When I arrived at the library this evening, I noticed it was much more quiet than usual. Typically as I arrive there are children hanging outside the doorway, sometimes having a snack. When I walk in, I there are families sitting in the lounge area, children on all the computers, and voices, in Spanish and English. This night, there were some computer stations free, only one occupied chair in the lounge, and the sound of quiet whispers, more typical of libraries, but not this one, at least not in my experience.
As I walked in, Carol greeted me.
“Mr Steve, did anyone tell you we don’t have homework help tonight? There was no school today.”
“O, well, I don’t know.”
“Nobody told you?”
“Maybe someone did, but I probably forgot.”
“I can wait around and hang out, though. Just in case somebody does drop in. Tonight’s my free evening.”
“Sometimes there are some kids who wait, but you’re welcome to wait.”
I did wait, and sure enough, one young man had homework. I sat with him, only to learn he didn’t bring his homework. He had to call his father, but he didn’t know the phone number. He told me he would get his homework and come back.
I returned to the outer larger room of the library and sat at a table alone. Soon four children joined me and asked if I wanted to play Uno. Of course I said.
As we began to deal cards, Carol approached me. “We have someone else, this girl has homework. She had school today.”
“Hola, buenas. Tienes tarea?” I asked her.
“Si, tengo tarea.”
The girl, Sarahy, was in second grade, and we decided to sit in the lounge area as we did her homework together. She had a math worksheet to complete, and her mother requested her to practice reading. Sarahy pulled out a book. Her mother looked at it, then picked it up and flipped through the pages. She said the book was too easy, that it was “para kinder” or for kindergarten, and that she needed to read something with “palabra mas larga.” To the protestations of Sarahy, her mother returned with a different picture book, slightly longer and with bigger words.
As Sarahy and I worked on her homework I realized she was very talkative, more so in Spanish than English. She mentioned that she had confusion with words in English and Spanish, that this sometimes made reading and writing difficult for her. I understood what she meant, and also that she had a great awareness of what it meant in order to move between languages, sometimes gracefully sometimes not.
Sarahy had many questions about me. She wanted to know where I was from. She asked if I was “blanquito,” or white. I told her I was Mexicano. I told her I was Chicano, however, and that was a little different. When I explained that Chicanos are folks with Mexican backgrounds born in the USA, she said, “yo tambien, yo soy Chicana porque yo soy de Tennessee.”
She mentioned her family came from Mexico, but she didn’t know where. She said she remembered something her mother said about “selvas” or jungles. I asked her if the name Veracruz sounded familiar.
“Yo creo que si,” she said.
As we made our way through her homework, I noticed that Sarahy didn’t know much of her math tables, that she used her fingers to count. With numbers over 10, however, this proved difficult for her. I lent my fingers in this case, and I realized that some flashcards would help her.
We finished her math homework, and moved on to reading. Sarahy had difficulty with reading as well, some of the longer words in particular. We practiced phonics, as well as taking turns reading sentences. As I used my finger to guide her, I realized that she started to do this for herself after she began to recognize some of the patterns with words.
We completed the book, and when I walked back to her mother, I mentioned that Sarahy needed more help with her reading, and that every evening she should read for thirty minutes. Again, I mentioned this could happen in English or Spanish. The mother thanked me and asked when I would be back. I told her, and Sarahy said, “Gracias amigo.”