GUEST POST 14 – Shelly Terrell on Children of Immigrants

I’m delighted that Shelly Terrell, one of the stars of the ELT blog-firmament, has agreed to write a guest-post for me. I first met Shelly at TESOL France in Paris last November, and was entranced by her enthusiasm and constant positivity (I mean, has anyone ever seen Shelly NOT smiling???).

Shelly with IATEFL Harrogate co-presenter Özge Karaoğlu - another chance to show one of my favourite iPhone pix...

I presumed that her optimistic take on life had a lot to do with her Mexican-American background. Now, having read this post about the life-situations of US immigrants and their families, I realise that people like Shelly have a tough time assimilating into US life. There are various reasons for this, which will become clear as you read.

Children of Immigrants

All over the world, countries deal with immigration. For many countries, immigrants are seen as a burden. For some countries, immigrants are seen as a way to increase the population. Immigrants have their own stories and believe me these stories are interesting to hear. I grew up listening to these stories, reading them from books, and listening to the beautiful lyrics and poetry of those who came before me.

The Wide Achievement Gap

In America, many immigrants struggle to break the poverty cycle. The enormous achievement gap and statistics are a reflection of this. In 2005, more than one million immigrants, ages 16 to 24, were reported to be out of school and had not earned a high school diploma or equivalent (Laird, DeBell, Kienzl, & Chapman, 2007). In addition, 83% of Hispanics, between the ages of 18 to 24, who were born in the US, completed high school, whereas, only 56.8% of foreign-born Hispanics, in the same age group, completed high school.

The Poverty Cycle

Many of my students, including my English language learners in Germany, are immigrants. I believe many of us will teach English language learners who are either immigrants or who have ancestors who immigrated. These learners not only struggle with the language, they also struggle with assimilation, prejudice, and poverty. My passion for seeing my students achieve is deeply rooted in my own experiences with these demons.

My great grandparents were immigrants and when they left Mexico for America they wanted their children to have better lives. Unfortunately, immigrants will struggle with poverty for many generations. I know, because most of my relatives still struggle with poverty. My four sisters and I graduating from college is an anomaly. We are the first generation to do this and the majority of our cousins have not graduated from college. Many of my relatives live together in one house. This includes the grandparents, parents, and children. For many years, this was the house my grandfather built with his hands. My grandfather recently passed away last February. He was my hero when I was growing up, because he and my grandmother taught me Spanish and are the reasons I studied my heritage.

Texas History and English Only

I would say I grew up with blinders like many children do. I mean I never really understood my heritage or my parents’ reasons for not allowing us to speak Spanish till I went to college. In Texas, where I grew up, our history classes paint Mexico as an enemy. We are taught in our history books that Mexicans are the ones who slaughtered those in the Alamo and Texas fought bloody battles to finally be free from Mexico. My parents raised me to never argue with any of my teachers, because they were always right. They also raised me to never speak Spanish. They never talked about our heritage. We didn’t do tamaladas (traditional tamale-making parties) like the rest of my friends or celebrate Mexican holidays like Dias de Los Muertos.


After the first grade, I was moved from my poor Hispanic neighborhood to a rich school, which ensured I never grew up surrounded by my traditional customs. I was there illegally and I struggled to fit in. I hadn’t realized that in my original neighborhood, I had not learned proper English. We spoke what my Master’s Linguistic class taught me was CHE (Chicano English). Until high school, my friends picked on me about my mispronunciation of sheeken (chicken), shere (chair), libery (library), and sangwich (sandwich).

English Only

I used to wonder why my parents forbade us to speak Spanish. I felt I missed out on a huge part of my heritage. In college and high school, I attended the cultural events and was part of Latino student organizations- LULAC, NCLR, and the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. I took several courses on Mexican American history and Latin music and dances. I studied Spanish from middle school to college. I read as many books as I could on assimilation from various authors such as Americo Paredes, Sandra Cisneros, Julia Alvarez, Amy Tan, Sherman Alexie, and more.

I found out much later that my parents were not allowed to go to school if they spoke Spanish. They were also hit with rulers and sentenced to other punishments. While reading George Washington Gomez by Americo Paredes, I was able to see the atrocities of these laws in Texas. When I was growing up there was still a strong English only policy in schools which was evidenced by the passing of several state propositions where teachers were fired for speaking any other language than English and the ending of several bilingual education programs.

My parents told me they wanted to make sure I had a chance and for that reason I was given an American name like Shelly and not allowed to speak Spanish. Somehow, my parents seemed to do the impossible, they managed to raise all 5 of their children to graduate from college and break the poverty cycle. Therefore, I cannot fault them, but I do feel I missed out and I know many of my friends from immigrant ancestry feel the same about their upbringing.

The US and Immigration

The US has seen a lot of improvement from when my parents attended school. However, minorities continue to be a vast majority of the students who are not achieving academically, failing standardized tests, dropping out of high school, on welfare, and in prisons. Illegal immigrants find it extremely difficult to find any jobs as the government has fined several establishments for hiring any undocumented workers. In 2005, many states passed harsh immigration policies and began to crackdown on illegal immigration. These policies were a cause for the nationwide walk out of thousands of Americans in protest in 2006.

Students without documentation cannot receive any scholarships no matter how well they do in school. Many English language learners are required to stay in an ESL program for many years until they pass the standardized tests in every subject. Even if they excel in one subject, they are still not allowed to advance. For many, this means they will not even receive the credits they need to attend college. Millions of immigrants enter the US each year. In January 2009, the Department of Homeland Security reported there were 10.8 million unauthorized immigrants living in the US with 62 % coming from Mexico. With these statistics, I wonder if the US can really afford to continue to make it nearly impossible for immigrants to find jobs and their children to graduate from college.

How are immigrants treated in your country? What are the immigration policies and how do these impact your English language learners?


Click here to read the rest of the poem.


Laird, J., DeBell, M., Kienzl, G., and Chapman, C. (2007). Dropout Rates in the United States: 2005 (NCES 2007-059). U.S. Department of Education. Washington, DC:National Center for Education Statistics. Retrieved from

Deep in conversation with Shelly in Paris, November 2009

Shelly blogs at

47 thoughts on “GUEST POST 14 – Shelly Terrell on Children of Immigrants

    1. Thanks, Shell… but this is an important story, one that I’m ashamed to say I didn’t know more about…

  1. Such a powerful testimony. I appreciate Shelly sharing not only her own story, but also the collective story of immigrants.

  2. I am very impressed by your post, Shelly. Gracias.
    In France immigrants are treated similarly, they have to give proof that they speak good French and know basic facts about France (but are not given means to acheive this), they are stigmatised and discriminated. The whole system makes sure the young immigrants’ parents behave just like yours: preventing their own children from speaking their own language and knowing their own culture. I admire those parents, your parents, and you.

    1. Alice,

      I figured this would be the case for the many immigrants in various countries. This makes me sad because I think sometimes governments don’t realize how these policies impact the world’s economy. I can understand that citizens don’t want to pay higher taxes for social programs so I know it is a difficult issue. Thank you for your comment and sharing your experience.

  3. Very poignant post Shelly. In my country there is a revision of law going on right now which will finally recognise the rights of the children of immigrants. The problem is as you say that children who have been born here or have came at a very early age, still don’t have the same rights as the rest of Greek civilians. They excel at school, pass at the best universities and still are non-existent for the state. This is so sad and hypocritical that makes any sane teacher want to go up in arms.
    The good thing is that our society is getting more accustomed in living with people from other cultures, and something I have seen changing in my lifetime for example, is that immigrants don’t give their children Greek names in order to be accepted.
    I am optimistic that change IS happening, alas very slowly…

    1. Anna,

      Thank you for sharing your experience. That makes 3 different countries that immigrants so far have this experience. I have some experience in other countries but limited so won’t point out these views. I’m glad in your country the laws are being revised. In the US they are very slow to change because every election year some politician feels they should use immigrants as the scapegoats for the terrible economy. It makes me so angry when I see a politician on CNN spouting their beliefs how we should bar immigrants from entering the country. They are still talking about building a gate between the US and Mexico border.
      Thank you for your optimism. I really believe that teaching languages helps people to open their eyes to other cultures and that is why I love our job!

  4. Hi Shelly and thank you very much for this post.
    It is one of the most touching posts I have read. I am very sorry you did not have any opportunity to learn about your country’s history in school and it is terrible what your parents and other people of that generation had to endure. But you did the right thing to read about your history on your own. And people should never forget their roots.Their new countries must not let them forget their roots.They are part of our make-up as people.
    Congratulations on this post – it is a great reminder to governments to help preserve immigrants’ cultures (it is a long way to go though, for most of them).
    Thank you Shelly,

    1. Vicky,

      I was lucky. I spent a lot of time with my grandparents who did teach me about my heritage and I joined many clubs, went to plays, read books, saw lectures, visited Mexico, and more. My sisters have lived in Spanish speaking countries as well, Oaxaca, Mx and Guatemala so we’ve really tried to find our roots. I think it would be sad if we hadn’t and I hope all people feel the need to find their roots and learn about their culture and heritage. When everyone does this they begin to realize there is more than one past, ancestry, and culture that is part of them. For example, there is my Mexican heritage from Mexico but there was a Chicano history I was a part of as well as well as Native American history. I think it really completes your soul when you do the research. Thank you for your comment.

  5. Thank you for giving such an insight into the plight of immigrants. I imagine the problem is the same here but I can’t say for sure, when I was growing up, Australia (or at least the school I attended) was proud of and celebrated its multicultural communities. The local school my kids attended has a high population of aboriginal students and I found myself thinking of them as I read your post. The students that are successful at school are ones whose parents have broken away from old traditions. The aboriginal adults that work in the schools near me are generally the ones that were not allowed to be immersed in their culture as children. Now there is a lot of work to save what we know about that culture before it is lost.

    1. Kelly,

      Thank you for dropping by. I didn’t know about this and am glad that people are concerned about losing the aboriginal culture. When we assimilate we have to find a balance. Unfortunately, children and parents don’t learn about the assimilation process in schools. Children and parents hardly or never speak of this as well. I learned from the books I read.

  6. Great post! My grandparents came over from Italy before the war and they told stories of tough times and assimilation. Heritage is something that too many people do not think about and this post helped me remember how lucky I have been because of the hard work of my grandparents and parents.

    1. Nick,
      Thank you for sharing! I am glad your grandparents shared with you their stories. Did your parents share as well? Did you still get to practice your traditions growing up? I know in some cultures this is very important to keep these traditions.

  7. Vicky,

    I was lucky. I spent a lot of time with my grandparents who did teach me about my heritage and I joined many clubs, went to plays, read books, saw lectures, visited Mexico, and more. My sisters have lived in Spanish speaking countries as well, Oaxaca, Mx and Guatemala so we’ve really tried to find our roots. I think it would be sad if we hadn’t and I hope all people feel the need to find their roots and learn about their culture and heritage. When everyone does this they begin to realize there is more than one past, ancestry, and culture that is part of them. For example, there is my Mexican heritage from Mexico but there was a Chicano history I was a part of as well as well as Native American history. I think it really completes your soul when you do the research. Thank you for your comment.

  8. “I can understand that citizens don’t want to pay higher taxes for social programs so I know it is a difficult issue. ”

    But if the government explained how and why social programs are made for society as a whole, everything would go more smoothly, because the country is getting older and older, and if we don’t help immigrants integrate society who will pay for pensions, *everyone’s* pensions. Other cultures blended into the same country make it richer and varied. At the end of the day taxes and social programs benefit *everyone*. More education is needed in schools too to explain the consequences of taxes. People should be glad to pay taxes.

    1. Alice,

      I agree! You make an excellent point! Wish you were ahead of policy versus many of the ones who get elected. We need people in all governments ready to lead people and help them understand what they don’t see.

  9. Thanks, Shelly, for sharing your experiences! They’re really touching.
    In my country, Argentina, European immigrants worked hard to make it a strong nation. One of my grandfathers was Italian and my other grandfather was Spanish. Argentinian people are a mixture of races. There have never been discrimination of European races. Unfortunately, discrimination exists towards poor people.

    1. Marisa,

      Thank you for your comment. Unfortunately, in every country some form of discrimination exists. We can work to make people aware and open their minds to work for better policies and attitudes. I truly believe language and communication teachers have such a wonderful opportunity, especially with web 2.0 tools and ICTs, to teach their students about other cultures, beliefs, and social experiences. When we connect students with others around the world we open their curiosity and minds.

  10. Immigrants are treated the same way here in Greece. Here are some thoughts that crossed my mind. Is it a coincidence that we are trying to accept them now ? Now, due to the economic crisis, some Greeks are going to Germany or other countries in pursuit of a better future. Do we only remember immigrants when it concerns us ?

    1. Hello Smaragda,

      These are difficult and reflective questions. I think in the US, there are many states that have communities that will not be open to acceptance policies for immigrants for a long, long time. There are some areas in some states where the population is all one culture and race. For example, I still face racism being married in an interracial relationship. My sister faced the same. I’m sure that in some countries you are right that laws may be opened to having immigrants in the workforce. However, in my experience the community still doesn’t welcome the immigrants as equals or citizens. I talk from my own experience teaching in different countries. However, in every country there is some race, social class, age group, religious group, etc. that is not accepted. We can always do better and improve.

  11. Hi Shelly, thanks so much for writing about your experience in such a refreshing, moving and insightful way. It’s also made me reflect hugely on my recent teaching in a Madrid state primary school with 26 different nationalities of immigrant children, what the experience must be like for them and their parents and how we can and should try to be inclusive of diversity and find ways to show that everyone is equally valued. Although it may sound small and superficial, I found that even little things like circle time where you learn how to say ‘hello’ in someone else’s language, or learn about a national recipe or celebrate a national day, plus a map of the world with everyone’s country marked with a flag and a photo, helped to raise levels of positive self-esteem, mutual respect and pride in children’s own culture and identity. Thanks again so much for sharing.

    1. Hello Carol,

      I appreciate you sharing what you do in your classes to help children assimilate and reflect on others as well as their own cultures. I think these are great things and not small because we still have that debate in many classes of English only. In many classes kids do not get to share recipes, realia, stories from their countries, and so forth. Therefore, I think you do quite a bit and think that is wonderful. I have also questioned the type of materials in schools. Many aren’t very multicultural. I loved teaching ESL in the US because I’d get to pick the books and stories we read and made sure they were multicultural. Even know I read stories to the children in Germany that reflect cultural themes or teach about other countries.

  12. Shelly, let me echo the comments of those above and say thank you for this post.

    I think you have written about some really important issues regarding immigration and assimilation of groups of people. I’m definitely of the opinion that when the destination country for immigrants imposes its culture and tradition so heavily upon the immigrant population, and sometimes even denies their history, it can only have negative consequences.

    I remember seeing a programme about America by the British comedien Stephen Fry relatively recently (he rides around the country in a black cab) where he met a group of people from Texas and New Mexico (2nd/3rd generation). The programme told of the history of this particular region and how it was basically taken by force from the Mexicans by the Americans – a piece of history I am ashamed to say I knew very little about.

    I think we can only really get by in this world when we embrace each others’ cultures, traditions, beliefs, backgrounds, etc. whether we are emigrants, immigrants, native population or whatever.

    In the UK, immigration is a hot topic (we are going to have a general election in a few weeks) and it seems to me that no one really knows what they want. A closed UK, points systems for immigrants, taking into account people who leave the country as well as those coming – it is all a bit confused. An interesting thing I find here is that you can do a driving theory test in your own language (if not English). Make of that what you will.

    Thanks again for your wonderful post.


    1. Mike,
      With the economic crisis, many countries will definitely talk about immigration because in many countries the social systems are made up of immigrants and their children. That is why health care is a hot topic in America and why many stand so strongly against universal health care coverage. I think as language teachers we have a different perspective because we work with refugees, immigrants, 2nd/3rd generations, and so forth. Our students are diverse and have various cultures, languages, and backgrounds. It has been a long time since I have had a class that was made up of all one nationality. In Germany my students have various backgrounds. Therefore, I think we may have different attitudes. However, there are those who live in rural areas or places who have never met another person of a different race or culture. This worries me.

      Can you tell me more about the driving theory test? I’m not sure what you mean by this.

      1. Thanks for the reply, Shelly. I share your concerns, in particular about those people who live in really isolated communities and rarely meet people from ‘outside’ those communities.

        Re the driving theory test, this is part of the process of obtaining a driving license. Before taking and (hopefully) passing a practical test (i.e. out on the road with an examiner and demonstrating your driving skills) you have to do a paper- (or perhaps computer-) based test of the theory behind driving. I wanted to make the point that this test can be done in a number of different language (i.e. you don’t need to know English in order to be able to take a test to drive in the UK).


  13. Hello Shelly,

    of course I was reading your post with sympathy (and thinking that someone with Oaxaca in their veins could never be all bad!!) and I did what we always do/what I always do…Texas! I said to myself, well of course, it’s Texas, that’s how they are over there.

    But of course it’s not Texas (as your other commentators have said). It’s all ‘host’ nations. Mike H is right. My country, the UK, is deeply hostile to immigrants even though they have greatly enriched our culture, staffed our hospitals, driven our buses and shaped the land.

    There will always be, however, a tension when cultures come into contact with each other. The cry of the ‘English’ about their culture being swamped is frequently racist, but is understandable too when a community feels minoritised (even if that is perception only).

    But that is no excuse for the mistreatment of immigrants – and the shocking statistics of under-achievement you point out are both typical and unforgiveable. They come, of course, from the system, not the immigrants themselves.

    I am rambling. A few unrelated points:

    Canada goes out of its way to welcome and help its immigrants, or so it claims (and that claim seems to an outsider to have some validity). Do you have any thoughts on that?

    The fact that in a few years there will be more 1st language Spanish speakers than 1st language English speakers will change things a bit, perhaps?

    Two of the most moving talks I have ever been to at ELT conferences: Joy Murphy, an elder of the Waranjiri tribe telling her stories of aboriginal assimilation in Melbourne; two Maori mothers, brought up as monolingual English speakers in New Zealand, talking about how they were learning Maori and working for the bi-lingual Maori-English school that their kids were in. Like you, reclaiming their culture and their language.

    (Hmm, yeah the Texas version of history is skewed of course; mind you Santa Ana screwed up a bit too, didn’t he?)

    And you have listened to ‘Chavez Ravine’, I am sure.

    Mexico lindo y querido/si muero lejos de ti/diga que yo soy dormido/y que me traigan aqui…..


    1. Hi Jeremy!

      Thank you for your rambling 😉 which is not rambling at all. I have never visited Canada so I wouldn’t be able to make a judgment on this.

      I have read the statistics on 1st language Spanish speakers no longer being a minority. The Hispanic population in 10 years according to the US Census Bureau will also no longer be a minority. However, I see the laws being harsh. Really it boils down to who is in charge of policy and who are our representatives in the government. Unfortunately, the education background, economic status, and ethnicity of the voters hasn’t changed much. Recently, the age did change with President Obama’s election. I think for real reform to occur we have to get more people in the country to vote who really represent the diversity of the country.

      As far as history is concerned, isn’t every country’s history a bit skewed 😉 I think that to have a true awareness perhaps different perspectives should be thrown in the mix to make students question and make them aware. Of course, this would be the ideal type of teaching for me where students are allowed to explore, question, and establish their own beliefs and the school systems supported this.

      1. Hi Jeremy and Shelly!
        If you don’t mind, I’d like to give my thoughts on Canada and immigrants. It is true that it is a very receptive country to people, no matter where they are from and they help them keep their cultural identity and feel at home in Canada.
        There is, however, a large group of people that I feel Canada could do much more about : the First Nation people. Recently, the University of Toronto began a program on preserving the First Nation languages. Which is a good thing…but it is much more than the languages. First Nation people face a great deal of unemployment and have many problems. The last time I was in Canada, there were many homeless First Nation people and I felt very disappointed by that.
        I hope with all my heart that something will be done in the near future.
        Thank you very much,

      2. Thank you Vicky for sharing this experience. I think every nation battles with discrimination, racism, and stereotypes. That is why I love being an educator because I truly believe we have the ability to change the future through educating. One of my favorite quotes from a film was, “We have to unlearn.” In college that is what I felt like that I had been brainwashed into a certain thinking then had to shake it off and form my own opinions and reflect on my own experiences and what they taught me. I find this blog post as very much a reflection and the comments have taught me so much!

  14. Thanks Shelly for this touching post and reflections on the comments. I loved imagining you telling this story F2F with that ever-present smile in your eyes and your indefatigable optimism.

    I heard parts of this story in Second Life during one of our late night chats but reading it here made it even more real.
    I have to admit that I read the comments with just as much fascination as the original post. It’s amazing that everyone seems to have an ‘immigrant story’. I don’t have one of my own but Fida (my wife) was eight when she went to the States from civil war-torn Lebanon with her parents and brother and sister. I always find her stories about living in SF as an immigrant fascinating. She has some fascinating, shocking, funny stories about how she and her family coped there.

    And to think of all the Shelly-s who are out there but haven’t been able to pull themselves out by their own hair…
    I don’t think I can admire you any more than I already do but this post re-asserted to me what a great privilege it is to have you on my PLN.

    Thank you, Ken for publishing this post, and all that you have been doing to help us get to know one another better.

  15. Tamas,
    I would love to sit with Fida and hear her stories. Do you wonder what types of stories Sophie will have and what stories you will share with her? I loved listening to my parents’ and grandparents’ stories! It was one of my favorite activities!

  16. Hi Shelly,
    Thanks for sharing your feelings and writing this beautiful post. It is so powerful!
    You are a wonderful person who has achieved many goals, who has arrived many lands and I’m sure your success story will continue coquering our hearts.

    1. Eva,
      Thank you for your kind remarks. I think passion is what makes a great teacher and you’re very passionate. I know you have your own stories. Thank you for sharing them with my husband and me at your house. You have an amazing family and great courage as well.

  17. Dear Shelly,
    How else would you have explained your warrior-like-contribution to our world of ELT? Parents are treasured in our culture and your story is just another example of why.
    They must be proud of you- well I’m proud of you and can’t tell how fortunate I am to have you as a friend.
    Sorry if I’m too sentimental as I’m still mourning after a lost mother-in-law and I wish we could just have had the time to thank our loved ones before it’s too late..

    1. Hello Sebnem,

      I am extremely blessed. My parents are the most supportive and loving people. Everyone falls in love with them right away. I have never met such strong and loving people like my parents. They always give and taught us at an early age to always give. I remember volunteering all the time even though we were poor. My father always made us felt rich, though, because he would take us on the most exciting adventures even if it was riding cardboard boxes down high hills. My parents always had us give gifts to other poor children and even on our birthdays we would always give to our friends. My friends always stayed with us because my parents opened our home to everyone. Often, we would have 20 children at sleepovers and there were 5 of us, daughters!

      Sorry, I could gush on about my amazing parents forever, Sebnem. I am so sorry for your loss. You’re a beautiful person, Sebnem, inside and out and my prayers are with you.

  18. Hello everyone,
    Well, a very touching topic indeed. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and feelings with so many unknown people, Shelley ! You are very brave !
    Another examples of discrimination : against certain foreign teachers in Greece and, “of course”, against Albanians and Pakistanis.
    I’ve been living in this country for two years now and I “dare” to teach English here even if I am originally from Romania . And in the school I’m working now, the parents were informed that I’m a native speaker (because of my near-native accent and my Greek- Italian name- no Greek or Italian ancestors though from what I know) and not a Romanian teacher of English…I hope it’s only a marketing thing …
    My Russian colleague was not so lucky … her heavy accent and her name worked against her and some parents and children disrespect her even if our DOS said: “she is more professional than many other teachers of English with a Proficiency certificate only and no methodology knowledge…”. But our DOS is Greek-American and she has her own discrimination story from her early years as a child with immigrant parents.
    Anyway, it is very sad what happens here. The main part of immigrants is formed by Albanians. If a cafeteria starts having them as customers, you will see very few Greeks hanging around there after that. And you also hear things like: “Oh, you want to go to …… . Only Albanians go there now !”
    Some students won’t even admit that they are Albanians despite their names… And some are among the best students..They were shocked when I asked them to teach me “Hello”, “Merry Christmas” and “Happy Easter” in their language.
    The country is also filled with people from Pakistan. They are very poor but they almost never do illegal things to meet their needs…but these things are not taken into consideration when Greek parents tell their offsprings when they misbehave: “don’t do like a Pakistani”.
    The courage of a teacher to help immigrant children by using their first language when teaching them was punished severely at the beginning. And we are talking about 2000s !
    I hope this programme will succeed
    Anyway, things are slowly changing for better and in some years, it will be nicer to live here for the 2nd generation of immigrants.


  19. Hi Alessandra,
    Thank you for sharing. That is quite a terrible situation. I agree that often it is nicer to be a 2nd generation immigration because others have paved the way with tears and hardship. I hope the situation does improve for Albanians and other immigrants in your country. It breaks my heart to hear these stories but am glad when they are told because often the world doesn’t realize that although the situation has improved we must continually work for reform. In the US parents often say that children hardly stand for anything anymore and really fight for what they believe in like in the 60s and 70s in America. Then people rioted, marched, and more. Maybe they are right?

    Thanks again for your sharing your experience.

  20. Shelly,
    Really loved reading your beautiful post. Very brave of you to share such and intimate,emotional story, and one that must be told. I’m 2nd generation American. My grandmother (mom’s mom) immigrated to CA from Mexico when she was 16, speaking NO English. She was mentored by a wonderful teacher in high school, who also immigrated from Israel. This teacher saw my Grandmother’s brilliant mind and prepared her well, to attend college. My grandma’s father was French; as a result she was VERY fair (important in that day). She was accepted to UCLA and graduated summa cum laude with a degree in Foreign Language instruction; unheard of in that time! She was fluent in English, Spanish, French, and Italian. She went on to become a HS Foreign Language teacher and Adjunct Professor. Interestingly enough I grew up being taught to be proud of our Latin roots (my Dad’s family is Chilean), but raised profoundly more mainstream American. It was partly due to the things you mentioned, as well as to the fact that we had to work so hard to survive as Latinos in a then dominant Caucasian culture. My Grandma knew that being Bilingual was important and so I’m proud to say that I am. She also insisted that All family go to the University because she knew this was the key to unlock the door to success! (and they did) It is because of her that I am an educator!

    No matter how hard the journey has been, education still continues to be the key to opening up opportunities for our children’s future. Teachers like you opened the door for my Grandmother! The work you and your English Language teaching colleagues do around the world is so important! You enable your students to have that extra edge they need to compete in a competitive market where the speaking of English as well as being bilingual, is so critical. More importantly you will continue to open the doors to hope and success for so many children. My grandmother would have been so proud to know you! Blessings to you for all you do to teach, mentor, and support your students.

    1. Lisa,

      Thank you for your comment. We have similar stories about our abuelitos paving the way for us in America. Your grandmother’s insistence is also like my father’s. A guardian’s mindset has such an enormous impact on children. Just imagine if all were like our guardians who insisted on college. This would be amazing!

  21. Thank you for sharing your experience, Shelly. This is a topic I’ve been thinking about for many years having grown up in a city (San Francisco) where Spanish-speaking cultures are prominent and do have a voice. I went to a K-8 neighborhood parochial school where I was one of the few children who didn’t speak Spanish and I think that had a lot to do with why I ended up committing myself to learning it as a college student. Most of the kids in my class were of Mexican heritage so I grew up going to traditional birthday parties and later on, quincineras. I loved these traditions and events and felt my childhood was greatly enhanced by these experiences. I continued studying Spanish in Spain and went on to teach high school Spanish. While most of my work is dedicated to ELT now, my passion for Spanish is still strong. Here in the US we need to value this language and the core part of who we are in this country. I hope we will continue to move in that direction. Thanks to Ken for having you guest post!

  22. Anna,

    Thank you for your comment! I love that you experienced the Mexican traditions and culture and it inspired you to learn Spanish. I think more schools and classrooms should make the students’ culture part of the school culture. This is one way that students can be encouraged to celebrate their roots and learn about other cultures. In this era of globalization, our students will have to know intercultural communication skills and I think exposure and experience with other cultures is the key to motivating students to continue learning.

  23. Hi Shelly,

    I really found your post interesting and , as Ken said above, I know too little about the history of Mexican immigration that you talk about. I am the grandchild of Eastern European Jewish immigrants to Britain. I meet many of my own people now who show animosity towards new immigrants into our society and I feel it is so sad that they have forgotten just what it feels like to be on a boat, afraid and unknowing of your fate as you go to a country that you hope to call your home and hope will provide your descendents with a chance to have a good life.
    Thanks for your blog.

    1. Hi Malbell!

      I have witnessed this, immigrants who have assimilated showing animosity towards new immigrants. I think sometimes people don’t forget but fear they will continue to be judged by others of our ethnic backgrounds. Some people stand up when people do this and others disassociate. I’m with the party who stands up. I have a great heart for immigrants because I have had many friends who worked hard at jobs nobody else seem to want. I worked in the restaurant industry for 7 years and saw how difficult it was for restaurant managers to hire workers. They worked desperately to keep the immigrants Visa’s intact but with 911 there were harsher laws. Only 16 year-olds wanted jobs as bussers and dishwashers and they wouldn’t last more than 2 weeks. They also didn’t appreciate their jobs. However, the immigrants, who had Visas, did appreciate the job and would ask to work longer hours. They would show me pictures of their families who they would send the money to and were hoping to raise enough to get them to come to this country. It was heartbreaking.

  24. What a moving story? I would love to hear what you think about the anti-immigration law in Arizona. Have you ever read Richard Rodriquez’ Hunger of Memory? I think you would find it resonants with you.

  25. Thank you Judie for recommending this book. I love reading assimilation stories. It reminds me of my youth and also the path my students have taken. In the US I worked with many children of immigrants. We would read stories by the authors I listed above and more. The students loved these stories and were able to identify with them.

  26. It is fascinating to read more about you and your life. In Canada, I’ve always been under the impression that immigration to Canada was a key component to our nation’s pride. With Ian coming here, I’ve come to realise how challenging it can be for an adult immigrant to find work and survive despite talent or schooling.

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