I wrote this one night a few months ago after a tutoring session with my ESL student. I wrote it completely unhinged and free, I immediately sat down when I got back to my apartment and I just let the words flow from my heart. I’ve been meaning to share it on the blog for awhile now, but for some reason I have been hesitant. Maybe it’s because it was just so close to my heart that I needed to let it marinate for awhile before I let it out into the world. Here’s to hoping you receive it with grace.
My Friend desde el otro lado
Tonight she had Chik-fil-a for the first time. She finally tried it after four months of us meeting there. I can’t be sure, but she may have only now just figured out it wasn’t hamburger.
I struggle to teach her English realizing I don’t exactly understand the workings of my own language, and she compliments my attempts at Spanish, even when I forget the most basic things. Sometimes we use books all official like…
…but mostly we just talk. We talk about anything and everything, and I remind myself not to speak so fast. Sometimes, by the end of the hour (when she’s tired) she switches back to Spanish. But mostly, she takes special care in choosing/arranging her words in English.
We talk about God, Jesus, and research living in Alaska. Because that’s where our conversation leads us. We find out that yes, they do really pay you to live there. I learn that she likes winter and cold better than the heat of Charleston’s summers and I sit there a little incredulous until she explains that it is easier to work outside when it’s cooler. I then sheepishly realize (with my ignorance showing) that my love of summer and relaxing times on the beach versus the reason why she’d rather winter is just one of the many ways in which we are different.
We sit there, week after week, seeking to understand each other, both in language and heart, and when she opens up that one night and shares her story with you, you feel equal parts honored and burdened to carry it.
You realize the stories you learned about in your Latin American Studies class are unfolding right in front of you in real human form complete with corrupt Coyotes, unimaginable dangers, and greater risk than you’ve ever known in your short privileged life. You wonder how a person can be that strong.
You hear her stories and you commit each one to memory…refusing to forget them. She deserves at least that.
When her eyes fill with tears as she recounts the times random people have told her on sight to go back to Mexico (She’s from El Salvador), you blink back tears of your own. Your heart beats hot like fire and you breathe deep breaths trying to take it all in. She grabs your hands and says the words “but you’re different.” And maybe a tear rolls down both of your cheeks.
You learn of her friends and family also in the states, some of them separated from their children or parents. Indefinitely. As they must send them to school somehow. You pause her and ask for clarification when you realize there is no such thing as free public school where she’s from. You silently kick yourself for your assumption.
All of this flows freely. Not from her soapbox or your own. It flows over waffle fries and chicken (not hamburger) as two people from very different walks of life get to know each other.
I teach her English and she teaches me so much more.
The issue is immigration, sure. But my friend desde el otro lado, she has a name. She has a face. She has a story. She is not an issue.
She is a person.
Dedicated to my friend.
I am honored to carry your story.