When Patty Madera woke up on Wednesday morning and learned that Donald Trump had been elected president, her mind went first to the sixth-graders she would see that afternoon.
“My heart hurt,” she said.
For months, Madera has worked with a small group of Latino students, mostly girls, at Nashville’s Madison Middle School through an after-school program run jointly by the Nashville After Zone Alliance and the nonprofit Conexión Américas, which offers a range of services to Tennessee’s immigrant community.
Some of the students are citizens, born in Tennessee. Others immigrated here as recently as two years ago. Some are undocumented; many have undocumented relatives.
And all semester, sprinkled amid homework, computer games, and arts and crafts, they also shared anxiety induced by Trump’s campaign promises to limit immigration and force out many immigrants who are already here. They said they feared being bullied for speaking Spanish, seeing family members deported — or they themselves being forced to leave the country.
So Madera — like so many educators who work with immigrant students this week — walked into the Wednesday afternoon session wanting to create a space for the students to process the election results.
“They get made fun of for being Latina, and now they have this president who seems to not be sympathetic to them,” she said. “I wanted to talk to them, give them some sense of relief.”
That relief was sorely needed when Madera asked the girls to describe how they felt. “Offended!” “Attacked!” they shouted out.
Soraya Meija looked for a silver lining to her fear of being deported. “I feel sad — and happy,” she said. “I can see my cousins in Mexico.”
The students peppered Madera with questions that students of any ethnicity or national origin might share. What does it mean to be a Republican or a Democrat? How does the electoral college work, and how could Trump have won the election even if most people did not vote for him? Why didn’t people want a woman president? Together, they googled what the ballot looked like, how Tennessee voted, the major party platforms, and discussed the difference between rumors and facts.
But again and again, the answers took a different tenor because of the girls’ backgrounds.
“One time Donald Trump said this, but I don’t think it’s true — he said Mexicans bring drugs into the country and do bad things. Is that true?” one student asked.
“Not all of us!” Meija said quickly. “Just some.”
“He didn’t say ‘some,’” the first girl said quietly.
When the conversation turned to immigration and deportation, many of the girls seemed to think that their deportation was a forgone conclusion. Trump has pledged to deport people currently in the country illegally, but many students said they were concerned that all immigrants are under threat. “Can we stay here?” one girl asked.
Madera explained that citizens cannot be deported, and that checks and balances in the country’s political system mean that a lot of Trump’s promises might never come to pass. If policies do change, she said, the students and their families will have time to plan.
“If something scary comes up, we can fight it,” Madera said. “It’s not going to happen overnight.”
Conexión Américas will have a meeting for parents about possible changes to immigration policy in December. For now, Madera is focused on making sure her students have their fears calmed and their questions answered.
“I’m here, and I’m here to help you guys,” she told them. “I don’t want you to be afraid of the person who runs our country.”