Journal 1 Session 2
Please respond to the following:
Choose one of the students in the case studies we shared from Chap. 1 in Between Worlds that reminds you of a second language learner that you know. Compare and contrast the factors that affect the schooling of both students....the student from the case study and your personal example:)
While I was teaching at the State Juvenile Home in Toledo, Iowa, I was asked to tutor the Polish workers who were employed by Tama Pack. This group of men were allowed into the country on 13-month work visas during a time period when Poland was still part of the Eastern Bloc of communist countries, and controlled by the USSR.
Whereas "Francisco came to the United States with little idea of what was waiting for him," these men commonly arrived without a single word of English at their disposal, with the only expectation for their sojourn in the US to accumulate enough money to last them for the rest of their lives. They came knowing how to design and sew money belts that they wore below their clothing, which was filled with the savings they’d accumulated so painstakingly. While here, their living conditions were sub-standard, the work practices they were subjected to amounted to near slavery, and every dollar past what was spent subsisting was sent to their needy families behind the iron curtain. Tama-Toledo, in addition to the infamous Mesquaki Indians (of the inoperable casino fame) has a large rural Bohemian population whose older generation were still partially bilingual at that time.
My involvement was entirely accidental. Like most of the Americans in the area, I was unaware of the presence of the foreign workers, who looked and dressed pretty much the same as the locals. (The Tama Pack is now using Mexican workers, who stand out from the local population a bit more.) My girlfriend and I, both teachers at the Juvenile Home, were asked by a local grocery store manager whose wife worked as a "cottage parent" at the home, if we would provide horses in the parking lot and pasture area next to it for a "wild west days" promotion. After school, we rode around in our horse show clothes with a few selected students who had gone with us to various shows during the summer and were "trustworthy". We had a mare and foal in a tiny port-a-corral that were the recipients of carrots and apples, and we also used some of our students from the Juvenile Home to supervise that activity, alternating with those who were getting rides. One of the adults was always either mounted with a student, or at the port-a-corral with those students. Things went well until one of the Polish workers, Fred, at the store with a Bohemian farmer who could speak enough Czech to be understandable to the workers from Krakow, an area in the southern mountains not far from the border of Czechoslovakia, pulled Jeanette, one of the students, off the horse she was riding and mounted in her place.
I ran over to comfort her while Sandee went after the errant horse and rider. The Bohemian farmer, coming out of the store, came over to try to explain to the workers why they could not take the horses off and ride. "Insurance" turned out to be an idea that they either chose not to understand, or was too strange an idea.
Everyone involved decided that the workers needed more English to fit smoothly into community activities, and I became a totally unprepared ESL teacher to over 20 ever-changing men. "Enrollment" was another idea they did not/would not understand, so the group varied from 10-20 randomly from week to week. Men’s visas expired and they left, only to be replaced by new men.
After nearly 6 months, one came named Tadeusz. He was brand new, fresh from his first day on the line. One "kind" American worker had spent the day quite productively teaching him how to greet his teacher. I don’t remember what that word was, but it was SO FILTHY that I am ashamed to say, I kicked him out and told the others he was not to come back.
This behavior reminds me of the story of Francisco, who had to "learn English, catch up on the content-area studies he had not had exposure to in El Salvador, and adjust to a completely different lifestyle and culture.
The next night, Tadeusz came back alone with his roommate Fred’s car. He drove across the grass of the yard right up to the front door and walked onto the porch, knocking politely. (The driveway was over by the kitchen door, where they’d entered for class.) He was dressed differently, wearing a gray sweater much too warm for the weather, and had a long stemmed rose in his hand wrapped in white floral paper. Instead of what he’d called me the day before, he was using "Missy" as a form of address. He REALLY wanted English lessons. He would behave. No, I could NOT cut the rose’s stem off to make it fit in the only vase I had. He instead stepped into the kitchen, spied an empty milk jug in the trash, fished it out, cleaned it up, filled it with water, dried it off and carried it into the dining room table where I’d conducted class the night before, then sat down, opening a notebook.
Whereas "Francisco was literate in Spanish when he arrived in this country," Tadeusz was well-educated in Polish, knew the social customs there, both for city and rural settings, and was used to being an independent businessman whose ability to get along well with people mattered greatly to his success. He could focus totally on a goal he’d set for himself, knowing it affected not only his, but his entire family’s future.
Someone that second day Americanized his hard to pronounce Polish name to "Ted", and it was as Ted that he interacted with the community and work world. By the time his visa expired, he’d changed from not even being able to recognize where a driveway was to become the second most English proficient worker at the packing plant, moving up in responsibility and prestige as he improved in his ability to understand and respond in English, frequently "earning" the right to work after hours at the "Big Boss’s" house. (After putting in an 11 hour day at the packing plant, some of the American citizens who knew what was going on came to feel that this was a misuse of workers who were used to having to please party bosses to maintain their social and economic positions.) I became aware of it when various people’s absences were explained as being called to remove foreign matter from the boss’s swimming pool, etc.
Ted was one of two brothers from the same family of 10 who were the children of rural Polish farmers. Ted, born the year that WW II ended, was ashamed to wear shorts as his lower legs were bowed from malnutrition suffered in the years following the war. His older brother had straight legs. Several of the family’s children worked in Krakow because the farm was not large enough to supply all their wants. Ted had met Fred, who was in his early 40’s, in Poland, where both were independent taxi drivers. They thought they had the best of both worlds, as they made their living basically outside of the restrictions imposed by the Communist system, yet were covered by some of its benefits, like free dental and health care. I never heard any of the Polish men say a bad thing about their country.
Francisco, like Ted, came from a country at a time that it had been war ravaged. Both were also religious. Whereas Francisco prayed he would not be called upon, Ted hoped to protect himself from discovery of his unreligious actions.
Ted’s family were still practicing Catholics, even though the Communist government had abolished all religion. I can remember the Friday in Lent when he came for a "make-up" lesson after working at the boss’s house during the regular weekly session. (Calling ahead was another one of those things they just did not/would not understand… I was eating a salad and small piece of steak, the latest diet I was trying.) After offering to fix him some meat, which he turned down, I served him a salad, then I’d cut my own meat into little pieces while we were talking. After he seated himself and set out his notebook, he picked up his fork and began on his salad. Without thinking about it, he picked up the piece of meat closest to him, eating it. Hiding my surprise, I ignored it. Soon, he reached over and picked up another piece. Again, I ignored it, but I was feeling pretty strange. When he reached for the third piece, I again offered to fix him some meat. He leaped up in a panic, face changing color as he grabbed his throat. He began to breathe hard, then finally mastered himself enough to sit back down. "You no speak this bad eat," he begged seriously.
Before the formal lesson, most nights Fred’s roommates (between four to six men, depending on who was in the country and who’d gone home) would come over and watch Combat! on TV. One night, he and another man nearly his age had an electric reaction to the show. Two SS storm troopers were shown, and nobody watched the TV after that. Fred got up and, jabbering in Polish with the other older man, pantomimed the SS coming into a club where he was dancing with a woman (wife??), pushing him away and forcing her to dance with him, stomping on her feet, crushing the bones in her hand… then picking up a small child (babe in arms) and swinging its head into the door frame, killing it. The younger students and I were all crying by the time he got done.
Once when I was planting a garden, Fred, Ted, and several other men came over unexpectedly. After watching a while, Fred and the others left, while Ted asked if he could add a few rows. I marked out the area he could use, and he prepared the ground. Fred returned with seeds for Kohlrabi, and some other cabbage-like plants I did not know, diligently planting them. Later, I got the joy of trying to find out how to COOK the items properly from Polish recipes for favorite dishes from their wives. (A Bohemian farm wife, who was my teacher’s aid at the Juvenile Home, took pity on my and showed me how to do some of them, but others I never did master. Kolatches, for instance.)_
Several of the men were dating American women, and one’s Polish wife died while he was over here. He was estranged from his son, who had moved in with another Polish family, so he married his American girlfriend and stayed in the US. (He was the fellow who spoke better English than Ted, and had already sired a child with her.) This set off a storm of political discussions on what would happen if they did NOT return, but married the American women. Several said that the government had threatened to jail family members or even execute them if the workers did not return. This put great stress on the workers, and many began drinking. At one of the parties put on by the bosses to keep the workers happy, I got asked (by Marsha, the second boss’s wife) to attend. I was very reluctant, but it turned out to be a real eye-opener. (Her husband was probably the plant manager. I just realized that I do not KNOW his official title.)
Fred drug me around the corner from the large living room to "his" room to show it off. I made Marsha come with me, as I was not sure what he was up to. There, stacked against the wall, were several mattresses, which Ted explained were normally spread out in the living room. The couches were generally on the porch, but had been brought in and warmed up that morning when they cleared the room for the party. Two stoves were stuffed into the kitchen, and each ROOM of men had ONE BURNER when work was over to cook on. All were hungry at the same time, so everyone used the stoves at once. One refrigerator was upstairs and one down. Other than that, the upstairs was wall to wall beds in an open area divided loosely into two rooms. There was a built-in counter beside the refrigerator along the south wall, and a tiny table in front of one of the beds.
Only two of the 35 men were single. One was a professional in Poland, a veterinary, but he did not even like animals. Asked why he was a vet if he didn’t like animals, he explained that you became what the government said you would become. Presumably, aptitude was taken into consideration, but not interest…
Some of the American workers came by, had a bit of vodka with the Poles and the bosses, while the women sat drinking water and tea. Soon, light from a grass fire outside showed in a window. Out went all the Poles, highly agitated. The fire was less than a foot around, with 3’ drifts on all sides, so it was no big deal. Ted came back in and wanted me to call the fire department. I pointed out that he could douse it with a pot of water, or leave it alone, and the fire would be doused when the snow around it melted. He was not a happy camper. Another man, who had been drinking, threw a chair through one of the porch windows. Marsha’s husband went out and kicked snow on the fire, which put it out. Ted drank a glass of vodka straight, and Marsha and I decided we’d been polite long enough and left. I took her home. The bosses stayed.
We talked about the living conditions of the workers, and I told her about the extra time the workers sometimes put in at the big boss’s house. She did not know that went on. I have not been in touch with her since I moved away from the area, but I am betting the Mexican workers are living in the "Polish House" with as many per room as before. A new barracks was built out behind it shortly after Ted and Fred went back to Poland. By then, a higher percentage of the packing plant workers were foreign, as American workers would quit after a few days, whereas the foreign workers were "hungry" and would work the long, hot hours without complaint, rarely even calling in sick. I did hear from my former teacher’s aide that Ted got brucellosis from the cattle after he’d been back in Poland a few months.
Whereas Francisco’s mother sacrificed for he and her other two children to enter the US, the Polish workers at the Tama Pack had to supply their families back in Poland with the wherewithal to create better lives. Many were highly motivated to pick up English. Some got renewed visas from a corrupt Polish-speaking lawyer in Chicago. Others found American women to marry/sponsor their friends or relatives. Like Francisco’s mother, who "had suffered separation from them so that they could have a better future," they hoped their lives would be easier when they returned to Poland. They were looking for security, peace.
Whereas Francisco’s only support to enter the mainstream was through his soccer coach, Ted, Fred, and their roommates substituted interactions with their ELS teacher and her circle of friends, several Bohemian farmers in the area, and church for their missing families. At first, the only activity they took part in with other members of the mainstream culture was going to bars and drinking. During the course of the time I taught ESL, we went to Des Moines to the movies, picking not the triple X theater the men knew of, but a "regular" movie with lots of action, like "The Posoiden Adventure", visited the Good Will Store, where they bought clothes for their families that were good quality, yet cheap, and packed them into huge boxes they learned to ask the super market to save for them, attended horse shows all over the state, and in Saint Louis and Kansas City, and attended the Catholic church freely, some for the first time in their lives. Those with American girlfriends also were able to move out of the Polish House’s horrid conditions and get into mainstream America, although that was sometimes problematical, and several sad things happened on that front, but although I don’t agree morally, I can understand what prompted their actions.