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March 25, 2017
Being a part of the U.S. by learning to speak English
By Laura Lane

Paola Diaz is a familiar face at the Locust Valley Library. She’s not only been working there as a library clerk since 2013, but also has taught English as a Second Language classes for the past six years.

Originally from Chile, the Locust Valley resident came to the U.S. in 1991. She didn’t speak English and her journey was difficult, but she persevered. Now Diaz is a proud citizen of the U.S., committed to helping others master the English language.

“Everyone who takes my class has different needs,” she explained. “Some need to learn English because they have children and want to help them with school, some because they want to become independent and learn American culture. To become a citizen, you have to speak and write English.”

Diaz began her pilgrimage to the U.S. in a Honduran jail cell. It didn’t matter to the officials that she had a visa. They didn’t believe that the 20-year-old was from Chile, suspecting instead that she was from Cuba, a communist country. They were suspicious.

She spent 24 hours in jail with others who were also trying to make their way to the U.S. before a “coyote” — someone who smuggles people across the U.S. border — paid off the Hondurans with electric shavers.

“I was scared,” Diaz, now 46, said. “[The officials] said I had to go back to Chile and they didn’t want to see me again.”

Undaunted, Diaz continued her three-week journey with the others. No matter what, she was ready to withstand any dangers because she desperately wanted a better life.

Unsure of which way to go, Diaz paid a Honduran teenager $50 to lead the group through the mountains on the Honduras-Guatemala border.

“It was night when we started, and by 3 a.m. he said he was lost,” she recalled. “We all laid on the ground and held each other. We were cold and it was drizzling.”

When the sun came up, the teenager realized where he was and the group continued to make its way to Guatemala. Diaz remembers two little girls who brought them coffee in cans when they finally made it to Guatemala. It was a kindness she will always remember.

“Every time I see anyone from Guatemala, I remember the generosity of the people there,” Diaz said. “That family was so poor, but they still shared with us.”

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