Here, There and Everywhere

Posts tagged ‘Spanish’

Cheapest Trip Ever!

It was on a gorgeous afternoon that I sat at an outside table of a local downtown coffee house and took an unexpected voyage around the world.

I had just put my derriere on a metal chair (made in Italy) and was waiting for my friend Betty (originally from Chicago) to join me with pictures of her recent trip, when the woman at the next table asked about the emblem on my shirt. I told her it was an Iranian National Soccer Team patch. She asked if I knew someone there and I said our family had an Iranian exchange student live with us for a year when I was growing up. She explained that she and her husband, who had just joined her, were fans of Majid Majidi and other Iranian filmmakers. She introduced herself, her husband and their child (Sylvie, Richard and Marcel), just as Betty sat down with her Guatemalan coffee.

Turns out that Sylvie and Richard (Oxman) put on a political/international and cultural event (including documentary films) which is called OneDance and includes filmmakers, educators and activists from around the world. They are also the proprietors of French Paintbox. Several times a year they organize retreats in the Southwest of France and meet participants from around the world. It doesn’t sound like your ordinary tour, as those on the trip have the opportunity to study and paint daily with master teachers’ such as Isabelle Maureau from l’Ecole Nationale Supérieure Des Beaux Arts De Paris. Sylvie said they also take daily excursions to botanical gardens, vineyards, museums, grottoes, country fairs, musical events, cafes, etc. She said it’s always a mixed group and you don’t have to be a painter to attend (thank goodness).

As their son Marcel, who looks like a miniature French movie star, came up to tell me that we both had on the same colored shirts (white), I thought about my wife’s French connections. I mentioned that my father-in-law spoke five languages and that he had lived in France for many years and that he and his wife (my mother-in-law) are originally from Germany. My friend Betty and her son both speak French, as does her husband (whose family goes back to Nova Scotia). Betty, obviously not thinking, asked if any of my children speak French. She should have known that that could send me on a long torrential downpour about my kids.

I looked down at my tennis shoes (made in China) and told them about my daughter, who traveled to Eastern Europe with her husband and how much they liked Italy, The Czech Republic and Turkey. Our other daughter was in Tahiti for three months, as part of her college studies. Two of our sons have been to and loved, Ireland and England and some of our best friends live in Sweden, I concluded, realizing I had never answered the question about speaking French. Sadly, I finally admitted, I don’t speak French or any other language, besides English, but both our daughters can speak Spanish, my wife German and youngest son took French for a year and a half in school. I’ve been trying to learn Kinyarwanda, which is spoken in much of East Africa (especially Rwanda), but still only know a few words.

After Sylvie, Richard and Marcel naturally tired from my monolingual linguistics, having heard all about my wife’s three-month trip to China, the Cameroon and French soccer teams and world politics, they politely said their au revoirs’. Betty was finally able to get a word in edgewise and told me about her trips to the East Coast, Nova Scotia and Nigeria.

About an hour later I walked past a World Bazaar retail store, paid my parking garage ticket (with American dollars), got in my Japanese car, turned on some Brazilian music and drove past Mexican, Sri Lankan, Thai, Indian and Afghani restaurants to my friend’s home on an Italian named street.

I’d only been at the restaurant for a couple of hours, but it seemed like I had traveled the globe. It was a pleasure meeting the Oxmans, hearing about French Paintbox and talking with Betty; but quite ironic that I, a stay-at-home American native, had felt like such a world citizen. For the price of an espresso (coffee from Nicaragua) it was definitely the cheapest trip I’ve ever taken!

America’s Backbone

Raphael and Enedina are true Americans. They have lived in California for most of their lives and raised five wonderful children, who are all excellent students or have graduated and are now working themselves. Raphael has labored long hours in the strawberry fields, picking the delicious fruit we take for granted in this part of the world. Enedina, in spite of numerous health problems, has worked at home raising the children.

This family is like countless others who have immigrated to this country, dug deep roots and made a better life for their children. They are also unlike most of us who were born here. In the midst of everything else they have done to survive, they have also been studying English and practicing to take their exams to become US citizens, which is not an easy task by any stretch of the imagination.

I can attest to the painful experience of trying to learn another language as an adult, let alone another country’s history and government. I took Spanish in High School. I took Spanish in College. I attended a class at the Santa Cruz Adult School. I listened to tapes and tried speaking with Spanish-speaking friends. All these attempts ended in dismal failure. Other than rudimentary Spanish, I still can not retain or speak the language.

Raphael and Enedina, on the other hand, not only continued working while studying English, but they also had to memorize and learn more about our country than any native-born American has ever had to do. Not knowing which questions would be asked on their citizenship exams, they had to learn the answers in English and Spanish to more than one-hundred and fifty questions (many with multiple answers, such as the Bill of Rights, The Pledge of Allegiance and the thirteen original colonies)!

How many of us (those who were born and raised in the US) know the answers to these questions? What does the red, white and blue stand for in the American flag? How old must one be to run for the US Senate? What can the Senate do that the House of Representatives cannot do? How many amendments do we now have in the Constitution? What is the Fourth Amendment? What is the Eighth Amendment? Name ten cabinet positions that advise the president. What is the purpose of the United Nations? What are the three ways that bills become laws?

Raphael and Enedina studied year after year for this exam and recently passed on their first attempt! They can now apply for federal jobs, petition for relatives to join them in the U.S. and most importantly, vote. They will now have a say in the country they have made their home, in the country in which they have lived, worked and paid taxes for decades.

Their presence has made this country a better nation. Their presence and accomplishments should inspire us all. They are true Americans. Americans who deeply understand our democratic republic and the constant vigilance and hard work required to keep it a land of freedom and opportunity. They know what it truly takes to be an American citizen.

If you would like to help other hard working individuals and families learn English and/or study for citizenship, contact your local literacy program. Along with Native Americans, immigrants are the backbone that keeps America standing.

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