Realizing their dreams
Bilingual association honors Rowland superintendent
"A new life, a new language, a new culture,
But with the same hope as always, to triumph.
Everyone here calls me immigrant, immigrant!
The poor people who discriminate!
They do not know who is an immigrant."
They're American citizens even though English wasn't their mother tongue. And they entered our public schools even though they couldn't utter a word in English.
One came from Germany many years ago. Her Mexican-American father served in the U.S. Army and was stationed in Germany, where he married a German bride.
Another came from Mexico just last year. He was born in the United States, but moved to our southern neighbor when he was still young.
"Immigrant, the sister word to injustice,
Cousin to discrimination, and mother to liberty.
Immigrant, traveler of God with a universal passport."
Today, the little German girl, Maria Ott, is the superintendent of Rowland Unified School District. And the little Mexican American, Jesus Fernando Liera Cruz, is a junior at Sierra Vista High School in Baldwin Park.
Both are being honored tomorrow, Feb. 26, by the California Association for Bilingual Education. Ott has been named the administrator of the year, while Cruz won the statewide essay contest. Excerpts from his essay appear this article in italics.
Incorporated in 1976, the nonprofit group in Covina promotes
bilingual education throughout California. The association has 5,000 members in more than 60 chapters.
"Immigrant, living in the colony of illusion,
Between Dream Street and Hope Avenue."
"We moved to California when I was 5 years old. Back then they put foreign language speakers in regular classrooms. I remember being overwhelmed by a school where I didn't even understand the language," Ott recalled.
But the bright, young girl from Bavaria always remembered those first days. And throughout her educational career, Ott has worked tirelessly on behalf of non-English speaking students.
"I have great empathy for new people who are trying to learn a new language," the popular superintendent explained.
As a young principal in the Los Angeles Unified, Ott worked with English learners at Sheridan Elementary School. Later, the district picked her to head up a new bilingual program at Eastman School.
"The state had done some research on non-English speaking students and we used it to organize new classes for them," Ott explained. "It became a model for the district and I was excited to help implement the program in 28 other elementary schools."
She said the program was later recognized by the U.S. Department of Education as a model for English language learners.
The L.A. Unified administrator parlayed her expertise into a Title 7 grant from the federal government to earn her doctorate from the University of Southern California.
"It was a wonderful opportunity, though highly competitive. I learned from top professors who had expertise in policy plans and administration," Ott said.
Today, the Rowland superintendent notes there are many programs for students learning English. She pointed out that students in her district speak many languages, including Spanish, Chinese and Korean.
"I think we're targeting their needs, which is very important. But we're continuing to improve our programs," Ott said.
Association spokesman Marcia Vargas said Ott was chosen because of her dedication to bilingual education.
"What I like about Maria is that she's a quiet, passionate worker. She gets things done," Vargas said. "Maria is really there for the students and meeting the needs of students learning English."
A retired educator, Vargas called Ott's work at Eastman School "one of the flagship projects in bilingual education."
"And who is not an immigrant in this life?
Those of us who came to this country who are poor;
They call us immigrants.
Those of us who came with money;
They welcome us."
On a recent day, Jesus
Cruz ran across the lush green athletic fields at Sierra Vista High School in Baldwin Park. The lean athlete was practicing with the soccer team for the first round of the CIF finals.
The junior didn't look any different from his teammates, scooting back and forth between goals. Only when he came to the sidelines to talk did a visitor notice any difference.
A smile slid across his face, as he said hello in his lilting Spanish accent. He paused to carefully phrase his thoughts into his new language - English.
"I don't know who you are,
Nor do I know what you want;
I only know that I am not an immigrant,
That I have a first name and last name,
Maybe I don't know exactly where I am,
But I do know why."
"When I moved here as a sophomore, I didn't speak any English. It's been hard learning a new culture and language," Cruz explained.
Despite the language barrier, the bright 16-year-old has prospered at the high school in Baldwin Park.
"I've been getting A's and B's in my classes," Cruz noted in his modest way.
He has been fortunate to have been taken under the wing of teacher Charlene Fried. The Sierra Vista teacher has been honored as teacher of the year by several bilingual organizations.
"I first worked with Jesus when we read `Julius Caesar' in his 10th-grade English class. He is a very smart, very hardworking student," Fried said.
"The more I continue living here,
Learning a new language, a new culture,
To me there is no paper that separates who I am."
Fried asked her students to enter the bilingual association's essay contest. The theme was "Releasing Multilingual Dreams Today: Creating New Worlds Tomorrow."
Cruz agreed, writing his essay in Spanish and then translating it into English.
He was visiting family back in Mexico during the holiday recess when he received a phone call telling him that he had won the statewide essay contest. Cruz would get a $1,000 scholarship.
"It made me very happy. But I was nervous when they told me they wanted me to read my essay in front of their convention in Long Beach. My English is not so good," Cruz admitted.
But just like his soccer team, Cruz practiced his speech every day, preparing for today, when the young Mexican-American would address hundreds of bilingual educators.
"The immigrants no longer dream silence.
We want to have the opportunity to convert our silent dreams into reality.
We want a new world where we are able to say our own last name
And feel proud and not ashamed.
"That is why I am learning this new language
We want to liberate our multilingual dreams today,
Because in this way, we will create a new world tomorrow."
"I'm also a member of the track and cross-country teams." email@example.com
(626) 962-8811, Ext. 2801