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English-Language Learners

Meet a School of Immigrants With a Complex Connection to Donald Trump

By Madeline Will — February 01, 2017 3 min read
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A famous California property that President Donald Trump once owned and fought to keep in a lengthy legal battle is now a multicultural K-12 campus of community schools that, in many ways, is antithetical to some of the president’s pronouncements.

The Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools, a campus of six Los Angeles public schools, sits on the site of the famous Ambassador Hotel, where Sen. Robert Kennedy was assassinated in 1968. According to the Los Angeles Times, a Trump syndicate bought the property for $64 million in 1989 with plans to build a 125-story office tower—which would have been, at the time, the world’s tallest building.

But the Los Angeles Board of Education had plans to build schools on the site, and voted to take the property from Trump via eminent domain. The LA Times has the details on the unusual decade-long legal battle that ensued, but ultimately, the school board bought the property for $76.5 million.

The RFK Community Schools opened in 2010. Located in Los Angeles’ Koreatown neighborhood, the schools are high-poverty and have high percentages of Hispanic and Asian students. Many of the community’s families have immigrated from Mexico and other countries in Central America, or Korea, and school officials said there is a large population of undocumented students.

On a recent visit—just hours before Trump would sign his executive order suspending the entry of all refugees to the United States for 120 days, barring all immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries for 90 days, and indefinitely banning refugees from Syria—the campus seemed like an oasis of multiculturalism.

Murals, many of which are politically or social-justice-minded, are painted on the buildings’ walls. In one class, a teacher was teaching 5- to 6-year-olds entirely in Spanish.

At several of the campus schools, students can receive bilingual or multilingual instruction in English and Spanish and/or Korean.

The irony of students speaking and learning in Spanish and other languages on a property once owned by a man who said on the campaign trail that, “This is a country where we speak English, not Spanish,” is not lost on the schools’ educators. Trump’s election—and his campaign promises to build a wall on the Mexico border and authorize large-scale deportations—was difficult for the schools’ community, said Karen Hunter Quartz, the research director for the UCLA Community School, one of the schools on the site.

“The day after the election, our families were crying in our courtyard,” she said. “Our students have walked out in protest, our teachers have organized, so we’re all very strongly united in favor of supporting the needs and rights of undocumented students.”

Part of that support, she said, will be a family immigration legal clinic that will be hosted in the campus library. The clinic, which is being developed in partnership with the UCLA School of Law and its Graduate School of Education & Information Studies, doesn’t have a set opening date, but Hunter Quartz said the clinic has secured funding and it will open “soon.” The clinic will be staffed by a full-time attorney and a team of UCLA law students.

“We know [our families] face issues of deportation, separation ... there’s [also] the intersection of the criminal justice system. We know there’s a great need,” she said.

Jose Maradiaga-Andrade, an alumnus of RFK Community Schools, said he painted the above mural to motivate students whose parents or relatives came to the country illegally to give their families a better life.

“It means a lot to me that such a meaningful mural in support of [these] families’ choices, and against the approval of the new president, is now standing in the campus of such a diverse community school,” he wrote in an email. “To President Trump, what you resist, persists.”

Photos by Madeline Will

More on Trump and Immigrant Students:

A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.