The boys were rowdy and as I looked out the window of my classroom, I thought I might have to go out to settle them down. Putting up the flags every morning in the front of the school was supposed to be a privilege, but they were not counting it as such. As I watched, though, I saw one boy, Danny, take the U.S. flag away from the other laughing boys who were more intent on horseplay and solemnly clip it to the cable to raise it. He slowly pulled until the flag unfurled itself at the peak, always a stirring sight in the mornings.
I made my way out, and as soon as the other boys saw me, they straightened up. Danny had the Texas flag in his hand and was treating it with the same dignity he gave the U.S. flag. I sent the other boys back to class and smiled at Danny. He fingered the fabric for a moment before completing his duty with it.
I remembered when Danny first came to me in the sixth grade. He was the oldest brother of four younger siblings. He knew no English and was not happy about being uprooted from his beloved Mexico and sent to live with relatives he hardly knew in a strange land. His parents had made the difficult decision to get their children away from the escalating violence after a cousin's headless body was found two blocks from their home.
Danny got into trouble at the beginning because he had a chip on his shoulder and tried to prove that all things Mexican were superior to all things American. Although the football and basketball coaches salivated over his height and athletic abilities, Danny shunned sports because he only wanted to play soccer, the wildly popular sport of his homeland.
I spoke mainly Spanish to him at first, gradually introducing him to more and more English. He started to fit in better with the other kids. Although he wouldn't ever speak of it, he desperately missed his parents, particularly his mom. I saw it in his journal writing. He gravitated toward me because I think he saw me as a mother figure as well as his teacher.
He was very protective of his younger siblings at school and kept a watchful eye on them. That watchful eye eventually extended to me, and it touched my heart when on a field trip earlier this year to a large city, he hopped out of the bus to accompany me back into a fast food place in a bad part of town to get a student's order correct. I noticed in the restaurant he placed himself between me at the counter and some scary homeless/crackhead type folks.
As he pulled the flag up into place, and as the American born kids laughed and roughhoused their way back into the building, I marveled at the change in him, this boy who had so seemingly detested anything not from Mexico just two years ago.
I asked him about it, and he said, " I love Mexico. I always will. But now that I've lived here and seen what this country is about, I love America, too. America is also my country."
I know the house he lives in here is terribly cramped and has only a dirt floor in part of it. "What do you want to do, Danny, when you grow up?"
He looked up at the flags, now flying freely at the tops of the flagpoles.
"Well, I'd like to become a United States Marine. This country is taking care of my family now, and I want to help take care of it, if I can."
It gives me great peace to know that we'll have protectors like Danny watching out for us.