America is made great by the quality of its people. And from what Marilyn Englander can tell, America has many recent arrivals eager to do their part.
My ESL students arrive promptly. They always bring their textbooks, notebooks, pens. They put their phones away. Class last two hours, but there’s no fidgeting. They are eager, attentive, serious.
I teach English as a Second Language to adult immigrants. Students range from 18 to over 80. Many came here from Guatemala, but some are from Peru, Venezuela, Algeria. A whole group of elderly women are from Russia, Ukraine and Iran. Some have never had any schooling at all. Some speak a dialect as a first language, Spanish as a second, and now are strapping on English. They take nicknames to fit in better: Francie, Cindy, Lucy. They want to make it in America. They inspire me.
Lucy politely shakes my hand before and after class, thanking me. Paul dresses every day in a beautiful starched white shirt. Irma leans over to help Shaylah find her place in the text. Rita repeats questions to Julia who’s hard of hearing. When Patty is stumped and mute, David gently coaches her from the back row.
Slowly my students share their stories. Anna’s husband has been deported — with luck she might see him again in two years. She tries to hide her grief. Rosa arrives one morning with her rambunctious two-year-old. The babysitter didn’t show up — but she was not about to miss class. The baby fusses after a while, but no one scowls at Rosa. They make do. Jean shares no language with anyone; she speaks Creole. Just 22, she fled Haiti. She wants to learn faster so she can study to become a nurse. After class we load a language-learning app on her phone so she can practice English all day long.
These students want to blend in, be all-American, carve a new future. While anxiety and anger about immigration crackle all around them in their new home, they remain undaunted. It’s yet another challenge in already burdened lives, but they push on.
This is the strength of will that could make a country great.
With a Perspective, this is Marilyn Englander.
Marilyn Englander is a North Bay educator.