No One’s Home


Jorge has poured his heart and soul into the animal report Mrs. Khan assigned last month. In fact, he has poured his heart and soul into everything academic because his parents, who are from El Salvador and Nicaragua, have stressed the importance of getting an education. Prior to coming to the United States, his parents owned a restaurant in El Salvador. The restaurant did well until it was burned down during a fight between the local gangs. Penniless, his parents headed north to the United States to seek a better life. They landed in El Paso, Texas where they had Jorge. After a couple years as migrant workers throughout Texas, they moved in with his mom’s sister, Auntie Delmy, in Detroit, Michigan. They finally saved enough money to have a place of their own a year ago.

Jorge’s animal report is about the sea otter. Sea otters are energetic, playful, and smart. He picked the sea otter for his project because his mom calls him her “pequeña nutria” (little otter). It all started when he was playing in the bathtub a few years ago, rolling around and around in the water the way otters do in the ocean. This reminded Jorge’s mom of a book she’d seen called “Buenas Noches, Pequeña Nutria” (Good Night, Little Sea Otter) by Janet Halfmann. She bought that book for Jorge and has read it to him every night every since.

Well, not every night. Not the last seven nights. You see, his parents took him to stay with his Auntie Delmy last week. They said that they needed to take care of some important family business for a little while, and they will be back to get him later this month. That’s why they can’t bring his animal project to him at school.

Faith


Even though the Friends have different faith backgrounds, they all believe in love, kindness, and compassion.

May Li is Muslim, and Jorge is Christian. Muslims practice a religion called Islam, and Christians practice Christianity. The holy book of Islam is the Qur’an. For Christians, it’s the Bible. Muhammad plays a central role in Islam, just as Jesus does in Christianity. Muslims go to pray at mosques, and Christians pray in churches. In Islam, there is only one all-powerful being called Allah, and Christians refer to that being as God.

Despite these differences, both groups come from the same origin. Followers of both Islam and Christianity believe in the story of Abraham. As the different versions of the stories go, Abraham had two sons. Their names were Ishmael and Isaac, and Abraham had to sacrifice one of them to show God that he was faithful. Because Abraham took all the necessary steps to sacrifice his son, God allowed the son to live. Muslims believe the son to be sacrificed was Ishmael, while Jews and Christians believe him to be Isaac. Ishmael is sometimes called “Father of the Arabs,” and he became the leader of a people who later came to believe in Islam. Isaac is often called “Father of the Hebrews” because, like his brother Ishmael, he too became the leader of a people. Followers of Isaac are now thought to be those who believe in Christianity and Judaism.

Unlike May Li or Jorge, Dar practices no religion. Although Dar’s parents grew up Christian, their family does not practice Christianity. They consider themselves “culturally Christian.” This means they celebrate Christian holidays such as Christmas and Easter, but they do not attend church or study the Bible.

Since May Li is young still, she does not fully understand what the Muslim faith means to her or how to practice it. Her parents, who both passed away when she was two, were religiously Muslim. This means they followed the laws of the religion of Islam as described in the Qur’an, such as those related to how and when to pray or what to eat. Grandfather, who is now raising May Li, has different beliefs. He was a religious, practicing Muslim when he was younger and is now “culturally Muslim,” just like Dar is “culturally Christian.”

Even though his own connection to Islam has changed since he was younger, Grandfather is very supportive of May Li’s interest in maintaining and practicing the faith her parents taught her. That’s why he bought her a purple prayer rug — her favorite color! — and makes time for her to perform her prayers when possible. In Islam, prayers are supposed to be performed five times a day throughout the day. For now, May Li prays just once a day before bedtime. It’s one special way for May Li to maintain a connection to her parents and the way she lived her life back in Myanmar.

Go Home!

Bullies at May Li’s school tell her to “go home” because they view her as someone who doesn’t belong in the United States. In other words, they are telling her to go back to her country of origin. What they don’t understand is that May Li is a refugee. A refugee is a person who has been forced to leave their country in order to escape war, persecution, or natural disaster. May Li and Grandfather came to the United States from Myanmar, and are part of a community called the Rohingya. Myanmar doesn’t recognize the Rohingya people and thus provides no protection for them.

The Rohingya people are Muslim, while most of the people who live in Myanmar practice Buddhism. The Rohingya are persecuted, or experience hostility and ill treatment, in Myanmar because of their religious beliefs. As a result, May Li and Grandfather were not safe in their own country and were forced to leave Myanmar. The United States is their only home.

Bullies also tell Jorge to “go home,” despite the fact that Jorge was born in El Paso, Texas. The United States is the only home Jorge has ever known. Because he looks different from them and speaks Spanish when communicating with his family, the bullies assume Jorge’s home is in another country but that is not true.

The bullies pick on May Li and Jorge because they look or act differently than the bullies do. In other words, they are not “American.” But unless you are Native American, you or your ancestors are from somewhere outside the United States. Therefore no one, other than Native Americans, can claim to be more “American” than anyone else. As Jorge aptly noted, “Everyone belongs here.”

It is sad to see May Li and Jorge bullied, but it is heartening to see people like Dar stick up for May Li and be a true ally to her friend. Bullies will always exist, but they won’t win if we all stand up for each other.

What’s in a Name?

A person who comes from another country may have a name that is unfamiliar to someone living in the United States. Even though this person’s name may seem different or difficult, it’s important to call each person by their chosen name. That is because everyone’s name represents an important part of their identity. May Li is pronounced My Lee, not May Lee. This is very different from Mary. When they first met, Dar used the name Mary to try to build a connection with May Li, but that well-intentioned gesture is received differently by May Li. May Li likes her name and wants to be called by it.

Speak English

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May Li is from the Rakine State in the country of Myanmar. Her people are called Rohingya and are a Muslim minority in their country. They are not recognized by the Myanmar government and therefore do not have legal rights and protection. Rohingya is May Li’s first language, but she doesn’t read or write in that language. Nor does she know English. Her friend Jorge, who was born in the United States, takes it for granted that English is easy.