News & Blog: Advocate Spotlights


Guest Blogger: Omar Cuevas, Vice President for Sales and Marketing at the Grand Rapids Chamber and Literacy Center Board Member

As a kid growing up in Southern California in the early 80’s, I served as an interpreter for my grandmother while my mom, grandpa and uncles were working. They pay wasn’t bad at all. My nana made the most wonderful homemade flour tortillas she would hand to me right off the stove as she made them with her beautiful hardworking hands.

Being the oldest grandson and already having an education (consisting of being able to read and speak English) and in the 4th grade, I was often called in to action. Joining my grandma and cousins or my sister to a doctor’s office or dentist appointment. Sometimes we would need to take a bus, and this would usually end with my nana having to hail a police officer to help us because we took the wrong bus.

Looking back, I can find levity in our experience as this helped form a bond with my nana. I also think of what my grandmother would go through; having to count on a kid to help interpret and help navigate through what an adult should be able to do. Although she never complained, I wonder how this affected her. I think that it helped that she has a sense of humor. She would learn a few English phrases I would teach her, and she would practice with her broken English and heavy accent. She persisted in practicing English when she had the chance with no fear.

Omar blog photoMy nana eventually decided to become a citizen of the United States in the year 2000. She had to learn enough to pass the test which was then only available in English and I was going to be her tutor. We laughed all through the booklet and practice tests because of how she would pronounce words or flip them around. She did amazing. She passed her test. The one answer she would always get wrong was: “Who is the governor of California?” She would respond “Green Davis.” “No nana,” I’d say, “it is GREY Davis.” She would say: “well, it’s one of the colors. That should count.”

Not everyone takes the approach my grandmother took with patience, grace and humility. I wonder how many times she could have overpaid for something or what opportunities she missed because neither she nor I understand the information. It is an unfortunate reality that there are still many families today that struggle with the same issues that my grandmother did 30+ years ago.

Thankfully West Michigan has the Literacy Center. The Literacy Center offers more than literacy training. It helps individuals reclaim their dignity of being able to take care of their family and navigate through life with a better understanding. The power of literacy is life changing. We have a group of passionate employees and volunteers who give their time, talent and treasure to help those want to (need to) learn. This is why I find value in being part of this board. This organization provides people a skill that will open their world to other possibilities and hope for a better future.

I think it would just great to put kids out of the interpretation business. Let them enjoy learning the life lessons. But don’t forget about the flour tortillas.

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