Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Denigrating a mexicanita, American-style

by RudyG

"Don't call me teacher! My name's Mr. Kay!" boomed the P.E. substitute.

His demanding this of six/seven year olds resembles attempting to train them to stand at attention for fifteen seconds: you might eventually accomplish it, but was it worth the cost? The potential destructiveness of his words wouldn't occur to me until it was too late.

After five consecutive days of teaching first grade mexicanitos in my first teaching year, my mental faculties had become dulled. I need to be more attentive.

Mr. Kay--the size of an NFL linebacker--apparently didn't know enough Spanish to manage my class of native speakers; and apparently didn't have much experience with six/seven year olds, or he would have known shouting in a not-understood tongue works as well as baying at the moon to stop its shining.

Towering over them in the gym, he possibly forgot U.S. history--that he acted as a representative of the gov't that stole half of Mexico from my class's ancestors, and that his behavior ("mal," as the entire class later evaluated him) perpetuated stereotypes about "los pinche gringos."

Mr. Kay might never have studied child psychology to know that even inadvertent brutality from someone in a position-in-trust can scar the mind of a six year old as permanently as his skin stays white.

As a newcomer, he never knew the child he screamed at the loudest--when she failed to understand his English instructions--was one of the highest readers, strongest mathematicians, most prolific writers, and a model student.

This snow-covered mountain of a man couldn't have predicted that his futile scolding of a girl at 2:30 would grate on her immature mind for at least two more hours, such that she wouldn't want to participate in our after-school program.

This guy-unknown-to-me might not have guessed that his onerous scathing had torn the child's self-confidence enough for her to plead to be pulled from that after-school program. (I worried she wouldn't come the next day.)

And he probably would have been surprised that this little girl would finally agree to stay in the program, only because if she didn't, her mother would have to quit work and her family would "stay poor", i.e., she would show tons more responsibility with her small act than he had with his spontaneous blaring.

No matter what was or wasn't true, when I discovered what he'd done, I clenched my fists, nearly broke down, felt 150 years of abuse of my own ancestors; I wanted to stomp into the gym and beat the fokk out of the idiot. I wanted to hit him until he sobbed like she had; I wanted to kick him until he pleaded as she had; I wished him to loose as much blood as she had lost self-esteem.

But I didn't. Not because it's uncivilized or unprofessional or inappropriate to do so. He just outweighed me in general, I was sapped by one of those colds the kids had gifted me and exhausted from five straight days of trying to reach kids' minds, to find the paths to touch their learning souls, where I could offer them the wonders of knowledge. Something Mr. Kay made more difficult that day.

So instead, I reported Mr. Big to the administration.

I don't know if/how he was reprimanded, since in America, even an Anglo child's anguish is not as valued as an adult's "integrity" (though behavior like this would have not have gone unpunished in Denver's posh Cherry Creek district). I know he can't be required to attend professional, sensitivity training, since Colorado education systems don't hold the nurturing of a mexicanita to be a cost-effective priority, like new roads. And I assume it would be considered outlandish for him to apologize to her, since that might insult his adult "professional standing."

The mission statement of our school describes it as "a bilingual community." One would wish that meant treasuring the Spanish speaker as equal to the English speaker, that no child would be badgered into submission because she had yet to learn the dominant language.

Some Americans continue the ignobility of 1845, even if out of ignorance. For instance you can got to go to http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/12/08/AR2005120802122.html?referrer=emailarticle to see how Manifest Destiny still sprouts on the Kansas prairie.

When the U.S. gov't and citizenry invaded and conquered the Southwest, they swore they advanced civilization in expropriating that land from an inferior people who spoke an inferior language.

Today's consensus is that Spanish is something immigrants should discard, get past, leave behind as soon as possible. As Americans, they should instead covet the English language, only. Spanish literacy should only serve the ASAP learning of English. It's unAmerican to speak too well with a two-forked tongue, and a waste of tax money. We don't know how to act, feel comfortable in a world that's not all-English.

However, a valued bilingualism would mean encouraging mexicano children to aspire to one day write great literature in two languages. To become great debaters in two languages. To argue cases in international courts, in two languages. (One would wish our school's mission statement wouldn't have to be modified to read: "a respected bilingual community, by order of the Court.")

Anyway, I avoided getting fired or beat up by writing this instead. And this also gave me reason to teach my class a new, survival phrase: "I don't understand enough English yet; it's futile to pontificate or yell at me." Unfortunately, even if Mr. Kay never shows his face around again, they may need to rely on it too often.

Rudy Ch. Garcia

N.B.: (I found out later Mr. Kay had also made an older girl break down when he joked that her short haircut made her look "like a boy," so his lack of "social tact" might one day also reward him a gender-issue lawsuit in a wealthier Denver neighborhood. Not that I'm wishing any bad on him.)


msedano said...

in califas, teachers have a right to request people like Mr. K not be assigned to substitute in the requestor's classroom. encourage your colleagues to make similar requests. during school board meetings in califas, again, there's a period for public comment. i recommend you read your la bloga piece at the next board meeting. are you unionized? i suggest you go to the grievance rep in your school and find if there's something the union would do to protect Mr. K's back if you decide to go after him with a vengeance. Why wouldn't you wish him to kick your ass in front of witnesses? He'd be fired, you would get a big settlement from his insurance company, or from the asshole directly. Just make sure you have witnesses when you take him to task for his personality defects.

Anonymous said...

My mother grew up in
Santa Fe, New Mexico and still lives there. Spanish was strictly forbidden on the school grounds in her day, and even though it is her first language, she can't read it or write it.

She insisted that my brother and I speak English, even though my abuela spoke to us only in Spanish.
Mom dropped out of school in the ninth grade, but we were proud when she took her GED in her forties. Still, that lifelong feeling of inferiority stuck with her and influenced many of the major decisions in her life --- like marrying an Anglo. She wanted to get away from her ethnicity. No one should have to live with that kind of shame.

Good for you for teaching your student "I don't know enough English yet

Unknown said...

Hijo de @#$%!

I read this and I experienced intense anger towards Mr. Kay and all of his ilk, tenderness and sorrow for a little girl who did nothing wrong and the memory of the discrimination I went through all of my years in school during the 70's in "progressive" Califas where the teachers made me not want to come to school even though I was an A student. I remember once a teacher actually said something to the effect of why should he waste his time on a girl that would just end up knocked up and on welfare. At 13 I got up, wrote something nasty on the chalkboard and walked out. My mom later in the school meeting about my suspension for the act, called him a vaboso and hit him with her handbag. She should have sued but it was great watching him get chased down the hall by a 5'2 little pissed off morenita calling him every name in the book in two languages.

Not only should you take Sedano's excellent suggestion of of bringing this La Bloga post to the school board, you should take up a collection and make up a full page ad of it in your local newspaper. Send it to Luis Rodriguez, email it to every Chicano/a you know. Broadcast it.

You're an amazing teacher and a champion for those kids. This guy - can you point him out for me? I'll come to Colorado and kick his ass down the hall like my mom did my infamous teacher. Should be fun.

Contributing Bloguistas: said...

I personally received a couple of responses to my post that I thought I'd share. Here's one:

"I would've asked you a question about teaching young kids, Rudy, but I
read your posting, so this gringo will just shut the fokk up & be glad
you let me share this land with you. 150 years of guilt will break
Mr. G__

Contributing Bloguistas: said...

Here's a 2nd response I received to my post:

"Guilt's an interesting thing. It gets really interesting when people feel guilty about things other people did. I understand it on an intellectual level, but that's about it.

I feel no guilt about what the Mexicans sometimes call "The War of Northern Aggression" (Amusing that folks from the south use that term for the Civil War, isn't it?). "Why is that?" you may ask. Mostly because I wasn't there. I didn't fight in the war. As far as I know (though it doesn't matter), none of my relatives were there. I may or may not have been a good idea, although Polk's justifications for the war sound a lot like Bush's justifications for the war in Iraq, so that may tell us something.

There are all sorts of things the USofA has done in the past that I don't agree with. I am saddened by some, angered by others, but I don't feel any guilt. I save my guilt for my own screw-ups. I have my own karma to work out.

Now, the big dumb guy who yelled at the kids may have yelled at them just because they were kids and he was big and dumb. Of course, he could have yelled at them because their ancestors lost the war and he was just trying to rub it in. Yeah. That's probably it.

Some Mexicans, I've read, still feel some resentment over the war. Maybe some of the French are still pissed about Waterloo, or the Spanish about the Armada. We know the Greeks still haven't gotten over the Turks. Hell, we get along with the Japanese and Germans better than we get along the Mexicans. We get along better with the _Vietnamese_ better than we get along with the Mexicans. Maybe it's because we don't share a border with those other folks.

I wonder if our relations would improve if we could slide another country between the USofA and Mexico. What if we would trade places with Canada? Just slide Canada to the south. A little salsa wouldn't hurt them.

Does the government have a suggestion box?"
Mr. J__

msedano said...

i wonder if there's a pattern to comments gente elect to share in public and comments they direct privately to the la bloga bloguero? i'm curious of the motivation of the one who aligns himself with the term "gringo". why would people weariing anonymous handles not want others to read their words? i wonder, also, if blog publishing these private emails shouldn't become a matter of routine, or is there some standard of etiquette to guide which to keep private, which to share? maybe i should learn to stop worrying and love the bomb--but that would be so 1960s.


Aaminah Shakur said...

Hey, this post really upset me and got me thinking. I just posted today linking to your post and adding some other related issues. My post is "Spanish Speaking Students - Get Used to it!" at http://WriteousSisterSpeaks.blogspot.com. I thought to email you privately, because I do hate shameless self-promotion, but then I wondered if MSedano would say that I should be honest and open, LOL. Anyway, I wanted to thank you very much for this particular post anyway.

estarz said...

Nice post. Also nice to come across your blog!


Anonymous said...

To all who posted comments:

I'm glad you found my too-didactic piece of some interest. I'll try to make them better reads.


Aaminah Shakur said...

Rudy, it was already an awesome read.

Anonymous said...

Kind words from you Aaminah,