Immigrant stories: Josefa Contreras Cuevas

Published by Program Manager on

Immigrant stories: Josefa Contreras Cuevas

Josefa Contreras Cuevas is one of the students in the Level 2 Conversational English classes at BIIN, but her story is quite unique and sets her apart from other students. Unlike most of the other students, Josefa does not live in the Bryan/College Station area, or even in the United States for that matter. Originally born in Guanajuato, Mexico, Josefa moved at an early age to Tijuana, Mexico where she has spent most of her life and continues to live.  Seeking help to improve her English skills, Josefa found out about BIIN through Facebook, and with the Conversational English classes being conducted through Zoom, Josefa was able to join the program in September of 2021.

With a keenness for learning, regardless of the subject, be it mathematics or history or language, Josefa took on the challenge of learning English as an adult. After losing her job due to the COVID pandemic, she found herself with more free time. Not wanting to sit around idly, Josefa took the opportunity to gain a new skill and began learning English through the language-learning app Duolingo. 

Although Josefa lives in Tijuana, which borders San Diego, California, and had crossed into the United States many times with her husband’s work before the pandemic, she explained that none of the places she visited then required the use of English, due to Spanish being so prominent in southern California.  With minimal exposure to English in her daily life, Josefa was eager to join BIIN’s online Conversational English classes as soon as she discovered this was an option open to her.

One of the key aspects of the class that Josefa most values is the exposure to native English speakers through the volunteers. Being able to hear correct English pronunciation and to have volunteers correct her if she makes a mistake is an attribute of the classes that she highly appreciates.

Josefa is a strong advocate for learning, even if it is hard to apply what you have learned immediately in your daily life.  One of her favorite pastimes, in addition to learning English, is reading. She aspires to study law, and when it comes to gaining more knowledge, she never considers her age an impediment.  You can see why she’s been a key contributor to the Conversational English classes since she joined them!

Josefa’s optimistic attitude towards the future stands as an inspiration for anyone. During the pandemic, her two sons (who are in their late twenties and early thirties) had to move back in with Josefa and her husband. Although Josefa also lost her work and found herself investing more time in taking care of her home and family during this time, she still sees the future as a space for possibility. Josefa wants to advance herself in any way possible, and, as for her sons, she only wants them to be happy.           

When I talked with Josefa, she felt she could not adequately express her gratitude to BIIN and the volunteers that help her work towards her goal of learning English.  In addition to attending classes, Josefa also practices and works on her skills by watching movies and listening to music in English. Even though she cannot readily use English in much of her daily life, she actively looks for any circumstance where she can practice, and is truly grateful that BIIN has provided her with an exposure to and experience of English that she, otherwise, would not have had. She looks forward to continuing as a participant in BIIN’s Conversational English classes in spring 2022.

Thanks to Nicholas Neighbors, fall 2021 Conversational English intern (top left), for writing this portrait of Josefa (bottom row, center).