How I Learned English: 55 Accomplished Latinos Recall Lessons in Language and Life
Veteran travel writer Miller (On the Border) has put together a substantial volume on language, knowledge and cultural assimilation, gathering essays and excerpts from more than 50 authors, poets, professional athletes and musicians, doctors and politicians who took up English as a second (or third, or fourth) language. As PBS correspondent Ray Suarez notes in the foreword, for many ""the need to learn English was accompanied by wrenching personal circumstances: exile, illness, economic migration, family dissolution,"" but it was also ""a proffered ticket to... the modern and changing world."" In a piece from 1982's Hunger of Memory, for example, Richard Rodriguez recalls distinctions he made as a child between a private and a public language-Spanish had always been his to use, but English, what he needed for school, felt more difficult to embrace. In a selection from her 2001 memoir American Chica, Washington Post books editor Marie Arana tells how she feigned ignorance of English on her first day at a new elementary school so she'd be funneled into the Spanish-speaking class. Other contributors such as Alvaro Vargas Llosa, Walter Mercado, Enrique Fernandez and Daisy Zamora provide nuanced perspectives on the ongoing immigration debate, putting faces to the statistics and concrete meaning to broad points of policy and ideology.