All Mixed Up, part one

All Mixed Up, part one

As an ESL teacher—and someone who often finds herself around immigrants— I often encounter situations that baffle me. Some involve students who support people or organizations that go directly against their interests. I call these little ironies, “all mixed up.”


I taught a young female Saudi student named Aya for several years. Very nice, very helpful in class, well-educated. She was here in Minnesota with her husband, who had a scholarship from their country. Aya loved to crochet, and was always looking for good places to buy crocheting supplies. One day in class she came up to me with good news. “I found a great new place for yarn,” she exclaimed.

“Oh, good! Which one?” I asked.

“Hobby Lobby,” she replied.

I try hard not to express political opinions in class, and I smiled at her as quickly as I could, but I think my face first registered at least a brief moment of surprise at her selection of this vocally evangelical Christian establishment.

“. . . That’s great!” I told her.


I currently have ten Somali students. Many of them speak basic English, but lack more advanced vocabulary. One reason is that they don’t pick up reading material very often. They have small children, and sitting down with a book or magazine is  difficult. “You should try to watch the local or national news on television,” I told them.

Imagine my surprise when several of them began telling me what they were learning from Fox News.


Last fall I taught Monday and Friday mornings. Another teacher, Kathy, taught the same group on Wednesday mornings. On the morning after the 2016 presidential election, I was not in class to hear my students’ reactions, but I called Kathy that evening to ask how it had gone. “Do our students need any kind of reassurance?” I asked.

She told me things seemed okay—but that one of the students—a recent immigrant from East Africa— had proudly announced she had voted for Trump.


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