To get to the United States, 11-year-old Adiel Granados traveled more than 3,000 miles by land, leaving his grandparents’ home in El Salvador to live in Silver Spring, Md., with his parents. They had immigrated eight years earlier and settled into work—his father drives a recycling truck, and his mother works for a local government program for young, pregnant women—while Granados and his younger brother attended school in El Salvador.
Granados, now 17, said that as a child he missed his parents, who kept in touch over the phone but never returned to El Salvador. Though he always knew he would eventually make the move to the United States, he was nervous about the transition and leaving his friends.
After Granados and his brother finally arrived in Silver Spring, they found a large and well-established Salvadoran community, including several relatives. Many of his peers at Wheaton High School, where he is a junior and his brother is a freshman, also moved here from El Salvador or have parents or grandparents who made journeys similar to his.
The boys arrived in summer 2006. Their parents had already researched how to go about enrolling them in school, and Granados and his brother entered the Montgomery County public school system that fall. Granados entered an English-as-a-second-language program right away, and by 8th grade, he had exited the program.
Still, language was his biggest challenge, the teenager says. He has never had a Salvadoran teacher, and most of his teachers do not speak Spanish.
At first, since he spoke almost no English, “I could only make a certain kind of friend,” he says. “It was about a year before my English got good enough to make other friends.” But now, he says, he doesn’t stick to one group and is in classes with students from many backgrounds. “I’m from nowhere—I’ve never been a person [who] thought I represented my whole country,” he says. Since arriving in the United States, however, Granados says it sometimes seems as though “everyone [from El Salvador] is thought of as the same.”
Granados and his brother attended school in a suburban community in El Salvador, but learning the system at his new school in this country took time. “Here, there’s more money [in school], and it’s more organized,” he says. There, often, “no one was trying to learn.” Here, too, he sees peers who seem “discouraged,” he says, but he is set on college and has done well in school. Mathematics and science, in particular, made sense even as he was learning English.
According to Granados, the biggest difference between his home and school is the food. At home with his family, Granados mainly eats Salvadoran food like pupusas, whereas at Wheaton High, it’s “hamburgers and stuff I would never eat.”
At school, Granados plays soccer and is enrolled in several Advanced Placement courses. He takes his studies seriously and hopes to become an engineer. “I want to go to college because I like to learn and because I want to be a better person. It will open many opportunities to do better. My parents want me to do better than them,” Granados says. “And I want to help my parents so they can stop working.”
“I’m trying to help people see that it is possible” for Hispanic students to do well, he says. He tells classmates: “You can do better than you think. You have to try hard.”