In a bid to reunite with his parents, Oscar Juarez journeyed from El Salvador when he was 6 years old, settling down in Port Washington to eventually give back to young immigrants as an English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher.
“I have accomplished a lot and I’m trying to transmit that to my own kids–I have three kids. Nothing comes easy, but we are in a country that gives us so many opportunities,” Juarez said.
He feels as though he has been able to achieve the American Dream, and for that, he’s very thankful. He never forgot who lent him a hand in his journey to accomplish his goals.
“As long as you try hard, doing your best and respecting your other fellows, I think that is the main key,” he added.
Juarez’s aunt immigrated to Long Island during the ‘60s with a worker visa, which he described as “the door for the rest of the family.” His parents moved to the U.S. and were forced to leave him with his grandparents, in El Salvador, until he turned 6 years of age, and could join his parents in Port Washington.
“I was excited about taking a plane because I had never flown before,” Juarez said.
Despite his eagerness, his arrival in New York was met with obstacles, like those faced by other immigrants. He tried to fit in, but the language barrier proved difficult to overcome.
“In the classroom, I felt left out because I didn’t understand what the teacher was asking me,” he said.
But, that barrier between him and English-speaking children did not exist on the field. Juarez’s love for soccer eased his transition to life here in the U.S., giving him “a way to connect with other kids” and helped him learn English.
With the money he earned, working at the local King Kullen, restocking food and vegetables and later as a busboy for a private yacht club, he bought his own clothing and soccer cleats. This imbued in him a sense of responsibility and dedication to the sport. After graduating from Paul D. Schreiber High School in 1998, he earned a scholarship to play soccer at Alfred University in Western New York.
Like many immigrants, and despite his good fortune, he had first-hand experience with discrimination, before going away for college. One day, he unintentionally stepped on his neighbor’s lawn. His neighbor, with a scornful tone, called him a “spic.” But, Juarez kept his cool and respectfully replied that he should not be discriminating against anybody.
“I’m never going to forget that,” he added.
As a freshman in college, Juarez had not yet decided on his major and, instead, concentrated on his lifelong love of soccer. However, unexpectedly, while playing in a game, he sustained the leg injury that would change his life. He had to undergo surgery that left him with a metal plate that is still in his ankle to this day.
“I could no longer play soccer in the same capacity,” he said.
After this, Juarez had to transfer to SUNY Plattsburgh and find a new career path. His then-girlfriend’s friend was pursuing a career as a teacher, and she invited him to sit in on one of her classes. This piqued his interest in working with kids, propelling him into the education field.
He came back to Port Washington after completing his degree, and ever since, he has worked for the school district he already knew and loved. He worked at at the elementary school level for 10 years before returning to Paul D. Schreiber High School–but this time as a teacher, working with ESL students.
Juarez continues to enjoy working with students from different cultures and backgrounds, reminding him of his own journey in the U.S. He hopes he can help his students access the same opportunities he had.
“They have many dreams, but at the same time, they also have real problems. As an ESL teacher, I think we all need to sympathize with the situation of every kid that is just coming in,” he said.
Juarez’s students and their families are part of the community that is now facing discrimination amid the anti-immigrant agenda taking hold on a federal level.
For Juarez, this is the first time that he feels a government is hurting people, rather than helping them. He is dismayed that President Trump does not share the same sentiments of freedom originating from the Founding Fathers that other presidents have embraced.
“It’s his way or no way,” he said. “We don’t have to put a wall to close the doors to the world. It’s unnecessary.”
Juarez hopes that after President Trump is replaced, we can return to our immigrant roots. Until then, Juarez advises those on Long Island to “stay together, keep working hard so things can be better.”
“We can’t give up. We should stay together, defend our rights and not let anybody tell us otherwise,” Juarez said.