When the bright red San Diego Trolley pulls into the San Ysidro station at 4:30 on a weekday afternoon, it opens its doors to thousands of people coming or going into the early dusk. This is the Tijuana border crossing. The busiest international port in the world. Mexico’s day laborers silently shuffle across the footbridge to the caracol. Their heads bowed. Their eyes, darting nervously. No matter how many times they have made this crossing in the past five or twenty or fifty years, this is no time for complacency.
Just moments ago they were in America. They were tending the landscape or working in fields or changing hotel linens or cooking in restaurants or cleaning homes. Service, labor, business. They are cogs in the wheel of an ailing international economy. As they cross into their homeland, they are no doubt welcomed by the unmistakable aroma of Mexican gas, street corner taco stands and open fires. There are miles of choking cars and buses and taxis. And there are too few police.
It is no comfort to the border crossers that two more police officers turned up dead this morning. They had been bound, gagged, tortured, and executed. And even more chilling, they had been warned by the drug cartels in a brazen threat broadcast over their own police radios to the beat of narcocorridos. Tijuana is a war zone. Tijuana is out of control.
And if it is no place for adult citizens who have made the silent journey to their jobs in America every day for decades, it is certainly no place for Jorge.
Just an hour ago he was leaving Mueller Charter School– El Milagro— by way of our back gate. When the three-fifteen bell dismisses a thousand kids into the afternoon, there is an explosion of energy. There is running and boys chasing each other into the grass. Parents line their cars up all the way to Broadway to pick up their children. And the parents will wait because God knows they don’t want them walking home alone. Too dangerous.
But Jorge carves his way through the playful chaos. Quietly. Silently. As if to mirror the faceless adults who have been his anonymous companions on his daily commute. He walks down the back driveway of the long apartment complex. Passed the trailer park. Across H Street and into the Trolley station. Every fifteen minutes another trolley stops and he looks for the Blue Line running south to San Ysidro.
Jorge may be Mueller Charter School’s most resilient child. And we are filled with resilient children. We grow resiliency. We study it and foster it and promote it and we have teachers and counselors who are authorities on it. We are frequent conference presenters on resiliency. Ryan is focussing on “resiliency in immigrant children” as a potential doctoral dissertation. I am writing a book about it.
But nothing prepared us for seeing the very personification of resiliency in the dark eyes of Jorge. We had him on our radar screen. We had discussed him a few weeks earlier at our quarterly Resiliency Monitoring session with his classroom teacher. We categorized him as a “Quadrant 1”. In our system, that means Jorge is facing dire life crises. He is in immediate need of urgent care. He is in our version of ICU. There had recently endured unspeakable family tragedies including the decapitation of relatives in the border war.
But now America’ imploding economy was closing in on him even more. He and his mom had recently been evicted and they had to return to living quarters somewhere in the squalor of Tijuana. She couldn’t ask for help because she was afraid that Jorge would be disenrolled if we discovered they were living back in Tijuana. California law is clear. Not even charter schools can serve children living across the border in Mexico.
So every day, Jorge climbed the trolley and made the trip to Tijuana alone. He struggles in math. He struggles in reading and writing. He struggles with English. But he never misses school. He finds a way to get here, even if he has to step over bodies piling up on the border to do so.
And that is resiliency. Jorge is 8 years old. His story brought tears to our eyes when we talked about him in our staff meeting on Friday.
We will be able to get his mom relocated and help them with housing and other basic needs. Our efforts will not be reflected in our API because Jorge will tank on that test. But we owe him for what he has taught us about ourselves. About how children, even as young as eight, are willing to rise above adversity for this opportunity to learn. Jorge is a child worth fighting for. Regardless of his standardized test score, he is one of our most gifted children. It is called the spiritual intelligence.