Helping an immigrant teen stay in school


It was a Friday morning when I headed to meet with Hugo.*

This was one of the first interviews I had done as an SPLC advocate. I was nervous and excited all at the same time. At the door, I was greeted warmly by Hugo’s mother, Geraldine. She asked me to have a seat on her couch.

Hugo, 16, walked toward me with a huge smile and welcomed me to his home. I could see by the black eye and cut on his face that he had much to tell me.

His mom began the conversation. “He had a bright future there [Honduras], he was already playing for the Sub-15 national team. He was going to be a professional soccer player.” She was proud of her son, but I could see the sorrow behind her smile.

Hugo’s big dreams and aspirations in Honduras had taken an unexpected turn two years ago. As he and his brother walked home from school, they were assaulted and robbed by gang members. Hugo witnessed the gang members kill someone. 

Hugo and his family reported what they had seen to the police. Several weeks later,  his mother received a disturbing call. The man who had been jailed to await trial for the murder sent a warning: “Once I am out of here, they [Hugo and his brother] will be gone.” 

The call changed Hugo’s life forever. To save their lives, Hugo and his brother decided to embark on the hardest journey there is: Leave their beloved homeland and head to the U.S. The traumatic trip to safety tested all their survival skills. But three months after leaving Honduras, they joined their mother in Louisiana, tired and hungry.

Hugo and his brother began school and instantly found friends who loved soccer as much as they did.

But, as the days went by, Hugo began to feel less and less safe in his new home. Some students and teachers were not welcoming. Other students began bullying him, but the school did nothing about it. The bullying quickly escalated to physical violence. 

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Names have been changed to protect the privacy and safety of the family