Rosa Lopez grew up in Durango, Mexico and has many happy memories of life there. But her life took an unexpected turn when her husband moved to central Texas, joining members of an extended family network who had lived and worked in the region for decades. Deciding that she would rather follow him than live apart, Rosa arrived in Bryan in 2001. After the first of their two sons was born, Rosa realized that her family would have access to better healthcare, education and economic opportunities — as well as a life together as a family — if they stayed in Texas. So they did.
Almost two decades later, Rosa is prompt to identify things that she appreciates about living in the Brazos Valley. “We have a very good university, we have a lot of stores that you can find in Houston, and you don’t need to travel anywhere else. And the most important thing is: it’s very relaxed, quiet, safe…. I like my little town. We live very well here.” No doubt many of us who live in the Brazos Valley would agree with Rosa: we live well here.
Rosa arrived knowing little English, and quickly recognized that this was a limitation. Listening to Spanish-language radio, she was intrigued by the invitations issued by “el Maestro,” Tony Caraballo, who used his Radio Alegria show to urge newcomers to take advantage of ESL classes and other learning opportunities offered locally. Wanting to be able to really speak English — “more than just ‘bye’ and ‘thank you’” — Rosa began to attend the Conversation Partners classes at BIIN.
Asked to describe the classes led by Susan Dennis and Jake Mason, Rosa responds with evident enthusiasm, her eyes sparkling: “It’s so fun! I love those classes because every time, you learn something new. … We learn a lot because they have a lot of patience with us, and they can answer any question that we have.” Besides the kindness of the volunteers who run and attend the classes, Rosa appreciates the diversity of the students: “We have people from different countries. And they are different ages, too… a lot of moms like me, but some young guys and young ladies too! It’s fun… because you can learn about the lives of different people, why they come here, why they want to learn more English and what they do.”
Rosa knows that to make progress in English, it’s not enough to just attend the classes. She also works to use what she is learning outside of class: by listening to music or watching TV in English, and gearing herself up to speak English with the doctor or others whom she sees in the community. Although her teenaged sons are perfectly bilingual, Rosa feels that it’s important to build her own skills so that she doesn’t simply rely on them. “It’s not fair [to them]… I need to learn for myself, and be able to do things for myself.” So she keeps learning new expressions and challenging herself to step outside her comfort zone. As her skills in English grow, Rosa’s goal is to be able to take classes at Blinn College.
Rosa understands the things that can make it hard for adults to invest in their own learning, the many demands on their time, as they work and take care of their families. But she hopes she can convince others that learning English is also a worthwhile pursuit: “I would like to say to people, ‘Come here to Brazos Interfaith, and take advantage of whatever they are giving to us. Even if we do not understand something, if you learn one word a day, it’s good. … Just decide to come’… I hope people can come here, because sometimes when we do not support the programs, you know, the programs can leave us. We need to support this program because it’s — por nuestro bien — for our own good.”
Thank you, Rosa, for bringing your energy and enthusiasm to Conversation Partners and for helping to make this community a good place for all of us to live together.