By Jessica Carter
I was desperate for information, so I called my mom. I knew her memory was better than mine. After talking to her, what I feared was true, and it hit me like a rock. I discovered my lack of exposure to literacy as a child. It all started two weeks ago, when I got a writing assignment from my ENG 111 class. We were working on the topic of literacy. At first, the class consisted on reading and analyzing different authors’ literacy history and experiences, but then it was my turn to write about my own literacy history. I got very nervous. I have not written a big assignment in years, perhaps decades. Even though I’d completed the unit and compared the experiences of different writers, I couldn’t see my literacy history clearly. I was at a halt. Nothing, nothing, nothing, I could think of nothing at all. “But why,” I said to myself. I don’t remember having a fancy fairy princess diary where I wrote stories about my favorite pet, or a favorite book that to this day is still at my mom’s house as some keepsake. I panicked. My room seemed hot and loud, so I lowered the temperature and ran to the fish tank to unplug it. I couldn’t stand the constant infernal noise of the water trickling down. Finally, the room felt peaceful, and I was able to relax. I sat on my chair, stretched my arms as I leaned back, and then crossed them. It was time to take a trip in memory lane.
The first thing that came to my mind was third grade. I was living in Los Angeles, California, and I recollect going to the school library. For me, at that time, that was the biggest library in the world. There were colorful books everywhere. I had just moved from Mexico to LA, and I had never seen a library like that one before. That day, I took some books home, but I don’t recall the stories or any other books after those. One year passed, and my mom decided to take me back to Mexico. After that memory, I tried to recall anything else that would help me with my assignment, but my mind went blank.
Sometime later, I remembered a twelfth-grade reading and writing assignment. I had to read two or three books from famous Mexican authors, and then make a summary of them. Bits and pieces of the story came to me, but what I remember the most was the struggle that I went through to get those books. My high school didn’t have a library; actually, none of the schools I attended in Mexico did. I found out about the town’s public library after I was given the assignment. The public library was gloomy, colorless, and the books were scarce. After that, I couldn’t remember anything else. “This cannot be! What else is there? I think I just have a bad memory,” I said to myself. I called my mom for help that evening, and we had a long conversation. I told her about my assignment, and she told me all she could remember about my childhood and my school years.
When I was done talking to my mom, I was able to put all the pieces together about my literacy history, and that’s when it hit me. My exposure to literacy was limited. I realized that the environment where I lived, the culture, and my family’s own literacy, to a degree, had shaped my own. That night, I discovered that my memory was fine, and that I was not a lover of books or a passionate writer, not then, not now. This saddens me, but at the same time it made me feel proud of myself, because even though I was not encouraged to read or write at an early age, I’ve been able to help my children with their literacy since they were little. I remember taking them to the library on a weekly basis, carrying heavy bags of books home, paying many fines for keeping books for too long, and forcing my children to join writing and book clubs I was able to contribute and nurture their literacy path despite my lack of exposure to literacy.