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(I) Mrs. Santiago, when did you come to Teaneck?
(N) We came to Teaneck in the early 1970s. We had been married a couple of years and wanted to have a family and we looked for a town where we could bring up children. The primary consideration for us was that it be a town that wou1d be interracial and that had a positive environment in schools in terms of what (inaudible). Being a professional in the field of education, a number of people recommended Teaneck.
(I) They did?
(N) I was at the faculty at City College at the time and one of my colleagues lived in Teaneck and I knew Scribner very well and he would say, well don't you remember. That was Scribner's first town so that I respected Scribner a great deal for the work he had done in New York and we came out to look at houses in town and really were impressed about the extent to which they were successful in integration or minorities in town.
(I) And when you came here, you found it so?
(N) Very much. It has only been in recent years that we have had other kinds of problems that presented problems but that is a different matter.
(I) What do you mean, other problems? What sort of problems?
(N) Well right now, a major problem we have is that we live on a block and in an area where very Orthodox Jewish families have moved in to the extent that we now feel totally isolated and the children have no one to play with. I have to literally taxi them to play groups and I work so it makes it particularly difficult for me. In the morning, what I do is I carpool with four other families. One of them is an interracial white and black family; one is a Chinese family, etc. but there are nine children and I distribute them in the morning and then their mothers, two of the mothers that don't work, pick them up in the afternoon and take them to a variety of activities like dance and computers and we just plan a lot of activities so they have a place to go until, to interact because they simply don't have it here in this neighborhood.
(I) You mean the Orthodox Jewish children aren't permitted to play with your children?
(N) Absolutely not. I was brought up in Williamsburg in Brooklyn in a very poor neighborhood and at that time, it was Orthodox Jewish people and poor Hispanic people that populated the neighborhood and we got along fabulously. Children played with Orthodox Jewish children. There really wasn't any problem. When we came to see this house, we had lived in another neighborhood in Teaneck. We lived near Teaneck Road near Holy Name Hospital and in that case, there was a family that had moved in and they didn't have any children at all. They were older and they were living in their homes and there weren't children and when we moved to a bigger house, we said well, we've got to have an area where there are children so I remember we came for two or three times just riding around to make sure we saw children. And we saw so many children. It was beautiful. There were large families and children around and we were thrilled. It was obvious to us that they were Jewish children. They were wearing the yarmulke and things and we assumed that there would be an environment in which the children could play and interact. But at least for the sect of children in this neighborhood, their parents don't allow them to interact at all. On another level, one has to realize that a lot of them, for some of them, they travel very far to a specialized school so I do see a lot of them carpooling in the morning and some of them are out very early in the morning on buses and back late, particularly the older children, so I could see where there would be problems. But the other children that have similar time schedules to my own, I can't fathom. Because there are children that walk by and my children will say hello and they won't say hello.
(I) They won't talk to them.
(N) No. And their mothers will be there and their mothers won't say a thing so our problem is we would have moved several months ago. We would have probably moved somewhere else in town. We love the town. We certainly feel that people that feel persecuted or people that feel that they want to practice a religious philosophy and a religious way of life, there should be somewhere for them to do it. In our case, we are sorry that we, that it is a philosophy that doesn't allow me cultural communication across religious lines. Quite candidly, another reason we moved to the town was that the town has, most areas of this town (inaudible) but that's not the case. There are healthier possibilities. I certainly see it in the school. My son is in a special ed program and I see that the schools are able to respond to the children's special needs. He does exceptionally well with a great deal of support from the family.
(I) What do you mean, special needs?
(N) Well in the special ed program. The special education program. In Teaneck. Children are identified very early if they have learning problems or have physical problems or emotional problems. My son had a, probably psycho (seudical) problem where he didn't want to talk at age three and whereas (tape is blurred) well I did take him to private therapists and whatever and a friend told me the Teaneck Special Ed program is excellent. Take him to so and so. And they came over. They worked with me very closely and you hear him. There is no stopping him now. Part of his behavior is acting out now because he hadn't talked for so long and now he is just mushroomed a great deal of it is the school. The public schools. The quality of the personnel. I mean he has a teacher with many years of experience with a great deal of sensitivity to special needs. We speak Spanish with him for instance and no one on the special ed staff ever told me, don't speak Spanish to him. You know, which is, when I took him to a private therapist, they would ask me. Well do you speak Spanish to him. And it is my field. But I know it is not the fact that he is hearing other languages. That's no problem. I could isolate many of those things and test them myself. And I was very, very encouraged at just how supportive they were of handling learning language. Whatever it was. The important thing was that he expressed that language and he be offered the environment to do that in. Subsequently, I am sure he has done better in this public setting than he would have if I had taxied him to twenty different specialists and I did at the beginning. From a psychologist to a speech therapist and I was taxiing him from place to place. But they did a marvelous job with integrating him into the program even though he entered late in the year. The school system is also accustomed to dealing with children that come from different language backgrounds, culture and I see them bending over backwards to understand and to see where there is culture. clash, to see where. .
(I) What grade is he in now?
(N) He is still in the pre school special education program. In September, he may very well be mainstreamed into a regular classroom where either I'll rent a private speech therapist or the school will supply us with special speech work because he continues to have a million problems.
(I) I notice that you have an older daughter too. How old is she?
(N) She is nine.
(I) And how does she do in school? How do you find school for her?
(N) She loves it. She has done very well. When she first went to school, she was only Spanish speaking because we speak Spanish at home and we wanted her to be bilingual and we feel that if in early years an environment can be set up whereas at home she can speak one language and in school she uses another, there is more of a likelihood that she will become functional bilingual. And the schools understood. I mean they didn't react negatively and tell me to go home and speak to her in English. They were very supportive and for the first couple of years, she needed some to keep up with her peers, she needed some additional work.
(1) What sort of additional work did they have for her?
(N) Title I program. Title I is a federal program that provides money for school districts to allow that it will make it feasible for them to buy special instructional programs for children who are urder-achieving.
(I) They have regular teachers for that in other words.
(N) Yes. So that she would be pulled out a few times a week and work with a special ed teacher and there again, they are very supportive. They understood. I explained to them that it was my feeling that the oral emphasis in the first few years were very important. Many of our children here in Teaneck are children of middle class families and when they go to school, they read, they write, etc. and we didn't do that. We wanted her to speak (inaudible) because that's when you are ready to learn how to read. And so that, compared to her peers, she was "under-achieving". Now today she reads four or five grades above her reading level in English and so I was telling the teacher, this summer she read ten books in Spanish during the summer but it has worked out for her. But each child is different. Depends on when they are ready.
(I) Mrs. Santiago, do you know very much about whether there is a large Spanish speaking population in Teaneck?
(N) No, as a matter of fact, it has been my experience that the population of Hispanics is very small. In church, we had a number of families that have come and the pastor usually asked us to translate or to help them adjust or two families, one was a faculty member that was brought to Fairleigh Dickinson from I think Latin America. The other was a person who I think was employed at the United nations in New York. And so that they were families that very quickly adjusted to the town Both felt very positive about the environment. Now (daughter) has made friends in school and she has been put in classrooms or children have been put in her classroom and she's been their "buddy" where they've asked her to translate and to help the child adapt so that through your children, you meet other people. But that's only because she is bilingual. She can translate for other children and she can help the teachers.
(I) What church is this that you were talking about?
(N) The Presbyterian Church. On Teaneck Road and Church Street. Now my husband was, the church is an interracial church. We have a large black and a large white population plus Orientals and people from all over the world. The former pastor was very interested in a multi-cultural and multi-racial environment in Teaneck and how important it was to keep the communication between the different religious sects going and he and Father Bier from the Grace Lutheran Church and I can't remember the names because I wasn't on the committee but he asked my husband to be on an inter-faith committee and they had a number of the, one of the Jewish rabbis from the Reformed Church, very active and very interested in inter-faith activities, and we had a number of activities and he, I forgot his name, he preached at our church and our pastor preached at their temple and it was an excellent and many of us would get together from time to time and discuss problems, discuss philosophical issue; but my husband could tell you about that.
(I) Is this committee still going on?
(N) No, they didn't last as long as they hoped they would. It was difficult to keep them going. Everybody had their own battles and their own struggles I guess and like everything else, you live a fast life. I don't think there were any problems. It was just a question that it needed a lot of attention. And our pastor, who was also a person that was very supportive of the Teaneck Interfaith Arts Program, he left our church and a lot of those activities. . and it is a pity because, again, I think you will hear from my husband about how good that was for everyone.
(I) Have you taken any part in any other civic or town activities?
(N) Not systematically, no. We take the children to the library activities regularly and the library is just marvelous. I often go to professional conferences and school conferences and I remember once in the first couple of years we were here, there was an executive from Teaneck and a lot of the people at the conference were talking about the Teaneck Library and I told my husband, you see, all those things are really important. Other people that don't have them, they value them. And it was true. We didn't know it at the time but the program is quite good. The collection is pretty good but I think it is the program that makes
(I) I think the different programs are wonderful.
(N) And for adults too. I mean I have no problem going there and having the children work and my doing something I really want to do too. It is not wasted time so that the balanced collection, etc. I think because of the universities in the area, there is a lot of theft(?) that our library can account for but certainly the program and the effort they make to provide quality programming in arts and music, etc. They really get a cultural life. You don't find that in these small libraries in towns around here.
(I) Really? I don't know very much about the other towns. I came from New York too.
(N) There may be one other collection that may be larger than our collection. I think again, when these college students have term papers, or whatever, they will move across the country to go back home and they won't return the book that went along with their move so that they lose a lot as a result of that. But their programs are excellent. They make it a cultural center of the town and that's important. That makes the library what it should be. As I say, when I go, I have no problem doing what I want to do and the kids are having a good time.
(I) How do you feel about Teaneck as a town to live in?
(N) Before we carne here, again, friends told us that even though the taxes were high, we were paying for the high quality services and (husband) and I looked at one another and said, you know, taxes, services, where do you get good services anywhere? And the truth is we've had a number of incidents like people tried to break into the house, the policemen that have come have been very helpful. They say, protect yourself better. They think preventively. They ask you if you feel OK. If it is OK if they leave, you know. And where would you find that? Where would you, you call up and you say, I was alone, my husband went away for a couple of weeks. I was just scared. And they will say, well don't worry about it. If you get scared again, just call. You know, maybe there was someone on the outside and they will look around, they will come back, they will let you know. And my husband was off for a number of years working on an international job that would keep him away a lot, sometimes two weeks, sometimes two months. And it was important for me to feel that I could call and that someone wasn't going to say, you again. Or something like that.
We had a major problem. We had a fire. And the firemen that came had to destroy a couple of walls and you know that is painful, etc. but before they told you sorry, but we have to do this. There is a potential problem. This is what we have to do. What happens if we leave and the fire continues inside the wall. They didn't do it without regard to one's feelings or one's interests. They came back to check. The fire chief came to see if everything was OK. The house got full of gas. And the postman was walking by and he smelled the gas. And he said, I smell gas. He called his superior right away. Meanwhile my husband and my children had been in the house all night. The house was full of gas. Two of them have hay fever and the other one had a cold. They did not smell a thing. He had gotten up to make the breakfast and instead he had just taken them out to McDonald's. He could have come back at any point. The firemen came right away. They saw the house was full of gas. They had to open all the windows and whatever. The policeman had to come in through the top window. They had to open up the whole house. But they were responsible; they stood there. They waited for my husband to come back. They explained what had happened. Who had come in. How they had gotten into the house. They checked, they waited to make sure that he checked the make sure everything was in order. Where in the world would you, so we might move. We may have to move from this particular house but we would very much like to continue to live in Teaneck.
The services you work with, the guy that goes by in the truck cutting down the trees, you say, don't cut that one. I love that tree. Or you be careful, etc. and they don't bark back at you. They say, OK, we will be extra gentle. But they do their jobs but they are still sensitive in dealing with people and we've never had to call somebody's superior and say, we didn't get this service or we didn't get that service. On the contrary, as I've said, from the firemen, to the policemen, to the postmen, to they provide the service. They feel that they are dealing with human beings. They want to be treated like human beings. And as long as you have that sense of community, that everybody is collectively, everybody's interests interrelate, then you have a healthy town. And my son is not afraid of the postman. He is not afraid of the fireman. You ask him what do you do with a fire, he talked with the fireman when he came. He ran outside and somebody called for the firemen. But you don't get that in very large cities and certainly even in a number of towns. I would not think many of the towns match the amount of services Teaneck offers. Certainly not in terms of interaction and the quality of that interaction. I've never seen it. I like the town.
(I) And you think you will stay?
(N) I'd like to stay in town. The problem is with the prices right now too. The prices are so crazy. We don't know if we are locked out because to replace our space, one of the reasons that we haven't moved is that the interest rates have gone, I don't know if I could afford my house right now. If I had to come and buy this house right now, I couldn't afford it. I mean there is no question about that. No. I couldn't afford this house now.
Teaneck Public Library
840 Teaneck Road, Teaneck, NJ 07666
Tel.: (201) 837-4171, Fax: (201) 837-0410