When I tell people I teach English as a Second Language, they usually say, “Oh, do you speak Spanish?” Fluency in Spanish would not help in my classroom. Students in the ESL program at Pitt Community College come from many corners of the world. Over the past 12 years, I have taught students from Germany, Spain, India, Morocco, West Africa, Egypt, Iran, Russia, Japan, China, Myanmar, Mexico, Colombia, Brazil … more than 30 countries from five continents. And it is not uncommon to have half a dozen different languages and cultures represented in the classroom during one semester. ESL students represent the cultural diversity of Greenville.
I like it. Cultural diversity broadens the mind and gives Greenville a unique “flavor.” Take restaurants, for example. No fewer than eight in Greenville specialize in Japanese cuisine, another eight or more Chinese, eight or nine Mexican, five Thai, two Mongolian, two Greek, two Indian, three or four Italian, one Korean and one Vietnamese. Did I forget anybody? How’s that for adding flavor and spice to our city?
But ethnic cuisine is not the only “seasoning” immigrants add. They also add a few sprinkles of music, dance, dress, traditions, celebration and language. Recently at the grocery store, I spotted an Indian woman wearing a beautiful sarong. Last week a former student stopped by my classroom to say hello. She was dressed in a colorful outfit from Guinea, her native country. On May 5, you can celebrate Cinco de Mayo at many Mexican eateries. And if you want to learn how to dance salsa and merengue, you can join the once-a-month, Friday-night class (sponsored by Folk Arts Society of Greenville, September through April and taught by a Latino).
One of the best ways to experience the international flavor and diversity of Greenville is by attending an international festival. An annual spring festival is held at the Town Common, and in the fall, usually in September or October, St. Gabriel’s Catholic Church hosts another event, which seems to attract more performers and participants every year. The festivals are colorful, fun, noisy affairs with belly dancing, Chinese folk dancing, Mexican hat dancing, mariachi, origamai demonstrations, displays of traditional arts and crafts and, of course, food. Fried noodles from Japan, empanadas from Venezuela, tortillas from Mexico … A treat for the taste buds.
Another less well-known event, but nonetheless enjoyable, is the Chinese New Year extravaganza held in January in the auditorium at Brody School of Medicine. The public is invited, though tickets are required. Following the performance of traditional Chinese opera and dance, poetry readings and costumed children skipping and singing across the stage, plenty of “real” Chinese food is served buffet-style in the dining room.
Immigrants enrich our community. They own and manage businesses; provide health care; work in fields, factories and restaurants; clean houses and cut grass; teach martial arts; and attend our schools, university and community college. They add flavor and spice to life.
No, I don’t speak Spanish, but I know how to make Korean pancakes, Japanese rice balls and Polish potato salad. I can eat with chopsticks (though rather clumsily), sway my hips to the sound of Latin music, and can have delicate art painted on my toenails — thanks to Greenville’s immigrant population, who add spice to the life of our city.
Rosie Erskine Lamrhari, 60, is a teacher, traveler, writer and reader. She earned a master’s degree in English Education from East Carolina University in 1997 and has been teaching English as a Second Language ever since. Though a Hoosier by birth, Rosie considers herself a Tar Heel by choice and will always call North Carolina home.