Archive | October, 2012

Hola. Me Llamo Leonardo.

31 Oct

By Darby Cady

Watkins Glen’s Jose Leonardo Pineda Lopez, who moved here from El Salvador.

With an over the shoulder glance, he looks quizzically at the three students who stand before the class. They speak quietly to the sprawling class about the economy, religion, and technology of the Persian Empire. To every other student in the hushed library they speak a common language, but all he hears are long phrases of jumbled letters that go in one ear and out the other.

Only a few key words catch the attention of the boy from El Salvador. On the pink packet that sits on the desk in front of him he scribbles down some notes. He glances at this peers’ papers to his left, and to his right, to confirm his notes. Except for the occasional snicker or head nod he sits still and says nothing. He just observes those around him, infatuated with the foreign noises, friendliness, and atmosphere of Watkins Glen High School.

Later that day he sat in Senora’s silent room. His words come out of his mouth in a foreign language. Senora nods her head and they both laugh about something he has said. Then, she repeats his words, in English.

Jose Leonardo Pineda Lopez came from Ilobasco, El Salvador. He has made his presence in the school well known. Down every hall he walks, there is a ripple of a familiar Spanish greeting as he passes.

“Hola!” the students say with a wave.

“Hola,” Leonardo responds with a warm smile and friendly wave.

For a whole month Leonardo walked with his father and cousin, occasionally hitch hiking, to the United States. Leonardo left behind the small, quiet, farm town and his eight siblings in search of work and money. With nothing but some clothes, the trio found their way to New Jersey where they stayed with Leonardo’s aunt. Although the noisy city had plenty of work it lacked the one thing Leonardo wished for the most, school.

In his home town there was no way for Leonardo or any of his siblings to get to school. Now that he was in a place where it was possible for him to get an education he could not wait to get started.

After a year in Jersey they packed up and walked further north finding their way to New York. Leonardo, his father, and his cousin sought work at a winery on Seneca Lake. Not far from the vineyards was a school.

On his first day of school he was unsure of what to expect. Fear took over his mind. Would anyone be able to understand him? Would he know what was going on? His fearful mind was put to rest when he pushed through the doors.

“When I walked in I felt like I was in heaven. Everyone was so helpful.” Leonardo said with the help of his translator Senora Meierjurgen.

He has been at Watkins for a little over a year now and still knows very little English. With the unbroken language barrier in this young man’s unique situation his teachers wonder about how much he is actually learning.

“If my Spanish improves a little, and his English improves a little we will have had a great year.” said Mr. Durfee, his English teacher as a second language teacher, says.

Only speaking basic conversational English, Leonardo strives to speak English fluently, but it won’t happen easily.

“Everything is switched around,” Leonardo tells Senora Meierjurgen, referring to the sentence structure of English versus Spanish.

All of his school work is getting done in his ninth grade level classes such as integrated algebra and design and drawing for production, all with the help of Senora. Leonardo has taught his teachers some Spanish to increase communication and his peers have picked up some basic conversational Spanish in order to make him feel more welcome. Everyone at the school is making an effort to show their support to Leonardo by letting him know they are willing to break the barrier that keeps him isolated from most of the students at Watkins.

At the end of each day the students crowd out the doors laughing and making plans with one another while they board their bus. Leonardo follows suit and laughs his way to the bus, but he gets out of school and goes straight to work. The teens around him decide where to grab dinner before they go to the football game, not thinking twice about money or work. Leonardo, on the other hand, waves goodbye to his friends and bows his head while he climbs the steps of the overflowing bus preparing himself for a long night of work ahead.