NEA Today Article: Border Crossing

August 19, 2008

BORDER CROSSING

NEA Today

By John Rosales

Throughout the year, Rivera High School custodian Ramón Tamayo fires up his grill to celebrate his children’s birthdays. In addition to standards like hot dogs and chicken, his inventive Tex-Mex menu might feature cabrito (roasted goat), menudo (tripe soup), and ceviche (marinated shrimp).

In 2006, when Tamayo’s friend from work, second-year teacher and native New Yorker Matthew Webster, attended the birthday party of Tamayo’s 12-year-old daughter, he learned a classic Brownsville, Texas, tradition.

“They grill on the front lawn here,” says Webster, 24. “In New York, we grill in back.”

Grilling traditions are just one of many differences between these unlikely pals: a teacher and a custodian from separate generations, with diverse backgrounds and a different first language. Yet, their friendship developed around what they have in common: a passion for soccer and a commitment to helping students deal with cultural barriers.

Webster would seek out Tamayo, 54, after school as Tamayo cleaned classrooms during his evening work shift.

“It was our time to talk,” says Webster. “After I found out that he played and coached soccer in Mexico, I asked for his help with the team.”

In addition to teaching English and ESL, Webster also coaches a speech club and the junior varsity boys soccer team.

“¿Cómo se dice esta palabra (How do you say this word)?” Webster says he would ask in one breath, then in the next, “Which is the best soccer team in Mexico?” Tamayo always took the time to answer.

“He took me under his wing,” Webster says. And that’s exactly what Webster needed. The lifelong East Coaster had signed up with Teach for America after his 2006 graduation from Penn State. Traveling down to the Rio Grande Valley, Webster imagined “tumbleweed and cowboy country.” In reality, he says, he found “America’s Mexico.”

He recalls the first time he came to the security checkpoint about 50 miles north of where he would be living. “I wondered what kind of place I was going to…a no-man’s land where they stop motorists and inspect their cars.”

The high school honors graduate and marathon runner who studied in Ireland found himself more than a little disoriented among the farms, fields, and sweat of Texas’ southernmost city.

“I didn’t know who to go to with language and cultural issues,” says Webster.

He felt fortunate that Tamayo was willing to help him navigate his new home, a place of many intersections, between First and Third Worlds, wealth and poverty, English and Spanish.

Tamayo has worked at Rivera for three years but he’s lived in the city for almost 20. He knows many of the school’s 2,000 students and most of the neighborhoods in Brownsville and its sister city of Matamoros, Mexico. Reflective and reserved but not without a sense of humor, Tamayo speaks little English and is known as an excellent cook and athlete who once coached soccer in Mexico.

“He is very important to me,” says Tamayo, in Spanish, of Webster. “We have different backgrounds, but once we got to know each other we found out we have a lot in common.”

It’s not unusual for a new teacher to find a friend or mentor who is an education support professional (ESP), says Laura Montgomery, president of the NEA National Council for ESPs.

“When new teachers arrive at school, there’s always an ESP around to help them get oriented,” Montgomery says. “Teachers and ESPs might have different roles [at school], but they have the same mission to serve students.”

In addition to classroom issues, Webster and Tamayo also enjoy talking about Brownsville’s border culture.

“I taught him to eat Mexican food with lots of chili,” Tamayo says.

The faith of a sea turtle

June 5, 2008

The Gulf of Mexico is the only nesting ground for the Kemps-Ridley sea turtle. Padre Island, the longest barrier island in the world, is a favorite nesting ground of these magnificent sea creatures. Kemps-Ridley sea turtles, the smallest of the eight species of sea turtles, can weigh up to 100 pounds. They are endangered because of the over-harvesting in both the United States and Mexico, but animal rights activists and environmentalists have worked diligently to bring their numbers up substantially in the last years. (http://www.seaturtleinc.com/turtles/)

When I came down to Texas, I was interested in working with one of the most endangered populations in the United States – ESL students. Typically, for Hispanic students born outside of the United States, the dropout rate is 44%, and Latino students in general suffer a startling national drop-out rate of 28%. (http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2002/droppub_2001/)

At Rivera High School, I stepped foot into a Creative Writing class my first year of teaching. Little did I know that this creative writing was code for remedial writing – these were the students assigned to further English classes because of past failures on the all-important state test.

Last year, my results were not amazing. I learned far more than my students did. Their scores were average at best, and I felt a tinge of guilt with having learned the profession of teaching through this first-year “experimentation.”

However, with that first year behind me, I compiled what I had learned and sought the advice of others, determined not to fail my students again. The failure rate and dropout statistics for these students in this immigrant community compelled me to work harder and better.

From April to July, female Kemps-Ridley turtles migrate to the shores of South Padres Island and Rancho Nuevo. Unlike the other species of sea turtles, Kemps-Ridley sea turtles lay their eggs in groups and during the day. A 1947 film shows 40,000 Kemps-Ridleys nesting simultaneously, but now these “arribadas” are only in the hundreds. The sole protection for their pinball-sized eggs buried in the sand is their sheer number. (http://www.seaturtleinc.com/turtles/)

For freshman entering high school in the Rio Grande Valley, their main security is in their sheer numbers. From best estimates, only about 2/3 of them will graduate. From my own experience, though, nearly 2/3 of them will go back to Mexico, will seek employment without a GED, will opt for alternative certification, will become parents, will disappear. My job as a teacher often feels like Holden Caufield’s dream career of catching bodies coming through the rye, trying desperately to catch them before they run headlong over a cliff.

Green sea turtles nest every three or four years. South of the mouth of the Rio Grande, these green sea turtles nest from June to October. Though they migrate as much as 1400 miles, they return to their favorite beaches and continue nesting at the same site, barring any drastic changes. Those changes occurred in the early 20th century, with heavy canning taking place in Florida and here at Boca Chica Beach on the international border. These endangered turtles today are fighting to return to their numbers before the devastating 1900s. (http://www.seaturtleinc.com/turtles/)

I am leaving Brownsville today, after two years where this land, this language, and this way of life have taught me so much. My car is packed with the memories of my immigrant students, many of whom passed the state test for the first time, proving to themselves and the nation that immigrants are more than capable if given an opportunity. I am full of stories of these children and their parents, of the immigrant janitor who gave me my first taste of ceviche and fixes my old ’94 Spirit and of Tony who proudly hangs my photograph of the GW Bridge in his barber shop.

I am driving north today, perhaps not to return until after my graduation from law school in three years. I promised my freshman students that I would be there for their graduation, and I pray that I am able to greet them all not as students but as adults at the end of high school. I leave the Valley, with the border wall construction slated for July; I also leave this place knowing the grassroots resistance to the Secure Fence Act. It is my prayer that these brave men and women who have opposed this unjust legislation for two years will continue to do so, while I carry on the resistance from Minnesota.

Like a green sea turtle, I have no idea what I will find when I return. That is always the hope and the fear of leaving a place. My prayers are with this city, this Valley, and this frontera. You have taught me so much – it is now my turn to teach the nation.

La Frontera or My Students as Teachers

March 18, 2008

Palm Sunday Entrance to UT-Brownsville- March 16, 2008

    We teachers often say that we learn much more from our students than we could ever hope to teach in a year. This took on new meaning as I marched this past spring break on the No Border Wall Walk from Roma to Brownsville, TX, from March 8-16. Though I can boast good high school teachers and an undergraduate degree in English from Penn State, my real learning started a year and a half ago when I moved down to la frontera.

    I knew no one. My nearest family was 2,000 miles away on the other border. I drove my Dodge Spirit from the Saint Lawrence of upstate New York to the Rio Grande of downstate Texas. It took me a while to reconcile a New York minute to a Mexican manana, and for the first few months I was overwhelmed with the new culture and my first year teaching. I quickly realized my few years of high-school Spanish class in Troy, Pennsylvania, was probably not going to cut it in a place where close to 90% of people claim Spanish as their first language.

    And so, thousands of miles away from my fiance and my family, my freshman high-school students taught me about family, about priorities, about volunteerism, nonviolence, and communication. When I was forced to condense my 16 years of education into a single lesson plan day after day, I quickly realized the important lessons I had learned over the years and those teachers who had done a great job. My students were patient, and over the semesters I have gained a working fluency from a multitude of one-on-one tutoring sessions, parent-teacher conferences, and after-school “Teach Mr Webster Spanish” classes.

    They must have been so proud when I went from monosyllabic responses to being able to understand when they used vulgarity in the class (well, at least most of them were happy). Some students still express surprise when they learn I have phoned home to their parents to tell them good or bad news about their child’s progress in my class; the other students chime in with, “DUH! Ya el habla espanol!”

    So, it was with great pride that I shared the following article with my students on the first Monday of classes back from spring break. It ran on in La Frontera on March 12, 2008.

“De acuerdo con el profesor de inglés como segundo idioma de la Escuela Preparatoria Rivera en Brownsville y organizador de la marcha, Mathew Webster señaló que su razón principal de estar en contra del muro son sus estudiantes (en su mayoría inmigrantes), que llegan al Valle con sus familias para tener un mejor futuro.
“En mis clases todos mis estudiantes son inmigrantes y como entrenador de fútbol, también todos los jugadores son inmigrantes, los cuales tienen familias y una vida en ambos lados, manifestó Webster. “Por lo que creo que este muro es horrible y una falta de respeto a la cultura, la vida y a las familias”.
El agregó que la idea de reparar el dique y utilizarlo como muro sigue siendo algo negativo para esta región ya del lado de México se verá como un simple muro.
“El mensaje para la gente del Valle es tener esperanza, el muro aun no existe y tenemos la esperanza de que si unimos nuestras voces contra este lograremos impedir la construcción”, concluyó el maestro de inglés.” http://www.lafronteratx.com/articles/fronterizo_18389___article.html/marchan_muro.html

http://link.brightcove.com/services/link/bcpid1287042959/bclid1287021539/bctid1453536169

In this 15-minute interview, I was able to communicate in my newfound second language that because my students and soccer players are immigrants and have lives on both sides of the river, I believe a wall is a horrible symbol lacking respect for their culture, lives, and families. I was also able to impart that the message this March was trying to send was that the Valley must have hope, because the wall does not exist yet. We must have hope and unite our voices to stop the construction of this border wall.

    My students, barring the one or two who chuckled at my sometimes forced Spanish pronunciation, were overjoyed to see that I had made this much progress. 7th period even clapped for their maestro. I have rarely been prouder, and neither have they.

    After they said they would continue to give me more lessons, I shared the most important thing they had taught me. The primary reason I am against the wall is not the environment it will destroy, the economy it will cripple, the beauty it will abolish, the politics it will play, or the dollars it will disappear. The main reason I am against any sort of border wall is because my students deserve better than a border wall. Because they have taught me the plight of the immigrant in this country, I will campaign with the rest of my life for real immigration reform rather than symbols of evil like a border wall. Because my students and their families deserve to have the same opportunities as people in the rest of these United States, I am absolutely opposed to any border wall or border-levee compromise that distracts from the real, pressing issue of providing for immigrant students through legislation like the DREAM Act.

    To last year’s students of F210 and this year’s students of F114, thank you for the life lessons you have taught your teacher. I pray I have been able to impart some life lessons to all of you as well.

http://s239932935.onlinehome.us/index.php/brownsville-walk.html

No Border Wall Walk- Day 1 or A Lesson in Solidarity

March 8, 2008

    No Border Wall Walk- Day 1

The pins were white with red sequins. A junior high-school student at Rivera High School made them to show the unity between the United States, Canada, and Mexico throughout the common colors of their flags. The pins were worn today by everyone walking the 14 miles from Roma to Rio Grande City, Texas. Overalls and cowboy shirts looked great with these ribbons sparkling on them. Button-downs and floppy fishermen hats looked unified with these ribbons flapping solidarity in the westerly wind.

The response from communities along the Rio Grande was phenomenal. With nary a permit, police forces from Roma and Rio Grande City escorted us as we left the scenic birding bluffs by the international bridge (a section of historic downtown and environmental treasure which would be cut off by the Secure Fence Act of 2006). The Rio Grande City police force crossed town lines in order to tell us they would be waiting just inside the city limits. For much of the march in their city, we had 3 police cars. Shutting down an entire lane of traffic through the gorgeous downtown district, cars were honking as the entire group chanted “We don’t need no border wall, we are people one and all” and “No al muro!” Every honk, every hand wave was interpreted as a positive gesture because we were intent on conveying a thoroughly nonviolent message in opposition to the border wall. As Titus 1:5 states, “To the pure all things are pure.”

After a long day of sunburn, calloused feet, tired eyes, and bloated bellies thanks to Father Amador and his wonderful welcome at Immaculate Conception Church, we sat down to discuss the purpose of our walk in terms of opposing the border wall and advocating for immigration. We came to realize that we are looking at a Rubik’s Cube, a single facet of a much larger immigration issue with global repercussions. We in the Rio Grande Valley are a pivot point for real immigration reform. This border wall, while it can be defeating and discouraging, is our golden opportunity to show the golden rule to those seeking the land with streets “paved with gold.” Esther 4:14 states, “…who knows but that you were have come to [this] position for such a time as this.” U.S. Congressman and former SNCC chairman John Lewis put it this way.

“…I began believing in what I call the Spirit of History. OtSmart Borders › Edit — WordPresshers might call it Fate. Or Destiny. Or a Guiding Hand. Whatever it is called, I came to believe that this force is on the side of what is good, of what is right and just. It is the essence of the moral force of the universe, and at certain points in life, in the flow of human existence and circumstances, this force, this spirit, finds you or selects you, it chases you down, and you have no choice; you must allow yourself to be used, to be guided by this force and to carry out what must be done. To me, that concept of surrender, of giving yourself over to something inexorable, something so much larger than yourself, is the basis of what we call faith” (Walking with the Wind 64).

Few people raised concerns when parts of the wall were constructed in Arizona and California. That is our fault, and we are guilty for our complicit acceptance of this immoral action. We must raise our voices now, because this is on our watch. Victor Hugo wrote, “There is no force more powerful than an idea whose time has come.” Our backs are against a wall – the time is here, and we have a united community with which to nonviolently oppose the Secure Fence Act and all it symbolizes.

This is our chance to show solidarity on all fronts, to show the image of God and the spark of the divine in all peoples, both these residents with lands and lives on la frontera endangered by physical walls and also in the lives of displaced peoples and refugees the world over who are being denied a fair chance at citizenship. Perhaps the ribbons that high-school student made for us to wear should be rainbow-colored, to reflect the wide array of immigrants in every nation queued in quotas and waiting refugee status. Come join the walk tomorrow as we walk to Holy Family Catholic Church and have a rally as we arrive at 5:00. We have a ribbon for you as well.

Public Comments at Brownsville City Commissioner’s Meeting- 2/19/2008

February 20, 2008

Teachers are always talking about how their students teach them so much more than they have taught. This is not empty rhetoric. Yesterday evening, I attended my first City Commissioner’s Meeting here in Brownsville, Texas, because 2 of my students wrote essays on what Martin Luther King would say today about immigration. They taught me that Honor Roll students are still entered into the same lottery system for citizenship as everyone else. They taught me that the power of hope, that the “faith of a child” to send their essays to Princeton University is the type of powerful force which can and is changing our country as we speak. As I sat there, overwhelmed to see my students receiving accolades and shaking the hand of Mayor Ahumada who has defiantly opposed the wall, Alexa and Mayra and their families taught me pride.    So, when I got up to give my Public Comments to commemorate my students’ hard work and their indefatigable optimism, I was more than a little nervous because I wanted to do them proud by their teacher. The following is my speech:

 

“Walls are made to support roofs, not to divide neighbors. Walls are supposed to keep out the rain, not hard-working students who earn 100% in English-as-a-Second-Language classes and dream of one day attending excellent American universities Walls are made to support a family, not separate spouses and children from their mothers. Walls are intended to keep families safe, not to terrify immigrants and not to segregate nations. Walls have always been used to make a home, but they should never be used to keep out hard-working, well-meaning people who just are not “lucky” enough to have been born 1-mile to the north. Walls are for hanging pictures of people we love, not to send a message of hate to would-be immigrants and to those who are legally here.

Martin Luther King wisely said, “The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just.” The entire United States can learn ideas of coexistence, integration, and community strength by simply studying the Rio Grande Valley and its relationship with its neighbor. While politicians in capitals are debating the “idea” of some 12 million extralegal residents, Brownsville and other cities on la frontera are living proof that 99% of these immigrants sincerely want to work and contribute to American community and economy. The very idea of the Secure Fence Act of 2006 is ignorant of the real contribution these immigrants make on a daily basis.

My students Alexa Mireles and Mayra Flores are the epitome of this. Both of them represent newly-immigrated Mexican-Americans who are highly successful in America. I have the pleasure to teach many talented and ultra-motivated ESL students at Rivera High School everyday. These scholars are A+ students and have dreams of one day attending some of the best universities in the land. A border wall, the border wall they wrote against in their essays for the Princeton University Martin Luther King Day Celebration essay contest, would separate many of these students from their parents, sisters, friends. This human element, largely ignored when discussing 700 miles of wall, is why I am against the wall.

Tonight, I stand in support of this Valley’s mayors, politicians, and landowners who have courageously defied the idea of a border wall in their backyard. Mayor Ahumada, you have made this the issue of your tenure as mayor, and I applaud your efforts to nonviolently oppose the destructive influence of the Secure Fence Act of 2006. You and I both know that the money which would be spent on separating two nations and thousands of families could be better spent building homes in our city on the border by the sea, the poorest city in the nation.

Tonight, I wish to invite you, the Commissioners, and every concerned citizen from Roma to Brownsville, to join me and the Border Ambassadors as we walk on this 43rd anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery March. This March Against the Wall will show the solidarity of border communities against the Secure Fence Act, and it will also encourage those willing to stand up for the immigrant and la frontera. We ask for your endorsement, your public support, your prayers, and we hope to see you on the 16th as we finish our march here at 5:00 on the UTB lawn. Dios te bendiga. <http://www.brownsvilleherald.com/news/moore_84628___article.html/king_guerra.html>

So far, Mayor Pat Ahumada and Commissioner Edward Camarillo have accepted the invitation to come to the closing rally and the challenge to continue nonviolently opposing the border wall.