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Karen Childress plays UNO with her two youngest children at the kitchen table, while her eldest son reads a book. The little ones shout out the colors and numbers, drowning out the sound of their brother slowly but correctly pronouncing each syllable on the page.
It is Spanish time for this English-speaking family. Exercises like card games and books sharpen their knowledge of the Spanish language.
Javier Martínez Vargas se sentó en una caseta un día el pasado otoño, contando el dinero que había ganado como mesero esa tarde en El Matador en Johnson City, Tenn.
Un cliente le preguntó que si estaba planeando hacer algo para el Mes de la Herencia Hispana. Martínez Vargas, un ciudadano mexicano y residente permanente legal de los Estados Unidos, sacudió su cabeza. Luego, el cliente le preguntó qué pensaba sobre la palabra ‘hispano.’
“En verdad, no me importa lo que me llamen,” dijo Martínez Vargas. “Para mí, latino suena mejor que hispano o mexicano.”
En Chiapas, uno de los estados más australes de México, el 25.9 por ciento de los hogares no tiene agua corriente, el 32.9 por ciento tiene suelo de tierra, y el 5.8 por ciento no tiene electricidad, según el Censo del Instituto Nacional de Estadísticas y Geografía del 2005.
En una de estas casas es donde vivía Nehemías Ramírez como trabajador de construcción hasta que se acabó el trabajo. Hace tres años se vino a los Estados Unidos buscando un mejor trabajo y para ganar más dinero.
Agarrando el mango de madera de una pala, un joven endurece los músculos de su brazo para enterrar la punta metálica en el suelo, y rompe un montón de tierra. Descarga la tierra en una caretilla y comienza el proceso de nuevo.
Para algunos, este escenario podría traer a la mente un día agotador de trabajo en el jardín o un episodio de un programa de bricolaje. Para otros, el trabajo repetitivo y físico es una forma de vida.
Irene Castellón, 19, es una joven inteligente y bella que estudia español en East Tennessee State University. Ella espera usar su licenciatura en español para ayudar a los latinos a tener una vida mejor. Pero hace un año, la universidad no era una opción para ella por su estatus migratorio.
Un grupo de jóvenes corre por el campo de fútbol en Bristol, Tennessee, gritando jugadas y palabras de aliento a los demás. Lo que están diciendo es comprensible, pero su acento no suena igual. Eso es porque este grupo de varones es un crisol de estudiantes de todo el mundo.
“El valiente dura hasta que el cobarde quiere.”
Escondieron sus cicatrices del abuso físico y emocional por años, suprimiendo sus miedos, dolor y desolación tras la cortina de una vida “normal.” Sin embargo, el silencio casi les costó la vida.
Mexican Coca-Cola is enjoying new and increased popularity these days.
Mexican food markets often sell out of the stuff before their next shipment arrives; Costco has begun to carry the product on the West Coast, and there are even rumors of the import gracing the shelves of Wal-Mart.
“To tell you the truth, it tastes more sugary,” said Clariza Mendoza, manager of El Corita, a Mexican food store in Lynn Garden.
“Some Americans, that’s what they come in for.”
When Karen Nava Stafford was 10 or 12 years old in Mexico City, she would watch her mother cooking in the kitchen and help her. She would visit her grandfather’s bakery, where he would get up at 4 a.m. to make the dough. He would tell her that it is important to have the bread done by 6 a.m.
“In Mexico you are always beside your mom when she is cooking. You don’t need to go to school to learn to cook,” she said.
The time when one could feel the distance when calling somewhere far, far away is far, far gone.
With Skype, a voice-over-Internet software, you not only get an instant answer but an instant movie image as well.
Skype is easy to download and easy to use. The Skype Web page, www.skype.com, provides all the information and the software needed to get started. In 2007 Skype said it had 276 million user accounts, growing to 309 million in 2008. The company describes its service as “a little piece of software that lets you talk over the Internet to anyone in the world for free.”
The Kingsport City Schools ESL program is helping students excel not only in English, but in every aspect of their school life, too.
Imagine what it would be like to move to a new country without knowing the language spoken there. Now imagine having to keep up with school assignments while learning English. In the Kingsport City School System, 65 students are doing just that.
These students, who come from as far away as Argentina, China and Cuba, are participating in the English as a Second Language program, or ESL. These students go to their ESL class every day and work one-on-one with one of the two ESL teachers employed by the school system.
After a full day of school, sports, homework and family, 9-year-old Nicolas Knutzen of Kingsport goes back to school, this time in Argentina.
Nicolas, or Nico, is a citizen of Argentina and is enrolled in the Service of Distance Education program sponsored by the Argentina Ministry of Education. When his parents, Mariana and Michael Knutzen, moved from Buenos Aires to Kingsport in 2000, they worried about how Nico, who was 7 months old at the time, would learn what he needed to know about his home country in case he returned to live in Argentina.
“I was worried about the writing and reading part,” Mariana said. “Now the foundation will be forever.”
Imagine you are in a country where they speak a language that you do not understand. Now imagine trying to find help in a busy hospital or clinic without having an effective means to communicate.
“Sometimes we take for granted that we can communicate on any level,” said Neila Rodriguez, owner of Tri-City Bi-Lingual Consulting, who works as an interpreter in Johnson City and at the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development in Kingsport.
For many in East Tennessee, the language barrier is a reality, but one that hospitals and clinics are trying to overcome for patients.
Dobyns-Bennett High School students have been excelling on the National Spanish Examination and aim to continue the tradition. Awards were granted to 40 students from the high school for the exam in 2008, acknowledging their excellence in academic achievement for learning Spanish as a second language.
The National Spanish Examination, sponsored by the American Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese, is a standardized assessment given by teachers to measure the proficiency and achievement of students studying Spanish as a second language. In addition to receiving national recognition, students who excelled on this exam are eligible to apply for junior travel awards and senior scholarships. This impressive show by the D-B students has inspired teachers and students to continue their academic pursuits into applied living and community activities.
On a Friday afternoon in Jonesborough, Tenn., the sun is beating down, five men load tobacco that has been cut and speared on a tractor to take the barn. They have worked a short day, it is pay day. But they are not done yet. They still have to hang the tobacco in the barn.
Junior Villanueva, 32, Juan Avila; 42, Victoriano Gomez, 20; Santos Miguel, 32 and Jose Sanchez, 34, are Jeff Aiken’s migrant workers. The men toil over his farm on a daily basis for about six months, harvesting his tobacco in the fall.
Eastman Chemical Co. is spicing up its group fitness program with Latin dance classes for employees.
“Dancing is fun, easy and effective,” said Sarita Atiles, a certified Latin dance instructor. “You forget you are working out!"
Atiles was hired for dance instruction and entertainment at Eastman’s annual health fair held last fall. In black gym shorts and a white tank top, with a microphone strapped to her head, Atiles led a small group of women in a fast-paced dance routine called Zumba. With remarkable energy she called out encouragement to the group as they worked through each new phase of the dance. Zumba includes Latin music that “takes over your body” and moves that are easy to follow, said Atiles.
Covered-dish dinners, salsa dancing, and picnics outside on a sunny day provide more than just a good time for the local Hispanic community. Activities sponsored by a Kingsport social club take the initiative to focus on positive change and to link together the area’s Latinos.
“I have made countless friends through Club Latinoamericano and made friendships that I consider part of my extended family,” said Humberto Collazo, an Eastman engineer and native of Puerto Rico.
“It also helps me integrate into the community, especially when we have the opportunity to share our culture with the people of the TriCities,” he said.
Cynthia Chavez goes to school, goes to work, then comes home and starts her second job as a translator. Her two clients are Jesus and Elisa Chavez, her parents. The Chavezes are an example of Spanish-speaking families that need the children to translate information from an English-speaking source into their native language. The translations are needed at school, doctor’s offices, in the store and on the phone, among other places.
It’s 3 p.m. on Friday. School is out and Hispanic students of all ages, from all around the Unicoi area, are headed to the after-school program at Unicoi United Methodist Church.
For the children, the program is a chance to learn, play and spend time with other Hispanic children. But for the volunteers, the children’s parents and the community, the program is so much more.
The church started the program four years ago to offer Hispanic children in the area a place to spend time together after school and to learn more about Jesus. In those four years, church volunteers have witnessed how the two-and-a-half hours at the church are not only good for the youngsters but are also a big help to parents.
With Spanish language channels available on American cable TV, viewers can enjoy programs other than those presented in English.
But which is preferred by bilingual teens at Unicoi County High School: English-language or Spanish-language channels? Or is there no distinct favorite?
Summer school may be dreaded by kids of all ages, but not so with students at East Tennessee State University’s Migrant Education Program.
Children of migrant agricultural workers in Unicoi, Washington, and Greene counties come to the program every year — and not just for educational purposes. Here, they are encouraged and motivated in their life’s choices and, most importantly, they enjoy it.
The sound of rewinding camera film mingled with laughter at Fender’s Farm in Washington County last fall as a group of seven young photographers took their first field trip of the year. They were part of Growing Tennessee: Rural Youth Cultivate Common Ground, a program that unites youths from different cultural backgrounds.
"Watch the sun and keep your finger off the shutter," reminded photography professor Alice Anthony, of Milligan College, before participants began the corn maze on the warm fall morning. "Be more selective and remember to turn in the rolls of film."
Growing Tennessee began in 2006 through a partnership between Tennessee Migrant and Seasonal Head Start, run by Telamon Corp., and 4-H, a youth organization supported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said Jane Crowe, Telamon program development coordinator.
The Unicoi class, along with others in Greene County and West Tennessee, is sponsored by the Tennessee Arts Commission as a youth initiative for at-risk teens. It allows participants to share cultural traditions through the lens of a camera.
Many immigrants in Erwin use prepaid calling cards to stay in touch with family members in their countries of origin. The cards, found in stores throughout the area, offer rates cheaper than conventional landline long distance calls. Even so, buyers sometimes feel cheated.
“When you buy a card, it never gives you the amount of minutes it said,” Patricia Breto said as she purchased a $3 “Fuerza Mexicana” card at El Corita, a store that sells Hispanic goods on Main Avenue.
“One time I spent $5 on a card and it only gave me one call. I called the customer service number on the card and no one answered. It made me so mad.”
Stacks of red, yellow and blue containers line the Hispanic food aisle in an Erwin store. Some gleam with pictures of sliced cactus, others with colorful whole peppers and sauce-covered beans.
For residents like Connie Saldaña, finding these ingredients once meant a trip to a specialty market. Today, she goes to nearby chain stores to buy most of the ingredients to make authentic enchiladas, homemade Spanish rice and hot tamales.
“Most of the time Wal-Mart, and sometimes Food City, will have a lot of the Mexican food,” Saldaña said. “It’s just the way you put it together to give it the flavor that you want.”
While most potential homebuyers secure loans from banks, many are now looking to programs offered by government agencies and non-profit organizations to ease some of the financial burden of buying a house.
Government agencies such as U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development office and the Tennessee Housing Development Authority will often work with non-profit organizations, such as Eastern Eight Community Development Corp., to meet the needs of low- to middle-income families looking for homes in Northeast Tennessee.
The American Obesity Association reports that obesity in the United States occurs at higher rates among blacks and Hispanic Americans than white non-Hispanics. The difficulty with obesity is that it leads to other health problems such as diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure, experts say.
Of these heath problems, local health professionals say diabetes appears to be the prevalent problem for the Hispanic population in the Tri-Cities.
Sending money home is one way that immigrants show love for their families. For some local workers, that means a trip to La Mexicana, a store at 709 S. Roan St., Johnson City.
Carlos Martinez is one patron of the downtown store. Whenever he has enough money from his factory job, he sends as much as he can home. “In Mexico my dad is not working right now so it is important for my family,” said Martinez, who has been working in America more than four years.
Come November, some members of Unicoi County’s Hispanic community intend to make their voices heard by voting in the presidential election. But getting people to the polls is the first step.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Hispanics represented 6 percent of voters in the 2004 election, when 47 percent of Hispanic citizens cast their ballots. That year, President George W. Bush won 44 percent of the Hispanic vote, compared to 35 percent in 2000.
In 1973 migrant farm workers, who move with the seasons, were families that worked under the supervision of a crew leader. But since the 1970s the family situations of people who do this kind of work have evolved as much as the farm itself.
Goat: it’s what could be for dinner. But, would folks in East Tennessee be willing to put beef aside, and give the other “red meat” a try?
Goat meat, or “chevon” as it is known in Spanish, has long been a staple of diets in the Caribbean, Latin America, the Middle East, North Africa and Southeast Asia. Surely there’s a reason. Could it be that it’s better for humans than other meats?
In Bernie Rodriguez’s English for Speakers of Other Languages class, students know the ESOL program is their ticket to a better life in the United States.
“They have to have a purpose,” Rodriguez said. “To work toward a GED [General Educational Development test], to find employment, to upgrade their skills.”
Although most attending are from Mexico, the class is a virtual melting pot of cultures, with students from Africa, Europe, Asia and several Latin American countries. Students like Rafael Garcia, a native of Mexico now living in Erwin, said the class is the most important step toward achieving goals he set when he moved to the U.S.
On a Sunday afternoon in an old stone church in Erwin, a congregation was singing and worshiping as usual. This might seem routine, but there was one important difference at this church: The service was performed in Spanish.
Iglesia de Dios Pentecostes, or the Pentecostal Church of God, is a unique congregation in Erwin, at least for now. Victor Terrazas and his wife, Sarai, are the founders and pastors.
“We saw the need in the Hispanic community for God, so we started [the church],” Terrazas said.
The bell rings. Science Hill High School students crowd the hallways. Among them, five international students head to English as a Second Language class, where they learn American culture, improve their reading and writing skills and get support for other courses.