America @237 Jul03


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America @237

For those who do not know, I volunteer to teach ESL and have done so for almost five years now. It started in Roselle, moved to Roselle Park, and now has expanded to Elizabeth.

Tonight at class we started having our dialogue section where people have conversations. It was in question/answer style with questions such as “Where are you from?” “When did you come to America?” and a student inadvertently misheard a question and answered what he liked about America.

So we asked the question around the room. People came up with answers such as work, pay, order, safety, variety, choices . . . It basically came down to one word – opportunity. The opportunity to make good money, the opportunity to go where you want to, the opportunity to find a job, the opportunity to buy what you want, to live where you want; all the opportunities we, Americans, sometimes take for granted.

In class there is a man who is in his mid-70s who has a broken hearing aid and can speak English minimally, but he still comes. There is a young man from Japan who was born in Peru and is here for only three months but still wants to improve in speaking English. There is a young woman who is starting a new job tomorrow and needs to brush up on her communication skills so she can use it for her job. There is a mother who wants to learn English to help her children before school starts again.

All these people want to learn a language we take for granted and see things in America that we take for granted. People who come from a country where they wait up to three hours for the police to show up, if they ever do. People who come from a country where you are guilty until proven innocent – where unemployment is at 30% – where people live on $2,400 a year for work – where people can protest in the streets and not have it result in the deaths of a dozen people.

I am not one to be a flag-waving, chest-thumping, American, but I am an American nonetheless. And today I am a little prouder – a little more grateful – that this wonderful country is where I was blessed enough to be born and have enough opportunity, freedom, resources, and – quite honestly – money to be able to help. And seeing people from countries who get arrested or even killed for speaking out against their government, it reminds me that we can speak against our government, even if it means suffering a few inconveniences with our time or privileges.

Happy Birthday to us.