Group by group they came to the front of Ms. Mandy Williams’ fifth-grade reading classroom at Hiawatha College Prep-Kingfield with some pretty important assignments in their hands.
This classroom — and several other fifth-grade classrooms — had read a wonderful book, “Esperanza Rising,” by Pam Muñoz Ryan, which tells the story of a formerly affluent Mexican family who fled to California during the Great Depression after tragedy strikes. They settle in a camp for Mexican farm workers and struggle with their new harsh realities of hard labor, financial struggles and discrimination.
The fifth-graders were tasked with truly internalizing the themes of human rights violations by embodying the characters and delivering monologues throughout the day on Monday in the characters’ voices. Parents, siblings, and school and network staff gathered to watch the deliveries, which were guided by these questions:
What are human rights, and how can they be threatened?
How can we use writing to raise awareness of human rights?
The first group’s scene took place in 1924 in a cabin in California, where Esperanza’s family moved after fleeing Mexico. As Aniyah Warren read the passage, she swayed from side to side from the nerves that come from standing in front of a large group, but her voice and message were strong and clear.
“This cabin is so small that I can barely even fit,” Aniyah said as the character of Mama, lamenting over her family’s living conditions.
Several groups spoke of the conditions, harsh working environment and the fear of being sent back to Mexico when they watched strikers being rounded up by immigration officials and put onto buses.
“I felt so scared. I jumped so hard. I thought they were going to come for us,” said Cesilia Solis Miranda as the character of Josefina.
Sadly, the book’s messages of the poor treatment of Hispanics almost 100 years ago echoes in the headlines today and in the words of the fifth-graders who summated what they had learned.
“A deep feeling I have is people and Mexicans are not being treated fairly at work.”
“I am hopeful we have a chance in the United States.”
A note in the HCP-Kingfield newsletter eloquently expressed the purpose of the fifth-graders important work: “(We are) trying to change the world by explaining how these monologues show a way a human right was violated for our characters. Then, we researched human rights violations around the world so we can inform our audience of what violations occur today.”