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During the family's first year in New York, they rented
a small apartment near a Catholic school. Yolanda liked the teachers
there, especially her grandmotherly fourth grade teacher, Sister
Zoe. This teacher told Yolanda that she had a beautiful name and
insisted that the class be taught how to pronounce it correctly.
Yolanda was the only immigrant in the class and got special tutoring
from Sister Zoe to help her learn English. She was seated apart
from the other students to practice pronouncing words like "laundromat,"
"subway," and "snow."
Yolanda soon had learned enough English to understand
that the Cuban missile crisis was making everyone very nervous.
Yolanda's school had air-raid drills and she imagined what would
happen to their bodies if a nuclear missile hit New York. She learned
new words to describe the situation like "radioactive fallout" and "bomb
shelter." Sister Zoe explained how a bomb would explode, and drew
pictures on the chalkboard of mushroom clouds and fallout. Yolanda
and her family prayed for world peace.
When winter came, the days grew shorter and the weather
colder. One day as Yolanda sat at her desk by the window, she saw
spots in the air like the ones on the chalkboard. She screamed "Bomb!"
and some girls began to cry. Sister Zoe just laughed and explained
that it was only snow. Yolanda watched the snow that she had heard
so much about, but had never seen before, as Sister Zoe explained
that each flake was unique and beautiful, like each person.
Yolanda's growing vocabulary better prepares her to interact
with American culture and will open up a new world of language and
literature. In the mean time, it prepares her to describe the unexpected aspects
of American society that she cannot imagine or relate to as a Dominican
girl. Her teacher's kindness is a pillar of support in an uncertain
and terrifying age, when the threat nuclear holocaust seems more
real. Yolanda's fear leads her to assume the worst when she encounters
a strange and unknown phenomenon.
This short anecdote becomes a funny story Yolanda can
tell the reader in the first person. This memory also indicates
why she grew to use language as a tool to deal with the unusual
and uncertain traumas she will encounter later in life. If she can
name a phenomenon in English and thus understand its beauty or danger,
she feels prepared to find a place for herself in the United States
and better articulate her own voice.
Ace your assignments with our guide to How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents!