Luis Ernesto Prieto

Luis Ernesto Prieto
English Associate in Arts candidate 2018
Miami Dade College

My trip to Nicaragua started as a distant idea. It was completely abstract at first, only existing inside the boundaries of my mind. Then, it became heavier, concrete and, ultimately, possible. I remember the expressions when I first mentioned it: “WHAT!?” “WHAT FOR?” ISN’T THAT DANGEROUS?”

They became funny after a while. I ended up telling more people that I intended to as part of a socio-cultural experiment; just to watch them react. My friends laughed; some of them thought I was mad, some actually stated it. My mom’s reaction was very similar, except she didn’t find it humorous. She showed extreme worry from the beginning and, contrary to what I hoped for, it only sprouted later on. From one dangerous and highly impossible situation, another two would rise in her head and those would become four equally absurd scenarios. But she never said no, and I admire her for that.

Eventually someone asked “why?” Not “WHAT FOR,” but “why.” And I stood there, babbling, seeking the right words and the honest reasons, knowing that I had just become part of someone else’s social experiment.

“Er… change, I guess. I want to contribute to something.”

Now, I don’t remember whether the person was supportive or not, but I know I felt awkward and ashamed. I spent my remaining time in Miami figuring out the reason until “why am I going to do this”? translated to “why am I doing this?”

Prior to Nicaragua, I lived in Cuba and visited Puerto Rico only once. I always felt pride toward my Latino heritage, yet my knowledge about Latin America didn’t reach much past what’s printed in “Nuestra América,” Venezuela’s recent situation, and my metamorphous political stance. Curiosity, therefore, bombarded my mind at every turn and sight and comment. I wanted to know everything: What did people think about the Nicaraguan canal they were close to build? Why hadn’t they signed the Paris Climate Agreement? What were those flat, colored, and funny-looking trees I kept seeing? What about women’s rights? And that farmer silhouette? What were the chances of a volcano-related catastrophe?

Questioning and listening are two virtues I inherited from my father; these constitute the fundamentals of education, which is probably why I see becoming a professor as my career endgame. From the moment that I realized I would be teaching pre-teenagers, I knew I wanted to challenge them. I aimed to raise questions in their young minds, make them struggle for solutions, yet guide them through that journey. But as one grows up and evolves, one forgets how wise and intelligent kids can be. And how a simple answer is nine out of ten the correct one. And how truths aren’t at all universal. I most certainly think my students, the dreamers, who then became my friends, challenged me more than I did them.

By the end of the first week in Nicaragua, we had visited ten dreamers and had met their families. They each had a unique situation. Every visit was an emotional rollercoaster, full of thoughts and reflections. It was difficult to approach this interviewing scenario without crashing psychologically. I didn’t want to be there at some point. But thank God, I decided to stay because with each family came an understanding, a connection between the student’s behavior and the environment they are exposed to. The dreamers’ development, their education, and their dreams are attached, as the pole of an umbrella supporting its canopy, to their families’ attitude and functionality. I was fast to realize the common grounds these students and I shared: the rifts, the break-ups, the quick evaporation of innocence, the faster evanescence of peace of mind, and the truths we sought but never wanted. As shocking as it was, I grew to admire them.

Behind these kids’ future, I found five women working in the shadows whose power and determination grant an opportunity to the dreamers. Huguette, their school advisor, Leyla and Rita, the program coordinators, their teacher Marcela, and Emily, co-founder and FNEI board member, are an essential piece to the community of Chacraseca. For they not only assure the students’ academic performance and development, but their stability and happiness outside school. The dreamers are guided to affront issues that they face at every period of their lives. Being at the starting point of their adolescence, Rita, Leyla, Marcela, and Huguette serve them as mentors, advisors, and friends. They talk about love, and self-care, and protection, and ethics. They light the path for their kids and keep them warm throughout the way. Without these women, the dreamers would stand a lower chance of seeing past the borders of Chacraseca.

        Tengo un Sueño was an experience that will never become dust in my mind, one I wish to repeat. Why? It’s not as if I could point out a single reason. To say that my decision was purely philanthropic, I would be heavily lying.  During my time in León, I learned more about my beloved América. My own dreams grew to be tangible; I knew my passions. Life became simpler. I fell in love with 27 dreamers and that’s a life-time feeling.