Class Teaches Immigrants How to Fight Back in English

English-language learners in a Flatbush class in Brooklyn don’t just learn how to greet people or discuss family. A group of nearly 60, mostly Latino students practice how to converse in situations that pertain to actual experiences, from talking with their children’s teachers to demanding fair wages or decent living conditions. Find the translation below of the article originally in Spanish by reporter Zaira Cortés at El Diario/La Prensa.

Students learn English by focusing on situations that deal with abuse, including in the workplace or in housing. (Photo by Zaira Cortés / El Diario/La Prensa)

Reyna Tolentino admits that it takes effort for her to explain to her neighbors how to prepare plátano leaf tamales in English, but she feels more confident when she needs to demand that her landlord make repairs to her apartment.

Tolentino, a 48-year-old Mexican woman, has been attending free English classes at Holy Cross Church in Flatbush, Brooklyn for nearly six months. But rather than learning to talk about ordinary topics like the weather, Tolentino uses phrases that have to do with her most basic rights.

“I learned how to speak without fear. I feel capable of standing up to an irresponsible landlord or an abusive employer,” said Tolentino. “Learning English while getting to know my rights gave me the tools to avoid becoming a victim of injustice.”

The course is offered by New York Communities for Change and funded by the Consortium for Workers Education. The goal of the classes is for the participants to learn a second language using concepts to confront abusive situations, such as in housing or at the workplace.

Nearly 60 students – the majority of them Latino – take the class, which started more than a year ago. Alexandra García, community organizer for NYCC, said that students learn how to defend themselves in English in various circumstances, such as when employers don’t pay them their salaries or overtime, when they have problems with their landlords, and when they need to ask for help to face domestic violence or deal with an arrest.

García said that parents learn to talk with their children’s teachers about grades, and workers become familiar with vocabulary related to their jobs.

“The domestic workers develop skills to negotiate a fair contract with their employers, while at the same time they learn what the minimum wage is that they should receive,” García pointed out.

This could be the case for Rosi Gómez, 40, who has been attending the class since it began. Gómez, a domestic worker, said that she is no longer afraid to demand fair treatment and wages.

“Before, I didn’t understand and I stayed quiet, but now I know that I have rights and there are laws that protect me,” she said with pride. “I finally understood that we immigrants have to educate ourselves if we want to have a better life in this country.”

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