A good fight
You know how it is with marriage; sometimes we win the fights and sometimes we lose them but they (the fights) keep coming, undaunted and persistent, like the waves of the sea. One of the best fights I've ever had with my husband (best because I won it) was the decision to enroll our children in Puesta del Sol elementary school. Here is why:
The scene was like this: we lived in the city of Tacoma, a city that is reputed to smell of armpit of the Northwest, in a neighborhood of "get me outta here". My neighbors were drug addicts and prostitutes so the children could not go out alone even to our garden. There, in that fenced yard, I spent hours shivering with cold under the relentless rain of these parts, watching the boys get muddy with their dog and chickens (their pets). My husband spent long hours at work while I did my best to raise the boys will all the wisdom of a twenty three year old with no family, no friends, no car and no internet (hard to believe!).
One day, someone told me that the school district of the city of Bellevue had began a pilot program of Spanish immersion. The teachers would impart the same curriculum as all other public schools, only in Spanish. I was very excited to hear such news. Since my children were born, I spoke to them in Spanish; it was important to me that they learn my language and could communicate with my family in Mexico. It was also important that my husband learned Spanish but that fight I had lost from the start.
I pulled out a map and quickly looked for the city of Bellevue. I saw with dismay that it was an hour away from Tacoma. It would not be easy to convince my husband. I thought the matter over and decided to talk to him, nonetheless. That same evening I broached the subject, exposing all the advantages of a small school immersion. He flatly refused, not only because of the distance but also because he did not want us participating in an "experiment" of the Bellevue district. His sons were not guinea pigs, he argued. Nor could we move so far from his work. The fight that ensued was the magnitude of a tsunami.
Life is full of surprises and in this case the big surprise was an unexpected ally: my mother in law. I never imagined that she, being English (from royal blood, according to her) would end up convincing her son to move to Bellevue. Her intention was not to support me; she never liked that I spoke Spanish to the boys, much less in front of her. Rather, wanted us to move close to her so we could take care of her in her old age (which is exactly what we did). I don’t blame her; I also want to live near my children in my old age. In the end she convinced my husband and so we moved to the city of Bellevue.
I was happy. We finally lived in a neighborhood where the boys could play ball or ride their tricycles outside, without me worrying about their safety. My neighbors were nice people who insisted that their children greet and give thanks. My only disappointment was that they would not send their children to Puesta del Sol. They were afraid that their children would not learn English well and that this deficiency would affect their enrollment in college. I, who was coming from Mexico where bilingual schools abound, never understood this fear. How could they not learn good English when it was their paren't native tongue and the one spoken in their environment?
Fortunately there were other families with more foresight who seized the opportunity and ran to enroll their children in the immersion program. And so it was that in 1986 our oldest son, Nicholas, started kindergarten. The following year he was followed his brother Manolo.
The program was a "pilot" endeavor and as such had its shortcomings: few teachers, textbooks and volunteers who spoke Spanish and could help. I did what I could: translated books, reports, and tasks; I attended in classrooms and helped in the process of recruiting staff. The school soon improved and the children began to acquire the language, as if it were their second tongue. That magic, the speed with which they learned, never ceased to amaze me.
Our sons grew up and when I turned around, they graduated! Their bilingualism was an asset when applying to college. Today Nicholas is a family doctor and Manolo works for Google in the finance department. Both are successful professionals who, with the support of their wives, are raisins my grandchildren bilingually.
Earlier this year I received an invitation to teach writing workshops in Spanish at Puesta del Sol. I accepted gladly. I was very curious to see the schoolhouse after thirty years. I had heard that the program was a hit with five rooms for each class all the way to high school! Enrollment demand is such that the student selection is done by lottery. The waiting list is long.
When I arrived at the schoolhouse, the first day of class, I was filled with nostalgia. There it was…the same building, the same label, the same classrooms and the same childish voices, echoing through the corridors. I was immediately transported back in time and I could see my chimuelos (missing teeth) sons, running with their backpacks to catch the bus. Later, when I read my stories to those freckled faces and heard the poems that they wrote in their beautiful Spanish, I almost cried. During lunch I stole the embrace of a woman who was my sons second grade teacher. She is still there giving her love and talent to our students. That hug said it all. Oh, what turns life makes!
Recently the eldest of my grandchildren, Lucas, complained to my husband: "Grandpa, it is not fair that Abue (me) learned your language and you have not learned her language." My husband quickly replied. "Si entiende ... un piquito." I smiled. It feels good to have another ally to defend me! In truth, at my age, I don’t enjoy fighting but I do recognize that some fights are worth the battle.