In the past few years, a rash of anti-immigrant legislation has pushed school officials into acting like agents of ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement). The toll of these anti-immigrant policies on students and their families is undeniable. Yet the issue is rarely discussed in faculty meetings. Fortunately, there are educators like Carlos Borja.
Borja is a middle school math teacher and a high school cross-country coach in west Phoenix—the same poor, primarily Latina/o community he migrated to at the age of 10. As a former undocumented student who attributes his success to his teachers and his involvement in sports, he has seen the potential of sports—when combined with caring coaching, a collective ethos, and an emphasis on education—to help students navigate the assaults they encounter as undocumented immigrants.
With his friend and fellow coach Miguel Aparicio, Borja spent eight years nurturing a group of Latino runners who earned three state championships. When ICE officials arrested Aparicio for being undocumented and Borja was fired for allowing Aparicio to coach, their students organized and fought back.
Last summer, I talked with Carlos about resilience, reaching back, and working collectively in this current period of siege against undocumented immigrants.
Gilda Ochoa: What was it like when you first migrated to Arizona?
Carlos Borja: I come from a big Hispanic family. There are 10 of us—five boys and five girls. My mom passed away when I was 4. My dad decided to come to the states, but he remarried here. So we stayed with my grandparents in Colima, Mexico. In 1983, my oldest brother brought us oldest ones to Phoenix. We were illegal at that time. He was working almost a minimum wage job trying to take care of us. It’s amazing what he did.