I spent the past year and a half in intensive French class, in a classroom that acted as a patchwork quilt of countries. I learned the language with people who were very different from me. People who had never even seen one episode of the Daily Show or Desperate Housewives or Mad Men. People who preferred veggies to cheese and chocolate.
How the f was I ever going to find Common Ground?
Some of my fellow immigrants (the term applies loosely to me, I know this) hailed from the kind of countries where food is a luxury. And there I was with my Honda CRV and Betsey Johnston wallet. They weren’t learning French for funsies; they had to do it to get jobs, so that they could feed their families.
I have never met more beautiful, humble people. I say that without an ounce of exaggeration. Or naiveness. People suck all over. I get that. My classmates didn’t suck.
My French teacher lectured me long before the first day.
“They are not you. They are immigrants, but it’s not the same. They are refugees. You live here by choice. You’re not struggling. We have people here from everywhere. You have to be very respectful. It is not hard for you. You understand?”
I nodded when she said it but left her office defensive.Who was she to tell me that I’ve never struggled? I was raised by a single mom with five kids in a house with only one bathroom in a neighborhood where garbage bags blew down the street like tumbleweeds. Sure, I could walk to 7-11. But you should have seen the dandelions springing up from the sidewalk cracks! The chain-link fences! Those mean boys who hurled rocks and insults at us.
She was 100% correct, that’s who she was. Continue reading