In the United States today, there are currently more than fifty million immigrants bringing all different types of languages to America. For people of different countries, cities, and schools language is an identifier. Language is used to show a person's culture, emotional states, and distinguish oneself from others.
Growing up taking Spanish Immersion I had each of my classes in spanish; math, science, history, reading. I became bilingual after my first year of kindergarten. In many ways, language has opened countless opportunities for me and has allowed me to experience things that I would have not had the option to otherwise. However, in many ways people who do not understand other languages have a ignorance and resistance towards language.
Statements such as, “What do you mean there are different types of Spanish?” or, “Chinese isn’t a language?” are ones I hear throughout the day. I find it a disservice to these cultures and ourselves that we do not acknowledge these other languages, when in many ways in America, they are presented to us on a daily bases.
A friend of the Maestra Pete came to visit the class one afternoon. She greeted me by saying, “Hola, como te llamas?” I looked up at her, then to Maestra Pete who I hoped would reassure me it was okay to talk to the unfamiliar woman like she had given me the confidence to speak up the rest of my kindergarten year. I answered, “Me llamo Saide,” which is the Spanish name that I got during my time at Independence Charter School.
She looked at the row of teachers packed together next to her in order to avoid the soccer game taking place a mere five feet away. Maestra Claudia, Maestra Leonora, Maestra Kelly were the teachers next to her. She glanced at me then down at the picnic blanket which was laying on the grass. “Ella tenia Maestra Pete,” she said with a tone of confidence in her voice. The women began to laugh, following up with comments like “Como te sabias?” and “Como era obvio?” I stood there still confused about what they were talking about, my face began to turn red as I tried to contemplate a way to walk away from the conversation. I was eventually dismissed and the next kid, Jamie was called over. She answered the questions just like I had.
This time the unfamiliar woman said “Maestra Kelly, tienes que ser Maestra Kelly.” The ladies then again looked at each other this time chuckling at her so hopeful but incorrect guess. In return, they said, “No era Maestra Pete otra vez.” Jamie then walked away we both looked at each other unsure of what had just went on but not too concerned either. “Pass the ball,” I yelled jumping right back into the soccer game.That night, I walked into the house my mom sat at the kitchen table engrossed in her book. I tried to sneak by and get a couple of cookies before she could notice what I was doing. Just as I was on my way out she put down the book, “How was Field Day?” I sat down and told her what happened with the woman and the kindergarten teachers.
“You know why they did that don’t you?”
I looked surprised that she knew what they were talking about and replied, “No, what?”
“They were seeing if they could tell by your accent which teacher you had. You know Maestra Pete was from Peru, Maestra Kelly Chile, Maestra Leonora from Ecuador, and Maestra Claudia Columbia.” She looked at me making sure I understood. I nodded and rushed out of the kitchen before she noticed I had taken the cookies.
Each year at Independence Charter School, I had a different teacher from another country. Each spoke Spanish with their own flare and the way that it would have been spoken in their country. In many cases, other people could notice which teacher I had by the accents and words that each teacher used. Just like many people can recognize that I am from South Philadelphia by my accent and words.
To people who can not recognize things like what country or part of the city each individual is from it is hard for them to except the other person's way of speaking. In many ways people are closed off towards other cultures and languages because they are not familiar with it. This causes barriers for many people today in things such as communicating with a peer, asking for directions, or even trying to order food.
We still lack to acknowledge the pride that people take in their individual culture, many ways interpreted by language. Just like in my kindergarten class and my entire time throughout Spanish Immersion each teacher took pride in their countries language. It is important that we as a community begin to do the same for other peoples. Language is an opportunity to explore something new and interact with other people.
This is one example of how even in small ways language has brought me to experience a larger world. I hurried to put my coat on only for it to be inside out. “Sadie, if I have to tell you one more time, come on!” I rolled my eyes still trying to think of ways to avoid grocery shopping. “Maybe you should just go with out me,” I happily said. Without a hesitation my mom replied, “Right this instance.” I rushed out the house in fear of consequences to come. I followed ten feet behind her with my head down trying to avoid any further confrontation. A ball fell right in front of me. I looked to the park next to me to notice a group of men playing soccer. “El pelota por favor,” they asked, signaling for the ball.
“Si solo un segundo,” I said back.
“Gracias,” they said in unison.
“No es ningun problema.” They all glared at me somewhat amazed at my ability to hold a conversation with them.
Being able to understand another language I have been able to have interactions with people who I would not have been able to otherwise. Even small things such as this I am proud to say that I can do. Language should no longer be a barrier but an opportunity, a window into something new, a way to see a persons life.