Parents Learn English to Brighten Kids' Future

After-hours students weave true quilt of Silicon Valley's ethnic diversity

It’s a lousy time to think about Silicon Valley’s future.

With the economy slipping, it’s all so uncertain. One thing we’re sure of is that there is going to be a future. And we know people like Pedro and Gabriela Campos, Julio Arroyo, Kenneth and Jorge Magana Jr. and the other children running through the Edenvale Elementary School multipurpose room are the ones who will be steering it.

Their parents and relatives know that too, which is why for months they’ve been studying English as a second language in the Oak Grove district’s adult program. They need to speak English in order to help their kids with school and life.

”We need to speak very well to understand,” says the elder Jorge Magana. ”When they go to college or university, we need to be there with them.”

Back to the running in the multipurpose room last week: It was graduation night at the San Jose school. Not for the kids, but for the adults in their lives. About 65 students of Katrina Zafiro and Hoa Wong gathered for a blowout that told the story of Silicon Valley’s ethnic quilt better than any stack of census reports.

More than 300 enrolled in the district’s program this year. Most spoke Spanish, but others spoke Vietnamese, Korean, Japanese, Punjabi,
Mandarin and Cantonese.

They came from the hardworking class, says Zafiro. Many would arrive at class tired from the day’s grind.

”I’m very proud of my wife,” says Carlos Arroyo, whose wife, Maria,
34, is a housekeeper. ”Sometimes she was very exhausted working, but she was there no matter what.”

The Arroyos, who have two sons, moved from Michoacan in 1990.

”When we first came, I didn’t know, not even a word,” says Carlos, 32,
who does auto body work.

He studied English while Maria held down the home front. The couple bought a house, then another, which they rent out.

Carlos has just taken the test for his real estate license. Now it’s Maria’s turn to master English.

”I feel happy for her,” says 8-year-old son, Julio. ”I just feel very happy.”

It was a happy night. The graduates took the stage and sang and danced to pop tunes. The fans hooted, cheered and laughed so hard they almost cried.

And then, the whole group gathered to sing ”God Bless America.” One by one they held up letters that spelled: ”Thank You America. Goodnight Everybody.”

It was off-key, out of sync and beautiful.

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