Language presents many barriers for recent immigrants or people that want to come to the United States. Learning a new language is not so easy at an adult age, and that’s when most immigrants come to the United States looking for a job. Gina Valdes captures in poetry what it means to learn a new language in her poem “English Con Salsa?” She talks about what immigrants are expected to learn in English so they can serve others. Learning English as a service skill is required in all the United States jobs.
“Welcome to ESL 100, English Surely Latinized” (483) Gina Valdes begins her poem with a welcoming message as a teacher would. At first, Valdes gives the impression that she is welcoming students to a nice place to be in and a place to learn English. She later transitions to “con chile y cilantro” like it is a classic Mexican food to make it sound a little more attractive. Valdes uses many Spanish words to make her emphasize small things that can go unnoticed, but after careful reading, one can see how she uses it to give a different meaning to the poem. In this case, her poem becomes Latinized and clearly understood by bilingual people as it requires knowledge of both cultures. In her opening stanza, she refers to many historic people and places.
“English as American as Benito Juarez” (483), Valdes uses Benito Juarez as America’s symbol. I think she carefully chooses him because she wants to point out that “America” is not only the United States but also the whole continent. Benito Juarez was named the Benedict of America, for his works on democracy and his reforms; with his famous saying: “El derecho ajeno es la paz” (One’s right is Peace). I am sure not many people born in the United States recognize him. On the other hand, she uses another vital figure that many people recognize here and every part of the world. “You will speak like George Washington” (483). She uses Washington to emphasize that by learning English, they will earn many dollars, and because the portrait of Washington is associated with money, it is a clear connection. But then she says: “More coffee?” (483) After two months, she says: “May I take your order?” with these words, Valdes points out that ESL 100 only teaches immigrants how to serve Americans. She uses names of places to show the connections between the learners and the places they came.
“Welcome, welcome, amigos del Sur, bring your Zapotec tongues” (483). Valdes makes the transition from what can be done by teaching English to English learners. She talks about the many beautiful qualities the learners already have like their language, their own culture, and the places they genuinely recognize as their own. She uses key worlds like “Nahuatl tones” and the pyramids. I think she tries to tell them how much they already have and do not have to feel any less than those buildings and culture in the United States. She also makes many references to places where the learners come. Valdes uses this to give an image of recognition; not many people know those places besides the learners. For example, the Teocaltiche place not many people know about it, not even Mexicans themselves. But for the native of that place, it is pretty familiar, and they can identify themselves with the poem. Religions also play an essential role in her poetry.