Pin It

Mexican Restaurants Support English Express for Cinco de Mayo< 

Before Mary Ann Hytken found space to hold classes and establish the local nonprofit English Express, she says, she made do in Mexican markets. "I had a little folding chair and table, and I would give one-on-one English lessons." She also taught ESL in the more conventional classrooms of College of the Redwoods. Then, she says, one summer the class was canceled and her students asked her to keep teaching. So she found a free room at the Jefferson Community Center. "I had 28 years teaching experience and no funders," she says.

Eventually, Hytken established English Express as a nonprofit under the Ink People's DreamMaker Program, and when students expressed a need for help with U.S. citizenship test preparation, Elizabeth Niemeyer joined the team to teach a class on the exam's 100 civics questions. Since its inception in 2016, some 500 English Express students, many of them native Spanish speakers, have attended its free classes. On May 5, Mexican restaurant owners who recognize the nonprofit's importance in the community — some of them students themselves — are giving back with a Cinco de Mayo fundraiser, donating a percentage of the day's sales.

Seventeen restaurants from McKinleyville to Garberville are sharing a portion of their Cinco de Mayo sales with English Express. It's a long list, but raising the cash to keep the free classes going is a tall order. Hytken estimates the total running cost at about $70,000 per year, between materials, space (though some rooms are provided free), teacher hours, administrative work, the interpreter/translator who also acts as IT support for the Chromebooks students borrow at no cost for online classes. Like many nonprofits, she says, English Express has had difficulty of late. "Grants were smaller coming in and one funder stopped funding just because they're working on other areas," she says.

But Hytken says it's vital the classes, both ESL and citizenship, remain free for the students — many of them Spanish speaking, with a growing number of Afghani and Southeast Asian students — and help them connect with information and services they might not otherwise have access to. "We are the only nonprofit program in Humboldt County offering this all under one roof," she says. And as with the English Express' food truck fundraiser a couple years ago, some of the participating business owners are current or former students, while others see the value of the program in their community.

Letty Gonzales, who owns the Patron Kitchen with her husband Gerardo, has taken classes for about three years, mostly online. While she remains shy about her English and prefers employee Carina Sanabria translate while speaking to the Journal, she says the classes have helped her with work and allowed her to open her business. Before English Express, classes were difficult to find. She's also seen friends and the parents of her daughter's friends benefit from the program. It has, she says, helped them navigate work and communicate with their children's teachers. For Letty, the impact on her community is worth donating a portion of the receipts from Cinco de Mayo, typically a busy day for Mexican restaurants. The day may be that much busier given the specials: a taco trio plate, a burrito Mexicana with asada cooked in tomato and onions, and a torta Mexicana stuffed with egg, chorizo and ham.

Humboldt born and bred, Hytken earned her teaching certification at Humboldt State University and has taught ESL in Tanzania and San Diego. But, she says, "This is home and I love introducing students to Humboldt, the resources, the field trips, everything." After teaching ESL classes in Rio Dell, Redway, Miranda, McKinleyville and Fortuna, "It's wonderful to have these connections."

Restaurants participating in the English Express Cinco de Mayo fundraiser include: in McKinleyville, Carmela's Mexican Restaurant (1701 Central Ave.), Luzmila's Mexican Restaurant (1751 Central Ave.); in Arcata, Carmela's Mexican Restaurant (1288 G St.), El Chipotle (850 Crescent Way), Fiesta Grill & Cantina (3525 Janes Road) and Valley Azteca Mexican Restaurant (5000 Valley West Blvd.); in Eureka, El Fogon Costeño Mexican Food (518 Henderson St.), Fiesta Café & Cantina (823 Broadway), Las Michoacanas Mexican Restaurant (1111 Fifth St.), Los Gallos Taqueria (3300 Broadway), Luis's Mexican Restaurant (946 West Ave.), Pachanga Mexicana Restaurant (1802 Fifth St.); in Fortuna, El Paisano Mexican Taqueria (1095 S. Fortuna Blvd.), La Costa Mexican Restaurant (664 S. Fortuna Blvd.), Locha's Mexican Restaurant (751 S. Fortuna Blvd.); in Rio Dell, the Patron Kitchen (70 Wildwood Ave.), and in Garberville, El Cora Mexican Restaurant (445 Conger St.).

Jennifer Fumiko Cahill (she/her) is the arts and features editor at the Journal. Reach her at (707) 442-1400, extension 320, or [email protected]. Follow her on Instagram @JFumikoCahill.

Pin It


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

About The Author

Jennifer Fumiko Cahill

Jennifer Fumiko Cahill

Jennifer Fumiko Cahill is the arts and features editor of the North Coast Journal. She won the Association of Alternative Newsmedia’s 2020 Best Food Writing Award and the 2019 California News Publisher's Association award for Best Writing.

more from the author

Latest in On the Table


Facebook | Twitter

© 2024 North Coast Journal

Website powered by Foundation