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The Collegian

The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

Student teaches ESL to adults at local eatery

For many college students, Friday night is a time to unwind, relax and catch up with friends. For sophomore Pedro Garza, Friday nights are spent giving a voice to Spanish-speaking adults through teaching English.

Garza’s class meets at a local restaurant at 9 p.m. and often goes until the restaurant closes at 1 a.m. His students attend voluntarily, eager to learn. They view English mastery as the gateway to a normal life in North Texas. Their reasons for wanting to learn English are relatively ordinary. At the request of Garza’s students, only first names are used.

“I want to learn English, so I can help my kids do their homework,” Antonio said.

“I want to be a part of the team at work,” Julian said.

“I love this country. I want to support it,” Maria said.

“I want to order for my kids at a restaurant,” Mercedes said.

“When my car breaks down, I don’t know how to ask for help,” Rachel said.

Most have moved to Texas for work and economic certainty. One woman financially supports her terminally ill mother and could not find work in her home country.

“I want my son to have the opportunity to be a doctor,” Mercedes said.

While many Americans might view the inability to speak English as lazy, ignorant, stubborn or un-American, Garza sees it as a handicap that can be overcome.

“You wouldn’t go up to a disabled person, kick their wheelchair, and tell them to walk,” he said.

Yelling at Spanish-speaking people to “learn English!” sends essentially the same message, he said.

Garza’s path to Texas is similar to many of his students. His family moved to Texas when he was 8 years old because of family circumstances. He started the fourth grade at a Birdville elementary school not knowing any English. The ESL teacher and nurse were the only Spanish-speaking staff in the school. His teacher relied on bilingual students to relay information to Garza. Sometimes his classmates would deliberately tell him the wrong assignment or refuse to help him at all.

“I had no idea what was going on in class,” he said. “I would come home with a huge headache and dreaded going back to school.”

After only two years of attending public school, Garza received commended recognition on his TAAS test, which required an essay in English. He credits his teachers for helping him succeed.

Garza wants to give his students the same opportunity to assimilate into society as he was given, saying he is “part of them.”

The class started two months ago with only two students but has grown to around eight to 10 people. On a recent Friday night, a woman eating dinner in the restaurant noticed the group and asked to join. She sat with a baby on her lap eager to practice the alphabet in English. The woman lives too far to attend Garza’s class regularly, but he mails her the worksheets he creates so she can learn on her own.

“The worksheets are self-explanatory and easy to follow along,” she said.

The class functions like a normal language class. Students are currently working on the verb “to be” and learning how to describe their appearance.

One man stopped attending because he could not read or write and was scared of embarrassment. He attended on this Friday night and cried during the lesson because he began to learn.

Garza was inspired to start his class after hearing stories of employees at a local restaurant being mistreated by customers and fellow workers. A friend who does contract work for several area restaurants would tell him stories of people who hold master’s and doctorate degrees in their home countries but can find only jobs flipping burgers in the U.S.

While Garza understands the frustration many feel concerning Spanish-only speakers, he hopes Americans will remember the circumstances of why people emigrate and consider their hardships. Many have left their families and loved ones in search of a better life, he said. Though his students are still learning elementary English, they are making progress.

“They are like diamonds in the rough. It sounds cheesy, but true,” he said. “The more pressure I put on them, the harder they work.”

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