Friday, October 14, 2005

Dinner Party

So last night I was expecting to have friends of mine, a married couple, over for dinner. They are transplanted North Siders like me who have lived for a year in McKinley Park, just north of Back of the Yards. For months we have been saying we should get together for dinner, and it took until last night to happen.

Plus, it didn't go off quite as planned. First, the wife of the couple had to work late, so the husband and I snacked while the pasta was boiling, then sat down for pasta, garlic bread and salad.

As we were wrapping up, the doorbell rang. Dawn and her mom wanted the phone number for Neighborhood Housing Services. Hurray! I've only been nagging them for months to call and get their help in preparing paperwork for a mortgage. What tipped it over the edge was that their new landlord told them this week he wants them out at the end of the month. Apparently Dawn's big brother and his friends look like gangbangers to the landlord. Too bad he can't tell the difference between boys who go to Curie and read the Da Vinci Code and boys who drop out of school and shoot people. Even the nice church lady down the street has better sense than this landlord. She said of Dawn's family: "They are nice people. They're quiet. They have their kids under control."

Anyway, my friend, the husband of the couple, speaks excellent Spanish and helped explain what Neighborhood Housing Services does--it's not a bank, it's not a mortgage company, but they help people prepare documents to apply for a mortgage, they can lend money or refer to banks, and they rehab and sell properties, too, like they did with my former two-flat, which they converted to a single family house.

My friend got a workout in translating last night, because the doorbell rang again a few minutes later. It was School Lady and her oldest daughter and her next-to-youngest daughter (my favorite!). Oldest daughter is a freshman at Richards High this year, and everything is OK except for her biology teacher, a "morena" (black woman) who refuses to let students speak Spanish in her class, even when they don't understand what's going on. Oldest daughter tried to help her friends out by speaking Spanish and ended up in an argument with the teacher and got in trouble. She has all As and Bs in every class except biology, where she has a D. Other parents and students are having similar problems and a group met with the principal once already. Things improved for a couple of days and then went back to where they were. School Lady was among a group of ten parents who met with the principal today, for the second time, to talk about the situation.

I suggested they see what comes out of this, but if it doesn't improve, I offered to help them get in touch with some people downtown or at Designs for Change, an advocacy group that works with parents on school improvement, including on bilingual education issues.

Mr. Translation's wife arrived shortly after School Lady and her kids left, so we fed her a small bowl of pasta and a glass of wine and gave her a house tour. My friends thought the new colors on the first floor looked rather Southwestern, so maybe my eclectic (not to say eccentric) vision of Mexican meets Japanese may yet be realized.

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