The Unseen People


I discovered fairly quickly that the wheelchairs were not provided by Jet Blue.  This explained why the wheelchair attendant at JFK was wiling to leave the arrival gate and wheel my step-mother an eighth of a mile to the departure gate.  I tipped  her, she thanked me and disappeared into the crowd.  When we arrived at  the San Diego  airport a young African man with  a wheelchair was waiting.  He was quiet and very polite.  My wife and her mother made a stop at the women’s room.
“Where are you from? ” I asked.
“I came here from Kenya last year.”  After more questions I found out he followed his mother here, that he wanted to attend college to become a nurse and return to Kenya to  help his people.   “Do you work for Jet Blue?” I asked.
“No.  I work for a company that supplies wheelchairs and people like myself.  I don’t make much money, you know, my salary and tips.”  When my wife and her mom returned, we took the elevator  downstairs  and he patiently waited and helped my wife find our bags while I stayed with our computers and mother-in-law. I left him a large tipiand wished him my best. The taxi driver was also from Africa, here to make money, attend college and live a good life  without violence. 
I few  days later, on our way back from Encinada I noticed a text about American politics  on the console.  “Are you  a student?”
The young driver smiled.  “Post graduate.  I’m from Kenya..  I was in politics but with all the corruption I had to leave for my safety.  Now I am going return to do rape counseling and perhaps go back into politics where I can better help my people.”  We had a long talk about politics, and how American, Canadian and Chinese interests in Africa are changing his country for the better.
I struck up conversations all week with taxi drivers, grocery store packers and waiters. 
I realized that there is an entire underground of unseen people, many of whom are educated.  Some of them are more  worldly than I’ll ever be.
To them the American Dream not a weary cliche but something that is real, alive and dynamic.  They’re pursing it, living it, taking advantage of it in a positive, productive way.  Many of them are taking the Dream  and the  American  Experience back to  their countries.
I called our admissions director and told him if this country would ever get over its  hangups about immigrants there’s  a whole new population of students to  recruit.  Students who  are serious about life, who have goals and dreams.  People who have seen horrors in their country and are determined  to go back and make a difference.   
If higher ed truly cares about making a difference in an individual’s s life, in American society and in countries around the world, we have the opportunity.  Young people full of ambition and hope are all around us. 
All we have to do is recognize them and share what higher ed has to offer.

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2 responses to “The Unseen People

  1. You know, I wonder why we do not have more “international” students from Africa. Our top countries are China, India and Korea. But I don’t think we have nearly that many African students.

  2. Good point. We have the same thing on our campus. I wish, on a national scale, we could find a way to help young people caught in this netherworld of working in our society but not being a “legal” part of our society. Education would give so many more opportunities than working at MacDonalds or as taxi drivers and wheelchair attendants.

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