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This episode of Harrisonburg 360, “Learning the Unofficial, Official Language of America,” discusses the expectations and troubles that immigrants in the United States face regarding learning English. We spoke with Ms. Melissa Menjivar-Fuentes in February of 2020, where she shared her story with us about her experiences as an immigrant in the Harrisonburg community. After speaking to her, we went back to the 1990s with the help of the James Madison University Libraries and Special Collections, taking a listen to two stories from Ms.Thu Huynh and Mr. and Mrs. Sasha and Tanya Reut. By looking at these different stories, this episode discusses the similarities and differences in learning English as an immigrant from immigrants in the Shenandoah Valley over time.


Ms. Melissa Menjivar-Fuentes is a 21-year old immigrant from El Salvador. She moved to the United States when she was a teenager, attending school at Harrisonburg High School. El Salvador has been in political turmoil since the El Salvador Civil War from 1980-1992. For more information on this, see the link below.


The interviews used from the 1990s are part of the JMU Special Collections and are a part of the New Cultural Pluralism in the Shenandoah Valley Project conducted by Theresa Staropoli, Burruss Intern in Carrier Library Special Collection. Ms. Thu Huynh is an immigrant from Vietnam who has lived in the Harrisonburg community since 1988. Mr. and Mrs. Sasha and Tanya Reut are immigrants from Ukraine. They immigrated to the Shenandoah Valley in 1992 right after the collapse of the Soviet Union. They were both engineers in Ukraine, and had two young children at the time of the interview. 


This episode was produced by host Anoush Stamm, interviewer Michelle Pineda-Hernandez, content producers Emma Knaus and Jay White, and audio editor Jake DeLaurier. Our project advisor is Dr. Allison Fagan, and we received much support from JMU Libraries staff members Kate Morris, Bodeene Amyot, Sarah Roth-Mullet, and Kirsten Mlodynia.


For more information on the political climate in El Salvador:

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Conrad, Lance. “Affection.” ASCAP, n.d.

Fischer, Sean. “We are Millenials.” Prod. SOCAN. Soundscape Audioworks, n.d.

Huynh, Thu. The New Cultural Pluralism in the Shenandoah Valley Theresa Staropoli. 17 March 1993.

Menjivar-Fuentes, Katherine. Interview. Michelle Pineda-Hernandez. 28 February 2020.

Reut, Sasha and Tanya Reut. The New Cultural Pluralism in the Shenandoah Valley Theresa Staropoli. 24 February 1993.

Santamaria Varela, René, et al. “El Salvador.” Encylcopædia Britannica 13 February 2020.