Under Taliban rule, it was illegal to educate women and girls, so neither Saddiqa nor her children had any formal education.
In The Immigrant Learning Center Literacy Program, she is learning English and a whole new world of education is opening to her. Her daughters are attending Bryn Mawr and University of Massachusetts Boston, and her son is enrolled in high school.
Ya Hui was a professor of pharmacology at Bejing University. Ten years ago she came to America to join her daughter. Like many immigrants with successful professions, Ya Hui’s lack of English meant she had to start over again in America.
Although she had taught herself to read English, it was not until she came to The Immigrant Learning Center a year ago that Ya Hui started to be able to speak it.
Today, she is a technician in scientific research at Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston and is studying to become a U.S. citizen.
On January 12, 2010, Abdony returned to Port au Prince, Haiti, after visiting his wife and daughter in Boston. At 4:53 p.m. that day, a huge earthquake struck Haiti. More than 300,000 people died including three people in Abdony’s family.
Fortunately, he was unharmed. The building where Abdony worked collapsed and his home was destroyed, forcing him to live on the street until he left for America on March 30, 2010.
He was safely reunited with his wife and daughter, but life here without a good grasp of English was difficult. Abdony came to The Immigrant Learning Center in 2011. After attending classes five days a week for about a year, he was hired as a bus driver and cook for VinFen Corporation, a residence for handicapped adults in Somerville.
Ana left her home town in El Salvador after several men in her family were killed in conflict between the government and opposing forces. She thought she might be safer in an urban environment but violence in the city, including car bombs, led her to decide to leave El Salvador. Ana finally came to the United States with her husband in 1990.
Since then Ana has been raising her children and supplementing her husband’s income through door-to-door sales of kitchenware in Spanish-speaking neighborhoods. Now that she is studying English in The Immigrant Learning Center Literacy Program, she would like to get a job where she can get more practice speaking English. She was a cosmetologist in El Salvador and dreams of going back to school one day to get her Massachusetts cosmetology license.
When Maria’s children became adults living on their own, she decided to start a new life in the U.S. She brought her entrepreneurial spirit with her from Brazil where she had owned two salons and gained more than 40 years of massage experience.
Maria had to go through a re-certification process in order to continue her career. After she obtained her Massachusetts license, she opened a day spa called Nova Estetica. Her biggest challenge, Maria says, is not knowing English.
She says, “Most of our customers are Brazilian or Spanish-speaking. If I get an American customer, it is too hard to try to communicate. I have an assistant that speaks better English, and she supports me. Maybe next year I won’t need support.”
Juan was at an age when many people consider retirement. He owned a cattle and horse ranch in El Salvador and was ready to pass it on to his adult son. Juan also has three young children and was concerned for their future. Jobs are hard to come by in El Salvador, and gangs called “maras” sometimes threaten public safety.
In 2007, Juan came to the United States to start a new chapter of life for him and his children. He studies English at The Immigrant Learning Center and works part time at the recycling center.
He also took advantage of the Citizenship Class. In December 2012, he passed the citizenship exam. Very proud of his achievement, when asked why he wants to be a citizen, his first answer is, “I want to vote for the U.S. President.”
Gertrude came to the U.S. from Haiti in 2006. Her first job was in the kitchen at McLean Hospital. Although she had no nursing background, she says she “wanted to serve people” and was inspired to get certified as a nursing assistant. That led to a job working the overnight shift at Tuel Nursing Home in Melrose from 11:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m.
Recently, Gertrude gained a second job at a nursing home in Woburn. So, three days a week she comes to The Immigrant Learning Center in the morning, goes to work in Woburn at 3:00 p.m., then to work in Melrose at 11:00 p.m., comes home to take a shower and change clothes before coming back to The ILC to start over again.
It is a grueling schedule, but Gertrude does it because learning English is that important to her. She says that even after seven years in this country she is still “shy to speak English.” She knows the only way to make a comfortable life for herself and her family here is to improve her English.
The Immigrant Learning Center was founded, in part, to respond to the influx of Eastern Europeans fleeing the former Soviet Union in the late ’80s and early ’90s. Tonya’s story provides a sample of what this wave of immigrants experienced.
Tonya recalls being eight years old in 1941 in Ukraine when all the Jewish people in her town were forced into a ghetto by the Germans. Fortunately, her family made it to safety in Romania where she lived until her late 20s when she moved to Lithuania.
In 1992, after experiencing years of antisemitism in Lithuania, Tonya and her husband, son, daughter-in-law and two grandsons came to the U.S. as refugees. Her son spoke English and adapted quickly, but Tonya and her husband Igor did not. They found themselves starting over late in life without being able to communicate with anyone in their new home.
Soon they found The ILC. Learning English meant the world to them. Tonya became an instructor at Tufts University teaching Russian. In 2012, she retired, and she wakes up every day saying, “God bless America” for the freedom she has found here.