Date: Sep 16th, 2006 7:48:47 pm - Subscribe
For my observation, I attended a school talent show in (town, state). This may not sound like much; talent shows are fairly common. However, in (town) over 90% of the student population is of Mexican descent. Some are citizens and some are not. Most of the parents who attended the talent show did not speak English. If they did speak English, it was very limited. This was definitely out of my comfort zone and out of my normal daily life.
In the beginning, the show began as expected. The emcees were two high school students, who were dressed in baggy jeans and long shirts. One would speak to the audience in English, while the other was responsible for translating in Spanish to the parents and other Spanish-speaking students. Occasionally, the emcees would neglect to speak in English at all. It was a very strange feeling for me. I felt that I was hundreds of miles removed from the United States; it was as though I had stepped into a small Mexican village.
Each time that the boys spoke, I realized that they were comfortable in this auditorium of people. They spoke in only the casual register. When introducing acts, they always showed great emotion and told a humorous story about them. So many grammatical errors occurred during their speeches that I began to lose count. I began to realize that their use of English was often intermixed with their use of Spanish. Specifically, grammar rules from both languages often appeared in the same speech. This is just a part of language acquisition that is hard for English Language Learners to master.
Many of the acts gave small dedication speeches before or after their performance. Most of the students displayed a strong devotion to God, particularly as part of Hispanic Catholicism. Many of the students had large crosses or T-shirts with Jesus on them. As my eyes peered over the crowd, I noticed more of the same. During the intermission, a Catholic prayer was dedicated to a student who was killed in a car accident. The prayer was stated in English and in Spanish. Almost everyone in the auditorium knew the prayer, proceeded with the Sign of the Cross, and kissed the crosses that they wore around their necks.
I thought about school functions at my own children’s school. The differences were striking. My children also attend public school, just as these students did. However, my children’s school does not lead a prayer at school functions. If one were to begin, it would not be largely intertwined with Hispanic Catholicism. My children are native English speakers, as are the overwhelming majority of students at their school. The other parents resemble me, and I don’t feel as though I stick out. I felt very out of sorts as I thought of these differences and I felt so far removed from my “norm.” It was a combination of everything. I was definitely in the minority there, I didn’t speak the language, and the customs were so much different from my own.
As I talked to other teachers in the auditorium, I began gathering more information. The majority of families in (town) live at or below the poverty line. The talent show is an annual event that everyone looks forward to. It is a time for families to gather and entertain each other, to catch up with each other, and to pray together. Many of these families have no one to turn to because they left so much behind in Mexico. This talent show is a time of community gathering that is very needed in this small migrant community.
While I am still trying to reconcile my feelings about having to translate everything into Spanish, I feel that I am learning more about this culture. I truly wish that the students here would work on their grasp of English because I think it will make it easier for them to make their way in the world. I think that teachers need to have higher expectations for ELL students than they realize. If teachers don’t expect them to speak properly in English, then the casual register will prevail and language acquisition will not be complete.
While I would not necessarily love to attend another talent show here, I do understand its purpose. I think that the community of (town) needs chances to gather together as often as possible. I would imagine that there are other places that have similar needs. Immigrant communities, rural villages, or very poor areas need a chance to support each other without financial strain.
I gained some insight into what makes a migrant community different from mine, but I also learned that there are similarities. Both love to gather to watch their children perform. Both take every chance available to make connections with their friends and families. Both enjoy entertaining each other, albeit in slightly different ways. I am looking forward to more observations that allow me the opportunity to investigate unfamiliar cultural territory.
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