Radio Rookies

Spanish Speaker in New York

Karla Saavedra is 16 and lives in Brooklyn, NY She moved to new york two years ago from mexico and has been attending Bushwick High School ever since. Her English has been steadily improving, but she has to work very hard at it. And although she still struggles to speak fluently and clearly, she is determined to tell this story in English.

To hear the audio broadcast of this story visit the Radio Rookies site.

Karla: The first day I came to New York, I was telling them all the news from Mexico. At one point, I said something very funny. Everyone was laughing so hard and my pregnant older sister passed out. We slapped her face, but she didn’t wake up. So my mother became very scared and called 911.

Karla’s mother in Spanish (translated): It was terrible because the operator didn't speak Spanish and I didn't speak English, so I was worried. You know how I felt -- I didn't know how to translate what the operator said. I was just hoping that everything would go all right.

Karla: Somehow, the paramedics understood where to come. When they arrived, my mother spoke to them in Spanish, and they were able to follow. I just stood there and watched, so frustrated because I couldn't help -- I couldn't translate anything.

Karla’s mother in Spanish (translated): This was an experience for me. I told my kids to try to speak English and that they must push themselves to learn English. Because this is a country that's unfamiliar to us.

Karla: This country has a lot of immigrants, so many people are unfamiliar with English. In my neighborhood, there are a lot of Puerto Ricans, like my friend Jesus who lives one block away from me.

(walking, sound of Karla ringing bell, walking up stairs.)
"At school, I have only one bilingual class -- Global Studies. I take Math, English Grammar, English reading and writing, and Science -- all in English. The teachers understand Spanish, but they don't speak it."


Karla (translated): There are a lot of stairs.

Karla: Jesus says he didn’t have a hard time like I'm having.

Jesus in Spanish (translated): It's very easy. My family comes from Puerto Rico. Since we came over here 85% of my family speaks English and is doing fine here.

Karla: But he says here in this neighborhood, they hardly ever need to use it.

Jesus in Spanish (translated): Our households are Hispanic. And we see Spanish channels. We listen to Spanish music. We don't practice English. We're keeping our Hispanic tradition.

Karla: It’s easy to put off learning English – especially when you’re shy, like me. Spanish is spoken so much here. My first day in the school, it was very difficult because I didn't know how to get around. Every hallway and every floor looked the same as the other. So I got lost when I was going to class. After the bell rang, a security guard started yelling at me in English. But I couldn't understand him and he got even angrier. So he brought me to the principal.

Principal Rene Pollock in Spanish (translated): Certainly, there’s the old building, and the new building for you, and the room numbers, and it's true -- it's a big place, and you needed me, as a friend, as a principal, as a teacher, and as a person to help you at the school.

Karla: I was so relieved -- Principal Rene Pollock speaks Spanish. But she says you can not depend on luck. And you can not have real success in New York without learning English.

Karla in Spanish (translated): Are the majority of the programs at this school bilingual?

Rene Pollock in Spanish (translated): Most of the students who come have already had classes in New York. So we need a type of bilingual class that's not totally in Spanish -- it's in English and in Spanish.

Karla: At school, I have only one bilingual class -- Global Studies. I take Math, English Grammar, English reading and writing, and Science -- all in English. The teachers understand Spanish, but they don't speak it.

(sounds of class)

Karla: My English teacher Mrs. Cortez says she enjoys watching her students progress in a second language, and move toward professional careers. But I do not think I will really ever learn English if I only speak it in the classroom.

(classroom sounds continue : class repeats after teacher: I remember, my aunt, uncle and cousins lived on a little farm in the country outside Rome…)

Karla in English (translated): How can one make learning English interesting to people who don't speak it, so we can overcome the obstacles to learning it?

Mrs. Cortez in Spanish (translated): Naturally, it would be a good idea to form a study group, where people study together and help one another learn. Listening, pronouncing, reading. One pushes the other. It creates a sense of competition between them, and they help each other at the same time.

Karla: I have not started a study group, but my friend Clarivel and I have been trying to practice together.

Karla: Hey, I have one question for you. It's special. Do you have a boyfriend?

"It's a good idea to form a study group, where people study together and help one another learn. Listening, pronouncing, reading. One pushes the other. It creates a sense of competition between them, and they help each other at the same time.

Clarivel: Yes I have a boyfriend.
Karla: Ahhh. What's his name?
Clarivel: Jose.
Karla: Jose what?
Karla: She doesn't know his last name!
(laughter)
Clarivel: You got a boyfriend?
Karla: No.
Clarivel: Why not?
Karla: I don't like boyfriends.
Clarivel: I know why!
Karla: Why?
Clarivel: Because you like to study. (Karla says Yeah) You like to do your homework. You like to pay attention to the teacher. That's why you don't have a boyfriend.

Karla: I’m also starting to watch English TV channels and listen to English radio. And I like to practice with my favorite band, Metallica.

(Karla sings along to Metallica song: Forever trusting who we are and nothing else matters…singing continued in background)

Karla: Normally, I don't sing in public, but I want people to know how difficult it is to learn English and how hard I'm trying. I hope, after listening to my story, you will understand what it's like. And I hope, next time we have to call 911, I will be more prepared.

(Karla singing along with Metallica continued: Every day for us something new. Open mind for a different view…and nothing else matters)

For WNYC, I am Rookie Reporter Karla Saavedra

Radio Rookies is a project of WNYC in New York, NY.

Suicide Attempt

Pills17-year-old Linda Cuevas lives in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn. When she was 14, she tried to commit suicide. Suicide is the third leading cause of death among young people. The rate has tripled since the 1950s. Young white males are the most likely to kill themselves, but Black and Latino girls are more likely than their peers to attempt it. Linda thought she might give others some perspective on their problems by telling what happened to her.


To hear the audio broadcast of this story visit the Radio Rookies site.



Linda: When I was 14, I tried to commit suicide. At that time, things were pretty bad.

Macho: What made you want to commit suicide?

Linda: Thats my friend Macho Lopez. He interviewed me to help me answer some of my own questions

Linda answering Macho: I was going out with this guy named Danny and that was like my first puppy love so we were together for like 2 years, and it was for some stupid reason that I can't remember, but he broke up with me. Since I was young and ignorant, I thought that was the only guy for me or whatever.

Dr. Douglas Munsey: If I remember right, in your case, everything was going along ok.

Linda: Doctor Douglas Munsey is one of the doctors who treated me after I tried to kill myself. I went back to the hospital to interview him for this story.

Dr. Munsey: And then one day there was a major problem or development in the relationship right, (Linda agrees) and in that moment of feeling horrible, you did something rash and impulsive.

"Danny made me feel like I was nobody, and I didn’t want to feel like that anymore."
Linda: Wanna know what I did? I took mad pills if you dont know what that means, it's a lot of pills.

Linda's mother: That day as I recall, I was doing exercise in the gym and I come home and my silly daughter Linda Cuevas, she pops out and she tells "Oh mom, how long does it take for something to happen if you take a lot of pills?" And I told her, "Did you take pills?" She says, "No, I saw it on TV. This girl took a lot of pills and after a while she died."

Linda: I had longer hair then, I didn't wear any make-up, and I was kind of skinny compared to now. By the time Danny broke up with me I'd already tried slitting my wrists a couple times because we were fighting so much. But I couldn't stand the pain and pain was exactly what I was trying to get away from. Danny made me feel like I was nobody, and I didn't want to feel like that anymore. When you're dead, you can't feel anything. After I took the pills, I started losing my balance, so I went to lie down on our sofa. That's when my mom knew for sure something was wrong.

Linda's mother: She looked like she had the biggest hangover of her life. And I just got dressed again, called a cab and took her to the hospital. Then from there they washed her stomach and everything. Then they sent her to a mental hospital.

Rafael: Did you learn your lesson or something?

Linda: Of course I learned my lesson.

Linda: I stayed in this room with two beds and a bathroom inside the room. The hallways were long. I was in the 2nd to last room to the left. The windows were nailed down. I'm still friends with the girl whose room I shared.

Linda: What's your name?

Heidi: Heidi Rivera

Linda: How did you get into Holliswood Hospital?

Heidi: From a drug overdose when I was smoking weed.

Linda: Heidi smoked marijuana, not realizing it was laced with much harder drugs that really mess you up.

Heidi: And it almost killed me because I had too many drugs in my body.

Linda: One day we were in there, Heidi got a little aggravated.

Heidi: I was sitting there, I was seeing TV. Some dude tried coming out of his mouth with me. So I came out my face, and I just decked him. With Linda's up there asking, "Wheres Heidi? Wheres Heidi?" (Linda laughs), they had Heidi thrown on the floor, like ten doctors thrown on top of me trying to stick me with a needle and then they gave it to me by the mouth. When Lindy walked in the room, I was out. I was out for like ten hours.

Linda: Well I feel Heidi, because as I saw with my own eyes -- it doesn't look cute. To have all these doctors jumping on you like you're an animal and then stick you with a needle. But I guess Heidi had them scared. Nothing like that ever happened to me. While I was back visiting Dr. Munsey, I asked him to walk me through the files they have on me.

Linda: Ok right about now, he's going to read my chart.

"I felt weird because I wasn’t like some of the other people in there, but at the same time, I felt wanted. Someone was always around to listen to you and cheer you up. I’d never had that kind of attention before."
Dr. Munsey: 14-year-old female, transferred from Wykoff hospital. She was taken to their ER 2 days ago after she took an overdose of various pills: 30 Tylenols, 3 xanax, 5 prednisone and 3 theophyline. You made good eye contact, you were pleasant and cooperative, you were wearing a hospital outfit.

(Doctor Munsey continues in background reading Linda's chart)

Linda: I felt weird because I wasnt like some of the other people in there, but at the same time, I felt wanted. Someone was always around to listen to you and cheer you up. I'd never had that kind of attention before.

(Doctor Munsey reading chart: Patients mother has a history of depression and is currently being treated for it.)

Linda: When teenagers come in here, do some of them sometimes want to stay?

Dr. Munsey: Yes. Usually, the reason people feel that way is that life has been so difficult for them at home that even the staff of a hospital like this is a big step up to that in terms of you know getting the kind of love and attention that theyve wanted for so long, but hadn't gotten before.

Linda: There was a lot of other stuff going on for me that year besides my boyfriend troubles. My brother had passed away a year earlier -- he died of an asthma attack. And I also got an abortion. Going through arguments with Danny just stressed me out more -- so I guess it all added up to a suicide attempt. My mother still gets upset about it.

Linda: Did you feel that when I did that it made things better between me and him?

Linda's mother: No it made things stupider.

Linda: When I was in the hospital, Danny of course felt guilty, so he sneaked in to visit me a couple of times. We continued to see each other for a while after that. But this time, my feelings changed. When we argued, I wouldnt even let it get to me. Now if we run into each other, we say hi. But we don't even stop and talk.

Linda's mother: After all, all of this, and she moved on. Who went through everything? Me myself and I. The mother. Nobody else.

Linda: In a way, my mom is right. When I was in the second day in the hospital, she cried and told me, "How could you do this to me after I lost my son? And I thought I was going to lose you." At that moment, I realized what I did was stupid. Here's Doctor Munsey's last bits of notes.

Dr. Munsey: Insisting that she feels much better since admission. States her actions prior to admission were quote "stupid" close quote. Just like we were talking about before. Then, one day family meeting this evening in which critical issues contributing to admission were addressed, pleasant and cooperative, and then you were discharged.

Linda: My piece of advice? If you feel you want to kill yourself, think about it twice. If it's for the same reason I did, think about this: while youre 6 feet under, the person who's stressed you out is still living and moving on, going along with his or her life and making something of it. And you don't even exist in the world, and no one's going to listen to you. Take it by me, I know what I'm talking about.

For WNYC, I’m Rookie Reporter Linda Cuevas


In the coming weeks WireTap will be making transcripts of other Rookies’ stories available on our site.

Radio Rookies is a project of WNYC in New York, NY.
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