Thursday, November 23, 2006

A Chicano Bilingual Teacher's Thanks-Giving

Working in an American elementary school conditions me to usually be such an ungrateful bastard, it's good there's one American holiday that forces me to think about giving thanks for things in my life.

1. My gut feeling about the indigenous Wampanoag, the "eastern peoples" of Massachusetts, saving the Pilgrims, I'll keep to myself. But without their intervention in 1621, our Thanksgiving Day would be nothing but days of prayer, which was Pilgrim practice. The Wampanoag taught the Pilgrims that a sharing time for family and friends was better than spending the whole day on your knees. Of course, eventually, American colonists reciprocated by stripping the spirituality from all native peoples, but I won't dwell on that.

2. As a teacher of expatriated mexicanitos, I have to give thanks for my daily audience and clientele. I could have it worse, trying to get the attention of fully-Americanized children addicted to making long Xmas lists of material goods that already overwhelm their little minds. I'm grateful most of my students' families don't have the wherewithal to give them $600 PlayStation 3s and $50 a month cell phones. For lack of such, mine are closer to the spirit of the Wampanoag than the knee-locked, land-grabbing Pilgrims.

3. Likewise I'm grateful for the parents de mis estudiantes, parents who work two or three jobs, even, but scrounge the time to get their children to school each day, the time to read with them, the time to tell their kids to do everything their teacher tells them, a lot like the Wampanoag likely once raised their children.

4. I have to be grateful for getting to teach children in a language whose written words are so consistent with the spoken word. The all-English teachers around me bitch so about how low their students' reading levels and writing skills are, while I guiltily relish in my kids' sounding more and more like educated wonders in the land of the illiterate. Much as the Wampanoag must have appeared to the Pilgrims.

5. Getting to read Lalo Delgado or Pablo Neruda's poetry to an audience of bright eyes and receptive minds, and being paid for it, gives me the strength to withstand the American educational bureaucracy's myopia for assessment and standardized tests. The crushed ideals of the Wampanoag re-flow through Abelardo's words, off my sophomoric tongue, to plant nurtured thoughts in my kids' semi-indigenous spirit.

6. Then too, I have to give thanks to all that great spiraling, brown DNA that thrives in my kids. However inept I may feel some days, however academically short at times my attempts at educating them, their synapses somehow make new connections and recombine to make me look good. I accept they learn more than I can teach them, not because of my well-meaning spirit, but because of their innate childish proclivity to wonder.

7. And you can't imagine what I get to see every day, unless your job's like mine. Despite all the manifest-destinied transgressions of the Pilgrims and their cohorts, Cortez and Bishop Landa, Davy Crockett and Gen. Winfield Scott, and no matter the whitebread-visions of America's so-called Border Minutemen, if I look up from my desk at the 23 faces in my classroom, sometimes I don't see impoverished, often malnutrioned, skinny children of immigrants. I look upon descendants of the Olmeca, Maya, Raramuri and Yaqui peoples. The same visages Rivera replicated on his murals, the same features on the faces of Zapata and Commandante Marcos's soldados, follow me around the room, momentarily allowing me into the stream of a spirit much greater than my world.

8. Lastly, thank the Lords of the Near and Far that those who I daily teach will not grow up in the monolingual world Middle America would prefer to keep on this side of a Palestinian-type wall. They will read and love Neruda and T.S.Eliot; they will be able to recite Gabriel Garcia Marquez in two languages, to write an English essay or Spanish sentimiento, and read either to their own children. And when they do that, in a remote corner where my spirit resides, maybe I hope they'll end the reading by telling of a teacher they once had who sometimes made them laugh, but more often made them grateful he could recognize value in their mestizaje-spirit.

Rudy Ch. Garcia


daniel olivas said...

Inspiring and thought-provoking. You are, indeed, a lucky vato. Happy Thanksgiving!

Anonymous said...

Yes, Rudy, you are a lucky--and a good--man. Happy Thanksgiving to your family and everyone in La Blogaland!

Anonymous said...

My father has taught for more than thirty years--the last few have been second grade, which have been his greatest because of some of the scenarios you mentioned in your post. My wife teaches fourth grade, and in our house we have her students letters to her offering thanks and gratitude, teary-eyed apologies, and whimsical free-associations.

Your post is another reason why I read La Bloga each day. Thanks so much, Manuel Lopez

Anonymous said...

Thanks for that wonderful Thanksgiving message, Rudy-- you just warmed my heart.

Ojala que Ud. tambien disfrute este Dia di Accion de Gracias!

I am in total agreement with you and I've thought this for a long time, but never been able to articulate as well as you-- I have much greater admiration for the values of the Wampanoag Indians than the hypocritical, violent, brutal Pilgrims and their Anglo successors. The Wampanoags best illustrate the values we should be handing to our children, not the Pilgrims.

BTW, my best wishes to you in your work as a bilingual teacher, you have my utmost admiration. I've been working as a school administrator, and there is a tremendous need for people like yourself to bridge these two languages for the United States of tomorrow. The future of this country is bilingual and multicultural, with Spanish equal to English and the many cultures of this land being equally celebrated, rather than the Anglo culture alone and the Anglo people lording themselves over the many other peoples whom they've displaced and exploited here.

Especially here in Arizona and California-- as well as in Texas, New Mexico and Florida, as I have been told by my fellow conferees-- the educational systems in general, from elementary schools through the universities, are all moving in the direction of Spanish-English dual medium teaching. (Contrary to some misconceptions, Prop. 227 in California didn't hurt these schools at all, it actually had provisions to strengthen them at all levels.)

In fact, the school systems in some counties in California have become almost entirely bilingual in their curricula, and a few universities in here are even starting up dual-medium instruction programs. There's a massive need for bilingual teachers, and I certainly hope that the education schools and student-teacher programs are helping to meet that need, while encouraging the construction and conversion of more dual-medium schools and adjustment of other elements of the educational system-- standardized testing, textbooks and the books used in literature curricula, for example-- to reflect this new reality. Moreover here in California, the high-level use of Spanish in education dates all the way back to the US war against Mexico in 1848 and the treaties and legal precedents that followed it.

The more that we make hiring of bilingual teachers and dual-medium teaching more natural in US schools especially in the SW and Florida, and the more that we encourage respect for people from all the cultures that have founded this nation rather than just the Anglos, the closer we will come to fostering the sort of society that respects the great contributions of the Wampanoags and others among the Indigenous Peoples as much as we idolize the Pilgrims today. That would be something historic in nature.

Gracias otra vez para su contribucion aqui tan perspicaz, y espero que Ud. va a continuar informar y escribirnos de sus pensamientos tan profundo.

Que pase un buen fin de semana, amigo!

Anonymous said...

You sure seemed "to articulate well enough" in your comment here.

Kind and good words. Profundos.

Consider a guest Bloga post next time you feel not "articulate enough."


Anonymous said...

That was really great and you made me reflect on my own classroom. Thanks for the motivation to give my students all that I can in the next 4 weeks.