McKinley Primary Center in South Bend, Indiana is a one-story building made of brick and reinforced by the devotion and compassion of the staff members who make the place, in many ways, a second home for both staff and students.
“We’re like siblings,” laughed third grade teacher Ron Ward, “We’ll be all huggy one second and the next we’re like ‘ugh.’ But we always stick together.”
McKinley has a very diverse student population, majorly attributed to the influx of international students and professors in the area whose children attend the school.
“I arrived at McKinley four years ago,” said school administrator Nicole Smith. “The one thing that struck me immediately was how diverse the population of students was at that time. We had life skill students and then we also had refugees from the middle east, and then we had several families from Bosnia, China, and Korea, and as well as our students that may be here from Mexico or Latin American and South American countries.”
Led by Principal Jesus Pedraza and his desire to give back to his own Latino community, McKinley Primary has introduced a Dual Language Immersion program for two kindergarten classes this year. Roughly half of the students are native Spanish speakers, and the other half are native English speakers.
The plan is to continue this dual language program for the current kindergarteners as they get older, and add two more kindergarten classes each year. In four years, the entire primary center will have DLI classes for each grade.
“It’s always been a diverse culture here,” said Smith, “and that is one of the things that I love about McKinley and still love about McKinley.”
Meet Maria Villalta, a senior at the University of Notre Dame. Born in Venezuela but raised in Mexico, Villata is no stranger to the way media portrays Latinos and how these portrayals have shifted and expanded over time.
Villalta prefers to be addressed as Latina. She says, “I feel like Hispanic is too broad and more of my identity relates to the Latin American culture rather than just the Spanish language.”
When asked about her take on the image of Latinos in the media, Villalta said, “Right now it is a very interesting moment for the representation of the Latino minority in media. Thanks to the 2016 Election the issue of immigration is constantly being discussed and that puts Latinos in a negative spotlight.”
Whether it is calling all Latinos undocumented citizens or lazy or saying that they are taking American’s jobs, there is a constant portrayal in news media of Latinos as the enemy which is not good.”
Along with this harmful connotation of Latinos in the media, Villalta points out that there is also more involvement of Latinos in the media as a whole. Shows such as “Jane the Virgin” are introducing Latino leads into mainstream audiences characters who are unlike “Gloria during the first couple of seasons of Modern Family,” Villalta says. She said her character type “tends to perpetuate the harmful Latino stereotypes.”
There has been a significant shift of media becoming more inclusive and progressive, but she said there are still advancements to be had. As a child, Villalta said her favorite Disney princess was Pocahontas because she looked the most like her. Despite improvement in the media, she still finds it hard to totally relate.
“I also have a personal problem with the fact that when we finally get a Latino character in media they tend to be more ‘European,’” says Villalta, “meaning that they tend to have light skin and green or blue eyes, which does exist in Latinos but I as a darker Latina I do feel like there are little to no examples of people that I could identify with or look like.”
On paper, Abby Piper loves paper. She is a senior at the University of Notre Dame majoring in English and French, minoring in Journalism, and currently writing for “Her Campus” magazine with plans to intern at “Notre Dame Magazine” in the spring.
Piper’s personal resume also includes marathon running and a childhood of trick waterskiing that has found its outlet in the waterski club at Notre Dame. With academic and athletic accolades galore, it would seem there is little that she cannot do.
Listen to Abby’s take on her most recent waterskiing season here.
Those closest to Piper know exactly how well-earned her success is, and have witnessed the work ethic driving it. Her older sister Shannon Piper said the senior is “very driven and gives one hundred percent to everything she dedicates herself to. I have never seen her go halfway or give up on something that she is committed to or enjoys.”
Her sister also revealed a different side to Piper.
“My favorite thing about Abby is that she doesn’t hide her feelings. Once you’re in her circle, she will always be honest and completely herself – which is usually hilarious.”
Piper’s close friend Erin Reily had similar comments when asked to describe her.
“Abby is truly hilarious and is a fantastic storyteller. I always find myself laughing in some respect when I’m hanging out with her.”
Reily fondly recalled a surprise birthday party thrown for Piper that included tons of cake and wine to which the guest of honor simply replied, “Oh my God, you are guys are going to make me fat” after being surprised.
Piper’s sense of humor is truly hard to miss; her very likable, point-blank tone and fearlessness of honesty stand out quickly upon meeting her.
Even when asked what brought her to the Notre Dame, Piper honestly replied: “I didn’t get into Stanford.”
Now Piper looks forward to graduating next May as a proud Golden Domer and potentially beginning a career in public relations.
Cesar Estrada, a senior at the University of Notre Dame who lived undocumented for the first eight years of his life in the United States doubts the American Dream, saying it “is not the same for undocumented people in the US.”
Estrada remembers his mother working an “eclectic combination” of jobs in Fort Worth, Texas, taking whatever employment wouldn’t require proof of citizenship. He wouldn’t see her for several days at a time; she’d leave for work before he got up in the morning and return after he was asleep at night. Unfortunately, jobs are even scarcer now in our economic crisis.
For a country of immigrants, undocumented people in America have had their rights and economic opportunities greatly reduced, just as Estrada described. It is often forgotten that the American dream was intended for immigrants – the very people our country and President Trump are stigmatizing and threatening to deport out of country.
The shortage of jobs, however, is a result of diminishing industry that reaches across racial lines.
When Studebaker went out of business in 1963, the loss devastated the economy of South Bend, where the company and its factories were based. Overnight, South Bend transformed from a company town into a ghost of its previous manufacturing glory.
Karen Richman, professor of Latino Studies at the University of Notre Dame told the story of an auto worker turned taxi driver that she knows who could go to another factory in the city, apply, and be hired for a new job during his lunch break if he was dissatisfied with his work on a production line in one company.
“But all those [manufacturing] jobs are gone,” Richman said.
Estrada explained that Latino immigrants are not fighting for jobs held by white Americans,
“We are about to enter a depression, so we have less jobs,” Estrada said. “We don’t want your jobs. We’ll take a job, but we don’t want your jobs.”
Added Richman: “There’s this sense, this drumbeat – ‘we have to address this crisis. The actual situation of migration, of the integration of immigrants might not correspond to this sense that we need reform and that we sense that there is a crisis.”
Richman said there have been periods in American history, not too long ago, “when we were calling for immigrants.”
“We can’t just assume that because of certain changes in economic opportunity for the mainstream population, that that means there’s an immigration crisis,” Richman said, “So immigration is a part of global capitalism, it’s totally integrated into it and if you look at the making of the world capitalist system, which began in the sixteenth century – the migration of people and also of money and products, commodities, that’s essential to the system.”
Before the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA), immigrants were free to enter the country and begin work, raise their families and spur generational wealth – due to the era of Ellis Island, which freely welcomed over 12 million immigrants between 1892 and 1954.
“You’re strangling the American dream by not allowing current immigrants to have the same opportunities as the previous wave of immigrants,” said Estrada.
Although sympathetic to the immigrant experience, Estrada agreed there should be rules to regulate immigration.
Despite not classifying himself as a “privileged” immigrant, Estrada said he feels mostly satisfied with his experience at Notre Dame as a previously undocumented immigrant and minority on campus. Active in Glee Club and the Notre Dame Marching Band, Estrada admits that his positive experience at Notre Dame is due in part to his engagement and involvement with the majority of the student body.
For Estrada, assimilation was a part of blending into predominantly white high school, not escaping his Latino culture. From movies and media he perceived those ‘white things’ were “what rich people did.”
This ‘white privilege’ included citizenship for Estrada, which he achieved in middle school. This privilege was also acknowledged by 100 residents of South Bend and surrounding areas on April 18th.
The largest naturalization ceremony in Saint Joseph county since 2011 took place earlier this month in Washington Hall on the campus of the University of Notre Dame.
Hilda Loubser, a chef from South Africa, came to the US for the variety of produce, equipment, and jobs in culinary work. However, obtaining citizenship was a long, arduous journey that included being separated from her sister who already lived in the US.
“The process took 18 years since the first time we applied,” Loubser said. “It’s just nice to be a part of a good country.”
South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg was the guest speaker at the ceremony. Buttigieg contextualized the ceremony in national conversation about immigration in the U.S. saying, “We are living in a moment when the nature of being American is, in many ways, politically contested.”
Buttigieg works against the stigmatizing rhetoric from our president saying, “America gets stronger today by your being here. America grows stronger, America grows more inclusive, America grows more intentional and our community, too, is better off.”
“We make sure that we are supporting economic opportunity for anybody who is able to participate, with little regard to their country of origin.” Buttigieg said.
Buttigieg is holding to his word on creating economic opportunity for South Bend residents in his plans for transforming auto alley into modern, high tech industry.
Transforming South Bend industry, Mayor Buttigieg recognizes the true crisis in America today: economic opportunity, not immigration.
“We need a new sense of patriotism, something that brings us together more than the fact that we are all within the same borders,” Estrada said.