Every time that I drive down to Fells Point for service, I am amazed at the types of students that come for English classes. There are moms with their children, restaurant workers who come in before the lunch shift, and construction employees who just got off the 2am-9am routines. The beauty in their differences resides in the community that is built within the walls of the Esperanza Center. I have begun to notice the “regulars” who come in prepared with their notebooks, worksheets, and freshly sharpened pencils. Last week I watched them filter in as I stood awaiting my group distribution. They all walked in with warm smiles, genial handshakes and an overall positive demeanor among themselves. The men were the most vocal; their actions include backslapping and the occasional discussion about work and “la liga” or the competitive futbol league. While they all come from different walks of life their mission is the same; to learn English to integrate into our culture, to discover and achieve their own American dreams.
It is in this way that their own developed culture is similar to that which is presented in the text surrounding Pacific island community, “Our culture is based essentially on the connection we have with one another, the environment, all living things, the universe, our ancestor connections, and the creator of all things,” (23). While the students are not necessarily family members, or even from the same country (though many of them are from Mexico and Central America), they do have essentially the same mission, and it is their proactive personalities that draw them to the Center in order to better themselves. It is within that environment that the specific and unique culture emerges, and one, which continually improves and grows with each passing week.
Last week I watched the most endearing act of community while I was teaching a large group of 6 beginners. Flora, a woman who has a 2-year-old daughter who she brings to class, allowed her to play with a bunch of Spanish-English flashcards as a way to distract her. Her daughter ran over to another student in the class throwing the cards in a flurry of excitement. The other student, a man around the age of 25 said to her, in the very little English that he knew, “Want to play?” He picked her up and tickled her sides and she giggled in delight. This to me was the exact idea of continued culture and responsible community that is present in the Pacific Islander realm. Dr. Ellis comments, “culture is that which travels, which claims us and which we claim, which incorporates the foreign and the familiar, which we see in other places and in our own faces, reflected in other eyes,” (27).
These people who have traveled so far, leaving family and friends behind are, like the Pacific Islanders, propagators of their own cultures as created through personal experience and the trials of the collective as relative to the individual. While the practice of tattoo is particular to the people of the Pacific, the community that is born through this ritualistic art transcends that region. It is this connection, this understanding of our own humanity that allows such cultures to continue to blossom even within new environments; like the classroom at the Esperanza Center, amidst workbooks and posters and students all individually striving towards a similar goal while simultaneously utilizing the support system of the larger community.