Richmond Drive Elementary School opens at 7 a.m. for parents who start work early. Principal Pat Maness and others meet every one of them.
The kids rush in, eyes shining. Their book bags are “Frozen” or Super Mario, and they smile.
The parents hug and kiss their kids goodbye.
Among the first there every day is single mother Mirian Diaz. She’s dropping off daughter Mileybi Sarai Martinez, 9, in the third grade, and carries daughter, Emi, 1. Then she leaves to go to work cleaning houses.
“Adios!” Mileybi calls out. She hugs her mother.
The mother lingers with the hug, her dark eyes hopeful and sad. A person does not need to know Spanish to see pain in the eyes of a mother whose husband was shot dead.
She is mother and father now.
Diaz wears an ankle monitor so the government knows where she is. She has to check in with immigration officials often. Diaz came to the U.S. from Honduras through channels not in any immigration handbook. She is seeking asylum in America.
For her children.
Her husband, a police officer in Honduras, the Central American country with often the highest murder rate in the world, was kidnapped and shot to death in December.
Diaz speaks almost no English. One of her daughter’s teachers at school, English as Second Language and math and science teacher Flor Morales is bilingual.
“She came to America as a refugee, for the safety of her daughters,” Morales said, translating Spanish to English. “She said she would do anything to protect them. Even if it meant coming to a different country and not knowing if she will be deported.”
Diaz says coming to America where her late husband’s sister lives in Rock Hill is her only choice at survival, because if her husband was targeted, her kids would be, too.
“She said to protect her children and give them a chance to live life, she would do anything. In America she is not afraid someone will assault or attack her children. And now she is the mother and the father.”
Mileybi is learning English at school with Morales in an immersion program where half the day is in Spanish and the other half is in English. The program serves about 15 percent of the student body, principal Maness said.
Maness and his staff greet Diaz as they do all parents. Except the words are “buenos dias.”
It is a simple gesture as huge as America.
Mileybi is not comfortable with English yet, but she told Morales: “My mother supports me, my daddy is in heaven.”
Her teachers say she is a willing and energetic student who comes to school each day with her “Frozen” backpack filled with hope. Mileybi literally bounces down the hall. Nobody has to tell her to behave or sit still or do her work.
Mathematics and science, she says, are her favorite subjects.
She does her school work as her mother scrubs floors and toilets in a foreign country where she does not speak the language. The child goes to school and the mother goes to work not knowing if they will be told they have come to the country illegally and must leave.
Morales, who is an American citizen of Puerto Rican heritage who has been an immigrant in other countries growing up as a child of missionaries, said she is proud to help a mother such as Diaz and students like Mileybi.
Mother’s Day, the tribute to mothers who give all to their children, is a tribute to people just like Marian Diaz.
“A mother protects her children. She has come all this way to do just that,” Morales said. “And every day she does not know what the future will bring. But she does it. Because she is a mother first.”