Imagine yourself living in the third world, while dreaming of the first. Imagine yourself observing the way poverty determines your living standards, in stark contrast to how the luxuries of the first world enriches life beyond your Central American borders. Imagine yourself unable to attend school regularly due to your obligation to work in order to provide for your family, while knowing that students, thousands of miles away, receive a world-class education that absolves them of the need to engage in child labor. Imagine sitting down in a run-down classroom decorated with bullet holes, and dreaming about migrating to a place where you could learn in massive lecture halls . Imagine yourself believing that the simple act of leaving your country will give you a chance at living a better life. Imagine yourself making the decision to emigrate from the only country you have ever known, in hopes of reaching a country that (you believe) will welcome your limitless potential.
Media outlets and national legislators across the United States have recently returned their focus towards the humanitarian crisis of the ever-increasing amounts of children arriving at the nation’s border, seeking a life free from economic chaos and physical violence. Many have wondered how these children have the confidence to pursue their transnational goals, yet understand and applaud their intention to make the best of their limited opportunities. Unfortunately, many are still ignorant of from the kind of realities these leaders of tomorrow are seeking to escape.
While international headlines are describing the extreme hardships of transnational migration, thousands of Central American children are unable to address or define their struggles in their own words. As we commemorate and pay tribute to the 50th anniversary of the Free Speech Movement, and the fight they inspired our generation to carry, let us reflect on how these ambitious young children are being portrayed in the media. Let us acknowledge how their freedom of speech is being overridden due to our nation’s unwillingness to bestow these children with the means to communicate their hopes for their future.
Next time you see these children make headlines, don’t be so quick to wonder: “Why the United States? What’s wrong with their home country?,” or “Will 57,000 children really be enrolling this upcoming fall in schools across the nation?” Instead, what we should be asking is: “What college do you plan on attending? What do you desire in giving back to your parents and community? What are your plans for the future?,” or “What would you change about your homeland?” These type of questions reframe the coverage documenting their struggle by diminishing the stereotypical questions commonly asked, and instead seek to understand the voice of the voiceless, who are eager to utilize their freedom of speech to tell their stories on their own terms.