83: A Special Kind of Support

83: A Special Kind of Support

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: My Kind (of) America

A Special Kind of Support

There is no exercise better for the heart than reaching down and lifting people up.

~John Holmes

As my English Language Development (ELD) students filed in the first day of school, I couldn’t help but remember my own beginnings in this country as a seventeen-year-old immigrant who arrived in New York twenty-nine years ago. I spoke no English, had never been to high school, and had been in various foster homes since I was nine years old.

My story is the typical one of a young immigrant coming to America looking for better opportunities. In reality, my intention was not to stay. I was here to learn English and then go back to find a better job and thus have a better life.

The women in my family never had the opportunity to attend school, and they made their living cleaning houses and washing clothes. It was an honest living, but I knew I wanted to do something more. As soon as I arrived here, I started fighting for my right to a better life. I found work at a factory that paid me three dollars an hour and then enrolled in English as a Second Language (ESL) classes at night. Later, I became a live-in housekeeper because it made it easy for me to work and go to school to obtain my General Educational Development (GED) diploma. The people I worked for were the first of a number of people who were kind to me and helped me to pursue a higher education.

After being in America for a year and obtaining my GED, my employers lent me a thousand dollars so I could take some college classes at a nearby private institution. I did this for a semester, but found it too expensive to attend school. Penniless and undocumented, I thought about going back, but then I received a letter from my aunt telling me that my mother, whom I had never met, lived in California. I called her and took a Greyhound across the country for three days to meet her for the first time.

My legalization took eight years, during which I found different types of work: housekeeper, babysitter, cashier, and dog sitter. After improving my English, I worked as a receptionist and legal secretary. I did all this while attending five different community colleges and getting ready to transfer as soon as I received my documents.

It was hard at times, but a few people supported me along the way and lent me a kind hand. While waiting in line at a lunch function, I struck up a conversation with a nice lady and her husband who would later become two of my biggest supporters and mentors. My friends had left without me, and the couple offered me a ride home. They also invited me over for Thanksgiving dinner, picking me up and dropping me off because I did not have a car or know how to drive. Meeting Mr. and Mrs. P was probably one of the best things that ever happened to me. They were and still are very supportive, extremely loving, and just the most kind and generous people I have ever met. Ever since that day, they have included me for every holiday. They also steered me toward a teaching career, gave me advice, offered money for rent when I was about to be evicted, and were generous with their understanding, patience, and love. For the first time, I felt like someone honestly cared for me and loved me for who I was.

I am now an English teacher, hold a master’s degree, obtained a National Board credential, and was named a California State Teacher of the Year. One of the reasons I have been successful is because I always had the support and guidance of Mr. and Mrs. P.

Looking into the future, I would also like to become a mentor to people like me. I believe that we should give back to the people who have been there for us. I am a passionate teacher because I know that with love, support, hard work, patience, and acceptance, all students can be successful and thrive — just as I have. As my students take a seat to begin a new academic year, I see myself in them. I want to be the Mr. and Mrs. P in their lives.

~Isela Jacome Lieber

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