Jose Ansaldo and his former teacher Oscar Ramos
By David Sheridan
We first met the incredible teacher Oscar Ramos and his student Jose Ansaldo in the documentary East of Salinas on PBS. Jose was in the 5th Grade back then, and his winning smile and love of school warmed the hearts of many film viewers across the country, especially educators.
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“Jose reminds me of myself at his age—we both love math, we are both sons of immigrant parents who labored in the fields,” says Oscar, “and back then I was undocumented just like Jose is today.”
Today, Jose is 14-years-old and in his first year of high school, and Oscar Ramos is still teaching, now it’s 2nd Grade; and he has become President of his local union. Together, Oscar and Jose have formed a dynamic duo advocating for Dreamers and the Dream Act of 2017.
Not only has he kept in touch with his former student over the years, Oscar has served as his mentor, knowing how hard Jose’s parents have to work just to support their family. When Oscar is invited to speak to civic and educational groups about how he went from working in the fields to graduating from the University of California at Berkeley, he brings Jose along so that he too can tell his story.
“I am extremely proud of Jose. He knows that he has to work harder than other students. He’s determined to go to college. He also is well aware he is undocumented and that unlike me at his age, he has no clear pathway to citizenship right now. And he knows President Trump has rescinded DACA.
“But Jose never gets discouraged. He keeps on smiling, and when it comes to public speaking, he gets a lot less nervous than I do.”
Oscar also takes Jose with him to pro-Dreamer rallies at California State University, Monterey Bay so that Jose understands that he is not alone. “An impressive movement is growing to support the Dream Act of 2017, and we’re proud to be part of it,” says Oscar.
Over the last year and a half, Oscar and Jose have seen a climate of fear envelope their community of Salinas. “People are afraid that if they go to Walmart to buy school supplies for their kids, they’ll be arrested and deported. I.C.E. is now very much a presence here. People are hiding out.”
This presents educators with a special challenge. They have to make sure their students, half of whom are undocumented, feel safe in school, regardless of what’s happening outside. The union and the District have worked together to establish a safe school policy and reassure students and parents that schools are safe places. And many teachers have put up “Dreamers are welcome here” posters in their classrooms to highlight the point. To see NEA’s sample safe zones resolution and policy click here.
Despite all that is going on today, Oscar Ramos remains optimistic. “We’re going to get through this. Yes, it’s very bad right now. But as a student of U.S. history, I know that Americans have gone through these anti-immigrant episodes before, and eventually, they’ve come out of them because our country needs immigrants.”
In addition, of course, it’s impossible to be a pessimist when the ever upbeat activist Jose Ansaldo is at your side.