I came here from Haiti when I was 10 years old. I was out of school for about 8 months because I had to wait on paperwork which would allow me to start school in this country. During those 8 months I sat home learning English from my mother who had only been in the US for a year and spoke very little -- broken -- English. When I finally started school, I learned that every bit of English my mother had taught me was incorrect. I learned this the hard way, because the kids in my class would laugh at me every time I tried to speak a word of English. It took me another year to unlearn and re-learn everything that she had taught me.
I basically grew up in a household where no one in my home spoke English. From a young age I was responsible for translating for everyone.
I am now 35 years old. My English sounds flawless. And yet, there are still simple English words I struggle to pronounce -- or to even remember sometimes. I missed out on learning the simple words that you mostly learn from your home. Words you would learn from your mother and father, or sister or brother. The simple things that you don't get to learn in school.
When I watch 19-year-old Rachel Jeantel struggle to communicate with the defense attorney, I see myself. Her English sounds like any young black teenage African-American girl -- therefore we assume that she should understand every word spoken to her. But it's a language she had to pick up on her own; her parents, like my mother, speak Creole.
"Could've or could": To have to watch her repeatedly state that she said "could" and be told over and over that she said "could've" on the tape? It was painful to watch her be treated as if she were stupid.
It could have easily happened to me at 19 if I was in her situation. Especially if I was scared, nervous, and being intimidated by an older white man who seemed to hate me for no fault of my own.