Written by Laura Merriman
The Ayala family arrived in Baltimore in September 2018 after fleeing their home country of El Salvador. The family of six spent their first few months building their new life in Maryland. They took English classes and established a great foundation for their new life. However, it was not until recently that the family got a real opportunity to make friends and not only experience American culture, but share their culture with Americans.
The Ayala family met Jessica Sedgwick and her family as part of the IRC Family Mentor Program, a six month program where community volunteers receive training and commit to meeting with a family for two hours each week. Jessica heard about the program from a friend and thought it would be a meaningful way for her and her family to get involved in the community. She was drawn to the Ayala family because they both speak Spanish, enjoy cooking and spending time with family. After their first visit, the families decided to arrange a dinner at the Sedgwick’s home to share homemade pizza from America and pupusas, a traditional dish from El Salvador.
The Ayala's were initially apprehensive about cooking with the Sedgewick family. “We were nervous about cooking pupusas because we were afraid, they would not enjoy them,” said Reina Ayala, “but they enjoyed them very much.” The Sedgwick's used the opportunity not only to share American food but help the family practice their English. Jessica shared: “We gave them each a notecard to write down words or phrases they learned. We taught them the English words for many food and kitchen items. They were eager, happy learners.”
Overall the cooking night was a great learning experience for both families. Jessica and her family “loved experiencing something from Ayala’s culture.” The Ayala's learned new cooking vocabulary and how to make pizza, something that their youngest son had often requested for dinner. The Ayala's were also touched by the kindness of Sedgwick's who so quickly welcomed them into their home. “It has been a wonderful experience,” Reina commented. “They are kind, respectful, and enjoy simple things like us.” The Ayala's are excited about what else their new American friends will teach them. “We are looking forward to learning English, learning about new places, and the culture.”
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