It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.  Audre Lorde

Recently, my class finished reading Refugee by Alan Gratz.  One of my students came to me and told me that his friend’s abuela was a Cuban refugee and could we ask her to come and speak to our class.  I thought it was a wonderful idea.  

Today was the day that Rosario came to talk to my classes.  Forty 7th graders sat with rapt attention as she described her life in Cuba before Fidel Castro’s takeover and after and the circumstances surrounding her leaving Havana and coming to the US. She also explained to the students the difficulties she faced in the US as well as the good things in her life here as a Cuban-American.  The students had a Q & A session with her after her talk.  They learned a great deal about the trials and tribulations of having to leave your homeland.

Looking over my notes from this afternoon, three things Rosario said really struck me.

First, when asked what her greatest challenges were she said, “Learning English (because she wasn’t the greatest English student in Cuba) and realizing that her life would never be the same again.” She described the scene of her mother and father taking her to the airport to fly to Miami and live with her uncle and looking out the back of the car window and watching the house she grew up in disappear as she drove away.  I cannot even imagine. I haven’t had to leave my childhood home for a new land, but there have definitely been those moments in my life when I knew life as I knew it would never be the same.

After leaving Cuba, Rosario lived in Miami, Michigan, Illinois, Ohio, and then finally Pennsylvania. One student asked which was her favorite place.  Rosario replied, “Every place you are leaves something in your heart.” Again, I have never lived any place but Pennsylvania, but I feel that every class I have ever taught has left something in my heart that makes me who I am today.

Rosario has traveled extensively throughout the world.  She ended her talk by encouraging the students to travel as much as they could because “You can see how different people are, but when you talk to them they all want the same thing.”

Isn’t that the truth?!