Education All-Stars: Tales of migrant crisis inspires teacher

VOXXI is dedicated to recognizing those working in the field of education for making a difference and those students setting the example for our future generation. The…
Education All-Stars: Tales of migrant crisis inspires teacher

Marie Elena Cortes latest book is titled “Neglected by Two Countries.”

VOXXI is dedicated to recognizing those working in the field of education for making a difference and those students setting the example for our future generation.

The immigration issue shows no sign of resolution, which means Latino children continue to be caught in the crisis.

Inspired by the real-life stories of her students dealing with the multifaceted fallout of having family members deported, teacher-turned-author Marie Elena Cortes recently won two International Latino Book Awards for her book “Neglected by Two Countries,” which was released late last year.

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“I was a teacher for 15 years and these are the stories from some of my students,“ Mexican-American Cortes, 45, told VOXXI. “I discovered a lot of them were going through these issues with their families. I focused on the stories of students who were born in the United States and were basically left behind.”

She added the book was written from a child’s perspective, with the idea of providing a glimpse into the far too common scenario facing kids when either a parent or both parents are deported.

Inspirational author Marie Elena Cortés

The book “Neglected by Two Countries” features the stories of the children caught in the Immigration crisis. (Credit:Marie Elena Cortes )

Winning second place for Best Youth Latino Focused Chapter Book and Most Inspirational Youth Chapter Book, “Neglected by Two Countries” includes 13 stories with students’ names and locations changed because Cortes said some of them are still living the tribulations.

One details a boy coming home from school to find his mother in tears after his father was deported. Not only had his father never been in trouble with the law, but the boy didn’t even know his parents were undocumented. Another tragic story involved a girl, whose mother had been deported, staying with an abusive uncle.

While the latter actually inspired Cortes to write “Neglected by Two Countries,” she confides a personal connection to feeling neglected by two different countries. Born in California, she was sent to live with her grandparents in Mexico at the age of 3 when her mother had surgery to remove a tumor.

“I didn’t find out I was born in the United States until I was 13,” Cortes said. “And then when my school found out I wasn’t born in Mexico, they wanted to charge my grandparents triple the tuition. I didn’t like that.”

Eventually Cortés returned stateside after she earned a scholarship from Houston Baptist University. It took her three years to learn English, during which time she studied to be an elementary and middle school teacher.

Later as an educator she created “Kids Write to Know-The Power of Thinking,” a writing club that helps students improve their communication skills by delivering into a variety of topics. It was in this group that Cortes learned more about the kids portrayed in “Neglected by Two Countries.”

Invariably, she related to many of her students who not only have ties to both sides of the border but were often blindsided by a family secret.

“It’s very personal to me,” Cortes said. “I’ve been on the other side of the border as well, and I know what it feels like to be in another country and to be discriminated against. I was called ‘gringa’ and I didn’t know why.”

As an author, Cortes said her two previous books – 2005’s “My Annoying Little Brother” and 2012’s “My First Classroom” – were more uplifting. However, she felt the time was right to tackle a more serious issue with “Neglected by Two Countries.”

So far Cortes said the reaction to her latest effort has been positive and eye-opening.

“A lot of children were surprised, they didn’t even know this was going on or they didn’t know this was happening to some of their friends,” Cortes said. “I wanted to make the awareness that this is happening in the United States.

“Also, I want families to just be responsible when they have children. Never put their children in danger of situations where they are not sure what could happen. Also, let the kids who are lucky and blessed to treasure that and make the best of that because there are other kids who are not that fortunate.”

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