Engaged in Transition

“Is it okay if an exchange student lives in your room this year?” was the text message I got from my mom in early August. I was really confused by that. Was my family hosting an exchange student? They didn’t tell me about it. I agreed because there was an empty room that I wasn’t using, and apparently this kid needed somewhere to stay. The next time I called my Mom, I wanted to know who was living in my room and why.Luis Alexandro Viillaseñor is seventeen years old and came to Upperman High School, Cookeville TN all the way from Monterrey, Mexico. He wasn’t supposed to be staying with my family, but the family he had been staying with my family, but there were complications with his original destination.

Luis Alexandro Viillaseñor is seventeen years old and came to Upperman High School, Cookeville TN all the way from Monterrey, Mexico. He wasn’t supposed to be staying with my family, but the family he had been staying with my family, but there were complications with his original destination.

Alex is enjoying his time in America, but he says that brunch is not normal and that potatoes shouldn’t be sweet. He jumped right into his part of the school play speaking English as if it were his first language. At his first sight of snow, Alex began to flap his arms and squeal as if he’d won the lottery. It has been a pleasure to show Alex our country and all of our traditions while observing some of his traditions. My mom helped him set up an ofrenda, or memorial for loved ones, in our home to observe Diá de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, and he helped her teach her Spanish classes about it. Alex’s family was so grateful for our respect and appreciation of his culture that they decided to observe Thanksgiving. Alex showed us pictures of his family sitting around a meal, and although it wasn’t turkey, they showed us how appreciative they were for our respect for them, by observing our traditions.

To me, this was one of the beautiful moments in life that shows the power of true human appreciation and respect. Unfortunately, Alex has experienced the counterpart of beautiful moments. The stories he tells about some of his peers are heartbreaking to me. After the election, one student asked him how he got across the border and if he had his green card. Even beyond racist comments, some interactions showed lack of education. The school newspaper journalist asked Alex if there were cars in Mexico. Someone else asked if he knew the famous drug lord El Chapo. When I heard that, my heart broke for Alex. I’d wanted him to have a better experience than that.

But instead of being offended by these comments, Alex yet again amazed me by taking it with a smile. His response to the green card inquiry was… “uhm, in an airplane.” With a grin he told the newspaper reporter that “no we don’t have cars in Mexico. Cars are old news, we travel by jetpacks.” When asked if he knew El Chapo he said in a hushed voice “Oh… don’t tell anyone, but he’s my uncle. Wanna see our family Christmas picture?” To which the student backed away saying that he didn’t want to see the picture.

Alex has shown me resilience in the face of distress, idiocy and downright rudeness. No matter what curve ball has been thrown to him, he is also to quip back while also being respectful and peaceful. He encourages me to let the little things go, to avoid petty and irritating comments. It’s better to take a potentially frustrating situation and make light of it than to bite the bait.
This summer, my family will be going to Alex’s home for his sister’s quincenera. I can’t wait to meet my Mexican family.

– Delyn Bull

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