Dual Language SchoolsImmigration and the Border: My Testimonio

Author Photo: Dr. José L. Medina

By: Dr. José L. Medina

Founder and Chief Educational Advocate at Dr. José Medina: Educational Solutions

Testimonio, a Spanish term for “witness account,” embodies a narrative research methodology rooted in Latin American history, against the backdrop of social inequality that has plagued the region since the 1950s. It is a first-person account by the person who faced instances of oppression or marginalization (Mora, 2015).

Through the work of testimonios, via the Testimonio Framework, in all educational settings, including monolingual, bilingual, and dual language classrooms, students and families are allowed to take space in school buildings that often have served to embed monocultural and monolingual interests more deeply into a tapestry of oppression.

Photo for: Immigration and the Border: My Testimonio

As someone who grew up in El Paso, Texas and Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, the United States-México border is an invisible boundary, sometimes referenced by members of my familia. Sure, I am aware of the Río Grande and the fact that it separates the two countries, but the reality is that our lived experience in the community is very different.

Life on the border is fluid. People on both sides of the river travel daily across the border, from El Paso to Juárez and Juárez to El Paso, in order to work, shop, and to visit family members. Personally, I have family members who are U.S. citizens, live in El Paso, but who work in Juárez. I also have tíos, tías, primas, and primos that throughout the years have crossed the border, sometimes without proper documentation, in order to be a part of the U.S.-México booming economy.

Anti-immigrant sentiments in recent years, mostly from those who have never lived and worked on the border, have become more overt. This, however, has done little to change the intertwined lives of those who call the border, home.

Our family testimonio, in the books Familia and Family, including our frontera lives, is captured in the co-authored work with my sister Vanessa. Our existence as fronterizos, and the great gifts that those lived experiences have offered, serve as testament that walls cannot destroy that which is a part of our bi-national hearts.

Photo for: Immigration and the Border: My Testimonio

One of my favorite memories as a child is having family members from Juárez come to our house in El Paso for parties! Passports and residency cards were never an obstacle because there was fun to be had! These memories are captured in the poem, included in authentic Spanish and English in the two books, illustrating how, once upon a time, the border was welcoming and inclusive of all.

Photo for: Immigration and the Border: My Testimonio

Photo for: Immigration and the Border: My Testimonio

By allowing myself to reflect on the four Testimonio Framework questions, much like the students who have an opportunity to do so in classrooms settings as part of this work, I have been able to work through some feelings that allow me to come to terms with some comments that have been hurtful to those of us who are from the border, who speak Spanish, and who understand what it feels like to happily live as part of one world that includes two countries.

How did I get here?

  • I am a part of la frontera entre El Paso y Ciudad Juárez. As the first-born to my parents, I was actually “made” in Juárez, but born in El Paso. I am not special for having been born in the United States. I did not work towards that goal. But, I am grateful that I was.

How do I see myself?

  • I am both sides of the Río Grande. I am both El Paso and Juárez. I am both English and Spanish. I am both U.S. and México.

How do other see me?

  • Some may see me as an “anchor baby.” Others may be inspired by my family’s immigration story.

How do I value, respect, and serve others?

  • Ultimately, it is my responsibility to share a personal testimonio that allows others to see the one true borderland and immigrant experience.

Testimonio, as a research methodology, and also, as an instructional strategy that is a part of inclusive PK-12 instruction, creates educational spaces where students and families’ lived experiences more readily allow us to question institutional power and begin the arduous work of equity and social justice. This is our duty as educators. It is not an option. The time is now.