By Mary Roberson Wiygu
Lucio sits in the back row trying to crawl inside himself. Listening intently, he turns away when I make eye contact. Son of migrant farm workers, Lucio doesn’t know much more English than he did when he came to our school four years ago.
When the other students are working, I make my way to his desk. “Do you understand?” I ask Lucio. He musters a smile. “No,” he answers, and my heart melts. Hola is my only Spanish word, and even if it weren’t, I am afraid my Misssissippi drawl would render the words indistinguishable. We are at an impasse.
I point to the page trying to explain, hoping if I speak slowly enough miraculously my syllables will be translated. Lucio hopes so too. I see it in his eyes. When the other students ask questions, I use this as my excuse to walk away, feeling I have abandoned him but thankful to be dragged from the mire.
Lucio is constantly on my mind. I notice he responds well to another student who speaks to him regardless of whether he can understand. I follow her lead. I begin by speaking to Lucio each time I see him.
“Hola, Lucio. How are you?”
He smiles and nods.
“Food looks good, Lucio. Enjoy your lunch.”
Again, he smiles and nods.
“Did you have a good weekend, Lucio?” I ask.
His reaction always the same, I have no idea if he understands me, but I continue regardless.
Finally, the day comes when I give an assignment he seems to understand. “Draw four symbols that represent who you are and what you like to do,” I say. Lucio immediately draws a picture of Texas and colors it blue. When I tell him it is his turn to present it to the class, he answers with his usual, “No.”
“You can do this, Lucio,” I say.
The class notices our exchange and a chant begins…. “Lucio… Lucio…Lucio!”
Prompted by their cheers, he hesitantly moves to the front of the room and silence falls as we hold our breath in one accord. After an awkward moment, I mentally will Lucio to speak. Then in a muffled tone he says, “I draw Texas because I like Texas. I color blue because I like blue.” Silence crowds the classroom again, but before the turtle retreats, the cheers and applause of his classmates shatter the quiet.
“That was awesome, Lucio! Aren’t you glad you did it?” I exclaim, feeling like my child has taken his first step. With an electric smile, he turns and this time his response is different. This time Lucio says, “Yes.”
To the world I am Lucio’s teacher, but in reality, he is mine.