Achieving Independence Through Language

Recently we used this blog space to begin a conversation about balancing the need to provide crucial services with the risk of creating dependency and complacency among the recipients of those free services. We want to ensure that through the services we provide, the Latino Leadership Council creates the independence, competency and pride necessary for community members to not only stand on their own two feet, but also lend a helping hand to those around them. That’s why I was so excited at our most recent community meeting, where students from our English as a Second Language (ESL) class attended to share with us their personal stories and show us how the free classes we offer have changed their lives.

We’ve written about the ESL classes before, so I won’t go into much detail on them in this post. Instead, I want to share some of the testimonials the half-dozen students who presented at the meeting shared with us and write a little about how this exemplifies what we’re trying to achieve with all our services and what we’re challenging other organizations to strive toward.

Latino Leadership Council ESL students

Students from the Latino Leadership Council’s ESL class pose for a picture.

One of the first ladies who spoke summed it up for me in a couple of sentences, spoken in English: “I feel sure about myself now. I don’t need my son for translations. I can make my own doctor’s appointment and I can help my daughter with her homework.” To me, that was an incredible testimonial that touched on so many issues our community is facing and the LLC is working on.

First was her sense of pride and independence. She felt sure about herself, like she could stand on her own, be proud, independent and self-assured.

More importantly, it addressed another big issue we’ve touched on in this blog, the use of children as interpreters. Putting children in that position forces them to grow up too fast, deal with issues and concerns no child should face and inverts the power dynamic between parents and kids, placing the child in the position of power. This leads to a myriad of social and behavioral issues that plague our community. By learning English, this lady was able to end her dependence on her child as an interpreter, becoming more independent and allowing her son to be a kid and lead a healthier, better life.

She also expressed her ability to integrate and interact with the world around her. One of the things we do at the LLC is help our community navigate and interact with the services they need, such as helping them understand the medical system and make medical appointment. This lady no longer needs us for that. For us, that is great! She’s doing it on her own. And not only that, but she can now interact with other elements of society—schools, banks, work, government, etc. She’s no longer isolated, but in instead an engaged member of the community and society.

And that was just a few sentences from one of the participants. Her story was echoed amongst the other participants.And the benefits don’t end with her. With her new ability, she’s becoming engaged in her daughter’s education and helping her with homework, ensuring that her daughter will also have a better life and setting off a multigenerational effect that will help lift this community.

We heard another lady say, “If we’re in this country, it’s our responsibility to learn the language. I don’t like using my kids as translators at the store. I always think that the best way to teach our kids is by example…‘Look, I’m studying hard at school so should you.’  And it also helps me help them with school.”

Learning English has also helped this group set higher goals for themselves. A number of participants shared about promotions they’ve received at their jobs due to their enhanced English skills. We heard from a lady who studied in Mexico to be a nurse. Without the ability to speak English, she had no way to use her skills and knowledge here. Now, she’s determined to go to Sierra College to study and employ her skills here. With a nursing shortage in California, we all benefit from her success.

Programs like these, that not only help the individual, but also provide skills so that they can help themselves in the future, are exactly the type of programs our community needs. They create ripples in the fabric of society that yield positive results for generations to come. I encourage all service providers to review their services and, as much as possible, incorporate ways to help service recipients no longer need that service.

After all, the best thing we can do for our community is work ourselves out of a job.

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