‘We’re all just one big family’
The Aspen Times
Editor’s note: The Aspen Times interviewed several Basalt High School students who immigrated to the valley from Latin America. Some of these students are documented citizens and others are not. At the request of Basalt High School and to protect students’ identities, no last names are used in this story.
In Basalt High School freshman Greyci’s 3,000-mile journey to the United States, the 13-year-old was robbed of all her food and money, ran from immigration officers, hurdled her four-and-a-half-foot frame on and off trains and spent nights curled up inside a cold meat locker or amid the dust of the desert ground.
She was also sent to a refugee camp in Texas after watching immigration officers seize and deport her uncle, her sole travel companion, back to Honduras.
In the wake of the presidential election of a candidate who has repeatedly claimed he would deport immigrants and build a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border, Greyci said she cannot help but fear for her future and wonder if her sacrifices were worth it.
And at Basalt High School, the Honduran teen is by no means alone.
William, a Basalt High School senior who relocated to the area from El Salvador in December 2013, said via faculty member Frida Santoya, who translated the conversation: “If the future president does do what he’s set out to, then he will be taking away the chance to accomplish my dreams.
“It was a hard journey to get here. It’s a lot of walking. It’s hard enough to get here that when you actually get here, if you don’t feel welcome, you would feel like it’s worthless.”
That journey involved a lot of walking and “sometimes buses or cars, but they were too packed with about 20 people,” he said.
William said that he’s felt welcome in the United States until now.
Like William, Basalt senior Manuel, said via Santoya, “I feel like this school opened the doors and didn’t judge me for my skin color and race.”
Manuel migrated to the valley from Puerto Vallarta, Mexico in the summer of 2012, after his father died.
Today, he is ranked No. 6 among Basalt High School’s senior class, according to Basalt teacher Leticia Ingram.
Manuel said he hopes to pursue an engineering degree at Adams States University in Alamosa next year but isn’t sure what will happen now.
“The country picked this president that is so disrespectful to Hispanics,” he said. “I wish it would have picked someone that talked with more respect to all cultures.”
With a majority Hispanic student population, the outcome of the presidential election hit close to home at Basalt High School, said Santoya, who works as a liaison between the school and families who primarily speak Spanish.
“Not only did it affect kids, but it affected every teacher in this school,” she said.
Basalt High School Principal Peter Mueller said, “The school was stunned by the election results. Teachers, students, staff — we were taken back and completely surprised.”
Shock, followed by tears and “a lot of emotions and questions,” Santoya said.
“The energy when you came into school (Wednesday) was totally different. It just felt really negative and sad. You could feel the sadness just walking into the building,” she said.
From the principal’s perspective, the election results “felt like a real setback, in terms of our drive to educate and prepare all students for college.”
Mueller said President-elect Donald Trump’s “mean-spirited rhetoric” is antithetical to the high school’s spirit and intent of welcoming students of all ethnicities with open arms.
According to Santoya, 58 percent of Basalt High School students last year spoke Spanish as their first language.
While Santoya is less certain on the current ratio, she said, “There are definitely more Hispanic students” at the high school this year than there were last year.
Santoya said, “Every day is like a new admission” at Basalt High School.
Last week alone, for instance, four students who had migrated to the area enrolled at the high school — two on Monday and two on Thursday, she said.
“It happens all the time. They come here to start their education and you have all these kids coming in now — what are their hopes?” Santoya said. “That’s what I think of when I try to deal with this, as well.”
With students and families asking school officials if and when they will be deported, Mueller said he directs the focus of the discussion onto the child’s education.
“We say that school is a safe place to be, it’s where you should be, it’s where you need to be, and this is where you’re going to get a great education,” Mueller said. “Those (questions of deportation) are huge, complicated issues, and the place for them to be is in school.”
Santoya said the students want a different answer.
“In their heads, they already know what can happen,” she said. “They want somebody else to be like, ‘everything’s going to be fine.’”
“To some of them, I just say, ‘You just got to keep a positive attitude. Right now, we have to endure this, because it’s not taking from us yet.’”
While the future remains unknown for many Basalt students, the school has a message for its Hispanic community: “We’re all family,” Basalt sophomore Natalie Simecek said.
“I just think it’s really important that everyone understands that we’re all just one big family at Basalt High School and that it doesn’t matter where you come from,” Simecek said. “I know they’re worried, but I think it’s important for them to know that we’re still with them. Despite who’s in the White House, we’re still with them.”
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