Think about an impactful experience from your childhood that shaped who you are today. How does it fuel choices and decisions in your everyday life? For one Massachusetts charter school teacher, his childhood experience of immigrating to America and attending school here made him deeply understand that not all kids across the world have the same opportunities in education. Now, he works every day to change that.
Victor Hernandez Barajas is a math specialist at Alma del Mar in New Bedford, MA. He is a DREAMer (immigrant youth who qualifies for the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act) who received a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) scholarship for college. Victor came to America hidden underneath a car seat with his mother and siblings and grew up as the child of an undocumented worker.
We sat down with Victor to learn about his story and why he is committed to helping kids just like him. The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What was the most important lesson you learned from your DREAMer experience? How are you using your experience to help others?
One of the most important lessons I’ve learned from my experience as a DREAMer has been resilience. Giving up would have been the easier option, especially when everything seemed to be working against you. Prior to DACA, I was unable to obtain legal employment, a driver’s license, and was terrified of deportation. My concerns changed after DACA; I began to consider my future and aspirations. Unfortunately, no one in my family or friend circle could offer me any advice, and things felt dismal for a long time. I never stopped looking for opportunities, and eventually found a scholarship that opened doors and organizations that helped me widen my thinking. Every day, I use my experience to help others by advocating for a pathway to citizenship for DACA recipients and undocumented youth.
What about your experience made you want to serve others? And specifically become a teacher?
Being a DACA student in my senior year of high school forced me to observe the limited possibilities available to some students following graduation. Due to my DACA status, not a single high school guidance counselor could assist me in planning my next steps, which made me understand how much change the educational system needs. After working for several organizations in college that primarily served undocumented students, I came to see myself as the help I wished I had as an undocumented student in high school. Striving to be the mentor I wanted has led me to my current position as a 3rd to 5th grade Math Special Educator.
How do you bring any of your experience and/or your Hispanic heritage to your teaching practice?
My experiences working with adolescents and navigating my own youth have shaped my teaching practice. Because of my own personal experience as a DACA student, I am able to speak to my students about real-world issues and the significance of obtaining an education. In a school where the student population is 65% Hispanic, having a teacher who shares a similar culture is essential for making connections and allowing students to see themselves reflected.
What benefits do you see and experience teaching at a public charter school?
Working in a public charter school for over a year now has shown me several advantages over traditional public schools. Public charter schools can teach a curriculum while also having the freedom to adopt a more tailored approach to teaching set curriculum. Another advantage of public charter schools is the funding they can obtain to provide students with the finest educational experience possible. Students need not to worry about having lunch, school supplies, or services when all is provided; all they need to focus on is learning.
What does your Hispanic heritage/or what does celebrating Hispanic heritage month mean to you?
My Hispanic heritage means many things to me. When I think of the obstacles my community has experienced throughout the years, both from our native countries and the United States, the word perseverance comes to mind. Having unity in my community has also been essential for keeping customs and building community. Finally, the love we have for our family is what transcends all borders and is always with us. Perseverance, unity, and love is what I think of when describing my Hispanic heritage to my neighbor.
Read more about Victor’s story from Delaware Online or learn more about his school Alma del Mar.
Jennifer Diaz is the vice president of communications at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.