by Barbara Kinney Black
Having taught ESL now for almost 30 years, I’ve had the privilege to meet an extraordinary amount of students from around the world. It’s been my privilege to interact with their lives and to see them succeed. It has also been my privilege to now count among my personal friends two of my students who were in my first ever class in 1990: sisters Pilar and Martina from Mexico.
When Pilar first arrived in Miami, she worked as a housekeeper. One of her employers, Betty Harris, invited Pilar to attend the English classes at her church. Although Miami was full of Spanish speakers, Pilar felt the need to practice speaking English, and she felt .very thankful that she had been invited by her employer to do so.
Once Pilar and Martina invited the English class to their home for dinner. As we were enjoying the delicious Mexican dishes, I kept noticing the special looks that were passing between Pilar and her neighbor, Jerry. So, I wasn’t surprised when shortly afterwards, that handsome Cuban became Pilar’s husband. Jerry is fond of quoting the Scripture that says we have to love our neighbor, when he describes how he and Pilar met!
Pilar recalls her time in English class, particularly the lesson about all the different places in the U.S. One of the assignments was to write to a state tourist board to request travel literature. This opened Pilar’s eyes to the vast opportunities for travel in the U.S. and created a desire in her to see many great cities and the beautiful countryside. One of Pilar and Jerry’s, dreams for retirement is to see the U.S. by train stopping in great cities and enjoying the picturesque passing countryside.
One year for our Spring banquet, the students performed a skit called Hotel Heaven. Different people try to enter Heaven by various means such as buying their way in, being righteous, doing good works, etc. As each one approaches the gate of Heaven, St. Peter asks, “Why do you think you have a reservation for Hotel Heaven?” The person gives all their reasons, and then St. Peter checks the reservation book, but the person’s name is not there. So they are accommodated, “three flights down.” As they leave through the door with flames surrounding it, the Scripture Angel reads the passages explaining why that person was not admitted to Heaven. Playing the Scripture Angel was the first time Pilar spoke in front of a crowd of native English speakers. I was so proud of her.
I asked Pilar if she had any advice to share with newly arrived internationals. She said, “Look for God first, then look for people that can help you; American people who can instruct you. It’s also a good idea to find a good husband or wife! They can help you a lot in learning English!”
Pilar Dominguez Betancourt
Pilar and Jerry