At 44, Blanco is the youngest poet, as well as the first Latino and the first openly gay poet to take part in an inaugural ceremony. I choked up when he read about 20 kids that will forever be marked absent.
By Mary Ann Zehr on June 2, 2011
A California 5th grader’s poem about her grandfather, an immigrant from China, has been selected as the winning entry for the “Celebrate America” contest sponsored by the Washington-based American Immigration Council.
With the contest, volunteer attorneys visit 5th grade classrooms to talk about immigration and provide information about the competition. This year’s judges included big names such as Randi Weingarten, the president of the America Federation for Teachers, and U.S. Senator Dan Inouye, a Democrat from Hawaii.
Maya Young Wong, a student at Castelar Elementary School in Altadena, Calif., based her winning poem on the life of her “Grandfather Ben,” who died before she was born, but whose life was honored in stories told to Maya by her grandmother.
I like how the poem reflects Maya’s understanding that her grandfather’s life wasn’t easy in the United States. When it came to jobs, “chances for Chinese were least to fewest,” she says. After getting shot as a soldier in World War II, she writes, “He didn’t win any fame or medals/Just came back home to wed and settle.”
She concludes, “He loved America both good and bad.”
My Grand Father Ben: 2011 National Grand Prize Winning Entry
From China sailed my Grandfather Ben.
He came to America when he was four plus ten.
His Guangzhou village was small and poor
And he helped his mother with farming chores.
Every morning he gathered bits of firewood
And drew water from the well as much as he could.
From morning to night he slaved like an ox.
But it was never enough to fill the rice box.
So his parents said, “You’d better leave home
And go to America where you can roam”.
Until you find a great place of your own.
America, Gold Mountain, is the place to go
Big and wide, and high and low.
Everything is yes, and there are never any nos.
But here in America life was hard
And it wasn’t like a birthday card.
Golden Mountain didn’t have jobs
For Chinese men, and that made them sob.
From San Francisco to Saint Louis
Chances for Chinese were least to fewest.
Still his heart never gave way
Cause he knew hard work always pays.
So Grandpa Ben worked hard again.
Slaving in a laundry from five to ten.
And he lived in important USA times
Starting from cool Jazz Age crime
Right on down to the Great Depression’s
Brother can you spare a dime.
Until finally his big chance came
To show American and Chinese are the same.
He joined the army in World War II
And fought in Europe for the red, white and blue.
All over he fought bringing supplies
To American soldiers on the lines.
Until one day he was shot in the back
And his jeep flipped over and he got smacked.
He didn’t win any fame or medals
Just came back home to wed and settle.
Still to me he is The Greatest Hero.
Cause he never gave up and never said no.
He loved America both good and bad
And taught his 5 kids not to be sad.
Work hard, dream big, and never give up.
And one day Gold Mountain will live up
To what is written on the Statue of Liberty
Chances for all and the gift to be free.
To my Chinese Grandfather,
Whom I love and honor.
To all the teachers I know who have made—-and continue to make—–tremendous difference in people’s lives.
The dinner guests were sitting around the table discussing life. One man, a CEO, decided to explain the problem with education. He argued, ‘What’s a kid going to learn from someone who decided his best option
in life was to become a teacher?’
He reminded the other dinner guests what they say about teachers:
‘Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach.’ To stress his point he said to another guest; ‘You’re a teacher, Bonnie. Be honest. What do you make?’
Bonnie, who had a reputation for honesty and frankness replied, ‘You want to know what I make?
‘Well, I make kids work harder than they ever thought they could. I make a C+ feel like the Order of Canada.
I make kids sit through 40 minutes of class time when their parents
can’t make them sit for 5 without an I Pod, Game Cube or movie rental.
You want to know what I make?’ (She paused again and looked at each and every person at the table.)
”I make kids wonder.
I make them question.
I make them apologize and mean it.
I make them have respect and take responsibility for their actions.
I teach them to write and then I make them write. Keyboarding isn’t everything.
I make them read, read, read.
I make them show all their work in maths. They use their God-given brain, not the man-made calculator.
I make my students from other countries learn everything they need to
know in English while preserving their unique cultural identity.
I make my classroom a place where all my students feel safe.
I make my students stand respectfully during O Canada because we live in a peaceful, law-abiding country.
Finally, I make them understand that if they use the gifts they were
given, work hard, and follow their hearts, they can succeed in life.’
(Bonnie paused one last time and then continued.)
‘Then, when people try to judge me by what I make, with me knowing money
isn’t everything, I can hold my head up high and pay no attention because
they are ignorant… You want to know what I make?
I MAKE A DIFFERENCE. What do you make, Mr. CEO?’
His jaw dropped as he went silent.
THIS IS WORTH SENDING TO EVERY TEACHER YOU KNOW.
Even all your personal teachers like mothers, fathers, brothers,
sisters, grandparents, and your spiritual teachers , too.
A PRAYER FOR THE CHILDREN
We are responsible for children
who put chocolate fingers everywhere
who like to be tickled,
who stomp in puddles and ruin their new pants.
Who sneak Popsicles before supper,
who erase holes in math workbooks,
who can never find their shoes.
And we are responsible for those
who stare at photographers from behind barbed wire
who can’t bound down the street in a new pair of sneakers
who never get dessert,
who have no safe blanket to drag behind them,
who watch their parents watch them die,
who can’t find any bread to steal,
who don’t have any roots to clean up,
whose pictures aren’t on anybody’s dresser,
whose monsters are real.
We are responsible for children
who spend all their allowance before Tuesday,
who throw tantrums in the grocery store and pick at their
who like ghost stores,
who shove dirty clothes under the bed, and never rinse out
who get visits from the tooth fairy,
who don’t like to be kissed in front of the carpool,
who squirm in church and scream in the phone,
whose tears we sometimes laugh at and whose smiles
make us cry.
And we are responsible for those
whose nightmares come in the daytime,
who will eat anything,
who have never seen a dentist,
who aren’t spoiled by anybody.
who go to bed hungry and cry themselves to sleep,
who live and move, but have no being.
We are responsible for children who want to be carried and for
those who must,
For those we never give up and for those who don’t get a
For those we smother…and for those who will grab the hand
anybody kind enough to offer it.
Marian Wright Edelman, founder and president of the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF)