It Just Is One of the first books I ever read in English was one about a man that was stranded on an island. I was eight years old at the time and had made one of the most drastic changes in my life, I had moved to another country. It had not occurred to me at the time, but now that I look back at it, reading the book seems pretty ironic to me. I felt just like the man that was stranded on that island. I felt alone, trapped in a place where I could not go out and play with my friends; first of all because they were in another country and second of all, because it was too dangerous to go outside. I didn’t speak English; I was in a strange new country, a recipe for disaster. I mean sure, I didn’t have it as bad as that poor man who was stuck in there in the cold with no shelter or food, but we both had something in common, we were both stranded in a place where we didn’t want to be. My worst nightmare as a kid that had barely moved to an unknown land was that I was going to have to go to school. I knew that I could not escape this because my dad would talk about the “big day” all of the time. He was very excited while I was petrified of being in a place where I knew no one and had no clue of what they were saying. He is one of those people that values education, and has always wanted the best for his children. That includes having a good education and later on a career, so he thought that I should not focus on the social aspect of going to school because what mattered most was that I was getting the education that many people in Mexico wish they had. The day finally came and I walked into the class of my most favorite teacher in the whole world, Mrs. Arroyo. She was an angel in my eyes, for she is the reason that I can speak English today. I remember walking into the classroom, all the kids sitting in their desks, staring at me as the buzz of conversation all around me grew louder. My face turning red because of all the attention; naturally the first thing that came to my mind was that I needed to get out of there. Just as I was starting to make my way to the door, a lady in her mid-thirties walks in. Her black hair was tied back in a messy bun; she was wearing black dress pants and a silky white blouse. The first thing that I noticed about her was that she was also Mexican. It is just one of those things that you just know. Just like Chinese people can recognize a Chinese from a Japanese one in a crowd. I relaxed almost instantly because I was positive that at least I was going to be able to communicate with her. Right I way I was hoping that she would be my teacher, not just some lady they had sent from the office to help translate so the real teacher could communicate with me. I don’t know why, but it was one of those moments where you just instantly like a person. I must have been just standing there for a while because the first thing she said to me was, “Hola mija yo se que tu as de estar muy nerviosa pero no te preocupes yo te voy a ayudar, soy tu maestra la Señora Arroyo.” Now she had just told me that she was going to be my teacher and I was excited because that was what I had been hopping for the whole time; it was like if she had read my mind. In that one sentence I was able to confirm what I had thought, she was a nice lady. She had called me mija, a word that is often used to call your daughter or someone you esteem. At the sound of that word I was transported back to my grandma’s side on cold, rainy nights. Her sitting next to me on her small comfy bed, telling me that everything was going to be okay, that the raucous outside my room was just the sound of thunder and wind. It’s amazing how just one word can take you to a different place and make you feel secure. After she told me that I just knew that she was going to be an amazing teacher. Even though I was calmer than I had been before thanks to her, I was still worried because I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to learn to speak English well. What Mrs. Arroyo told me later that day, is one of the things that I will probably never forget. I still remember her telling me to wait after class because she wanted to speak to me. I was putting my notebook away and my pencils in my backpack, ready to go home and just get away from there, when all of a sudden she said, “Alejandra quiero hablar contigo.” The first thing that came to my mind was that I was already in trouble. I don’t know why if I hadn’t done anything wrong but, when a teacher tells you that they have to speak to you in any country, that is the first thing that comes to mind. So, I grabbed my backpack, got up from my desk and made my way towards the chair in front of her. “Now, I know that it must be hard for you to come to a new country where everything is strange, but I want you to know that you’re not the only person that has had to go through this, I came to this country when I was as old as you.” I was surprised that she had said that because she spoke English perfectly and like most people who speak it so well, I thought that she had been born here. “I just wanted you to know that you are not alone, and that if I could learn to speak English, a girl as smart as you can learn too.” I didn’t know if to believe the part about my being smarter than her, because in my head I thought, how would she know that if she just met me? But nonetheless I believed her because I saw in her an example that it could be done and I thought that maybe one day I could be like her. Because of this, when I became enrolled in the reading group for Hispanic students, I tried my best to learn to read. I wanted to grow up someday and be an example to other students that came to this country without knowing any bit of English. My clearest memory of the reading group is that of Mrs. Arroyo sitting down with us in a round table with a book about a man that got stranded on an island. I remember walking into the light green room, filled with posters that had happy looking kids reading books; one even had a polar bear holding a book. I couldn’t understand the words on the poster, but judging from the look of those cheerful beings, I had a feeling that they were trying to get people to think reading was fun. I had always loved to read, ever since I learned I enjoyed getting books from my teachers. The reason why I ended up loving to read though, started out with the need to improve my reading speed back in my third grade class in Mexico. ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~ It was a tradition, in my class, that all of the students in the classroom would go up in front of everyone, two by two, and have a reading contest. In those days the teacher would say, “Now you guys know what Tuesdays mean, I want two of you up here with your book, you guys are going to read a paragraph as fast and well as you can, the one that has the least mistakes and is the fastest will go against the other person that wins from the other group and so on, until only one is left.” The room would then fill up with “Uggghhhh,” and “I hate this,” but I on the other hand loved this competition. I would spend every afternoon practicing my reading and I felt like I was ready to go. I watched as lots of kids would go up and compete, watching out for the ones who I considered actual competition, and after what felt like an eternity, I was finally called up. I grabbed my book, and made my way up to the front of the room, ready to read as well and as fast as I could. Then the teacher said, “Okay Alejandra lets start with you.” I looked down at my book and started speeding through the words as fast as I could, making sure that I pronounced each one well as I raced through each sentence. I was done pretty fast and I felt confident, because when the kid next to me went, I noticed he had made some mistakes and lacked speed. So, I waited until all of the other groups had gone and got ready to compete against my best classmates. Everything went great and in the end the only ones left were Angel and me. I was very nervous because he was great and I knew he was my biggest competition. That was why I had taken the time to practice and get better so I could finally beat him; I hoped that it would all pay off. So, we got ready, grabbed our books and went to the front of the class. The first one to go was Angel; he sped through the words like if it all depended on his life, and he didn’t even stumble on a single word. I was as nervous as could be but I sucked it up and got hold of my book and read as fast and well as I could. I hadn’t spent most of my afternoons practicing for nothing, plus I really wanted to be the best in the class. So as I tore through the long paragraph, memories of long hot afternoons spent practicing passed through my mind, and to my surprise I guess the drive and motivation ended up pulling me through. For the first time since school started Angel was not the fastest reader. These races didn’t last long though, because third grade didn’t last forever, we had to switch classrooms and teachers, so the tradition came to an end. Even though the races ended, what stayed with me was the love to read. I had practiced so long to gain speed and read well, all in preparation for the contests that I could not go a week without reading a book anymore. I had come to love books and now I just read for the fun of it; even though to this day, I still prefer to read fast rather than slow. I guess the competitions left me with a need for speed. ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~ I remember making my way through the bright classroom to the round table were Mrs. Arroyo sat along with two other guys, Jordy and Manuel. Jordy and Manuel were also in my classroom and were best friends. That meant that that they always did everything together, and that included making fun of me because of my funny accent and mispronunciation of words. Even though they were also in the group their reading skills were superior to mine so that was always a cause for laughter. The worst one though, had to be Jordy. He was always trying to get me to say words so he could make fun of me. His favorite word for me to say was “buddy.” He would always say, “Hey Alejandra I’m your buddy aren’t I?” and I would respond, “Yes Jordy you’re my booty.” That would always set him off in an attack of laughter. My mispronunciation of buddy was hilarious to him and he would always try to get me to say it in front of people until I finally figured out that the people weren’t laughing with me, but at me. So, let’s say that I did not really enjoy my reading group. In the group though, everyone had to read a page of the book before we could all leave for recess. Unfortunately I was the last one that had to go, so if I took too long to finish, Manuel and Jordy would have the right to blame it all on me. My chapter described the island that the man was stranded in, so it had a lot of words that I had never seen before, like beautiful and immense. I was able to struggle my way through saying words like boat and hut, but what caused me the most trouble was the actual word island. I kept on trying to pronounce the s, so my pronunciations would always sound wrong. I would keep on saying “ice land.” Now that look back to that day, I don’t think that it was the actual pronunciation that troubled me, but more of the fact that there was no reason why that s was silent. I remember going up to Mrs. Arroyo and saying, “Mrs. Arroyo I still don’t understand why the s is silent.” She would look at me with patience and say, “I’ve already told you mija, it can’t really be explained, and it’s just one of those things you have to accept.” “I still don’t understand why though; there has to be a reason or is there a rule?”I would respond. I could tell by this point that she was loosing her patience with me because well, this hadn’t been the first time I had made this question. “Look, it’s like I’ve told you before, sometimes words in the English language don’t have explanations to why they are, you just have to go along with it.” Now, I would have kept on asking but I could tell that I was getting on her nerves, and well now that I think about it I don’t blame her. It just did not fit into my head why something just was, to me everything had a reason why or a rule that would explain to me the cases in which the s would be silent. Yet to my surprise, there were no rules or reasons, it was just one of those things that were. Thanks to me and my failure to accept the idea that the s was just silent because that was just the way it was, our entire group got dismissed late to recesses, causing the kids in my group to want to strangle me. They were furious because I just couldn’t let it go, they just didn’t understand that I had to know why. Thanks to that experience though, I learned that a lot of things in the English language don’t really have a reason why they are the way they are, some things you just have accept. This really helped me in learn English because there are a lot of words that sometime don’t make sense, like why does psychology have a silent p? Or why does know have a k? Who knows, it’s just one of the things that just is.
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