Immigrant Heritage Month: In Their Own Words

Diversity of all types – race, ethnicity, national origin and economic status, family structure and gender identity, sexual orientation and disability status, religion or native language – benefits all students. Diversity is not a nicety but a necessity.

In honor of Immigrant Heritage Month, these educators share their personal stories in their own words:

Celebrating Our Heritage & Student Diversity

My name is Alfonso Treto and I am a first generation Mexican-American and public school teacher. Coming to the United States, my parents had to struggle for the American dream. My mother emphasized the importance of an education. I was raised with the idea that a proper education would create many opportunities for me.

Alfonso Treto

Alfonso Treto

I can say that teaching is a profession that chose me. As a teacher’s assistant, I witnessed students being treated differently which motivated me to become a teacher and provide an opportunity to all students regardless of their background. Many of the students see me as a role model because of the similarities of upbringing.

Working for M-DCPS Title I Migrant Education Program I have had the privilege of serving families from very diverse backgrounds. Recently there has been an influx of unaccompanied minors who have made a treacherous journey by themselves as well as escaping violence and seeking protection in search of a better life. Some students are fearful of what is going on politically however they have learned to respect and celebrate their differences. All students know that with determination (ganas) they can overcome any obstacle.

Alfonso Treto teaches high school students in the Title I Migrant Education Program in Miami-Dade County Public Schools in Miami, Florida. 

Just Yearning to Exhale, If Not to Breathe Free

Recruited on two occasions by Philippine-based agencies to fill teacher labor shortages, first in Texas and later in Maryland, Rogie has now taught in American schools for a combined total of 20 years.

His initial immigration attempt turned out to be a human trafficking scheme by the agency that first recruited him.

Rogie Legaspi

Rogie Legaspi

While waiting to exhale from the protracted immigration process, he leveraged his awful experience in his work with a multi-stakeholder council to co-author “The Code for the Ethical International Recruitment and Employment of Teachers,” a document that guides best practices for the recruitment and employment of immigrant teachers.

Every day, he encourages his students to pledge allegiance to the American flag, even while he is unable to do the same as a temporary worker. His students (and his American-born children) ask, “Why do you make us pledge but you don’t do it yourself?”

After so many years of accomplished teaching, while struggling tirelessly as an immigrant teacher advocate, he hopes that someday all immigrant teachers who choose to may be able to proudly join their students in the pledge as well. Then perhaps, they could all dare to stop just yearning to exhale, but breathe free indeed.

Rogie Legaspi teaches 7th grade Life Science at Hamilton Elementary/Middle School in the Baltimore Public School System in Baltimore, Maryland.

Determined to Make a Difference in the Lives of My Students

Remigio Willman

Remigio Willman

Life experiences molds individuals, and because of experiences I have persevered through in my journey from Mexico to the United States, I know that everyone has the raw potential to succeed. After multiple years of working in various public schools, serving at-need, at-risk student populations, including migrant and diverse students, I feel an urgency and commitment to address the needs of my students and their families. I work continually to strengthen my skills to address these obstacles. I also work on strengthening these skills in other teachers. Creating educational equitable opportunities for every child in our society it is a moral imperative for social cohesion and a strong democracy.

As a teacher that immigrated to this country I feel an extremely important responsibility to serve as an example for my students of what is possible when you are determined and work hard. In America if you work hard along with your community to create opportunities for all, you get ahead and it makes no difference where are you coming from. We, the immigrants that made this country our home feel proud to say that this can only happen in America.

Remigio Willman is a 3rd grade teacher at Askew Elementary School in the Houston Independent School District in Houston, Texas.

Learning to Live without Fear

I was born in Guanajuato, Mexico. I was nine years old when my father passed away and my family had to migrate to the United States. I missed my grandma, I missed my language, my culture. My mother would comfort us by saying we would go back to Mexico in a few months. However, I soon entered fourth grade.

Maria Dominguez

Maria Dominguez

In middle school, I remember seeing my mother work two jobs, coming home late at night and struggling to raise four children on her own. I knew one day I wanted to repay her sacrifice and everything she was doing for us. My dream was to become a professional; I knew I wanted to be a teacher and help others with the same struggles.

On June 15, 2012, I again became hopeful when President Barack Obama announced his executive order that allowed me to begin working at my dream school. As a DACAmented 1st grade bilingual teacher serving my community I’m heartbroken that the Supreme Court failed me, my students, and over 720,000 other DACAmented individuals that are proving President Obamas’s executive action work. I worry for my students and community, I’m not giving up, this is just a set-back.

Maria Dominguez is a 1st grade teacher at Rodriguez Elementary School in the Austin Independent School District in Austin, Texas.


  1. great to see that we are still a melting pot country for people of all background and to hear about the good they bring to our country instead of only all the bad.

  2. I applaud the collection of these stories as an important record for future generations, who will deeply appreciate them and who will also understand much better what it means to be “hyphenated” (e.g., Mexican-American). My grandparents immigrated to America around 1900, and I am their eldest grandchild. Their stories were never written, and I have decided that the most important task of my “refirement” will be to ask, what does it mean to be Polish-American for my generation? Can we still recognize differences in ourselves that positively contribute to American society? What’s left to “the left of the hyphen”? It has become a major research project for me, beyond genealogy and into history and epigenetics. Thank you for doing this important work!!

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