Learning English and moving forward
Esperanza Garcia prides herself on being independent. Once a seamstress in her native Dominican Republic, Garcia was accustomed to seeing the tangible results of her work. That changed after she moved to Long Island with her husband in 1998.
"I wasn't able to go to the doctor by myself. I usually go with my husband all the time," the Coram resident said, adding that her husband spoke English. "I wasn't able to express myself . . . and to find a better job."
While working as a machine operator at a makeup-compact factory, Garcia, 37, enrolled in tutoring at Literacy Suffolk.
With more than 10 years of tutoring, the results have helped to provide her with a better quality of life. Garcia was able to get a driver's license and began working as a school bus driver's assistant in the Smithtown school district. Eventually, she became a driver.
"It was hard for them to understand me on the radio," she said. "That's why I decided to keep learning English at the same time that I am working."
Garcia became a U.S. citizen in 2006 and now is a bus driver for the Half Hollow Hills school district, she said.
"Most of my co-workers say, 'You speak better English now,' and I know it's because of Literacy [Suffolk]," she said. "They do it one-to-one, having someone to help me read, write and speak better."
Garcia was further motivated to learn English so she could help her two daughters, Alexandra, now 12, and Wendy, 15, with their homework.
"They depend on me. I have to work for them," she said. "But I would like to go to college and be maybe a teacher and be able to help people to learn another language."
Jessie Krozer, who has tutored Garcia for 2 1/2 years, describes her as "unusually a doer."
"She will take on almost any challenge. She's very courageous," said Krozer, 82, of Dix Hills. "She's great at writing. . . . I think on her next test, she's going to be tested out of the program."
It's one of the many different books that Chopra, originally from northern India, reads to learn about U.S. history before writing an essay on the subject.
"If there are any words that she struggled with, she'll write them down and we'll talk about those, so that she understands the full passage," said Literacy Nassau tutor Alison Orme, 45, of Franklin Square.
Chopra, who moved to Garden City Park about two years ago and has permanent residency status here, knew how to speak and write English because it was required in primary school and was part of her university curriculum in India.
"But here, sometimes people have a different accent," she said. "Sometimes people are using like slang language and I don't have an idea what they are saying."
"I grew up in India, right? I don't have any idea about the background of the American history like art, music," she said. "So Alison helps me."
Chopra hopes to use her teaching experience in America, but the process is difficult because she does not know anyone to write a recommendation letter on her behalf, she said. Meanwhile, Chopra works part time at a Staples store and takes care of her 18-month-old son with her husband.
Orme recommended that she inquire with an Indian cultural group seeking Hindi teachers.
"In this way I can use my education in an easy way," Chopra said. "But I will try to continue to get my goal."
Maria Atar has been a Literacy Suffolk student for the entire 10 years since she arrived from Lviv, Ukraine. With no friends who speak English -- "My friends and I spoke Polish, Russian and Ukraine, but no English," Atar said -- conversing in the language can be difficult.
"I talk wrong," Atar, 49, of Lindenhurst, said with a throaty laugh. "When I don't talk correct, he explains me," she said of her tutor, whom she meets with for 1 1/2 hours every week. "It helps me a lot."
For three years, she has cleaned the home of a local family. "By myself, I clean house," Atar said.
The pace of the work was a minor improvement over her former job at a Hauppauge factory that makes paper products, albeit an isolating one. At the factory, she could at least converse with Polish workers.
Atar is applying for citizenship now. She has a so-called "green card" signifying her status as a permanent resident. In the future, she said, she wants to "learn English and better speak English and change my job."
When asked what her dream job would be, she said working as a baby-sitter and caretaker of "children, old people, you know."