Pilsen is a vibrant Latino community on the southwest side of Chicago, Illinois. Spanish is the first language of the majority of the inhabitants of Pilsen, but because they are living in the United States and looking for employment, learning English becomes more and more of a necessity. Seven other Creighton students and I spent most of the week helping Latino adults practice their English in the morning and then helping out at an after-school program later in the day.
One of many special moments for me in this community occurred one afternoon at the after-school program. I was working with 3rd and 4th graders. The four students sitting by me were working on homework, and none of them needed my help at the moment. Instead of just sitting there, I decided I would read one of the picture books in the classroom, and this particular book happened to be in all Spanish. I thought it would be good to practice my Spanish while I was immersed in a predominately Spanish-speaking area.
I’ve only studied Spanish for one and a half semesters, so honestly, my Spanish is pretty much non-existent. I can only pick out certain words here and there. Fully aware of this, I opened the book to the first page and realized I didn’t know what half the words on the page meant. I tried to figure out the meanings of these words using the other words I could translate, but I just got more frustrated as the minutes passed. I then proceeded to bother the eight-year-old sitting next to me, asking “Qué es [insert unknown Spanish word here]?” every five seconds in order to try to understand what the other words meant in English. I needed an eight-year-old’s help to read one page of a picture book. I felt frustrated in the fact that I could not get though a page in a children’s book using my own knowledge of Spanish.
I thought back to the adults we were tutoring that morning, and for the first time felt what it was like to be in their shoes. It is certainly hard and frustrating to learn a foreign language as an adult. I can’t imagine how frustrated they feel outside of the Pilsen community, where speaking English is the only option.
Out of all the memorable moments on my trip, I feel particularly blessed and lucky to have experienced this one. I was fortunate enough to feel that connection to the community, to the people I was serving, in that moment. In that moment, I experienced the pillar of solidarity, and it was an experience I will never forget.
Host Site: Pilsen, Chicago
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