Every Tuesday morning, in a small, nondescript room in a back corner of the Wheaton Public Library, men and women gather for a conversation class. They are old and young, from all over the world: Cameroon, China, El Salvador, Sudan. They come to practice and improve their English.
But the students share more than a desire to learn a new language. They share an understanding of what their journeys to America have cost, personally and professionally.
In between lessons on American idioms and pronunciation, they swap memories of the careers and loved ones left behind. Some were lawyers, doctors or engineers in their countries of origin, and now work as cooks, housekeepers, and nannies. In their home countries, all have left siblings and parents, who grow older and change without them. These English learners came to America to escape war and political turmoil, or for the opportunities, for their children’s futures, or simply for money.
Whether pushed or pulled here, the varied stories of the men and women who gather in the class reveal an often hidden side of the immigrant experience: the bittersweet sacrifices made in pursuit of a better life.