By Judy Mesias
Picture this: 6 girls trying to rush and get ready for school in the morning. Most mornings I would rush to wake up first and use the shower first. We had two bathrooms, but one was always occupied by my dad every morning as he got ready for work, so I tried to beat everyone else because if not we would run out of hot water. There were times you can hear my mom from the kitchen screaming “levantense que van a llegar tarde para la escuela.” Me and Kassy- one of my sisters, blonde curly hair, she reminds me so much of Goldy Locks, we shared a room, beds side by side, posters all over the painted walls, one was pink and the other one lavender. We shared a closet as well most times she was using my clothes. We always fought about that. You can hear us across the house screaming early in the morning “Mama!!!!!! Cana me a cojido mi polo que me iba poner!” “Cana regresale su polo a tu hermana y alistesen.” “Ustedes siempre estan peliando, van a llegar tarde para la escuela.” “Mama estoy lista me estoy poniendo crema y bajo para desayunar.” “Mami que has hecho huele bien rico?” “Le estoy hacienda huevo frito con panqueques. Y café para tu papa.” You can smell the coffee roasting, pancakes, eggs it was like a feast every morning. Mom would say “el desayuno por la manana es lo mas importante.” I’d run down the stairs skipping two or three steps to beat my sister downstairs. “Hola Mami!” Como te levantaste hoy?” “Hay nena con un poco de dolor pero tengo que hacerlo para ustedes por que quien mas lo va hacer?” “Gracias, mami I love you.” To help mom out a little I would pour daddy a cup of coffee with azucar y crema. My mom and dad spoke little English, so it was hard for them to teach us all how to speak or even read and write in English plus learn Spanish.
Mommy and daddy grew up in Puerto Rico, where hardly anyone in that time spoke English much. So, my older sister, Lorraine, took the big role into helping us the younger ones to learn how to read and write English. A lot of the times it would be frustrating to me due to me being so young and not understanding the fact that to live here in the US, I needed to know Ingles in order to be able to communicate with others, or basically to do anything.
The summer before first grade, my older sister Lorraine would get ready for us every morning. Lorraine is short, with curly hair and a firm voice. I knew when she was walking into the room. You can smell her perfume from a mile away. It smelt like cherry blossom with a little peach to it. Lorraine reminds me so much of my mom. They looked so much alike except Lorraine wore glasses and mom didn’t. In the morning she would say “Girls, levantensen, la primera que me diga un cuento en ingles le doy una sorpresa.” we all wanted a surprise so we would finish getting ready run down to the dining room and Lorraine would be sitting there waiting for us with donuts. Here I said with my strong accent trying to tell a story about how my day went yesterday, “Yesterday we go to the park, and rode our bikes together, I love my sisters, we have fun all the time.” Lorraine smirked with her beautiful round eyes and said “Judy, you’re getting better at this. Next time it’s ‘Yesterday we went to the park, and rode our bikes together, I love my sisters, we always have fun.’” She was proud of me because all the hard work I put into learning how to read write and speaking English. Finally I was coming out of my shell and speaking more English than ever before. School was starting soon, and my nerves started to rile up because of the fear of not being able to speak properly or even read like most other students. Deep down in me, I could feel that shy person, but I knew that I could do it.
The school year was approaching, and I was heading into first grade. I could see my teacher, Mrs. Pollack, tall slinky like with black short curly hair, geeky glasses, she would always wear a blouse with a skirt and stockings, and slip-on shoes. She had a smile that would light up the room. She was soft spoken. She would wait for her students by the door every morning and greet us with a big smile saying “Good Morning, today is Monday. Today is a good day to learn.” The classroom walls were filled with posters the alphabet, colors shapes and numbers, a big black chalkboard, and the teacher’s big desk. In the middle of the class, you see all the students’ desks lined up in rows and columns. It was so cold in there due to the AC system, and I was as nervous as ever. I did excellent in math, but I struggled a lot with my reading and writing due to English being my second language. Throughout the year Mrs. Pollack would give me extra assignments to help me with my reading and writing. Some days I would stay after school. We would read books like Corduroy, or even A Bad Case of Stripes. She was such a sweet teacher, and I knew she could feel for me as she knew what it felt like be the girl who had an accent or couldn’t read properly. It was getting close to the school year ending and I was happy because summer was coming up and I didn’t have to deal with any homework anymore or reading to be specific. One day she wanted to have a meeting with my parents to discuss me falling behind in class. I knew I wasn’t at level, but it didn’t cross my mind that I was so behind in class. The day of the meeting came. My older sister Lorraine came with my parents to translate. I stood outside the classroom. I didn’t want to know what was going on in there. Here and then, I would peak through the small glass window on the door to see all of their facial expressions. I could see my dad serious as ever. I could feel the sweat running down my neck making my long curly hair stick to it, hands sweaty not knowing what she was saying to my parents. I peaked again and I see Mrs. Pollack smiling. I put my head against to listen a little I could hear my teacher say “I know Judy is a very bright student and I want Judy to excel and become a little better with her reading and writing. I recommend that you keep her back and she can join the ESL classes so she can get the extra help she needs to help her reach her grade level.” My eyes filled with tears because I didn’t want to repeat another year in first grade, and I sure didn’t want to lose my friends. But for my betterment and to help me exceed my parents agreed. I had no choice to be the girl who stayed back.
Schools out and all the kids are outside enjoying their summer. I decided this summer I’m going to focus on my reading and writing. I had my mom buy me books to read and practice books. I did the practice books two to three times a week because I wanted to enjoy my summer too. We did a lot of traveling that summer as well, but mostly just to visit grandma up in Philadelphia. Grandma just spoke Spanish so I would bother her with speaking to her in English and she would try to respond a little. We both would end up cracking up about our accents. But this helped me out a lot. I got to practice all summer long to get ready for the school year.
As the new year started, I made new friends, friends that took ESL classes with me. We all got close as everyone in school called us special. As time went by, I started to realize this was a special class but a class that was going to help me get to where I needed to be. As I got home my mom would say “como te fue en la escuela hoy?” I would respond to her “mom real good guess what I’m learning, to pronounce better and read more without fear.” Mami says to me “nena hablame en español que no te entiendo.” That’s when I knew and realized that being a part of the ESL classes I was going to reach my goal one way or another. But oh boy it was difficult being pulled from the entire class and some classmates making fun of you or even questioning, why do they get extra time on test? I remember one day this girl named Genesis said, “Mrs. Pollack why does Judy and Francheska leave the room every time we going to take the test?” “Genesis, they leave the room just because they need a little extra time to do their exams. They are learning a new language as English isn’t their primary language spoken at home.” As the year went on my English was so much better, I was reading on level and writing better than before. Mrs. Pollack was so proud of me and my hard work. It took me two years in first grade to get on level, but I did it. I was going to second grade with all my friends and my best friend Francheska.
As time went by my English just got better and better. I felt like I didn’t need to be in ESL classes anymore, but me my friends were so tight we didn’t mind being pulled from classes to take exams apart from the rest of the class. It was like a group of friends that were inseparable. We did everything together. We’d go on movie dates together, mall trips, sleepovers and birthday parties. My parents by that time learned more English, not perfect but they understood more and spoke more but not as good as I got. My English was getting much more proficient that I was forgetting some Spanish words and losing my accent as I got older. It was so weird because I would now mix up my Spanish words and my mom would say “Judy, que esta pasando ya te estas olvidando, hablar español?” I would laugh and say, “no mom it’s just confusing sometimes.”
Years went by and high school was approaching. My English was better than before. You wouldn’t even know that I was the young girl who had an accent and struggled with English. In my freshman year I took some sort of test that would let me know if I was on grade level and if I still needed to take ESL classes. I could feel that young girl with the accent still in me nervous as ever. Taking the exam in my head I pictured Mrs. Pollack and Lorraine just watching me over my shoulder, they both cheering me on “you got this you have made it this far,” as I’m clicking through my exam, I felt this chill down my spine approaching the end of the exam and hearing the clock tick as loud as ever. I reached the final question, time to submit my exam. I submitted my exam and put my head down not wanting to see what the result was, as I look back up, I see the word PASS. Instantly I felt this joy overcome my body, tears running down my face. I did it.
One of the proudest moments of my life. Now that I look back and think I’m very proud of myself for all the hard work and dedication I put into my learning. I look back and see all my accomplishments, and without the help of my sister and Mrs. Pollack, I wouldn’t reach these goals. That’s why they say things happen for a reason and if it wasn’t for Mrs. Pollack having that meeting with my parents and me putting dedication into learning English, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I look at this as a life lesson and it gives me pride to say that I know two languages and very well.
Course: ENG 095 Basic Writing and Reading Strategies
Assignment: Literacy Narrative
Instructor: Alexa Carey
Photo Credit: “Essential Questions” by banlon1964 (Creative Commons License)