At LaGuardia Community College, Visiting Fulbright Scholar Steven Gilbers discusses African-American English through the comparison of East Coast and West Coast hip-hop. In a classroom filled with students and professors, Mr. Gilbers proceeds to break down hip-hop culture and the importance of authenticity in the hip-hop community. “Another crucial part of hip-hop culture is this […]
Dashurije Topalli, 52, arrived to the U.S in 2011 from Albania, not knowing how to speak English and is now a childhood education major here at LaGuardia Community College. She works as a teaching assistant part-time when not long ago, saying the words “chair” or “door” was strenuous. “I need to go to a four-year college and then get my masters. I am old but I will do it.”
In their home country, almost everyone plays the lottery. All winning tickets are rewarded with green cards, social security and a one-way ticket to the United States. After years of playing, her husband finally won and told Mrs. Topalli to pack her bags; convincing her by telling her “it is the land of dreams for our kids.”
In their country, with a population of approximately 3 million people, Topalli describes the tough times her and her family were put through during the communism period in Albania before 1992. “You cannot just apply for your citizenship. Now you can travel to Europe but before you couldn’t. We couldn’t go anywhere. You couldn’t listen to music you wanted, you couldn’t say what you want. Let’s say if your brother was writing an essay and he was saying bad things against the government, he would go to jail along with all his family, his cousins and all his people. They would go work in a mine, a place away from society. It’s like you had rights but you didn’t have rights. It was like ‘you do what I say’.”
“I started crying the first day we came here to be honest. It was very difficult. I wanted to go back” Mrs. Topalli says, after explaining how they had managed to use up all the money they came with since everything was much more expensive here than in Albania. “My husband and I weren’t working. Rent was $1,200. If you have $100 there [Albania] you can pay rent for one month.”
What would seem rather difficult to Mrs. Topalli was working a different job. “I was an economist there and in the afternoon I was a math tutor.” Without knowing how to communicate in the states, she had to neglect her superior education and settle for a simple airport job.
“It was two months in and all I knew how to do was was say ‘hi’ and ‘bye’ and how to count money because I was doing all the shopping and nothing else” says Mrs. Topalli when describing her knowledge of english before applying for a job in the airport after her son found an ad. She described her trip to the airport as an adventure in which she felt hopeless because of the lack of communication.
Her employer threatened to fire her unless she learned english in three months. In fear of not making ends meet, she decided to try. “I’d go to the library and begin learning basic words in english. After that I began to go to night school. And I started to learn better English. After that, I went back and got my ID for the job and everyone was happy. I tried more and more to improve my english.”
Her big take-away from working at the airport were the welcoming and supportive New Yorkers who were more than happy to help her overcome her struggles. “I appreciate the other employees, because they accepted people who don’t know english to work. And it is the best thing that happened in this country.”
After receiving her GED, her husband and children supported her decision to attend college. “My kids like what I am doing. They told me ‘I know you can do it.’ My son finished his masters in engineering and my daughter finished her masters in psychology. So why not now?”
When asked what was most difficult about coming to the U.S, Mrs. Topalli simply says “We came here and we stared here from zero, with no english, no money, no car, nothing. Just my two kids and my husband. He started working in a factory. He was an engineer but he came and worked in a factory. and he was the one saying ‘everything is just machines and you do not have to work so hard.’ But it wasn’t like that. He started working and he was also helped me improve my english and make me happy here to find a different job and to work because I was the only one who wanted to go back. So we started our life. I wouldn’t go back now if I had the chance.”