Erikina's Blog

Archive for the month “August, 2012”

Vignette Two: Mr. Shepard, the ESL Instructor

Mr. Shepard was one of the first Americans I had a chance to interact with, since the rest of my classmates were from places outside of the U.S. He was the only American in the class. Because of this, he quickly became my model to follow, so that I could learn English. Shepard was a tiny fellow that wore flip-flops all the time, even during the cold winter. His crooked toes were purple and dry and he wore shorts when it was really cold, something that I still can’t understand. I wish I could see him now, to ask him why he did these things. I would have asked before but my English was not advanced enough to formulate such a question.

Mr. Shepard was the first person to take me on a tour of Chicago, along with the rest of the class. That was when I realized how big a city Chicago is, and all the secrets it has, its subversive history from the meat packing industries back in the days to the architecture, and the many waves of immigrants. He also took us to the Berghoff Café, a German restaurant that is known for being the first place to obtain its liquor license, right after the Prohibition Era. Since then, this place has been serving cold mugs of delicious Berghoff beer.

Throughout the year, Mr. Shepard introduced us to Chicago’s rich offerings, like when we visited the Chicago Cultural Center and he explained the different activities they offer there for free. He always promised to organize more tours around the city visiting the different neighborhoods, but when the end of the school year was upon us, instead, he decided to do a picnic for the last week of class. Since I didn’t own a car, I rode my bike from Granville and Sheridan to Foster Beach.

That day, Foster Beach was more picturesque than ever, as the Mexicans in my class grilled carnitas and passed the tamales around. An Arab lady brought some baklava, my Polish classmates brought some sausages and I brought my famous Argentinean empanadas with chimichurri. Mr. Shepard brought a cooler full of Budweiser’s and Miller Light cans along with the grill. He was so happy; he could not stop saying how much he loved the different dishes.

After most of the class had left, I ended up hanging out with the Mexican classmates. We walked along the lake and stopped at some point along the shore to witness a baptism taking place in the lake! I looked around; hoping to find someone to explain to me what was going on when my eyes fell upon a Latina woman in a white robe.

“¿Qué es esto?” I asked, “What are you all doing here?” I asked the lady in Spanish.

She turned towards me, tears streaming down her cheeks. “El Señor es tu salvación,” she uttered and gave me a tiny New Testament bible. Then she babbled something that I could not really understand with her thick and colorful Colombian accent. She sang and sang as she fell in line with the group of people from the church. They submerged their feet in the Lake Michigan water as they gathered in a circle there, wading deeper into the water and offering their loyalty to God.

The ceremony was accompanied by the metal jingling sounds of tambourines, chanting in Spanish, and lively clapping, as the people seemed to faint, trying to drown themselves with God. I looked at them, slowly glancing up at the Chicago skyline, its blurry horizon of skyscrapers far away, in the distance. I didn’t really know what this was all about, it seemed very bizarre, it seemed like there was life, it seemed like I was in Latin America again.

The last time I ran into Mr. Shepard, I told him that I was dating a Chicagoan, who lived in Beverly and was of Irish descent, to which he replied: “So he must be the son of a policeman and he might play in a Chicago Irish bag pipe band.” And he was right about it, because the Chicagoan I was dating had all these qualities. When I heard these words coming out of his mouth I realized that he was not only the first American I met in the U.S., but he was also the first true Chicagoan I had ever met.

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