for release Friday June 20, 2003
by Melodie Davis
When Things Aren't What They Seem
To look at her-a harried young Hispanic woman with seven children flocking about her, demanding her attention, hands and arms filled to overflowing, you would think: well why don't they learn to use birth control or something. Why do they come to this country and take our jobs? Why don't they learn English? These are the questions that many people have when they take a casual glance at the way our communities have changed in the last 20 years.
I enjoyed an hour's conversation with a young woman recently at our church's clothes closet and had some of my stereotypes come crashing down. Maria (not her real name) grew up in South Texas, so her parents had immigrated long ago, and she knows English better than Spanish. In fact, she said when she hears other Spanish people talking really fast, she has to say "what?" or ask them to slow down because she can't catch all that they are saying.
And all the children? Well, they aren't all hers, at least not by birth. But she has opened her heart and life to the children birthed by about four different women-drug addicts and prostitutes who had one night stand type relationships with the man Maria eventually married-who didn't disclose all his children until after they were married! She said it was kind of like he one day told her, "Uh, I have these children, will you be their mother?"
"What was I gonna do then? Divorce him?" she asked. Maria is only 25, and the three children they have had together have melded into one big (mostly happy) family. "Oh I get frustrated and complain when they don't do what I tell them, but then if they land in the hospital, I'm in there crying over them like they were my own. Well, they are my own, but you know," she explained.
The morning I talked with her she had gotten off her all night shift at the poultry plant and desperately needed sleep. "I was eating breakfast and my husband was like, come on, let's go to the clothes closet, and I will take the children." Her birthday was going to be the next day so I hope he was taking the children to find a birthday present for her. We talked of her church. "I would rather go to an English speaking service, but my husband, he wants Spanish," she said, which is an increasing dilemma for Hispanic families after they've been in the U.S. awhile. The children learn English and of course want to associate with English and distance themselves, sometimes, from things Spanish. And speaking of learning English, imagine yourself trying to master another language at the age of 30, 40, 50 or more. It is very difficult, especially if there is no money or time for English lessons. You pick up what you can on the fly, and bumble by. Which is frustrating for everyone.
In some ways it is probably easier for people of other language groups to learn English once they are in the U.S., because they have to, to survive. The Spanish-speaking group is so large that it ironically puts the Spanish at a disadvantage with less incentive to have to learn English to survive. I think in a generation or two the younger folks will all know English and this very difficult phase of incorporating folks who don't know the language of the country they're living in, will pass.
I so enjoyed my conversation with this young woman. Her husband was about 20 minutes late picking her up, and I told her my husband is often late picking me up from the clothes closet. It was like two mothers sharing their common experiences.
Some things stay the same, no matter what culture.
For more on needs/issues of immigrants, go to www.thirdway.com/btn/immigration
Write to: Melodie Davis, Another Way c/o Name\Address of YOUR newspaper; or e-mail: Melodie@mennomedia.org.
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Melodie Davis is the author of seven books and has written her column since 1987. She taught feature writing and has won awards from the National Federation of Press Women, Virginia Press Women and the American Advertising Association. She and her husband have three daughters.
NOTES TO EDITORS: text = 637 words; end material = 105 words
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©2003 by Globe Syndicate, all rights reserved.
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