I am an ESL

Are you familiar with this term, ESL?  If you are not an immigrant in modern days, this might not be common to you. English as a Second Language is what that stands for.
English language capability is everything for an immigrant to be able to survive here in America. You can be loaded with higher education and intelligence, but without fluent plus and perfect English speaking capability, the opportunity is deemed to be limited.
For centuries people come here to seek better opportunities and improved lives. Some dream comes true and some are broken. Some adapted well to the society and some have never found a fit and were left struggling, or had to adjust themselves to settle in alternatives that they have never imagined. Things may have changed because the younger immigrants seem to speak better English, but that only reduces the challenges, the road may not be as bumpy but nothing smooth along the way.
As far as I know, there are great numbers of immigrated graduate students who become science researchers and professors. One does not require too much speaking and the other uses a set of curricula and speaks the same thing every term. Otherwise, they are engineers in high-tech companies, the silent and hard-working force. There are rare opportunities for non-native English speakers to be in a corporate environment.  I have been in twice and middle management is as far as I can go.  This is a talking society. Unless you can talk, you cannot walk, upwards on the ladder. I used to work for someone who did not type and did not even know how to use a computer, but he was one of the few top executives. I did all the work for his credit and he had fun BSing his way around.
My friend Rocky is the most brilliant young man (in his late 30s) that I have ever known. With a computer science degree, he came to the US and obtained three master’s degrees in computer science, finance, and accounting. He speaks very fluent English and is literally loaded with education, real-world know-how, and entrepreneurship.  He started out as a manager and ended up a director. Company owners love to talk to him personally because he is extremely analytical and he has a very unique approach to solving problems.   However, he was never invited to the company’s summit meetings.
Gina was an internal medicine doctor in China before she moved here with her husband. Everyone in her family is a doctor including her parents. Her husband is a professor at the university teaching math. It is a long road if she continues her practice here, so instead, she went to a community college and got her accounting degree. Now my doctor friend becomes an accountant. Her wholesome skills and knowledge have been stored in their vault forever.
Max was originally from Vietnam. He came here with his wife aiming for better opportunities and a standard of living. He got his master’s degree in engineering here and had a good job working for a high-tech company in California. When the recession hit, he lost his job and they moved to Oregon considering less expensive housing and living cost. His wife went to vocational school and got her nail technician license. She opened a salon. Max could not immediately find a job and so he also became a nail technician. You will be surprised that the person polishing your fingernails can be a doctor or an engineer. They don’t speak perfect English and therefore they tend to be quieter, but you never know how intelligent they can be.
Where I was
Being an ESL is bound to have some difficulty in social life among native speakers. At home, my accent and occasional mispronounced words can be mocked among the family.  It did not occur out of ill attempt or I was reminded to be simply ‘too sensitive’. That feeling and hurt internally cannot be comprehended unless you wear the same shoes. I was at least an undergraduate from the most prestigious university in Taiwan, and so is my sister. She compared our school to Harvard, but I sometimes felt like an illiterate or secondary citizen in front of my own family (who speak perfect English) and sometimes a group of very chatty native speakers. Even though I have lived here for almost three decades, my first language and my Asian culture have rooted in me and I simply cannot just be one complete and perfect English speaker. I believe even my own family cannot grasp the complexity of my internal state. Try to imagine as if you are not deaf, but you cannot speak…
Maybe, not really
I am speaking ESL, but it applies to all the immigrants in their adopted countries. It can be GSL if you live in German, RSL if you live in Russia, or FSL if you live in France. As much as we want to be able to do what the Romans do, learn their culture, and mingle with the society, there will always be challenges. Is it worth my remaining lifetime to become a perfect English speaker? My answer is No. I like to be an ESL.
I am an ESL, deemed and sealed. I can speak two languages, one perfect and the other pretty fluent. I get to know and adopt the merits from two completely contrasted cultures and I found my interests were dramatically amplified and my circle bigger and multi-cultural. I gave up my thought trying to correct my accent. It is my signature, why I am trying to remove it? I got out to mingle with English speakers and not stay in and wait for people to knock on my door. I am still intimidated speaking in public, but I have been trying to give my best shot. Once your heart is pounded a few times, it gets stronger. I don’t seem to hear people laugh behind me anymore, and I can just ignore the blush on my daughter’s face because my inappropriate (wrong words or grammar were used) speech has embarrassed her.
where I fit
It is a privilege to be an ESL. English is common and popular, I don’t feel anything special that I can speak the language, but I give credit to those who can speak Arabic, German, Russian or African. It is truly a major accomplishment if you speak such languages.
Beauty is where East meets West and possesses the best of both.
Whenever I thought of this, I thought about Shanghai. Shanghai is one magic city that I found unique in this respect. She preserves traditional Chinese culture and also adopts much of western influence. This mixed flare can be seen in their architecture and decorations.

French Concession, Shanghai
(from old archive)

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