Why I walk with my immigrant neighbors | Guest View

Students' stories inspire Mukilteo teacher's monthly march against Trump’s travel ban
By Jeff Ferderer | Jun 18, 2017
Photo by: Nicholas Johnson Elizabeth Vogeli of Everett uses a bullhorn and plenty of energy to lead a group of marchers along downtown Everett sidewalks Sunday, June 4. Mukilteo teacher Jeff Ferderer founded the monthly march in January following President Donald Trump’s signing of an executive order effectively banning immigrants from several Muslim-majority countries. Ferderer said he and others walk on the first Sunday of each month to show solidarity with immigrants and refugees in the community.

I began my walk on Sunday, Jan. 29 – the same day thousands in Seattle protested President Donald Trump’s unconstitutional travel ban.

I called a few friends and we held our own march in Everett. Twelve of us walked from the county courthouse to Grand Avenue Park and back. Our gathering became the formation of Everett in Solidarity with Immigrants and Refugees.

Since then, we have walked on the first Sunday of every month. Each time, familiar faces return and new faces join in. We all carry the same message: we value our immigrant and refugee neighbors, and we value the constitutional guarantee of religious freedom.

One of my former students and her fiancé walked with us on Super Bowl Sunday, Feb. 5. When an elderly woman drove by my former student and screamed, “Go back home,” she smiled and kept on walking. On another walk, four current Mariner High School students joined us. I was happy to have them with us, yet I had a deep fear for them.

I can’t imagine the fear my former student must have felt, or the disappointment. She is home. She went through public schools in this country for most of her education. She put herself through college. Her parents brought her and her siblings to this country so their children could pursue dreams that were impossible for them.

I find it appalling that President Trump has stereotyped peoples from different countries as criminals, murderers and rapists, and believes constructing a wall, both literally and symbolically, will help anything. My experience as an English teacher at Mariner has proven quite the opposite.

The kids I’ve taught can be seen as a microcosm of what the world should be and how we should treat each other. They welcome all who enter their school community, where more than 50 native languages are spoken.

It is an everyday occurrence at Mariner to see kids of Christian and Muslim faiths walking through the hallways side-by-side as best friends. Kids of all colors – of different sexual orientations, religious and political beliefs, talents, shapes and sizes – laugh and eat together in the lunchroom, meet in the commons or sit beside each other in classes, all delighted to be in each other’s presence.

That spirit that students bring to school most often comes from their homes. Many have parents who have sacrificed their lives so their children would have opportunities and safety that were impossible in their homelands. These parents left or were forced from their homes, their jobs, their families. They gave up everything that they knew in hopes of making a better life for their children, understanding all the while that they would never be able to fulfill their own private dreams. Those quiet, unnoticed sacrifices are, in my eyes, the most heroic.

In my years at Mariner, I have taught valedictorians from Bosnia, Korea, Mexico, Vietnam and India. As a young boy, my student from Bosnia sat hovelled in a shelter with his mother for days waiting for his father to return, after receiving news that his father had been shot. His wounded father eventually did return, and they were able to escape to the United States. That young boy is now a Boeing engineer, and an avid Sounders fan.

Another of these valedictorians graduated second in his class from West Point, was accepted into Harvard Medical School and graduated at the top of his class. He is now a doctor at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

I taught other kids who were equally impressive, but whose grade point averages never led them to being a valedictorian – kids who flew under the radar and worked minimum wage jobs for long hours after school to help support their parents and siblings.

One young man joined the Marines to serve his country while gaining the opportunity to eventually go to college. While he was fighting in Afghanistan, his mother was deported. Besides her son who was serving this country, she left behind two younger teenage boys, both students at Mariner.

No one at school knew they were living on their own, working nights in Seattle to support themselves. We found out only after the eldest brother returned from Afghanistan, home on leave. He took his brothers with him to San Diego, where he is currently stationed and raising a family of his own.

Another of my students nearly gave up her dream of becoming a chef. She was discouraged because she was undocumented. She had no means to pay for school and no chance for financial aid, yet she was determined. Thanks to hard work and the Washington Application for State Financial Aid, she was able to put herself through school. She is now a chef and dreaming of owning her own restaurant.

These stories are a common theme at Mariner. These are the stories teachers and staff members tell every day – stories of immigrant kids and refugees striving for a better life.

I have learned from my students that fearing diversity brings only pain and loss, but embracing diversity brings growth and joy. For me, that has made all the difference, and that is why I walk.


Jeff Ferderer taught English at Mariner High School for 14 years. This school year, he is on special assignment working with students and teachers at ACES and Kamiak high schools. Jeff taught for 18 years in Montana before he and his wife moved to Washington in 2002 to teach at Mariner.

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