Lourdes has found a way to share her talents with the people of Johns Island by teaching Zumba in the Wellness Center at Our Lady of Mercy Community Outreach and at the Johns Island Public Library. Her classes attract women from diverse backgrounds. Her work is unpaid.
Loudes: Well, it was difficult not knowing the language, and also not going outside with confidence because of the driver’s license. Once I went, I tried to get a driver’s license but when they saw that my visa was about to expire, they did not issue it. And I spent all that year with that feeling—I do not know, at first I was fearful but then I started to trust God, every time I go out. Then, other fears, there was a time when I was afraid of black people. I do not know if I told you I had seen people breaking into a house to steal and I was—until today, I know there are good people, you understand, but I know there are other people who are not as good and sometimes I fear that. And—what else—I do not know—
Marina López: How did you overcome all those fears, those barriers, the language issue, your fears about going out, how you did it?
L: Well, the language issue, I started going to a place to learn English. At first, whenever I had to do something I went with my sister Andrea who accompanied me. But then I learned a little bit—I do not speak perfect English but I manage, do you understand? Learning a little more English helped me to adjust a little bit. When I first arrived, I was working, I was also seven months pregnant with Lauti and got a job and started working.
ML: What were you doing?
L: We cleaned offices, doctors’ offices I believe, with another girl, and after that—I always worked. There was only one time when I did not work. It was the time when I was depressed and did not feel well, but whenever I could, I have been doing things.
ML: And you told me you had begun to study English and learning English helped you to participate more, participate doing what?
L: For instance, when I have to take my son to the doctor, I used to ask for help, now I do not, I go alone and I talk with the doctor as well as I can and the doctor understands me. Before I had chosen a doctor who spoke only Spanish. Now I changed to a doctor who speaks only English because I like him better and I feel more comfortable with him though he only speaks English, you know?
Then, what else, well, I enrolled in the gym, although I do not speak English very well, but I can go to the gym and do the things I like, and sometimes even talk to people, you know? And people understand me in English. That too, I can do things that I like. I also remember when Lauti was little, Diego and I decided to take him to a place called Little Gym, the people that went there were mostly Americans but Diego and I went there too. That is the way we started participating more in the things that are normal here. You know?
ML: Where did you learn English?
L: I learned first—in Dorchester, there was a church there, we would go there, I do not remember that place, how it was called, but it was—
ML: It was the one across Goodwin Elementary?
L: I think it was a church that is on Dochester before reaching the Mudway, a place that sold—
L: Well, we went there first to learn to speak English. There was a girl named Sara. Later she worked at the nuns’ place [Our Lady of Mercy Community Outreach ] Well, and then I went to the nuns, [Our Lady of Mercy Community Outreach] until last year I was there studying, first I went every day, and then as I could not go every day. I went Tuesday and Thursday or Monday and Wednesday.
ML: And Lautaro was there with you.
L: Lautaro was with me. When he began to go to Head Start, he began to speak more English; we also started to try to speak more English for him, because he was attending school. Diego talks a lot more than me because since arriving he has always worked with a boss who is American and where he works, in the house where he works there are always American people who speak English. So between the two of us we do something.
ML: You are managing. And with this—not only your English but your social life has been expanding. Tell me.
L: Yes. Well—how do I start—after—
ML: As you wish.
L: Yes, well, I do not know, maybe because I learned more English, after that, I began to have more confidence to do things that I liked, for example, when I was offered to teach classes at the nuns’ place I began teaching pregnant ladies and after that I was offered to teach the other classes. This is the way I started.
ML: Tell me how that was, did they offer this opportunity to you or the idea was yours?
L: I think, I think I volunteered, right?
L: I made the proposal, I offered to teach there.
ML: Tell me; explain a little bit more about it. What is this? How does the nuns’ place work, and how did you come up with this idea?
L: Well, this is a clinic, a program for low-income people. It provides gynecology and pregnancy services as well as dentist services. And I went there to learn English and I thought it would be a good idea to do something for the people who go there because sometimes I think women here, when they come—especially Latinas—when they come to US, they are working all day, working and never have a space for themselves, or a time for themselves. And then I started to, I proposed a project to teach pregnant women, relaxation exercises, yoga exercises, and then later as that—
ML: What do you mean by to propose a project? What did you have to do?
L: Well, from what I knew from my studies, I put together like a draft, okay? First started an outline of what I wanted to do, once they approved it, I put it together like what I wanted to do, the goals I had, the things I was going to do with the people who were there. And I started and then other ladies began to come. And I started teaching classes for pregnant ladies at one time and for the other ladies at another time. At first, only Latin people came, and then American people came too. And well, at first it was hard because it was like starting all over again but actually I did it as I do all the things I like, with all my love, sincerely because it is something I really love doing. So, yes I did have fears, but I gave it my best and I prepared all my classes because I knew that was what I liked.
ML: What made you feel scared?
L: I do not know, I was scared at first, about peoples’ reaction, if they would like what I did, because there were some people who never in their life had done anything like this, you know?
ML: Anything like working out?
L: Yes, working out. Then I was afraid they won’t like it or fear they won’t like me, but anyway. As I say, I always tried to do my best, and always give my best when I teach a class. And then when the American people started coming, I was afraid the language would be an issue but it was also not a full fear because they look at me and I look at them and—
ML: They imitated what you did—
L: They imitated what I did. And so, little by little I was like, participating more. Then I started to like Zumba and attending Zumba classes, and—well, you have met Prisca—she knows that I love it and she invited me to more places where they have Zumbathons and, I go to these places and most people, as I said are American but I like doing these things.
And then I left for a while, after having him, because I was teaching until I was eight months pregnant—
ML: —Nazareno, right?
L: Uh-huh, Nazareno, Nazareno. Although I had my sisters and my husband, and everyone telling me no, but I was fine, I felt very well. With both Nazareno and Lautaro, I had perfect and wonderful pregnancies despite all that had happened before. And so I felt that I was okay, I had no problems, even when he was born I decided not to take medicine, and he was born like nothing, he came out very easily. I think being physically active all this time was the reason, and that I was jumping almost until shortly before he was born. What else?
ML: You started to do the project. You were volunteering with the nuns. You were teaching there. You started doing Zumba. What are you doing with all of that now?
L: Ok, wait for it—
ML: So we were talking about Zumba, that's what you like now, and then what have you been doing with that?
L: Well, I started to get more and more engaged with Zumba and Zumbathon, and thus, little by little it grew, but the nuns did not want it anymore.
ML: There was no place for you to keep teaching?
L: Exactly. The issue was more people were attending and the time they had given us was a time in the afternoon. They did not want us to make too much noise, because we were at the clinic. The thing is we were dancing and that yes that makes a little noise. With the pregnant class it was different because it was more about relaxation, it was more tranquil. But with the other class, we have more people. Before the end we had about twenty women, the space was quite small, then, well, they did not let us use that space any more. Besides, the ladies no longer wanted just one day. They wanted to have another day because they liked it, because apart from doing aerobics, we did core exercises, used balls and weights, did abs. They felt quite well and they liked what we did.
After having Nazareno I tried to go back. A girl made a suggestion to me, she said, "Look, in the library there is a space, we can go and see if we can use it," she really was the one who did it, because she was very interested. She wanted me to continue teaching the class. So she went there and then she said, "Lourdes, you're all set."
L: The following week, I was teaching. I remember that week I was with a sore lower back pain, back, because I was breastfeeding Nazareno. I remember the doctor told me the pain was normal because of that. But I tell you; because of the excitement that I felt for starting over I think all the pains disappeared. And then yes, I started. At first, well, I remember the first class, I thought I was not going to have any students, but before of the end of the class we had fifteen, twenty people in the class, because they have been contacting each other and had posted the information in Facebook.
ML: The person who got the place in the library had posted on her Facebook—
L: Uh-huh, on Facebook she said I had begun teaching.
L: And, well, since January, February, it is going to be like four, five months that I have been teaching there. After I started teaching, I said, "No, if I'm teaching, I have to improve what I'm giving.” Then last year I could not attend a training because Nazareno was tiny and sometimes—the issue of training is that, sometimes you have to go to other places—but this time they came here to South Carolina, to Charleston, but sometimes I have to go away to attend the training. Well a month ago I completed the first training, the basic level and then I will continue doing other things. Well, and now in the classroom, there are times that I have about thirty people. And the space is getting small. I teach there Mondays and Wednesdays.
ML: In the Johns Island library, right?
L: Johns Island, uh-huh, from 6:00 to 7:00, and on Saturdays. There I teach for free. And on Saturdays, in the Johns Island park, there also I teach, but that's like a little bit of everything, as we have more space, I can take the elements that I have, then I teach a little Zumba, a little core, and we have relaxation for ten or fifteen minutes. And then yes, I have a seven dollars fee. It's really not so much for profit, but because I live far away, I need gas and sometimes it happens also that on Saturdays—I can take Lautaro with me, but I cannot take Nazareno because we meet outdoors and there are mosquitoes. And sometimes Diego works and I have to pay someone to babysit him.
And that too gave me the desire—I would not say to live, because I feel like I always have the desire to live, but gave the willingness to do what I enjoy doing. Do you understand? I have put my energy in that. Every week I try to find something new. I am one of these people who do not like to do the same because I do not like people getting bored. I think they will because I get bored.