Reporter should chat less and volunteer

06/10/2010 12:00 AM |

I have to admit that when it comes to the “hot button topic” of immigration, I find myself considering what would be the best way to help those individuals who are the backbone of our local agricultural community.

Writer Tim Gannon’s flip, disrespectful and irresponsible comment in his column (“Damn these communication barriers,” June 3) that it sometimes seems like he is the only English-speaking person in his own hometown only serves to fuel the hate and misunderstanding that surrounds the immigration issue.

Even though Mr. Gannon finds this lack of communication more as a challenge than a problem, his approach is to practice and improve his high school Spanish. What puzzles me is how this self-serving approach will in any way help our immigrant population learn the language of their adopted country or work towards assimilation and citizenship.

Sister Margaret of the North Fork Spanish Apostolate in Riverhead gives us insight into how to effectively learn a new language: by being around people who speak that language. Did it ever occur to Mr. Gannon that, rather than finding someone who would humor him when he asked, “Where is the cat food?” in Spanish, he could be exploring opportunities for Spanish speakers to learn English? Maybe what went wrong with the woman at 7-Eleven Mr. Gannon was using as his Spanish tutor was that she could recognize exploitation when she encountered it.

For the past three years, I have been privileged to be working with a group of volunteers at the Feeding the Mind English as a Second Language program in Riverhead. The mission of this organization is to teach local resident-immigrants functional English language skills to help them better assimilate into the community. Instruction is provided to all with dignity and respect in a friendly and non-judgmental environment. The ultimate goal of the program is to provide all learners with knowledge of the basic customs, behaviors and responsibilities necessary to become productive citizens of our country. Feeding the Mind ESL specializes in bringing these skills to recent immigrants who are unable to participate in existing programs due to their work schedules as well as to those individuals who have limited knowledge of English due to their recent immigration.

There are many members of the population we serve who are eager to improve their language skills to better communicate in the agricultural work setting in which they are so essential. At Feeding the Mind, we have seen significant improvement in our students’ ability to manage their lives and move towards the goal of citizenship.

Perhaps Mr. Gannon would consider volunteering at Feeding the Mind or Literacy Volunteers, where he could spend some time with eager English language learners, expanding their vocabulary and providing them with the skills needed to assimilate into our culture. Who knows, maybe someday Mr. Gannon will be in his hometown surrounded only by English language speakers?

Mr. Cahill is the program director at Feeding the Mind ESL. He lives in Riverhead.