In light of the recent events in El Paso, Texas, I feel compelled to share a recent experience working with Mexican migrant and seasonal farmworker communities in Indiana.
This summer, I was contracted as a mental health consultant with the Migrant and Seasonal Head Start program for the state of Indiana. My role is to observe early childhood classrooms and provide feedback to staffers to promote the social and emotional well-being of infants, toddlers and preschoolers. Being children of migrant and seasonal farmworker families, their lives are often transitory, and basic needs could easily be unmet with no guaranteed family employment and low wages.
The Migrant and Seasonal Head Start program is a national early childhood education program that operates in 37 states to provide care to children of migrant and seasonal farmworker families.
The program is a branch of the Head Start program but provides bilingual and bicultural child care to children whose families are mostly of Mexican origin. There are seven centers in Indiana, including one in Portland, about 45 miles south of Fort Wayne.
Recently, when I visited the program in Portland, I noticed that teachers did not take children outside for recess on a beautiful summer day. It wasn't until later that I discovered why. The program bus had been vandalized, and the seat belts had even been cut out of the bus. Rocks were thrown at the windows of the school. Strange people had been coming by yelling, filming the school, and taking pictures of the cars in the parking lot.
The police in Portland have been involved in addressing this situation and now frequently drive by the school. I was shocked and saddened to hear that this was going on in what appeared to be a quiet and peaceful town in Indiana.
As someone who has worked for over 20 years with the farmworker community in Michigan and Indiana as an early childhood professional, I find the situation in Portland disturbing. Teachers should not be afraid to go to work, and children should not be deprived of fresh air and opportunities to play outside because of fear and racist views.
It is alarming to witness the hatred that resulted in devastation in El Paso to be present in a local childcare center in Indiana. We strongly need national and community dialogue to bring people together to reinvent a civil society that accepts one another.
Julia Smith is assistant professor of early childhood education at Purdue University Fort Wayne.