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  • Ayren Jackson-Cannady

Learning a Love Language

“When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.”-Leviticus 19:33-34

The night before Trey's first day of Kindergarten I had a dream. I dreamed that I was speaking in the front of a packed Spanish. I have no idea what I was saying, because, well I don't speak Spanish. But over the course of the speech, the crowd was moved to tears, fits of laughter, and intense concentration, so it must of been something intriguing. I knew it was all a fantasy because when I awoke, groggy and foggy-brained, I could barely string together a sentence in English. "Socks. Cereal. Now," I grunted to my son. As we entered his Spanish Immersion Elementary school, Trey wore his apprehension boldly like a charro suit--furrowed brow, pursed lips, and slow feet. Half of the parents dropping off their students spoke in English: "I love you. Have a great day. Be good. Listen to your teachers." The other half spoke in Spanish: "Te quiero. Que tengas un gran día. Sé bueno. Escucha a tus maestros." One teacher with a blonde bob and stickers of flags all over her arms popped out of her classroom with a perky "Buenos dias." Trey looked at his feet and kept walking. "Buenos dias," I said (in a very American accent). I, like other students coming through the U.S. education system, took a couple of semesters of Spanish in high school and a single semester of Spanish in college. That's it. I look back and think how foreign language, in many American schools, has been unconsciously lumped together with courses like paleontology. AKA classes I'd never use in real life unless under special circumstances. Little did I know that of 56.6 million people surveyed in the United States who self-identify as Hispanic or Latino, 35 percent (19.5 million) are immigrants whose first language is Spanish. The opportunity to speak Spanish with an expert? 19.5 million. The opportunity to dig up a fossil of a primitive fish? Still zero.

Hearing the hum of two beautiful languages meld together on Trey's first day of school was the main reason my husband and I didn't shy away from an immersion program for our son. If there's one thing I want him to take away from elementary school, it's a sincere appreciation for other cultures. Not everyone in this world looks like he does...not everyone eats the same foods...not everyone likes the same games...and not everyone speaks the same language. And even if he goes through 10 years of taking Spanish and still isn't speaking fluently in a packed auditorium, it's okay--love is the only language that really matters anyways.


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