Embracing the Dream
“Achievement seems to be connected with action. Successful men and women keep moving. They make mistakes, but they don’t quit.”
“I feel so alone. I am not smart. Home is here in Mexico where my parents are raising six of us children in a one-room house. What a joke! House? This is more like a shack! Only pieces of boards nailed together serve as walls. There is no running water and no electricity. An old burlap sack serves as the door. My only hope is that one day I will not have to live like this and can find a better life – one without fighting, poverty and constant turmoil.”
These words were taken from a student in my adult EL Civics class – a class which focuses on the beginning level English language and American history. It has been a pleasure teaching her and realizing that she has been a positive contribution to our class. She has shared her difficult experiences, the strengths she has acquired from hardships and the hope that has been planted in her mind. For confidentiality purposes, her name has been changed to Rosa.
Rosa grew up destitute in Mexico, one of six children and the product of a broken home which ended in divorce when she was ten. Her father was away from the family the majority of the time because of his job in construction. When he was home, he offered no emotional support. Likewise her mom offered little comfort because she was always tired from working day and night cleaning rich folk’s homes and bringing in meager amounts of money just to feed her children. Watching her mom struggle, Rosa quit school with no solid academic skills when she was in the sixth grade and worked side-by-side with her mopping floors, washing clothes, and cooking meals.
Entertainment? There was none for Rosa and her brothers and sisters. Playing meant losing valuable time when she could be cleaning someone’s house and making money.
At 14 she became engaged to a young man and at fifteen had their first child followed by two more children by age eighteen. She found her life had made a turn for the better when she and her husband moved into their own house much like the one she remembered as a child – one room with no electricity and no running water. It wasn’t great, yet was away from the past life she remembered as deplorable.
Rosa’s hopes and dreams were short-lived when, within a couple of years, she received some sad news: her husband had been killed in a motorcycle accident. “I was left with three kids, no job and no way to support them,” she recalled. Her house cleaning skills were all that she knew, and at $15.00 a week, her future looked dismal.
Some years later, Rosa met an American man who believed strongly in her dreams of having a better life; not to mention, he adored her three children. They married and faced the language challenge: her new husband knew absolutely no Spanish, and of course, that was her only language. In time, she became a permanent resident. She began English classes and sometime later, she applied for the citizenship test. Her dream was to become a part of the American society, contributing to it rather than taking from it.
With poor reading skills, Rosa avidly put forth extra effort studying American history and the English language. Her legitimate fears of repeating her past prompted her to do everything she could to prepare for the test and succeed. She listened to the radio and watched television in English. She read the newspaper as much as possible and listened attentively in grocery stores, malls, church and everywhere she could to conversations in English. In our EL Civics class, she took careful notes, asked questions and was always willing to offer her homework for critical review by her classmates. Committed, she was willing to go beyond any self-doubt to achieve her dream and in February 2009 she did just that – Rosa passed her citizenship test!
Her confident smile and the air of pride in her walk was proof of her success one evening when she came to class. Her new certificate of American citizenship was the highlight that night. She passed it around to other students who were inspired by her. In fact, her success seemed to catapult other students to a new, positive dimension of learning.
Rosa always had a vision of becoming a better person, mother and wife as well as a vision of providing her children with opportunities that she did not have in Mexico. She believed that her adverse past was her biggest inspiration – she knew exactly what she did not want and willingly embraced any opportunity to rise above it.
She has told the students in our class, “If I can pass the test, you can, too!” Today, she has helped others by sharing her dream and reassured them that if they have not found a dream, to find one and believe in it.
As her teacher, I have been able to be a part of Rosa’s goal and witness a miracle. She has exemplified a personal belief: why have just a plain rose, when you can water it, care for it, cherish it and experience a beautiful red velvet rose unfold and bloom into its highest potential. Embracing the dream, Rosa is that rose!
About the Author
Dinah Sherrill, M.Ed., is a bilingual instructor of 28 years. She currently teaches both bilingual adults and elementary students in the Birdville Independent School District in Fort Worth, Texas.