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 Master’s 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 William’s 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 that’s 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 my breath.

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 don’t 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. Don’t 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.


Autumn 2003

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Welcome Back!

Affirmative Action: OSU Administrators Discuss the Implications of the Recent Michigan Supreme Court Ruling

Summer Scholars Participate in Cutting Edge Research

Latin@ Studies in the Midwest

First Year Experience

First Year Students Share Their Expectations

Health Issues in the Latino Community

In Every Issue
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A Glimpse into the Life of the Latino Community at OSU!

Food Review! Starliner Diner

Letters to the Editor

Spring & Summer 2003

Prof. Roberto Rojas

Graduate Student Research

Ernesto Escoto

Ezra Escudero



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