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The intimacy of words

October 5, 2010

I got my first real teaching job during my senior year of college, when I was Ms. Henderson to a few dozen middle and high school students in my own hometown.  They were immigrants, usually illegal, there through no choice of their own.  Most of the other teachers didn’t expect them to  make it past the eighth grade. Many of these kids were illiterate, even in their native languages. Uprooting and upheaval had interrupted their education as they had disrupted their lives.

I was often at as much a loss as they were, uncertain what I had to offer them and unclear what was ahead of them when they walked out the door of our borrowed room. As the year went by, though, through effort and osmosis, they acquired the language . In the process, their personalities seemed to transform; what I had seen as shyness was something simpler, a lack of words.  Words I knew, words I could give them. What I didn’t expect were the words they taught me: coyote, quincinera, refugee.

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