Fieldnote 22 April 2013

“A fresh look at immigrant student and how they become American” I hear on the radio. This just after the Boston bombings. I hear that and think, yeah, I’ve read a lot about that and what can be fresh is not always as useful as what has happened historically and what happens at the moment politically and juridically. Things I’ve been thinking about working on a few articles and presentations. The manuscript gaining speed again, feeling good where my trajectory has me at the moment, several projects on the horizon and plenty of fieldwork to begin my next project as well.

Back to the library this Monday night, the last week of classes at UK for the term. I don’t expect to see many tutors. What I encounter is just the opposite: too many tutors and not enough students. There are moments when the numbers even out, but for the most part, there’s always someone who is not working with a student.


6:00 PM: arrive, no children. Yet. Two parents sitting in waiting area speaking to one another in Spanish. I wait.

“Could you help with some math?”

Sure I guess, why not? Wait . . . what kind of math? She showed me the math, that looked like calculus, so I said no not that math. Her mother saw me, saw my expression.

“Es mucha matematica para mi” I say.

“Si!” she laughs. She asks her daughter to look at the math, and she nods.

6:15 PM: first student to help. I was asked to assist the teacher from the high school funded through the grant with someone’s homework. They asked me to be the translator. I thought, well, okay. I think I did a decent job. I was the language broker, and it was pretty fun. The math teacher and I collaborated on the math principles, and we also practiced English.

He’s an eighth grader, I helped him before. I thought he was from Nicaragua, but he says Honduras. He’s 13.

He was solving Algebraic equations solving for unknowns. He had to isolate numbers from one another by canceling them out from one another. I was able to use what Spanish I have to explain “numeros solos” and “numeros con la letra” which really guided him more than helped him as the words triggered the process which he already had a good command over. There were a few times he had to change signs, so I used cognates “negative” and “positive” and that was easy enough. I noted how the high school teacher observed those words and understood our conversation.

We finished with the homework, which took about 65 minutes because of the amount of problems he had to work through.

When I finished with that, I went back into the tutoring room, but there were no students to help, and most of the tutors sat by themselves checking their cell phones. I grabbed a newspaper and sat down as well. I read the newspaper, put it back, and when I returned, I realized I had only fifteen more minutes on my shift. I saw Jennifer, the sixth grader working on a project on her laptop. I asked her what it was.

“This is a bag of Mexico.”


“It’s like we make a bag and we put stuff about Mexico in it.”

“Oh, I see. What do you have so far?”

She had images of the Mexican flag, as well as an interpretation of the colors on the flag. She had the date of independence.

She had done some research. I asked her more questions about the flag. I had a few minutes yet before I had to leave.

“What about that stuff in the middle of the flag, the picture?”

“Oh, it’s an eagle . . . and it has a snake. And they are . . . they are on top of . . . what do you all those? Uh nopal.”

“Right, nopales. You like to eat them?”

“No, my grandma does, but I don’t like them.”

“Oh, but they are so good!”


“Well, anyway, the eagle with a snake in its mouth and the cactus. Look up on the computer this word “Aztec” and you’ll see.”

“Yeah I know them we read them too!”

“Cool, but this is a good story.”

She found Aztec on Wikipedia and she started to read through. The prose was dense for her, but she made her way. When I asked her what she understood in the introduction, she looked a little lost. I helped her read through, and I guided her down to a portion about the Aztec migration to their capital. As we read this narration together, I stopped to describe the different points of narrative situations.

She took notes with pencil on paper as we came to the main words to write: Mexico City, Tenochtitlan, Nahuatl and from that I demonstrated to her some of the root words of tomato tomatl chocolate chocolatl tamale tamatl cacahuate cacahuatl and on. She liked that. When I told her she could study that language in college someday, she smiled.

We read the legend of the migration from Aztlan to Tenochtitlan, the sign of the eagle and the snake on the nopal, and connected this back to the symbolism of the flag.

“That flag tells a story.”

“They all do.”

“But with a picture,” she said. “Now I know what the picture means.”