They come from Ukraine, Afghanistan, Syria, Myanmar. From Nigeria and Yemen and the Congo. Venezuela and Columbia. They are refugees and immigrants. They are in the United States because they have been lucky enough to escape a previous and often dangerous life to start a new and hopefully better life.
For hours every day, they work on their English skills so they can learn to shop, communicate, find jobs, and become a part of the community. As a volunteer, it is my role to help them. I do this in “conversation hour” when we talk to each other. Inna was a pharmacist in Ukraine. Shadia left her family behind in Egypt. Nema lived for 24 years in a refugee camp. Twenty-four years! And I complain?
Who knew how complicated the English language could be? Not me. The irregular verb forms, the strange shifts in tense, the hundreds of exceptions to every rule. Who knew that the letter ‘J’ was so difficult to pronounce? Or that the ‘st’ sound could cause so much trouble? And yet, every one of them speaks multiple languages, which is more than I can say for myself.
Most of them have endured more hardships, more uncertainty, more grief than I have ever known. But they persevere. They know how to be hopeful. When I ask them what it’s like being in the United States, most of them say that this is where the future is. They believe they will find opportunity here.
I don’t remind them that many Americans don’t want to give them opportunity. That a certain disgusting, self-serving cretin–who currently resides in the White House but perhaps for not much longer–tries to make them scapegoats and demands they go back to where they came from.
I can’t do much about that moron right now. But I can help my students conjugate verbs, pronounce words, and learn how to introduce themselves to new people. I can laugh with them and demonstrate how I believe Americans should behave. I can care–and I do.