In Section Five we discussed cognates in a poem, “movimiento.” You’ll find that you can also rely on cognate knowledge when you read nonfiction. Mining your cognate reserve will help you improve your academic vocabulary and have a better understanding of the words you find in textbooks and on tests. Read the passage below. When you finish, you’ll be asked to identify the English cognate for each Spanish word and make a reasonable guess about the meaning of each word. If you need help use http://www.spanishdict.com to find the correct English word.

Richard Rodriguez’ essay “Dawn’s Early Light” has been modified for this exercise. English words have been replaced by their Spanish counterparts. The first highlighted word in this passage is ilegal. That English word is illegal, and the synonym “undocumented” gives the reader a context clue. Rodriguez places both words in quotation marks, making us think about our labels for those with no citizenship papers.

dirty dishes

Source: Dirty dishes, Mysid, Wikimedia Commons

We see them lined up on American streets at dawn’s early light. Depending on our point of view, we call them “ilegal” or “undocumented.” The question preocuparse us now as a nation, from the White House on down, is “them”— what to do with them? Grant them amnistía? Send them all back? Make them guest workers?

But I wonder about us. How they have changed us, even while we have paid them cheaply to wash our restaurant dishes and to pick our apples and to sit with dying grandparents. For much of the 20th century, we employed Mexicans when it suited us.

For example, during the war, we needed Mexicans to harvest our crops. Slowly, mutual dependence was established. A rumor of dollars spread through Mexican villages, and Americans grew acustumbrado to cheap laboring hands.

Now they come, children following the footsteps of parents and grandparents, often at the risk of death or injury. We say about them that they are disrespectful of American laws. But for every illegal worker employed today in America, there is an empleador—one of us—equally disrespectful of American law. Mexicans reveal our hipocresía to ourselves. They, in their relentless movement back and forth, are forcing us to see America within the Americas.

Now that you’ve read the passage, look at each highlighted term. For each Spanish word, determine the English word along with a reasonable guess about its meaning. Using your notes, write your responses. When you are finished, check your understanding below.

  1. preocuparse
  2. amnistía
  3. acustumbrado
  4. empleador
  5. hipocresía
Check Your Understanding
  1. Preoccupying: thinking about or worrying about by very often or constantly
  2. Amnesty: a decision that a group of people will not be punished or that a group of prisoners will be allowed to go free
  3. Accustomed: often used or practiced, got used to
  4. Employer: one who provides a job that pays wages or salaries
  5. Hypocrisy: the behavior of people who do things that they tell other people not to do