My eyes were immediately drawn to him as soon as I entered the classroom. His loosely fitted t-shirt with strange and incomprehensible graphics draped over him. His hair was strewn partially across his dark face, creating a completely mysterious persona. His thick, Hispanic accent cut through the commotion as he bragged to the other boys about his brand new Pokemon cards. I watched him carefully while I introduced myself to the class as the teacher’s assistant, “You can call me Miss Maddie”. All of the other curious eyes looked up at me and cheered for me while I added the most important fact to my introduction, my favorite color—purple, of course! As I looked at him, his cool attitude was plainly reflected in his stiff posture, as he stared blankly towards the wall behind me. I sighed and mentally noted him as one of the trouble makers that I would watch out for in the coming two months.
Through the first few weeks at the English Second Language camp, my fellow teacher’s assistants worked with him much more frequently than I did. Our lesser degree of interaction only increased my distaste for him, simply because all I understood of him was his enigmatic appearance.
One day during reading time, he asked if he could read me a book about spiders. Sitting with him, it was my first time truly speaking with him, and I felt awkward and reluctant. As we read together, I noticed his struggles with the phonetics of some words, and the furrow in his eyebrows, and the unbelievable concentration he held. It was enough for me to realize that he needed more encouragement, and I gave him a gentle smile.
Soon after, he showed me his passion for airplanes and spiders. I even discovered his courtesy as he patiently held the door for me before rushing off to recess time. He became one of the most improved speakers of my class; his ability skyrocketed as he read the most advanced books to me during story time. He had a potential that I had completely disregarded before.
As I look back on the first few days when I barely knew Alejandro, I recognize the judgment that I held against him. I had seen him only through his exterior shell, and had completely neglected the wondrous boy within him. As a Chinese girl who stood as a minority in my suburban, white community, I should have immediately understood the difficulty of being compared to those around me. Instead, I had abandoned my own values of acceptance and had naively fallen prey to superficial judgments. While I had expected to spend my summer aiding my students in an immersion of American culture and language, I had become enriched by a lesson I had never expected and one I'll never forget. Alejandro showed me an amazing perspective: simple judgment towards an individual is unreliable; the only way to understand others is through true communication and connection. As my job came to an end that summer, I left the classroom remembering a motivated, intelligent and happy boy.