Academic journal article Social Education

In Our Own Backyard

Academic journal article Social Education

In Our Own Backyard

Article excerpt

An Interview on Elian Gonzalez's Stay in Washington, D.C., with YFU President Sally Grooms Cowal

From May 25 to June 28 of this year, Elian Gonzalez and his family and friends were guests in a colonial era farmhouse located on the Rosedale estate in Washington, D.C. The properly h home to Youth For Understanding (YFU), a major international student exchange organization established in 1951, which has owned the Rosedale estate since 1978. The NCSS national offices are also located on the properly, in one of three brick buildings that center around the farmhouse. As a result, NCSS staff members became witnesses to an historical event that-beginning with a sad accident, a child's loss of his mother, and a rescue at sea-came to test our nation's understanding of a family, our immigration laws, and our justice system at the highest level NCSS staff members watched as security measures were put into place and the media gathered to await the family's arrival. But mostly, our experience consisted of looking out the windows (unobtrusively, we hoped) as Elian and his friends came out to play after school hours ended each day. How the Gonzalez family became the guests of Youth For Understanding and what ejects the plight of one small boy may yet have on U.S.-Cuban relations, are the subject of this interview with YFU President Sally Grooms Cowal.

How did it come about that Elian Gonzalez and his family and friends stayed at Youth For Understanding's Rosedale estate in Washington, D.C.?

We were asked to host Elian initially, when he was still in Florida with his Miami relatives, by his father's lawyer, who is a neighbor of ours in the Cleveland Park section of Washington, and walks his dog at Rosedale. Since I am often walking my dog in the park which surrounds our office, one thing just led to another ... but seriously, when Gregory Craig asked us, my first thought was, "Of course. We ask 3,500 families each year to host students from abroad. If we are now asked to play host family, how can we say no?" Then I did some checking with our Board of Trustees and our attorney, and by the end of the weekend when we were approached, we provided a positive answer.

Then the U.S. Marshals and Metropolitan Police were called to assess the security conditions. They vetoed the idea, as the World Bank meetings were going on in D.C., and the police felt they couldn't protect two sites at the same time. So, when Elian was seized from the Miami family to be reunited with his father, he was located at a rural estate about 75 miles from Washington. After about a month there, when they had been joined by several other Cuban children and parents, they decided that our urban location was better suited to their needs. So on May 25, Elian and his father, stepmother, baby brother, ten-year-old cousin, four first grade classmates, their parents and teacher came to stay with us.

Given the circumstances that led to Elian and his family coming to the Rosedale estate, what were you personally most concerned about providing to Elian and his family?

We were most concerned with providing Elian and his family a safe, private, secure, and tranquil place which, at the same time, afforded opportunities to get to know something about American life and people. YFU is responsible for 6,000 cross-cultural, family homestay-based exchanges each year. So we also felt that we could contribute by understanding the issues which arise as children move from one culture to another, from their natural home to host families and then retransmission back to their natural families.

Elian had been through a lot in six months; from small town Cuba and total anonymity, to Miami and total notability, to returning to his father and eventually to Cuba. …

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