Breaking down language barriers Imagine sitting across from a stranger. Neither of you speaks each other’s language very well. Your job is to converse for the next twelve minutes. Puente’s Cafecito is a monthly language exchange for adults learning English and volunteers who converse with them. Dozens of immigrants sharpen their English in conversations that include a little awkwardness and a lot of laughter. Cafecito represents much more than English proficiency to Chuy de Haro and Antonia Ortega, a couple who moved to Pescadero in 2006 and consistently attend Puente’s ESL classes. For them, the program represents progress and confidence. De Haro, a groundskeeper, knows enough English now to shop for materials without needing help. Antonia, a housekeeper, now asks questions at work: “I used to be too shy to say the words, even if I knew them. That’s not a problem anymore.” Cafecito means a lot to Terry Mahoney and Barbara Hooper, who regularly volunteer. They greet the students as old friends and relish picking up conversations where they left off. “Puente is a bridge between communities, and Cafecito is the perfect example: seeing people, talking to them, across a cultural divide,” says Mahoney. “More is happening here than learning English,” says Puente Education Associate, Charlea Binford. We’re creating friendships, lessening mistrust among people who do not look alike and do not speak the same language.” 4