Special times in my life can be defined as those times when I first hear of an idea, an event, a person, who five minutes before, was unknown to me…and yet, I know immediately, that it won’t be the last time that this new knowing will be a part of my life forever.
I first heard of International Women’s Day, a day of celebration of women, by women and and men in my English as a Second Language class (ESL), last night. I have taught ESL as an instructor for three years. Last evening, I was assigned to the “Advanced Women” group. We were ending the evening with the idiom “Once in a Blue Moon” and a little about the upcoming American events of St Patrick’s Day on March 17th and Easter coming up on April 1st. The five women present in my class this evening was smaller in number than usual. They were from South Korea, Ukraine, Russia and Peru.
Because the group was small, Natalia from Russia asked me if I knew what tomorrow, March 8th, was. I replied no. All of the women in the group broke into smiles and informed me of how special March 8th was in their countries. It seemed strange to them that in huge, hip America, IWD was not spoken about or celebrated, “when you have so many women to be proud of.”
International Women’s Day they excitedly told me was a day that had originated in Russia in 1917. This celebration of women’s “achievements” spread to other communist and socialist countries. In 1975 the United Nations proclaimed March 8th as: United Nations Day for Women’s Rights and International Peace.
They all became my teacher. This happens often in this class. Tonight the excitement, the joy and the pride that was expressed regarding the achievements of women was not expressed as a local, national or global feat but as a triumph, for all women. Two of the quieter women dropped their reticence at speaking in English and told the group of women who they revered (“my daughter, my mother”). They were all aware of Mother’s Day but explained that Women’s Day was, was a day to reflect on living up to one’s highest potential. The five of them hugged each other, Julie, the lead instructor and I. From their cell phones, we saw pictures of flowers, candy, and men doing housework (!), cards and stuffed animals that their “men-folk,” had gifted to them.
These women were very aware of the #metoo campaign, The Lily , The Women’s Marches that had occurred in US cities and worldwide in January 2017, and of the forty-eight women that had received Noel Prizes since 1910. They knew that they were the living kinship that had expanded every year since they were little girls. Their pride in being women coexisted comfortably with the world renowned achievements of many famous women, and the women that they found themselves sharing this day with, each year.
International Women’s Day is not what we often call a “Hallmark” day, a day contrived to sell something. With generosity and a lack of judging, they did not communicate what we as instructors in our class try to be sensitive to, and that is to not appear ethnocentric.
As I watched them I felt humble and grateful that my life had intersected with theirs. Once again what I received from them was a whole lot more than what I gave to them. I have had many moments of extreme closeness with women from each year’s class of hard working students. We have discussed in the third person, and the more personal first person, ideas and feelings about love, marriage, childcare, economically and psychologically impacting occurrences, history and cultural events. Our ESL goal is to provide opportunities for them to learn about America and to speak English. This evening was one that I think we will all remember because of what we had not communicated in words. No one needed to have what happened in class this evening, translated into “their” language.