Crossword puzzles with the foreigners is always an unsettling experience to endure. The burden lies not in the volunteerism; I love communicating in various ways with Olena and Dawud and Xóchi and Hanh (who never stops smiling). At the Adult Literacy Center in my hometown, we focus on ESL training on Tuesdays and Thursdays, assigning English workbooks and diagramming Elvis lyrics to pillage the students' cultures and decimate their beings.
These disparate souls convene semi-weekly, a lá Breakfast Club, to assimilate. They are told to practice English at home; to turn off their telenovelas and their Ekvator FM (transmitted Ukrainian radio) and listen to American programming.
I fear that this English is not good enough. It is not their culture. It is not my culture (my own Ghanaian name stumbling over the tongues of substitute teachers and job markets alike). It is loss, societal thievery in the slyest manner. It is hard to tell them that this America, this marvelous nation, isn’t faultless. It is like unveiling Oz, exposing the shames of reality to the innocent.
For they are beautiful as they whisper sounds of their homelands, mellifluous melodies that are sometimes brash, sometimes sweet. With no reservation, they paint their childhoods filled with fears of the legendary Chupacabra and the Nachtkrapp; with tales of ruthless endeavors in getting sugarcane candies like Los Tubos and Moreliano; with belly-filled laughter and animated cries and lively, no, vivacious shouts! They speak their heritage through short stories of the nippy sea (too fría to enjoy), and of the people back home (too many to remember). They uplift their beings with every blessing that they gift this world, with every life that they captivate.
I sit them down over English crossword puzzles.
“No!” they cry. They have a duty to this nation, a fierce love for this America, even when this America doesn’t (always) love back.
I don’t like this “need” to teach “literacy” to the already literate souls. Their literacy is empyrean, transcendent above all notions that this Standard American English is the benchmark for culture. I know that they are self-literate, human-learned.
But I cannot volunteer for myself; I volunteer for Olena, Dawud, Xóchi, and Hanh (who never stops smiling).
I volunteer for their formidable duty.
I prayed over this Listserve, you know. I prayed that if I were ever given the opportunity to raise a platform for any issue or any cause near to me, my God would give me the words to speak.
These are my words.
Please feel free to reach out to me at any time concerning the ugly necessity of English literacy (above all other forms and mechanisms of language) in this world. Please feel free to reach out to me at any time concerning any aspect of faith or religion or theology. I think that you’re never supposed to indulge in religion and/or politics in public forums, but when I’ve been given the chance to experience life fully convinced that someone hangs the sun in the sky every new day and draws breath into my lungs with every passing moment, I like to do life on the wild side and live like I'm saved.
Akua (uh-kwee-yah) Owusu
St. Louis, MO