For the past week, Front & Center has explored the problem of low-literacy and how it starts in the schools and at home. Before we turn our attention to the ways low-literacy impacts adults in the workforce, we’re exploring the immigrant experience of learning to read, write and speak in English.
BEATRIZ: My name is Beatriz Cruz. Everybody calls me Bea. We are from Brownsville Texas, right across the border from Mexico. I was born in Mexico but I am a naturalized citizen now. And we started migrating here when I was 8 years old. And we traveled all over Michigan working in the fields and we settled here when I was 11. My mom, she went up to the 6th grade, so she can read or write. My dad is 81, so to my parents they said the kids know English, they are bilingual, so we don’t need to know. So they have that mindset that thinking “we don’t need to learn English the kids know English, that’s all we need.”
So I got offered the job to work for parenting communities out of Leland from the children’s center. It must have been going on 4 years now. I was a stay at home mom and I said, I’ll do it if I can take my kids with me.” And they said sure, we need someone to help out the migrant community, have somebody to advocate for them and I said sure, you know?
ANGELICA: Hello, my name is Angelica Ledesma. I always had the goal to do something in my life, like do the GED. Because I want to be a good example for my child. I feel so happy when they bring papers from school and I can read them and I can be involved in the school. I feel good when my oldest son asked me for help on math. Two years ago, he bring me all the papers and he asked me for help and I said, I don’t know. And I got frustrated and he got frustrated too because I wasn’t able to help him. But now it feels so good when I see his papers and I now I can help him.
MOISES: Hi my name is Moises Ledesma. To be honest, I never finished elementary school. I went like four or three years and then I came here. I start taking classes of English as a second language and then I got involved in this program to get my GED. It opens doors because, actually before going to that program, I went to look for a job and they asked for a diploma. And I said, I don’t have a diploma, but I’m hungry. Laughs. And then when I came with it, with the GED, I went over to look for a job at the same place, they gave me a form to fill out, I had a GED by then and they said, yeah, the job is yours.
There is a couple in the community who are very nice. They asked me to go to their house and they asked what my plans are for the future. We talked a little bit about that and how I felt about going back to school. And I said, if I could, I would love to go back to take some classes. And they offered to pay for that. And for someone to give you a great gift like an education, something that no one can take away from you. I started crying and I said Oh My Gosh. Who wouldn’t want a gift like that?