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Community News: Mid-City

TEMPLE-BEAUDRY : Immigrants Enjoy Newfound Literacy

October 23, 1994|LESLIE BERESTEIN

Seventeen years after leaving El Salvador, 68-year-old Marcos Guido is writing home for the first time.

Not because he ever forgot the children and grandchildren he left behind, or because he never took the time to write. It's because until recently, he never knew how.

"I always had to look for someone to write my letters for me," said Guido recently at the third annual graduation ceremony for Centro Latino de Educacion Popular, a Temple-Beaudry center dedicated to teaching illiterate Latino immigrants how to read and write in their native tongue.

"It's different now," said a beaming Guido, a retired mason who began working as a child. "Now my family understands what I want to say to them, and I feel proud."

Founded in 1991, Centro Latino de Educacion Popular is funded through private donations, so there is no charge to students, most of whom are working poor from the surrounding area. More than 100 students have come through the center since its inception, said executive director Marcos Cajina.

The center combines literacy classes with practical information in its curriculum, teaching students how they can best apply the skills they learn to their daily lives.

Cajina volunteered a few examples of the vocabulary words the recent graduates--who attended evening classes every day for several months--learned to spell, write and read.

"We taught them words like vivienda (housing), pandillas (gangs), inmigracion (immigration), educacion (education), Latinos , and exito (success)," he said.

In addition to a useful vocabulary, students also learned how to fill out applications and write personal checks.

For Liliana Rivera, a 50-year-old housekeeper, her newfound ability to read and write has not only made life easier, but also inspired in her a passion for learning. Orphaned at the age of three and raised by an aunt in a rural Guatemalan village that had no school, Rivera never had a chance to learn about what is now one of her favorite subjects--prehistoric animals.

"I'm reading this book called ' Evolucion ' (Evolution) right now, and learning about mammoths," said Rivera with childlike delight. "I can read all sorts of books now, even difficult ones. I'm so happy."

Cajina said the center has made plans with Echo Park's Pioneer Market to have personal narratives written by recent graduates printed on the stores' grocery bags beginning in November, so that people might see illiterate immigrants in a different light.

"In the face of all this immigrant bashing, we want people to see that these people are working hard and trying to get ahead," he said.

Most of the graduates plan to pick up English once they feel comfortable enough with their Spanish.

"Although I'm advanced in my years, I'm going to keep learning. This is just the first step," said Guido, who is expecting his first American-born grandchild in a month.

Information: (213) 481-2746.

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