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ECHO PARK : Grocery Bags Carry Message of Literacy

November 27, 1994

Pioneer Market, the only supermarket in the mostly Spanish-speaking Echo Park neighborhood west of downtown, began distributing grocery bags printed with essays by students from the adult literacy program of Centro Latino de Educacion Popular, a nonprofit organization.

"People who do not know how to read cannot have any privacy and have to ask others for favors to write their letters. That is very humiliating," wrote one 72-year-old contributor, Concepcion. "I have come out of that ignorance."

The main idea, said board member Melanie Stephens, is to let people in the neighborhood know about the classes, which have helped about 100 students since they began in 1991.

"No. 2 is to let the larger community of Los Angeles be able to appreciate the life stories of newly literate adult students, because many of them don't get to be heard in any other way," Stephens said.

One writer, Carlos, told of growing up on a ranch where the owner kept all the children out of school to work. Concepcion told of an early life of "children and problems" that kept her from getting an education.

Studies have shown that more than 300,000 people in Los Angeles never got past the fourth grade. Spanish speakers who cannot read or write face a double disadvantage in learning English.

"What holds most of them back is that it's extremely difficult to learn a foreign language unless you have basic reading and writing skills in your own language," Stephens said.

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