“I Was Born A Teacher”

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Dear Norma,

I, too, was born a teacher. Maybe you of all people could understand the fulfillment and pleasure I get when I see the glimmer of understanding and comfort in a friend’s, student’s or relative’s eyes when they finally can communicate something once difficult to comprehend. Not just that, but the internal valor we feel when we can pave paths once unseen that will help someone realize their potential and find validity in their experiences.

I was always the maestrica. When my cousin Yamel came to the U.S from Santiago knowing nothing of English, I was her self-assigned English teacher. I was her supplemental tutoring in the mornings before Kindergarten and 1st Grade, and in the afternoons when my mother was still running her in-house (technically apartment) daycare. I became her math teacher, but I was still her English teacher and translator when needed.

When my abuelita wanted to learn some English to be able to greet and chat with her new neighbors in her co-op apartment after she moved out of our apartment, I resurrected the maestrica long forgotten in her focus on other elementary student things, especially after changing schools. I sat with her in her new apartment and repeated phrases and meanings until she could pronounce it easily. “Good Morn-ing”, I would say slowly. “Goot Mo-ning? Y eso e buenos dia?”, she would ask. “Thank you. Gracias.” “Denkyu?” I giggled, and so would she. But she was never self-conscious about her pronunciation, and I never judged. My grandmother never made the time to learn English because her neighborhood never required it of her. Her family never required that of her. My grandmother was the first person to teach me, never in the academic sense, but always of wisdom, of practical use and of life in general. She never learned to read and write in Spanish, but she picked up things for herself. She can slowly sound out words and put together meanings, and she can write very slowly and usually only words, never sentences. But she has beautiful scripted handwriting.

My passion for teaching comes from my abuelita. I don’t think I’ve ever thought about that reasoning until writing those words down just now. When I think about it, she was always the one to tell me to do well, always the first one to say not to give up on myself or my opportunities. Sure, we always hear those words from countless people in our lifetimes, but now I know why she said that to me, and still does. Over the phone, “Dayi, yo voy a tu graduacion, verdad?” Of course, my life has culminated from your very strength and persistence as translated through my own actions — sometimes I like to think my grandmother lives vicariously through me when I come home and tell her what I’ve learned. I do this to make you proud, to fulfill what you have told me was never yours. For an interview in my Women in the Caribbean course, I interviewed my grandma and she told me how she has always had this hyper awareness of her own ignorance and the gaps in her knowledge. She told me that her sisters and her were always left in the dark by their own realities as women, their own bodies, and their relationships with men. She has always had this grave desire to never see me or my mom suffer at the hands of ignorance and social resolutions to keep women in their place. I have fulfilled that by making sure my purpose is to make sure that I can be a figurehead for those that are disenfranchised in the educational sphere.

For the past 15 years or so, I’ve always mindlessly said that I want to be a teacher. I never thought about anything else besides teaching. I can’t tell you who, or where or what I want to teach anymore (anyone, everyone). My passion is writing, I guess I became an English major for that reason. I, too, am a writer who teaches. Although I have not succinctly found my voice as a writer, I’m trying. I am teaching myself every day. I take every opportunity to teach, to write, to put myself out there and help others put themselves out there. Their voices, silenced, muted, or not so loud, will be heard.

Norma, I tend to ramble and lose my place when I write like this, but that’s the beauty of reflection and writing isn’t it? I’ve discovered my own potential through the support of my memories, experiences, and the people in my lives. You are now part of my collective. I’ve regained a confidence I’ve lost in school when it comes to teaching. I’ve been wandering doing small projects here and there (academic and not), without thinking about why I am doing what I do. But here I am, once again finding faith in what I know will be a difficult terrain for the educational perspectives of this country. I will dedicate myself to those that have lost faith in themselves and in a system (and officials) that deem it correct to disenfranchise opportunities and potential. These victories may be small, but every action counts.

-Dayi

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