My ESL Experience Helped Define Me

English has always been an interesting language. The language that invaded our ancestors homeland, and now it invades our everyday existence all over the globe. I found it hard to understand the importance of knowing one language than the other. See, I was born and raised in a Spanish only speaking home. Although my siblings rebelled and watched Beverly Hills 90210 or Saved by the Bell and enjoyed music from the classics of Journey, Chicago, and Air Supply, our mother made sure we didn’t speak English around her at home.

As in most cases in immigrant families’ homes, my journey through education really shaped my activist work. Maybe it was all a blessing in disguise, or maybe it’s all part of our understanding our place in this world. All in all my journey began as a late bird in my kindergarten class. As a four year old, you would think that 24 years later you wouldn’t remember about what it was like to be treated as a second class human or a subhuman, but luckily for me my memory serves me well.

I remember clearly being placed in a class with other kids that only spoke Spanish. We would start school around 9:45 AM. That was almost 2 hours later than the “early birds.” The gates were sometimes closed, and we would have to jump the fence to get into class. I remember my mom trying to help me get up the fence and somehow I remember clearly hearing a teacher saying, “Oh they should be used to it.”

Although that moment still lingers in my mind, I found myself thinking of one specific moment, it was Halloween, and there is always a parade at school for children to participate. My mom had dressed me up as a very creative looking clown and my neighbor, who was also in the “late birds” went dressed up as Simba. When we arrived, our teacher looked concerned, because the parade was in the morning, during the early bird class, so they were the only ones allowed to participate. My mom and my neighbors’ mom both made their discontent visible and made the teacher uncomfortable to a point that she allowed my neighbor and I to participate in the parade. My mother was so upset, and she knew that it was unfair to limit participation to the early bird class. Although those little incidents shouldn’t really bother me, they do. My overall journey through ESL was defined by little moments like these of being reminded that I was different.

I excelled in math and so I was placed in a “normal” class (non ESL) for first grade. However, I moved, and my ESL journey continued. Although I was in classes with only English speakers, I was often tested to see if I had improved. Although I believed that I could speak English well, I knew it was hard for me to write it out, and I had a tough accent to top it all off. Needless to say, my abilities to speak English better than I wrote it was a lot thanks to Celine Dion and Savage Garden, and let’s not forget the classics like Madonna and Journey. I can’t forget Avril Levigne either. These musical talents were influential to my everyday life. Their music and lyrics were easy to understand, and I loved singing my lungs out everyday listening to my favorite radio station, KOST 103.5 FM.

Being in ESL defined me in ways that I never thought meant anything of significance. However, That was not the case, as I got older and realized that being in ESL had played a big role in the work that I do. It wasn’t until my senior year of high school, after being captain of the debate team, mock trial team, that my coach gave me an award and in her speech she said to me, “ I am so proud of you and the overall improvement you made. Your accent is almost gone.” I was left in shock because in my mind, I didn’t think my accent made me different. I didn’t think that all those times my teacher would make me repeat things meant she didn’t understand me. I was a state champion for various debate competitions, and recipient of various speaking scholarships.

I never let my accent and ESL experience define me because I knew that I was going to achieve my dreams. All these experiences made me stronger and made me value my culture and my excellent ability to speak two languages.

My message is clear. For those of us who can speak two languages fluently and have an accent, we are amazing!

Being able to think and speak within a second in two different languages is what makes us powerful and unique. I am proud to have been an ESL student. It made me stronger and in many ways more competitive. I knew I needed to work extra hard because life was not going to hand things to me.

If you are in ESL now, don’t you worry. It is within you to value the skill that you have. It is within you to strive to master the language. You will be able to succeed in this day and age. When you hear that this is America and you should only speak English, in all honesty, they are just afraid that you can communicate with a whole other universe that they never will engage. Join the debate team, join the school’s radio team, and don’t let your accent hold you back!

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Jocelyn Sida

Jocelyn Sida

Jocelyn Sida, is the State Director for Mi Familia Vota- Nevada. She is originally from Los Angeles, CA. Jocelyn Sida graduated with her BA in Political Science and International Relations as well as Immigration Law. Jocelyn participated in her campus radio as she hosted the only Spanish radio show in northern Wisconsin. Her passion for civic engagement developed as she became the only Latina to be a part of the Rock the Vote project Rock the Trail in 2008.

Since then, Jocelyn has worked around the country in numerous campaigns. From her own bid for the school board in Fontana, CA , a town about 45 minutes east of Los Angeles in 2012, Jocelyn and her family worked tirelessly to promote environmental learning, community sustainability and liberal arts education. An effort to promote civic engagement and inspire the community to fight for education equality, immigration and healthcare through their vote, Jocelyn challenged incumbents in a tight race for the school board seat. Out of 11 candidates Jocelyn came in 4th with 5,697 votes. With an incredible showing for a grassroots campaign, Jocelyn’s political career progressed.

From Hawaii to New York, Miami to Chicago, and Los Angeles to Las Vegas, Jocelyn has worked in the Latino community to engage and organize the community in areas of technology, politics, health care, gender equality, reproductive rights issues, and immigration. Jocelyn continues work in diverse communities. She currently lives in Las Vegas, NV.

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