I had been downloading my favorite music into my new Zune device when I got stuck on one of my all-time favorite singers, Barbra Streisand. Music never fails to evoke memories, good and bad, and gets you thinking about the way we were. Nostalgically listening to her Greatest Hits Vol. 2, it sweetly inspired me to look back at the 11 year old girl I once was. I can’t stop listening and remembering my 5th grade year at Sageland Elementary School. During a time of US education trends that stressed English-only instruction I was selected to be a student of Mrs. Wade’s 5th grade classroom. An English grammarian, sponsor of the school’s Scrabble club, and past teacher to my big sister, that quickly adopted me as her research study in language acquisition and pronunciation.
Since 2nd grade I had been refusing to integrate into the US culture. I did not want it and I most definitely did not need it. My language was Spanish, my accent was Spanish, and my customs were Mexican. I feared letting them go and clung to them desperately. That is, until Mrs. Wade came into my life. She was determined that I would speak correct English and pronounce it as a good ‘American’. I was to use the lunch period to practice the vocabulary words and after school I became an honorary member of her Scrabble club (only the A students were permitted in the club). I learned to practice the most difficult spelling words as I was certain to be chosen to pronounce them aloud, in class, the following day. /Chik – uhn/ and not /shik – uhn/, /vol – ee – bawl/ and not /bol – ee- bawl/. I hated the extra attention and I hated school! Fifth grade and gym class just made learning dreadful.
That is until I found Barbra. My mamá obtained Barbra Streisand’s LP and I was curious enough to come home after a sickening day at school, plop down on the sofá, and listen to Barbra sing her heart out. She became my personal English tutor, helping me pronounce the English language by accompanying her, duet style, in her love songs. It didn’t matter that I had no clue what she was singing, but I remember practicing my breathing, my posture, and my accent, following her lead. She was my sweet inspiration. And, I proved to Mrs. Wade that I could communicate in English ‘properly’ without having Spanish come to a stoney end. My heart would continue to belong to the Spanish culture. I would not, will not, give up one for the other. Why? Because my heart belongs to me.