A shared language helped two young immigrants find their voice At StoryCorps, a Dominican immigrant speaks with a fellow Spanish speaker who in high school helped him adjust to living in America. Eventually, they helped each other find their own voices.

School bullies told him to speak English. His mentee showed him he already belonged

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It's time again for StoryCorps, which we hear each Friday. When Luis Paulino immigrated to the United States from the Dominican Republic in 2006, he didn't speak English. He struggled in school. A couple of years later, he met Angel Gonzalez in algebra class.

LUIS PAULINO: You had just arrived from my country. And the way you spoke, the way you looked reminded me of when I first arrived to the United States. When I got to school, I was struggling with being bullied. I was only 13 years old, but it looked like if I was an older Dominican grandfather. I always wore really loose pants. And I did not know what was a Nike. Most of the bullying happened at lunch. They would always tell me to speak English. I was scared to speak up for myself because I believed that they're right. I didn't belong. But the people working in the kitchen - they would bring me to the other side of the cafeteria. And, you know, they would always give me my milk (laughter) and my pizza. They were my favorites.

I do remember this one lady in particular, Lillian, who gave me a small, red dictionary that translated words from Spanish to English. And I would carry that dictionary.

ANGEL GONZALEZ: I never saw that part of you. I think that this explains a lot of why you did what you did for me. I was struggling because I was learning math in English.

PAULINO: Yes, I remember seeing your frustration.

GONZALEZ: But you were open to explain me again and again. You were the person to me that you wanted to have when you were in my position. By the time that I met you, you were already someone to look up to, you know?

PAULINO: I also have learned from you. I remember you pushed me to be part of the musical. I was avoiding the high note because I just didn't want to be heard. And then I kept looking at you, and I was like, you know what? I don't have nothing to lose. You're next to me. And when I finally hit the note, that was truly a turning point in my life.

GONZALEZ: We were looking out for each other. (Speaking Spanish).

PAULINO: (Speaking Spanish). Yes.

GONZALEZ: There is absolutely nothing stopping us.


INSKEEP: Luis Paulino and Angel Gonzalez for StoryCorps in New York City. Angel is now a paralegal. Luis works for an organization that provides legal services to immigrants. It's the same group that helped his family when they first arrived in the United States.


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