Pima County libraries provide more than books. They recently received a 15,000 dollar grant from the American Library Association. The money will help keep English learning classes going strong in ten branches and the lessons go way beyond grammar and comprehension.
“In Peru when you meet somebody, especially between ladies, you give a hug and you give a kiss. Here you need to put the distance,” said immigrant Elena Brown.
A firm handshake was foreign but she soon realized to learn the culture she’d have to get better at the language.
“Having personal words with the cashier, the cashier says what are you doing? I’m saying, ‘she wants to know about my personal life?’ it was my first culture shock,” said Brown.
So she did some research and found a free service offered by Pima County libraries. It’s an English learning program hosted by literacy connects.
“Be willing to risk. Don’t be afraid. Because you are in a different country, you are using a different language, and if you are afraid, you can’t learn,” advises English teacher Kathy Ramage-White.
Elena did eventually let her guard down. After just a year she fits right in. She says the most important lesson she has for people like her is to become a part of the community.
“Learning English is not only talking with the others. It’s knowing the American culture, it’s knowing how to be part of this country and it’s how I say many times, altogether construct prosperity,” said Brown.
Elena now hopes to land a job and eventually get a master’s degree in social work so that she can help more immigrants like herself. The next series of English learning classes begins in March.