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Principal and son of immigrants: ‘My grit was born in that struggle to survive’

Alejandro Lopez is principal of Hawkins Street School.
Alejandro Lopez is principal of Hawkins Street School.
Patrick Wall

Every year at Hawkins Street School we celebrate Latino Heritage in the month of November. This year’s event turned out to be an amazing success headlined by an extremely moving presentation titled the “Voices of our Hispanic American Dreamers.”

Being a child of undocumented parents from the Dominican Republic, this year’s presentation was especially meaningful to me, as I heard and felt my own voice from a distant past. My parents came to the United States alone as teenagers to seek a better life for their entire family. Our future relied solely on their ability to navigate this new world.

As I think back to the uncertainty, evident lack of resources, and urgency we all felt, it further connects me to the immigrant experiences of my students. When I was a child I dreamed of a “normal” life, not one limited by my experience as a product of immigration. However, now I know the richness and depth that my experiences afforded me.

I was captivated by the students’ heartfelt accounts of their individual and family journeys to a new world. I realize that my strength and grit was born in that struggle to survive. I am eternally grateful and proud for what my family has accomplished.

It is often forgotten that the United States is a strange new land of opportunity for millions of immigrants that come to the United States for a better life, and that the decision to relocate to a new place is one that requires courage, faith and resolve. We have to acknowledge this often uncomfortable transition and provide our students and their families with the support they require to reach the “American Dream.”

Today, I stand as a symbol of all those voices in fear, but I also stand as a catapult to those Hispanic American Dreamers that also are just trying to make it.

Each person has a journey and I am proud that our students’ presentations have demonstrated how we all have challenges that can be overcome.

Lopez is the principal of Hawkins Street School. This essay is from “The Hispanic American Dreams of Hawkins Street School,” a self-published book by the school’s students and staff that was compiled by teacher Ana Couto.

About our First Person series:

First Person is where Chalkbeat features personal essays by educators, students, parents, and others trying to improve public education. Read our submission guidelines here.

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