Tuesday, January 31, 2017

An immigrant in first grade

When I was seven years old, my parents decided that my mom and I would go to America and visit my sister and brother who where living there.  The three of us could not visit America together because an entire family would not be granted a visa due to risk of never returning home.  This way we would surely return since we could not leave my dad behind for good.  So we went on our trip which ended up lasting one year!
As I was school aged, I was enrolled in first grade in America.  Even though I had gone through first grade in Iran, my family decided that it was best for me to start fresh in America (a decision that set me back one year in my life).  I did not speak any English, I had no background in the American school culture.  At that time in America, immigration and children who did not speak English were not common so schools did not have any programs such as ESL.  Also, teachers were not trained in working with such kids if any came across their classes.  I was enrolled and attended school just like any other American child with no special assistance or consideration for my situation.  I went through the motions in school every day not understanding the lessons, the instructions, the homework and basically what anybody was saying.
I remember my classroom, I remember my cubby, the stationary that I was given such as brand new shiny number two pencils.  I remember the outside grass area and the playground, the bars that I did gymnastic moves on.  I remember having no friends.  But there are two things that I remember most vividly.
First of the two vivid memories is of two girls, friends who were always together, a blond with straight hair and a brunette with wavy hair.  Every so often the two of them would approach me, the blond would stand inches away facing me, looking down into my eyes (she was a few inches taller than me) and aggressively moving her index finger in and out of my face, intensely saying things loudly.  I did not understand what she was saying but I knew that they were mean words.  The brunette would stand behind or next to her friend and watch.
Second of the two vivid memories is of a day that I had not completed an assignment that the teacher had given.  One day I came to school in the morning that noticed that each student had brought in a large house made of cardboard.  Apparently this was an assignment that I had missed because I did not speak the language that the teacher was speaking.  There was a lot of excitement between the kids regarding their houses and the prize they were going to receive for completing it.  My feelings however were shame and fear for not completing the assignment.  Each student who made a cardboard house (all of the students in class) received a large red gummy cinnamon candy shaped like a bear.  Naturally I did not receive one.  Later in the day I saw one of those candies lying on the ground and thought about picking it up, but pride stopped me from doing it.

By the end of that year I understood and spoke English fluently as if I had been raised in America.  When we went back to Iran I was enrolled in and attended second grade.  My second grade teacher in Iran asked for a meeting with my parents in which she asked them to stop speaking to me in English at home (for practice), because my Farsi had developed an accent and she was afraid that the other children may make fun of me.