YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

City Times Voices

Reading, Writing and Helping : A Salvadoran refugee has set aside his goal to become a lawyer in favor of teaching literacy skills to Latino adults.

March 20, 1994|ROBERTO BUSTILLO | Roberto Bustillo, 35, is the director of Proyecto Educativo Comunitario (Community Education Project), a South-Central community organization designed to improve literacy in Spanish among Latino adults. Last year, the 2-year-old PRECO organization provided 512 hours of free instruction in reading and writing in Spanish. Bustillo was interviewed by Kirby Lee

Latinos are one of the fastest-growing ethnic groups in South-Central, but there is a great lack of community-based educational services for non-English-speaking adults.

The public library system provides basic literacy in English for English-speaking adults and local schools offer English as a Second Language classes. Neither, however, addresses the learning needs of those who lack basic reading and writing skills in their native language.

Learning to read and write in Spanish is the first step before going on to ESL classes. I started PRECO to help serve as this link.

Classes are offered four nights a week at St. Columbkille and St. Vincent's churches. I am one of three teachers, and we have about 30 students, who are given individualized and group instruction.

Most of our students are adult immigrants, ranging from age 18 to 60, who came here for economic or political reasons and who have to deal with a lot of obstacles to survive.

We teach Spanish literacy by using the students' culture and experiences as immigrants, students and job-seekers.

We focus on teaching words representing the living conditions of the Latino community such as vivienda (housing), salud (health) and familia (family). Traditional methods use words like manzana (apple) or ventana (window). This works for children because at that moment they are learning to know their environment, but the traditional method is not effective for adults.

If you cannot read or write, even in Spanish, it's very hard to find work or fill out an application for social services.

I knew Spanish and it was still a difficult experience. For those who are illiterate, it is twice as difficult.

I was a law student at the National University in El Salvador but was forced to come to the United States for my personal security in 1988 because of my involvement in a student campaign to demand more funding for the university from the government.

I received anonymous letters threatening me, and for my last six months in El Salvador I was followed by government agents who questioned me and followed me wherever I went. My wife and 5-year-old daughter are still in El Salvador, but I knew if I did not leave I would eventually be killed.

I did not know any English and worked as a dishwasher when I arrived in this country. I taught myself English, and it's still important to me to improve my language skills.

PRECO operates out of my apartment on a budget of about $50,000. Most of our money is invested in computer equipment for developing a textbook and flyers and school supplies. The churches have donated classroom space and we have received grants from foundations.

I work more than 60 hours each week, teaching and recruiting students, teachers and volunteers. I have all but given up on my dream of becoming a lawyer, but I have no regrets.

Los Angeles Times Articles