This blog is primarily about food, in particular food I like to cook. Having had the good fortune of living in Southeast Asia for a number of years, some of those years in refugee camps and others in large cities and small towns, there is a bias towards food of that region. Although many people think the title of the blog suggests it to be about coffee, I had never had much luck getting good coffee in Java, or elsewhere in Indonesia for that matter, until my visit last summer. Indonesia produces a lot of great coffee (not too much in Java), but finding a good cup is definitely a challenge. Probably the best I enjoyed was a cup of café den at a coffee shop in the refugee camp on Pulau Galang. So, no, this is not a blog about coffee.
I cook because I enjoy it and because it makes good food affordable. My wife and I are both teachers, teaching adult education, and, despite what some politicians suggest, are not living high on the hog thanks to our union contracts. Besides my full-time day job teaching, I also teach a couple classes at one of the local community colleges. Despite having M.A.s and years of experience in our field, neither of us enjoys a particularly lucrative contract. We do, however, have jobs we love. We both enjoy our students (most of them) and our colleagues (many of them) and don't particularly loathe our bosses; at least one of us has a boss we actually respect. This blog is a creative outlet for me, a way for me to think about something other than how to get students to recognize subject-verb agreement or write a coherent thesis statement. I never wanted it to be a reflection of my daily life, my struggles and successes.
Still, life sometimes intrudes. I have not posted anything for some time not only because I've been busy with my classes, but because I've just been so goddamn frustrated. Frustrated that my wife, who's one of the best teachers I've ever worked with, is losing her job because her district has decided to scrap its adult education program. Frustrated that although the district will no longer be offering adult ESL classes, the state is still going to be funding the district for the program at the same level it was funded two years ago when it was much larger. I'm frustrated that this is happening to programs up and down the state of California and nothing is being done about it.
Yes, the economy here is rotten. The state legislature is dysfunctional and programs are being cut right and left. GOP representatives are refusing to allow voters to vote on whether or not to extend some minimal taxes rather than gutting social and educational programs that have already been cut to the bone. The state is still funding adult education programs, but allowing districts to abolish the programs and shift the funds to K-12 programs. At the same time budgetary pressures on the community colleges are forcing them to limit the lower level ESL classes they offer. Adult immigrants who don't arrive in California fluent in English are going to be limited to their ethnic enclaves. As people are stuck in separate neighborhoods with fewer chances for advancement, as our communities become more insular and stratified, resentment will grow among everyone.
"Why don't these people learn English?" This is a fairly common sentiment among many Americans, a people not exactly renowned for their multilingual abilities. Indeed, listen to the average American who is a native-speaker of English speaking on the street and you might wonder what his first language is. To learn a language beyond the survival level of expressing basic needs, wants, and abilities takes time and study. Some people seem to have this idea that all the immigrants coming here were illiterate field hands or trash pickers in their countries, people with little or no education who should be thanking Jesus every day that they now get to live in the greatest country on earth. They don't realize that the cook in their favorite Chinese restaurant was an engineer or teacher in China. When a person's language skills are limited, others treat him as if he were a child, no matter that he may have been a doctor in his native country.
In 2002 Time magazine designated Sacramento the most diverse city in the United States. They gave it this designation not based on the number and variety of immigrants living here, but on the social, economic, and educational success the various ethnic groups achieved in this city. A lot of that success starts at the adult education level with students getting a foothold by learning basic English skills. In 2004 the ESL program in our district was awarded a Program of Excellence designation by the California Department of Education. Next year our budget for the year, if the tax extensions are passed, will be less than the cost of 20 seconds of air time during the Superbowl. If the tax extensions are not passed, there will likely be no program at all.
So, yes, it has been a little hard to get up any enthusiasm for taking pictures and writing about food. Still, what else is to be done? I just hope that the next time someone complains about these goddamned immigrants who don't learn the language he does something about reopening the goddamn classrooms and allowing them to learn.
Soon, a brand new post about food. Yum.