My grandmother sends a gentle smile my way as she proceeds to try and enroll me into the school as kids my age talk at me in a language I don’t understand, “what?” is all I can say. The lady shakes her head at my grandmother and quickly steals a glance at me, I hear my grandmother let out a heavy sigh as she walks to me and grabs my hand. We walk out the door, leaving my confusion behind. Soon enough, Spanish became the only language I spoke while I stayed in Santo Domingo with my grandmother.
I get back to NYC after a year of living in Dominican Republic. Confused yet again as people around me speak words that mean nothing to me. My mother embraces me in the airport and speaks at me in words I can’t make out. “Que?” I say, my mother looks at me in utter confusion and then realizes that I can’t understand English. I remember thinking, “porque mamá se ves asustada?” as I spoke to her in fluent Spanish. She accepted that I needed time and spoke to me in Spanish until it was time to enroll me in school. Once I got into school, I was thrown into a classroom where no one but my soon to be friend, Yessica, knew Spanish. She was my age, and she struggled to translate what was being said. I mean, she was just a kid, how much could she do for me? She tried her best and still had trouble. No doubt I was struggling to firmly grasp the material that was being shoved down my first-grader throat. I couldn’t properly understand Englsih yet but the school system didn’t seem to care. All they wanted to do was force the Spanish out of me as soon as they could, no matter how hard I struggled. Sooner or later English made itself my first language again and Spanish became a thing of the past.
Being thrown into a classroom with no one but a little girl to help me understand what was going on sure wasn’t easy. Understanding a language I forgot without help at my age was hard to say the least. It was a mission getting me to understand the books that were read to us during reading time, and it was a mission getting me to participate when my friend was the one translating what the teacher was saying to me. I couldn’t read what was on the board, I couldn’t answer the questions that were thrown at me. It was like I was a foreigner in my own city. It’s unbelievable how the school placed me into that classroom—knowing I only knew Spanish. While other Hispanic kids were placed in classes with Spanish teachers that helped them learn Englsih, I was struggling to learn in an all English class because I “didn’t look Hispanic enough” to need the help. Instead of helping me improve on my Spanish reading and writing while helping me learn English clearly wasn’t the school’s priority when it came to me. Other kids got the opportunity to expand on both their English and Spanish, I was stuck in a classroom that only had room for the English language. Forcing out my Spanish was harsh and cruel for a first grader, they only cared about making English the only language I spoke as they knowingly placed me in a classroom where no teacher spoke Spanish. But it worked. Soon enough I spoke less and less Spanish, since there was no need for me to speak it in an all English classroom.
Later on in middle school, I was placed into French class when I had asked for Spanish class. Their excuse was, “you already speak Spanish, it wouldn’t be fair to those who didn’t speak it. It’s better if you take French.”. This startled me, so what if I knew Spanish? I only knew how to speak it. I couldn’t properly read it or write it. This went on for the rest of my middle school years; same problem different school year. Each year they found a way to word their excuse differently. Highschool came and I gave up asking for Spanish class when I was French class on my schedule again. What was the point of asking if I knew their response? It got tiring, by then I had already used common sense to teach myself Spanish reading and writing. I was so fed up with the school’s excuses and I was tired of using their excuse not to better myself, I began to read my friends’ Spanish class work to not only help them, but to help myself. I used their work to learn and to help them learn as well. I taught while being taught. It was an extravagant experience to learn and help teach, it was so astounding. Now here I am in college, with the Spanish reading and writing skills I managed to teach myself through common sense and friends’ Spanish work. I may not be perfect in reading and writing, but I am confident with my skills.