students step to the head of the class
By Marcela Flores Iga
of McCarthy’s students are Colombians, many of whom
fled to this country to escape a civil war in which thousands of
civilians have died at the hands of paramilitaries, guerillas and
the Colombian army. Their legal status in this country, however,
has prolonged their sense of uncertainty. Many refuse to disclose
detailed personal information their reasons for being here.
Expedito Moya reviews his assignment before going to the
front to read it out loud.
Everyone calls him the “presidente” of the class. “Yes,
I had to be under anesthesia when my parents gave me that name,” he
joked. He jokes all the time.
Moya, 51, came from Colombia with four daughters and his wife
three years ago. Two days after his arrival, he already had a
job, he proudly recalled.
He has been painting houses ever since.
All of his co-workers are Americans and that’s how he has
learned some phrases in English. But he still can’t speak
it fluently, though that hasn’t stopped him. He has managed
to communicate using single words or even signs.
He knows he had to learn English in order to compete
for a better position and a better pay. Nonetheless he is satisfied
he accomplished. “I have done well…at least I don’t
have a minimum-wage job,” he said.
For today’s assignment he was the first to go to the front.
He talked about his dream of visiting Paris, where he would go
watch the Grand Prix. “It is the most visited city in the
world,” he says. Every word comes out of his mouth with effort
and very carefully.
Gloria Escudero Montoya
Gloria Escudero Montoya (right), an architect from Colombia,
talks about her dream trip to Venice, where she hopes to see
architecture and the art one day.
Then it’s Gloria’s turn. She said she
would like to go to Venice. She spoke to the class about how
she longs to see
its architecture, its art and its culture.
Montoya was an architect in Colombia. Like everyone
else, she had to start from scratch when she first got here.
had much luck.
Her immigration status and her lack of English proficiency left
her with no choice but to settle for a clerk job at CVS. She is
not happy there but she has two children to take care of.
Montoya didn’t want to comment on her situation.
But she said she hopes the lessons help her score a better job.
“She’s been getting really good,” McCarthy
Martha E. Martinez
Martha is a new student today. She heard about the classes through
her good friend and coworker Adriana Jaramillo.
“I been living here for four years,” Martinez said. “This
is the first time I’m taking an English class…I had
to do something, I have seen many job opportunities pass me by.”
She also came from Colombia to try, she says, to open a door for
her daughters, 15 and 25, whom Martinez had to leave behind.
these years she has been working as a tailor in a small factory. “I
have learned to get through, learning short phrases, using signs,” she
said. “But I have had to settle down
with this job and I now want something else.”
the way, she married a Colombian man, also an immigrant to this
country. She still wants to fulfill her
dream of working
in a nice office. “I told my daughters I was going to learn
English…they want me to get a job as a secretary or in a
hospital …they say I deserve better.”
E. Martinez (right) sits behind her friend Adriana Jaramillo
Even with these great expectations, it is clear
in this first class that she is shy. That’s why she prefers
to sit in the back corner.
4. Adriana Jaramillo
Adriana, 33, followed her husband here from Colombia.
After two years of living in East Boston, her two daughters have
already learned perfect English. She is struggling.
Although she considers herself to be tireless,
her days aren’t
easy; she has to divide her time between her family and three jobs.
During the day, she works with Martha as a tailor. During the nights
she is a waitress in a small Colombian restaurant nearby. On weekends
she works independently at her house also as a tailor. Still, she
finds time to be at class every week.
“I had to run from the factory to get to class,” she
said, “And after class I will have to run to the restaurant … I
am so tired … but I don’t have time to rest. I have
a lot of work this weekend.”
Because of her hectic schedule, Jaramillo finds
it hard to concentrate and remember what she learned in class. “I know that by the
next week I won’t remember anything…Every week is like
the first class,” she said.
That why she asked Sgt. McCarthy to change the
program, and have class twice a week instead of once. “I think that way we
can make more progress,” she said. “And we can finish
the program in half the time.”
5. Maria Isabel Palacios and Maritza
Isabel Palacios comes to the
class because she wants
to be independent. “I have a great time in here,” she
said. “I just want to be able to fully enjoy it.”
Maria and her 12-year-old daughter Maritza also came from Colombia
three years ago. Their experience learning English has been totally
“I came to the class with my mom,” Maritza said, “I
already know English.”
She sits close by Maria, correcting her mother
every time she doesn’t pronounce a word correctly. When
necessary, she translates everything the teacher is saying.
This scene is common among immigrant families.
The children of immigrants, once they are removed from their
country and brought
to a new country, get involved in more adult roles because their
parents don’t speak English and they do. They become the
“Depending on each child’s character and personal
experience, either they feel very proud of their roots, are aware
of the sacrifice their parents did and try to excel, or on the
other hand they become vulnerable and feel intimidated or resentful…so
relationships inside the family are sometimes strained,” said
Xanty Necoechea, director of an after-school teen program at the
East Boston Social Centers.
McCarthy agrees. In many cases, the roles are inverted – the
child becomes the parent. “The kids end up making decision
and almost running the family,” he said, which relegates
the immigrant adult from fully adapting and participating into
Maritza (middle) participates in the class. Her mother
Maria Isabel Palacios, also a student, gives her positive
Maritza says she is proud of her mom and she is
happy Maria is learning English. “I know it’s difficult…I was
lucky because I was in a bilingual school back in Colombia, so
when we moved here and I started school I could learn fast,” Maritza
She likes to participate in the class to make her mom feel more
“You talk like an American teenager,” Sgt. McCarthy
told her, “Too fast.”