18-year-old Hope* and her friend and longtime mentor, Sonia Vazquez-Young, talk about their journey together. The two met when Hope was in kindergarten in Bethlehem, Pen.
*Hope is a pseudonym.
Sonia: Do you remember coming into kindergarten when I was first working at the elementary school?
Hope: I remember the whole environment was very welcoming and I remember meeting you. I’m not going to lie—I was a little afraid because of the previous events that happened at the other school.
Sonia: You were at the local Catholic school down the street and you had a terrible year because they were trying to tell your dad that you were retarded. And when you came in, you were so beautiful, but you were scared and you were guarded. You didn’t make eye contact. I did tell the teachers about your parents’ experience of coming over the border. You didn’t talk and I think that had something to do with it.
Hope: It was always like, okay, be careful. All that fear was just there.
Sonia: After you were done, the teachers took me aside and told me, “She is not retarded, she is scared.” And then I was able to go to your parents and tell them, “Let’s make a plan.” I’m going to have her repeat kindergarten because there’s probably a lot you didn’t take in because you were so nervous.
Hope: Yes, I was so nervous. I couldn’t even think straight at the other school. The teacher at the other school scared me because she would put me on the spot and that’s when I get nervous and I just close down.
Sonia: And I gave you to the nicest teacher. By the second week, I did not have to go check on you. And within two months, it was amazing to watch how you were talking. And I would bring you down to my office at the end of the day. That time with me is where I just fell in love with you. I knew you were special and you fit right in. So we knew you were going to be fine. I think it was around third grade where your dad ended up getting deported. My heart went out to you and everyone that knew you in the school made sure that you were protected. They gave you that extra time and they pulled you through it.
Hope: Yeah they did. I knew that everything was going to be okay because the environment was so bright and the importance of being dedicated to education, it was really presented to me in a strong way and it has been carried with me ‘til now.
Sonia: You know, we’ve been getting ready for college. Is that exciting to you?
Hope: It’s like scary, but also it’s going to be something I look forward to, something I’ve been working towards. The result of all the things I did, the nights I would stay up studying, especially for math.
You have to have the bad moments to know how to appreciate the good ones. Moments in family when something good happens, we look at each other like, wow, this is extremely beautiful. Okay, we’re doing it.
Sonia: Just remember, if you didn’t make it happen, nobody would have done it. You’re going to be first-generation. Your graduation — that’s going to be a moment for your mom. And I’ll be next to her or behind her, as long as I’m there.