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Community News: Mid-City

PICO-UNION : Literacy Classes a Key to Survival

October 18, 1992|ELSTON CARR

Martin Lopez lives in a world of isolation. The immigrant from Mexico cannot read or write in Spanish, and cannot speak or understand English. He has only recently memorized his signature and depends on his brother to fill out application forms.

Lopez, 24, has always had jobs that required little or no reading: He left school to work on a farm and now sweats out 12-hour days, six days a week in a Downtown garment factory. But he has increasingly found that even the simplest tasks outside of work require literacy.

"It's embarrassing asking my family for help all the time," Lopez said. And that is why he is taking some of the little free time he has to learn to read and write.

For two hours on Monday and Wednesday evenings, Lopez joins a group of other Latino immigrants at literacy classes offered by the social service agency El Rescate at the Angelica Lutheran Church, 1345 S. Burlington Ave.

Each evening, five to 12 adults meet in the church basement and make their first tentative steps toward becoming literate in their native language. Their teacher, Alba Escobar, slowly guides them through the Spanish alphabet. Using phonics, she helps them read and pronounce their first words, such as Latino and familia .

Escobar said the free Spanish literacy classes began when teachers in El Rescate's English as a Second Language program noticed that some students did not know the basics of Spanish and thus had more difficulty learning English.

"They were not making progress in English because they couldn't write. They didn't know the alphabet," Escobar said. "They have to learn their own language and then they can learn English."

She said the double handicap of being illiterate in Spanish and not fluent in English often allows unscrupulous employers and others to cheat and abuse her students.

A receptionist for El Rescate, Escobar, 26, volunteered to teach the remedial Spanish class for adults. The students range in age from 18 to 60.

"Sometimes they can't read letters from their families, or they can't begin to understand the information at bus stops and don't know where the buses are going. They can't write down an address to get to a friend's house. Sometimes their children ask them for help on homework, and they can't help," Escobar said. "They feel isolated--almost alien--different from everyone around them."

Information: (213) 387-3284.

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