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By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
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By Kyle Swenson
One recent afternoon, while waiting for the light to turn green on NE 36th Street at Second Avenue, I am transfixed by a yellow homemade-looking sign stuck to a railroad crossing pole near the train tracks that snake underneath Interstate 195.
The placard heralds a message, written in schizophrenic letters with black Sharpie ink, aimed at married women: "Fix wut your husband destroyed!" accompanied by a phone number.
Just below that one, a second scribbled notice proclaims, "I'll buy your house CASH," and lists a different number.
I begin noticing similar roadside signs throughout Miami-Dade — in medians, at key intersections and major thoroughfares, near expressway exit ramps, even on a manicured lawn.
One crumpled white posterboard offers a "handyman special 3/1 corner lot $45,000 CASH ONLY BUYER." A sticker advertises a Spanish-speaking online dating service called EchatePaca. Another label hawks a gym membership for $50 a month. And a professional-looking red-and-white sign declares in Spanish: "Speak English in six months, excellent results," while another just below it promotes tarot card readings for $10.
All the signs promise quick and easy solutions to problems facing local inhabitants. I jot down each phone number, with a clear objective:
By the time this article is published, I will know how to speak English using a hokey teaching method developed by a 32-year-old Little Havana language academy; unload a house despite having an upside-down mortgage; get buff; start a thriving career flipping foreclosed properties; run a handyman referral service; and make a love connection on the Interwebs.
A burly man with short, curly hair and a thin goatee sits on the black leather sofa in my living room. He is dressed in a dark polo shirt and dark-brown slacks. His name is Juan Carlos Medina, a 38-year-old Colombian who is there to pitch a foolproof system to learn English. It's June 29 shortly past 8 p.m., about six hours after he returned my call inquiring about his services. During the phone conversation, I didn't reveal I was a reporter or that I fluently spoke the language of this country's forefathers.
In Spanish, I told him my country of origin: Nicaragua. I also claimed to know only some words in English. "Well, I can tell you with our method, you will be conversing in English within a month," Juan Carlos attested. "You will be able to go into a restaurant without requesting a server who speaks Spanish."
When we meet that evening, Juan Carlos doesn't notice the framed Miami New Times covers bearing my byline or the bookcase lined with the works of James Ellroy, Ernest Hemingway, Chuck Palahniuk, George Pelecanos, Ray Bradbury, and my other favorite authors. He unzips a black duffel bag and pulls out three gray binder-size DVD cases stamped with a circular logo with the words Hablando Inglés. He opens the cases, each containing four DVDs and an exercise book. He places his wares, along with a set of 12 CDs, on my glass-top coffee table.
Then he launches into his spiel in Spanish. "I'm not just selling you a bunch of DVDs and CDs and leaving you on your own," Juan Carlos says. "You are going to have our professors and our academy at your disposal. We start you out learning 35 words a week. By the fourth week, you'll be stringing together entire sentences in English."
I would learn the new language, Juan Carlos informs me, by pronouncing English words using Spanish phonetics. He opens one of the instructional books to a page that contains the following sentence in English: "The girl is beautiful." Next to the sentence is the Spanish pronunciation: "De guerl is biutiful." Juan Carlos reads it aloud. Then I do so as well. "See how easy it is?" he beams. "But it's also how much time and effort you put into the program."
He moves on to the next lesson: "De guerl is mor biutiful dan An." Translation: "The girl is more beautiful than Ann." Juan Carlos notes that Shakira used a similar audio-visual language instruction course to sing in Japanese during a concert in Tokyo. I will also have access to one-on-one instructional sessions with Hablando Inglés professors at the Miami academy located in Little Havana, Juan Carlos promises. If I can't get to the school, no problem, he adds.
He grabs his cell phone and dials a number listed on the front of the exercise book. He hands me the phone. A man with a thick Cuban accent answers in Spanish: "It is my pleasure to speak with you. My name is Rodolfo, and I am one of the teachers at the academy. You can call in from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., and we are at your service."
The DVDs, CDs, books, and academy access — along with a pair of headphones, an MP3 player, and a dictionary — can all be mine for a down payment of $250 and the low price of $67 a month over four years, the salesman offers. He even throws in a contraption with a speaker that I'm supposed to attach to the inside of my elbow when I go to sleep so that my subconscious can learn English while I'm knocked out.
What a wonderful article, the best kind of human interest story. You are a great writer, and to think (grin), you are a Nica! (I joke, I stepped foot in Nicaragua, once, only about fifteen feet).Frank, thank you for the fun story. I have a sign picture to send you, it's fresh and here in the Grove, not quite like your thrust, but it shows our local color.
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I hope these fools take down some of those ugly signs. I live in Libery city and these signs are plastered all over the place. Liberty city already have issues with litter, the last thing they need is more litter. If this guy is trying to flip houses, does it not work against them to litter a place that they are trying to sell a house in. I don't mind a few signs but they are putting up hundreds of signs that are making our neighborhood look bad. CLEAN UP OR SHIP OUT!!!
Great Article. I have always thought about doing the exact same thing, maybe I should get a job at Miami New Times.
You really should do an article on how Hispanics in Miami-Dade County has made it so that nonSpanish speaking Americans and legal U.S. residents are unable to find gainful employment within the city limits. You should do an article on how inheretly racist Hispanic Americans in Miami-Dade County are and how they use and dispose of Americans and legal residents who speak only English. That is a story that would earn you a pulitzer. Tell the truth about what Miami Dade County is really like if you are not Hispanic.
So if you are living in Miami and you can't get a job because you don't speak Spanish, then why don't you just learn Spanish? It's not a very hard language to learn. I'm sure you could learn it if you tried.
We shouldn't have to learn spaninsh to get a job because Miami is not in South America. It's in the United States of America and we speak ENGLISH here. A hundred years ago my ancesors immegrated here and they learned English and so should all the people who immegrate today. We build a strong society and a strong country by having a common language. Things fall apart when people cannot communicate effectively. "Trapped In Miami" I really feel for you. My family escaped Kendall 25 years ago and it's only gotten worse since then.
We shouldn't have to. You live in an English speaking country. In fact this country was built on the English language and you should learn English and speak it. And if you don't like that then Leave.
Calm down! I have a lot of non-Hispanic friends that enjoy Miami very much....stop being such a sourpuss. 95% of Hispanics are very outgoing people, just make an effort to get to know them and stop being a racist!
Fantastic article. I was cracking up at the "biutiful" part- my girlfriend came over here when she was a kid and still pronounces it "be-a-YU-ti-ful." What was the guy's number again?
Excellent article. Goes to show how many scammers there are in South Florida. Hence the scammer capital of the world. Besides Nigeria. All we need now is to have people saying they have large sums of money overseas and need your help to take it out for a price.
Good luck with finding a woman on echatepaca.com. lol...
Excellent article! Depicts life in south florida so well..we are full of "inventors" all the time..congrats on this article. Posted to Facebook
Why do you mock a 32 year established Hialeah company that promises/offers to teach English in six months when the University of Miami promises to do a thorough course in teaching/learning Espanol in only seven days?
Maybe UM offers the formal, proper Spanish, which very few in South Florida speak or understand.
It is similar to someone from 'Ox-Bridge' trying to understand someone from the backwoods of Mississippi.
Otherwise, your article was fairly amusing.