A Teacher’s Initiations in South Texas rA When in the fell clutch of circumstance I have winced and cried aloud AUSTIN On the wall in front of me is a map of Texas published by the General Land Office in 1957. It is a very handsome map printed in. many colors \(four I’d guess, not shows the mountains of far west Texas, the plains of the Panhandle, the forests of east Texas, the lakes of central Texas, and the inlets and bays along the Gulf of Mexico. Somehow it looks kind of blank down in the Valley area. There doesn’t seem to be much of anything there: as though you could cut off the tip of Texas along the dotted lines of some of those counties and be well rid of the whole business. The best thing abount the map appears at the bottom lower left above the signature of Earl Rudder: This map portrays Texas as we know her today. Born of man’s great desire for independence, she stands as a place where freedomloving people may live and work without fear of tyranny and oppression. Hers is a history of a struggle for independence, telling how heroic generations made this gifted land their prize and their pride, and how they fought to win it and make it a place where men might look up undaunted; their heads unbowed to any other than God. This spirit of independence must never be dampened. It must rather be made to grow and flourish so that the banner of the “Lone Star” shall always fly over free men. To our school children and youth falls the greater part of this task and to them this map is dedicated. It is a graphic portrayal of the estate to which they will fall heir: suggesting that colorful history which produced the independence they now enjoy, and inspiring their further devotion and dedication to the progress and greater glory of Texas. A fiendish friend gave me this map when he was leaving Austin and I was returning after a period of high school teaching in south Texas. When I tacked the map on the wall and then read the whatever-it-is above, I had to laugh. The first day in my Spanish I class: Me: “There are four consonants which occur in Spanish and not in English. One of these is the double 1, or elle. Mr. Garcia,”\(apparently a student with a life”this consonant is seen in the word llamar; would you tell the class what that words means?” Mr. Garcia: “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Me: “Would you tell the class the meaning of the word llamar?” Mr. Garcia: “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” JACKSONVILLE An editorial in the Jacksonville Daily Progress tells what awaits East Texas sojourners this spring. Wrote the Progress: “There’s nothing like Springtime in East Texas. “It’s a glorious countryside which greets the motorist throughout this wonderful area. “The redbud is in full bloom. The dogwood is coming out, its white blossoms opening to the springtime sunshine. “The wisteria is adding its t lavender touch here and there, and there are many other blossoms, including the wild violets and the orchards of plums and peaches and pears. “The pale green of the oaks, gum and elm is blending beautifully with the dark green of the evergreen pine trees, covering the rolling hills as nature’s artist again paints a wonderful picture. “A trip to Love’s Lookout Park, or a drive to Maydelle, Alto or Me \(somewhat, as we say, emo”I suggest then that you wait after class and we’ll talk about itperhaps I can enlighten you a bit.” It never occurred to me that the fellow might not know what llamar meant. Me \(After class, noticing that a small group of students had congregated near the door to see que tO. no me contestaste?” Mr. Garcia: “Pas, senor, lo siento, Pero . .. you see, my mother, she married this white guy, and we don’t speak much Spanish around the house, and, well, I just didn’t understand you.” \(He you understand enough Spanish to be of help to me in this class. It is your responsibility to assist me; I need your help.” Almost six months later, this same student and I sat on the bank of a south Texas river with several more students with Spanish names and sang songs from “Running Bear” to “Adelita” and laughed about that first day in class; back when, they said, they thought I was just another gringo bastardo. If you think that I imply with pride that at the end of six months they no longer thought so, you are right. But why did this young man \(who could, by the way, write as well in Spanish or English as any a grown man thinking that everybody with blond hair is automatically no good? ONE DAY I decided to let my rest from verb conjugations and pronunciation corrections a n d spelling tests. I told them that since teachers always got to tell them everything, and consequently they never got to tell teachers anything, I was going to let them write a paper telling me anything they wanted. They could have 30 minutes. They liked the idea and wrote like little demons. I took the papers home with me that evening and was reading through them with as much pleasure as I would have gotten from a book of essays when I came upon this recorded here as I remember it from the pen of a 14-year-old boy in a neat, small style: Ever since I ,can remember all I ever did was work. Thats why Im older than everybody in the 8th grade because some years I just barely go to school at all. I have to work because my family is poor. And I cant do nothing but pick cotton or dig ditches. This is not because Im 14 years old but because Im a “mexican.” All that anglos think a liatin can, do is dig ditches. A latin is just like a dog to a anglo. T hate anglos. I show this only to you and to God, Amen. Crockett gives the motorist a view of the most colorful of all regions of Texas. “Nearly all the year around there is ‘some flowering shrub or tree in EaSt Texas, and none more attractive than the early spring red bud and dogwood. . . . “The lakes are full of water, and the fishing has been good. East Texas abounds with streams, an abundance of water and fertile soil. The pastures are being steadily improved, and the picture of half a hundred Holsteins or Herefords grazing on a green hillside is something to see. “The plum orchards are glorious, the pear trees are full of blooms, and the peaches are adding their pink to the white of the plums and pears. “Pine trees are sprouting their candles of new growth, and the air is full of the singing of the mocking birds. “This is, indeed, God’s flower garden.” I read this to an acquaintance, a south Texan. He was disappointed in my ignorant compassion; advised me that it wasn’t the Anglos’ fault: “All them meskins make their kids work for ’em like that, and they don’t work at all. Just sit back and rake it in.” AT FIRST the Latins in my Spanish classes wanted to test me to find out how much I knew about their language. They scattered around the room \(later they all sat together in a group in the back of the roomthey did this obscene slang to see if I knew. The first time it happened I ignored it, but when it happened John Irsfeld again and I realized what was going on, I closed my book and gave a lecture on the advisability of using clean language in class, regardless of which language was used. The next day they were all in their group in back, and nothing like that ever happened again. It gave me pleasure to use a language that was comparatively new to me. There were many times, I know, when the structure of one of my sentences would collapse and the result was ludicrous, but I was never corrected; they forgave me my errors in grammar, even though I was their teacher, ‘because I made the effort to pronounce their language as they did. One boy, a senior who asked me once in class to pronounce his name as an Anglo would, used to come by my desk every day and ask about a word. Sometimes he would want the meaning, sometimes the spelling; sometimes he just wanted to come by and say something to me in Spanish for no more reason than that it pleased him. He had probably heard “Be American, Speak English” so many times in his life that he enjoyed a clandestine excitement in exercising bilingualism. This same boy brought me the words to the songs “Las Nubes” and “Un Historia de un Amor.” He searched a long time for the words to “Adelita” but could not find them. One day when we were studying ballads in senior English and I was singing to the class from a collection of songs by Carl Sandburg, I accidentally came across it. My friend was sitting in the back of the room, interested in Bonny Barbara Allen and Lord Randall just this side of perfunctorily. Without giving its name. but calling it simply a favorite of mine, I ‘began to sing: “Si Adelita se fuere con otro . . .”; his mouth widened in a smile, and the look in his eyes paid me for the lone liness and unhappiness I was then possessed by. \(Time passed very slowly for me in south Texas. I felt that my days were all alike, that nothing happened, that the wind blew in from the Gulf and the rain smelled like fish, that I was wasted and wasting. It was an effort to read. I thought I was in an intellectual vacuum, unable to function because of sheer inertia. But when I look back, I know that the reason I could do nothing with books and paper was that I was involved in something if not more real, at least more active. Because all my senses and nerves were awake to what I was seeing and doing, I would flop in bed at 9:30, exhausted, yet be unable to Before Christmas the students found out I was leaving. They were disappointed because they were losing a friend. There was a small surprise party given me one afternoon by my Spanish II class. They led me blindfolded from the opium den \(as we called I had to break a pinata, wear a crown they’d made for me,. and cut a cake with the word King on the top. This was an Anglo function, and that was their name for me: The King. It came from a story I told. them once that parodied the divine right business. They read a poem to me called “Why, King?” The last lines made me feel that perhaps they knew something more then than they had four months earlier: “We’ll miss you King With your white bucks. But like you say, All is flux.” The poem was fine, the party fine, the pinata fine, the tears embarrassing. And as I drove away that afternoon, for home and a two week vacation, I began to wonder if I’d done the right thing. Anyway, when I returned, I found a long statement from a student on my desk. Part of it said: I gave up fighting at seven, Because you saw you couldn’t win, But all the writers and poets are . together as a team. We don’t like to be called beatnik. And we believe that if we sing, We still can write on sun beans. The_ boy who wrote this approached me somewhat later the same day with two or three of his friends. We got into a discussion about the merits of our school, the town, the people in it, and finally, about the world itself and everything in it. From the general then, we reverted to the specific again, and talked about people we knew, and nick-names. The Poet told me, “Mr. Irsfeld, we have a name for you.” He said it rather shyly, and his reticence increased as he got the sentence out He wasn’t sure; perhaps I would be angry. I pressed him. “Well,” and he scuffed the toe of his shoe along the instep of the other, “it’s . . . it’s Saltitos.” didn’t know for a moment what it meant, but I made an infinitive out of it, quite accidentally, and saw. I had been named for the way I walk, bouncing, as if behind a plow, like a Pachuco \(which, along with Senor Culture, they called me when I gave a particularly hard quiz or they were “Little Jumps,” I had been named. I couldn’t really comprehend the honor I felt. I was accepted. I was one of them. After that, since my last name is hard to say in Spanish, they called me *either Senor Juan or Senor Saltitos. ONE SATURDAY NIGHT then, our little party on the banks of the Nueces River was held. We all laughed about how easily people can be mistaken about others, simply ‘because of the way they look. I had looked forward for a couple of weeks to this evening. The man with the guitar couldn’t come, and the ground was wet and muddy and soaked us through the blanket we sat on and caked our shoes with mud that stuck like cement. It was cold mid-winter, and several of us drank a few too many Perlas. We couldn’t all get around the kerosene lantern together so we could all read the words from the Mexican song books easily. The Poet got mad because we said we were going to sing all night and instead we talked quite a bit, Mostly about women. Still, it was one of the few nights in my life that I know will never forget. It was a free party; free moving; all of us content in the knowledge that we were with others like us. There was only one rule: _Speak only Spanish. You ought to try it sometime. Makes you seem kind of stupid to someone who knows
You May Also Like
The Texas Rangers are tasked with investigating corruption and crimes by public officials. Those officials are rarely held accountable.