In winter, the ubiquitous American elm trees are bare and the anemic playgrounds of these projects are empty; the concrete of the buildings appears heavy against the gray skies….

And yet, in these cold public spaces, the neighborhood rises into life each day as my son, Jamie, and I make our way to school. The Chinese community comes out for morning communal exercise. The people bring their transistor radios and line up for tai chi, or fan dancing, or sword dancing, or dancing, period. They shake their hands and energy pulses from body to body. There is an unattainable communal joy that they find during their daily practice….”

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Our “Maps and Legends” theme continues online:  BROAD STREET is proud to present this essay about otherness, language, and the blending of cultures and traditions in a show of community and good luck. It’s the story of what happened when Rachel Aydt, a writing teacher at the New School, decided to teach basic English to the Chinese-born caretakers of kids at her son’s school. Americanized names, ghost money, and a friendship with a neighbor who earns a living by collecting recyclables all become part of a new language that’s part spoken words, part hand gestures.

Read the complete essay here:  “Hands Chopping Air.”

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Rachel Aydt’s essays have appeared in The New York Times’s Motherlode blog, The New York ObserverThe New York Post, and numerous other periodicals. In addition to her ESL work, she teaches writing at the New School University.

 

 

 

 

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For more about interactions between China and the U.S. in our pages, see our interview with sculptor Daniel M. Krause in the “Hunt, Gather” issue, and check out Julie Anderson’s “It Cannot Be Conceived: American idealists in two Chinese revolutions, Cultural and capitalist” in our  print “Maps & Legends” issue.

Uncredited images from Pinterest and Tumblr.