Israel Gonzalez: A Student Becomes the Teacher

Israel Gonzalez moved to Chicago from Mexico with his parents when he was two years old. So when he was released from Danville CC in October of 2010, Gonzalez found himself not on the streets, but in another detention center, this time at “ICE,” or US Customs and Immigration Enforcement. It was another two weeks until he was finally released, but in a highly unfamiliar place. “I was released at the border by myself,” Gonzalez tells me. “I was alone and I had to find a way to get to my family who were here in Mexico City.”

A stranger in the border city where he landed, Gonzalez credits the kindness of a stranger with getting him through the first difficult days of freedom. He met an older lady in a store who, upon seeing that he was struggling, placed a call for him with her cell phone (a form of technology he had not yet mastered) and then directed him to a shelter for deported men where he could spend a few nights. When his family members arrived two days later to pick him up, it was the first time that Gonzalez had ever met these relatives.

“Really you could say that [I had] 3 adjustments because it was being out, one; two, the new country; and three, living on your own as an adult,” Gonzalez explains. “I had to find a job and a purpose for my life.”

In searching for employment, Gonzalez was met with even more challenges. Because Mexico does not recognize the GED as equivalent to a high school diploma, Gonzalez’s many years of study in prison seemingly amounted to nothing. Without any work experience, Gonzalez says that “everywhere I looked they slammed the door in my face,” and he became deeply depressed.

However, Gonzalez’s luck changed when he moved into the home of his aunt, an English teacher. Because Gonzalez not only spoke English but also had been trained through EJP’s Language Partners program to teach it, his aunt hired him to sell the didactic tools she had developed for the classroom. By visiting schools and meeting with teachers and zone supervisors, Gonzalez was eventually offered a teaching position at a small private school.

In the coming years, Gonzalez plans to keep teaching, but at a higher level. He hopes to complete a high school program and continue on to higher education programs in Mexico, “to make my studies have value,” he explains. Eventually, he would like to run his own school.

“EJP really opens your eyes to the opportunities you may have if you’re prepared,” he says. “For me personally, it gave me a purpose.”

University of Illinois
1001 S. Wright St
Champaign, IL 61820