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'I Also Remember Being Scared'

May 07, 1996

I was born in Ecuador and came to this country at the age of 4. I grew up speaking only Spanish at home, where a strong sense of pride in our culture and language was stressed. I also remember being scared going to school. Everything seemed so alien and the language so strange. But being in that "sink or swim" situation motivated me to learn English as quickly as possible. With the exception of the first year, which was quite challenging, I look back at my school years with fond memories.

Academically, I did well and went on to USC to get my business degree. I can assure you there are thousands of others who survived school without bilingual education. After years in bilingual education, many students still can't speak or write English properly. To make matters worse, their Spanish is no better.

I have acquired and carry with me the best of two worlds: the heritage of my native land and the education this country has given me. I am now the mother of two young children, and I am proudly passing down the Spanish language, the richness of my culture, the love for this country and the value of an education.


Rancho Palos Verdes

'I realized the American dream'


I empathize with Nydia Hernandez. When I was 10, my parents brought me and my three brothers from Mexico. I had skipped third grade and was scheduled to go into the fifth grade. We ended up in Crystal City, Texas, where I was placed in the third grade because I did not speak English. The only subjects I think I passed that first year were arithmetic and geography. My teacher forbade the rest of the class to speak to me in Spanish, and yes it was lonely and at times humiliating.

The results, however, were that I probably learned better English than most natives. I'm an American citizen, hold an executive position, and own my home. In other words, I realized the American dream.

I do feel that bilingual education holds Hispanics back. I don't advocate for the extreme system in which Ms. Hernandez and I learned English. I also don't believe in teaching children in Spanish when we have made a choice to live in the United States.

I believe some supporters of bilingual education, as it has existed, have concerns about losing our culture and our identity. The school system was created to provide an education, not to nurture anyone's culture. That does not mean to say that in the course of normal education everyone's culture is not touched and affected. Once we have learned English, nothing prevents us from pursuing knowledge of our culture through education.

Our parents sacrificed in bringing us to the United States. In not learning English quickly and properly, and in not advancing as fast as we should, we waste our parents' sacrifice.


Santa Monica

'Children have ability to learn rapidly'


I disagree with Ms. Hernandez and her lengthy pitch for bilingual education. Children have the ability to learn rapidly. When they are nursed and coddled they invariably wind up doing poorly in the most important language of their lives. They frequently have accents when they are older and are pegged as foreigners lacking in education.

Two of my children have a Hispanic mother. Even though they speak Spanish fluently, English has always been their primary language, and they never received a bilingual education. One is a junior at Berkeley. I think Ms. Hernandez is wrong to suggest that many of the children would be scarred for life without bilingual education, and it sounds to me like she is more concerned over her job than she is for the best interest and welfare of children.


Los Angeles

'I personally felt affirmed'


Congratulations for capturing the essence of why so many of us are bilingual educators. As I read the article, I personally felt affirmed, since I too feel that every child is capable of learning and reaching their potential.


Montebello Unified School District

'Moving and disturbing'


Hernandez's memories of the insensitive treatment she received are moving and disturbing. But I think it is unfair for Ms. Hernandez to bring up the specter of past abuses. No one is suggesting forbidding children to speak their native language or treating them in any abusive way. The question now is whether it is really necessary to instruct native Spanish speakers in Spanish through elementary school.


Ramona Elementary School



Last week in Dialogue, bilingual teacher of the year Nydia Hernandez recalled the painful memories of being forbidden to speak Spanish as a student in Los Angeles. Saying bilingual education works, she called for resisting attempts to end it. Here are a selection of the responses received.

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