Humberto Ballesteros Capasso
My first year at Hostos was eventful. I published books, was invited to international book fairs, presented my work in an academic conference and even assumed some administrative responsibilities. And yet, my defining experiences did not take place on international stages or on paper, but rather in the classroom, with my students.
When I came here, I thought that I knew what to expect in terms of the people I would meet. I had experience teaching non-traditional students at Columbia’s School of General Studies and at CUNY’s Bronx Community College. I told myself that I was used to diverse groups and challenging backgrounds. I thought I would not be surprised. Luckily, I was wrong.
Merely on my first year, I had a student who was fluent in Spanish because she taught herself the language of her biological parents while she grew up in foster homes. I also shared my classroom with a 17-year-old single mother of two who was consistently at the top of the class, with a young man in the spectrum who was a recognized leader of the Hostos community, and with a grandmother who came back to school in order to show her grandkids that they also had what it took to succeed, among many others. I was not prepared, could never have been, for any of these experiences. I had no idea how diverse, intelligent, hard-working and adventurous, how wise, Hostos students are.
And in the meantime, as they baffled me with their talent and humbled me with their drive, the bigoted political climate grew from an annoying noise in the background to a deafening roar. Suddenly I saw myself, a privileged, Ivy-League educated immigrant of color, teaching minorities who never had the amazing opportunities I have enjoyed my whole life, in a country that is quickly becoming polarized between those who would embrace us and those who would push us aside. And I understood that my place, my home, is right here with them, teaching them basic concepts of foreign languages and argumentative writing, while they, in turn, teach me who I am and what I must do with my life.