Cynthia P. Fragas-Cañadas is a Ph.D. Student at
The Foreign and Second Language Department at OSU.
.....through bilingualism and
mother tongue maintenance, parents and educators are working
towards a national acceptance of diversity, essential in
our global society.
Last May, I went home to spend some time with my family.
After completing my Masters degree and before starting
my Ph.D. here at OSU this fall, I took a couple of well
deserved vacations in Iguazú, Argentina. Everything
went smoothly right until I arrived at JFK airport and started
a very painful and scary process of entering the U.S.
All international students here are familiar with the fact
that you start sweating as if you had played a straight
tennis match against the Williams sisters right when
you see the line towards immigration. The thing is, by the
time you get to the immigration officer you are so wet and
smelly that they might as well put you in detention just
for the fact that you smell. Seriously, there is nothing
wrong with you or me. In fact, all the paperwork is with
you, everything is in order: I-20, Visa, letters from your
College, even employment authorization. So, there I am last
May, facing the officer with my keep-it-cool attitude as
I handed in my passport and papers and said with my most
polished American accent: Morning!
Seconds elapsed. Finally, he looked down at me and affirms:
You are not a tourist; you are not here to spend money!
With a puzzled face I replied: No, I am a student!.
Then, he gave that I-know-that look and I knew I should
not open my mouth again if I wanted to catch my connection
flight to Ohio. The officer had a look at my permission
to work and asked what I was teaching. I replied, Spanish.
And thats when he lost it! He went into a radical
speech on how I was not supposed to teach Spanish here,
but instead I should go back to my country and teach English
there. He finally assured his country does not need to learn
a language other than English. Naturally, I was shocked
and ready to disagree with him, explain the importance of
learning other languages, not only Spanish; when I noticed
he still had my paperwork and had not signed them yet. Therefore,
I nodded and said: I understand!. Seeing I was
not going to add anything else and he still had a line waiting
behind me, he reluctantly stamped and signed my papers and
handed them to me adding he will make a note to INRS explaining
how Colleges are abusing the system by letting
me use my working permit to teach Spanish. I grabbed my
passport and papers and left muttering Spanish realia under
Now, you will think this was the end of my adventure at
JFK, but you are mistaken. I walked out the terminal in
search of the bus that would take me to La Guardia airport
to catch my connection flight. A college girl was there
before me and some others joined after me. The bus arrived
and a heavy weight black driver stepped out and yelled what
was supposed to be the destination of his bus. I dont
think any of us understood what he said. My brain was still
trying to process the information when the college girl
politely asked with her foreign accent, if he could repeat
what he said. And that is when he snapped!
Picture a pretty big bus driver yelling and flapping his
arms in irradiation, standing face to face to a college
girl. He was yelling that if she did not speak English she
should not be in this country and how tired he is of having
to repeat what he says to ignorant immigrants in New York
City. The girl, who I later learned was from Brazil and
returning to Boston, started crying her eyes out. Thank
God the supervisor from inside the airport arrived and calmed
him down while I was consoling the Brazilian girl. Finally,
the driver climbed back into his seat and drove away leaving
us behind. It turned out he was going to La Guardia after
all! To cut a long story short, we complained and we all
got free rides to our final destination in the next bus,
of course. Dont you love this country! There I was
inside the bus, looking out the window. Staring at the crazy
traffic of a New York highway, asking myself why I am back
in a country that does not want me
I am here to make a difference, I am an educator and I
know how important it is to learn a language other that
your own. Indeed, immigrants coming into the United States
bring with them many different cultural legacies, including
language. There is so much to learn from other cultures.
The Linguistic Society of America, founded in 1924, recognized
that children should be educated in a manner that affirmatively
acknowledges their native language abilities since promoting
our common language need not, and should not, come at the
cost of violating the rights of linguistic minorities.
Language is a right. Parents and educators today need to
start promoting second languages now so that my New York
adventure does not repeat itself. Indeed, through bilingualism
and mother tongue maintenance, parents and educators are
working towards a national acceptance of diversity, essential
in our global society. What is more, we need a pedagogy
that builds on the language and culture and celebrates its
diversity, which generates the opportunity to respect and
learn without judging other cultures.