The Story of Karen Beckenstein

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American Dream Series

The Story of Karen Beckenstein

By María Danniella Gutiérrez-Salem

Our interviewee today was born in the United States but her roots are Latin. Her father was born in Italy, but moved to Venezuela when he was 15 years old.

What motivated your father’s family to move to Venezuela? “At that time, in the 1940s, South American countries like Venezuela opened their doors to these immigrants. Venezuela was, at the time, a developing country. In Venezuela, he graduated as a doctor, with a specialty in Physiatry, and then he met my mother. She was Colombian, but moved to Venezuela because this country had a buoyant economy and therefore, had a more active labor market. This is why I have very strong links with Colombia and Venezuela. I am very sorry that a country with so much wealth as Venezuela is living through such hard times.

But the result of sowing hatred and corruption is none other than misery. To go on with my story, my father married my mother and received a job offer to be a resident doctor here in the United States. He decided to start this new adventure knowing that it would not be easy because his family was already settled in Venezuela but, just as his parents did, he had to make his own future. I was born afterwards and my father continued to grow as a professional, and the United States became our new home. Of course, our family values, joy and enthusiasm for life remained intact. My parents always worked hard to make me understand the importance of a good education. This is why they encouraged me to study all the different languages

I have been surrounded with since childhood: Spanish, Italian, French and of course, English. All of them were important and I devoted time to each. I learned their grammar and pronunciation. Doing so, I understood that the textbooks to learn these languages have a lot of technical information that overall ends up being a kind of glass-door that prevents you from submerging yourself in what is important. When learning a language, it is necessary to learn the basics and not what is complicated. My paternal grandmother had a very special philosophy of life and always told me not to fear mocking, that when others make fun, it is because we are learning. I think that following her philosophy made me a polyglot.”

Did you go to college? “I graduated as a lawyer in Massachusetts and worked for several years, first working for a Texas judge and then in 2000, I started working in New York in the area of education, mentoring young people on how to enter the job market. I liked teaching very much, so when I told my husband that I wanted to teach languages, he was not surprised. I used the Montessori Method, which says that teaching is not giving a class, but rather connecting with the senses so that the child can learn based on their needs. I was also influenced by the fact that, in 2004, while living here in Connecticut, I became a mother; so, watching my baby start from scratch and develop month by month convinced me that my vocation is to be an educator.

Life puts us in situations where we reinvent ourselves again and again, to learn and find the different talents with which we have been gifted. My recent adventure is a language center. I firmly believe that learning another language enriches us, not only from the cultural side, but also from the emotional side; we begin to understand and appreciate new things. In this life, we come to nourish ourselves and what better way to connect than through diversity.”

What would your final message be? “Let us open our hearts and our minds, be different, speak differently; this makes us special. People who discriminate do it from ignorance while the ones who accept do it for love.”

María Danniella Gutiérrez-Salem practiced law in Venezuela before going after her own American Dream and becoming a writer in the United States.

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March 26, 2017

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