Wednesday, October 20, 2010

ESL Moments

"August 1994: I moved to Washington, D.C., and during my first week after moving permanently to the U.S., I receive a last check from work while a student in Puerto Rico. I come to a cashing place to redeem it. While trying to explain to the teller that I just moved to the U.S.–that being the reason for not having a local ID other than a Puerto Rican drivers' license (and the U.S. passport!)–she struggles with my English. With a straight face, she tells me: 'Speak English!' That's what I've been doing all along. I revisit this feeling constantly–while in grad school, at work, when meeting a stranger–how my accent is measured, establishing some level of knowledge or capacities. Sometimes a word does not come up–and I swim in my mind, searching for the right way of saying it in English. This is what people in my life-world have learned to recognize as ESL (English as a second language) moments. I still freeze, just like that first week, when a professor, or an employer, or a stranger does not understand what I am saying. I still think twice when speaking publicly–at times lowering my tone, or speaking fast, so that my mistakes are not easily caught" (188).

Vidal-Ortiz, Salvador. 2004. "On Being a White Person of Color: Using Autoethnography to Understand Puerto Ricans' Racialization." Qualitative Sociology, Vol. 27 (2): 179–203.

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