Welcome! Read the latest issue of PROGRESS, featuring inclusive programming in Virginia. Read PROGRESS

My English Teacher, Pocahontas

by Noriko Hattori

When I was six years old, my family and I visited my cousin who lived in Seattle, Washington. At the time, the Disney movie Pocahontas, was all the rage in the U.S. It told the love story between a Native American girl and an English settler. I brought a Pocahontas backpack and the soundtrack back home to Japan. Although the movie Pocahontas never caught on in Japan, I spent every night listening to the Pocahontas soundtrack. My father wrote out the English lyrics with Japanese pronunciations, and I learned all the English lyrics and sang along. My favorite song was “Colors of the Wind”. While I did not understand the words, I loved singing along and asking no one in particular: “Can you sing with all the voices of the mountains? Can you paint with all the colors of the wind?”

Looking back now, I think that the experience of listening to songs and singing in English every day at that time greatly improved my vocabulary, grammar and pronunciation. It was the Pocahontas soundtrack that made listening to and speaking English a natural part of my life. That music kept me interested and motivated to keep learning. I still remember the lyrics to “Colors of the Wind”: “You think I’m an ignorant savage…..You don’t know….Have you ever
heard the wolf cry to the blue corn moon? Can you paint with all the colors of the wind?”

More than 20 years later, I got married. And in early 2022, my husband was considering studying abroad in Virginia or Los Angeles. I loved the weather in Los Angeles, but my husband decided to go to the University of Virginia. In Japan, New York and Los Angeles are well known, but not many people know about Virginia. I also knew nothing about Virginia, so I did some research. Then, to my surprise, I found something on Google. Pocahontas was a real person and she had lived in Virginia. I never thought that over 20 years later I would be visiting Pocahontas’ hometown.

The other day, my husband and I went to Jamestown, where Pocahontas lived. We saw the village where the Powhatans lived. Pocahontas was the daughter of a powerful Powhatan Chief. We also examined the ships which brought the English settlers. The actual history of the English settlement and the life of Pocahontas may not have been a happy story but that Disney film was my childhood. I felt it was an important story for me. And it was how I learned each English word. And it was also how I learned about cultures beyond the words. I am grateful for the opportunity to travel to the U.S. and for all my father’s effort in sparking my interest in learning English. My trip to Seattle when I was 6 years old, singing the Pocahontas song every day, and now living in Virginia, were all connected like the wind that travels around the world.