Under the wooden rafters of Notre Dame Catholic Church in Greeneville, Tenn., a young girl walks slowly up the aisle on the way to her womanhood. She is flanked by her mother and stepfather, and she follows a procession of young ladies in slim red dresses and gentlemen in white Navy officer’s uniforms. Her dress is bright red and voluminous. A silver tiara sits atop her head. Her name is Leslie, and today is her day; today is her quinceañera.
Sitting at his kitchen table, Juan Rojas, known as Johnny, smiles as his little sister runs around the table. There are photographs throughout the Johnson City home of family members near and far.
Johnny, whose family is from Mexico, is a senior in high school looking forward to his future. Being bilingual can make it easier for him to find employment. Johnny said he once worked for a restaurant that needed someone who was bilingual, because some of the workers spoke Spanish.
Although free health care is available to all children, Hispanics are the least likely of all children in the United States to receive it.
One reason may be that they tend to be healthier. But another could be that language barriers and lack of transportation lead parents who don’t speak English to avoid waiting rooms.
Every morning as Mayne Beceria gets ready for school, so does her young daughter Melanie. Too young for kindergarten, the dark-haired, giggly girl goes to a special school — Johnson City Even Start.
“Oh, Mommy. Let’s go to my school, Melanie’s school!” Melanie tells her mother.
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.