By: Juliana Hernandez
I froze, engulfed by the pressure, surrounded by blank faces: strangers. On a Monday morning, my new elementary teacher spoke aloud, “Students, today’s assignment will involve writing a short narrative about your hobbies.” I sat timidly in my chair, searching for answers in the words etched on my desk, yet I knew that wood could not bridge the language barrier. After a ten minute delay on my part, I glanced up, there she was, awaiting and pointing at my paper. The heat was rising and I could feel my cheeks flush. The embarrassment demanded to be felt, but anger outstriped the former. I was vulnerable against her unfeasible and harsh demands. My teacher did not know what it was like to be an immigrant; the audacity!
At the age of six, I migrated to the United States, and was enrolled in the third grade, regardless of my inability to comprehend the language. I was a talking mute; a person who was not able to respond to a question, and who lacked the ability to communicate effectively. I was subdued by the task of constructing a simple sentence; therefore, this meant that writing was not an option. My arrival to America resulted in a language barrier, which indelibly affected the beginning and current stages of my writing process.
English language development classes: an organization whose mission is to transform students into proficient English speakers, writers and communicators. The program was enforced by my education institution, which indicated that I would be enrolled in these courses until I could demonstrate expertise in the language. As a result, I was excluded from traditional English courses until my sophomore year of high school. Although my knowledge in the subject did not align with those of my peers, my English Language Development teacher recognized my potential and redirected me to a more challenging course, honors English. By this time, my classmates had already mastered the skill of writing for an academic audience; therefore, this meant that my teacher completely eliminated that topic from class discussions. Consequently, when it came to writing assignments, my outcome was poor. At the time, my writing process was the following: I sat for hours trying to figure out ways to fill the blank spaces on the paper. Then, when ideas finally flowed, I wrote down everything in no specific order. This writing process did not meet the criteria for academia and did not meet my needs as a writer. My grammar was horrible, I mixed up tenses, I utilized informal vocabulary, there was no organization in my pieces, and I was terribly lost in the American writing system. I was discouraged that year, but I was determined to push myself beyond my limits. The following year, I continued my journey in AP English with a teacher that went by the name of Gerken.
The class that I took with Gerken demolished and shattered my outlook on writing. He would spend countless hours telling stories without fostering a system that would create better writers. On random days, he would have everyone write on a certain topic and gave the students one hour to complete a coherent, well structured text. Every time this would occur, I would panic and my thoughts would tangle up in my head, ultimately leading to a terrible score. I managed to pass the class but, soon after I became conflicted with what English class I should pursue next. When I went to my counselor for help I was astonished by her response. I was sitting on a frigid steel chair, my back positioned directly against the black leather, waiting in silence for a response. She moved closer, and her facial expression began to morph. She built a wrinkle in between her eyebrows, her eyes widened and the creases around her mouth dug deep into her skin as she spoke. “ I had a conversation with Mr. Gerken, he said that your writing was just not at the level for AP classes and that you should not be enrolled in AP language for the upcoming year.” Within seconds I felt blood quickly travel through my body, my skin was broiling, and I was furious. That day I walked out of the counseling office determined to alter his perspective of my writing capabilities. I signed up to take a college research writing course, which was offered through dual enrollment at my high school.
The professor was a lighthearted woman who loved the idea of “divergent thinking” and who welcomed new perspectives. She pushed her students to breaking points, while offering the guidance necessary to be successful in the new roams being explored. During the time in her class, I unconsciously left behind all the anger that flushed through me during my counseling appointment and became engulfed in the methodology of writing. I was analysing outside sources to reconstruct unique ideologies, and I figured out what it truly meant to write for other scholars. Before writing a paper, I was outlining, and creating chaos with a multitude of ideas only to bring them together in a rational order. Professors and students were bewildered by the idea that the writing of an individual–whose first language was not English–could surpass the abilities of those who grew up speaking English as their first language.