THEY WERE READING a story of the Pioneer West in one of the few reading groups in the entire school that can read “on grade level,” that is, read from a book with four dots on it if they are in grade 4. Depth research determined that only 2 per cent of this school falls in the “reading on’ grade level” category and that only one parent of the 1,600 parents of the 800 children in the school is a high school graduate. Last year there were two, but one moved out of the district. “He got ambitious,” the principal said. “Do you think,” asked the teacher, “that there were any pachucos on the Old Frontier?” Pachucos are Latin juvenile delinquents. The reading group was visibly shaken but made a quick recovery. “No, ma’am,” said Pancho decisively. “There are not no pachucos in the Olden Days.” Everyone agreed. “No no no,” they said. Pancho looks like an angelic rabbit, his round, brown eyes questioning in a round, fair, piquant face. One of his brothers is a University of Texas student. Another is a lay preacher, and Pancho can quote the Bible with surprising glibness. He is most famous, however, for his feat performed a year ago. At that time there was a jail-break and several prisoners escaped. In a week or so the police caught all but one. This one was written up at some length in the newspapers and called romantically “The Uncatchable.” The Uncatchable became a legend. He would join in the chase for himself, and the laugh of the community was on the policemen. Pancho was part of that legend. It was eight-year-old Pancho of the angelic face who sneaked food and drink to The Uncatchable for the three months that he eluded the police. Pancho is now a member of a miniature gang, himself. “Why do you think there were no pachucos in the Pioneer West?” the teacher continued the line of thought. “There weren’t no beer joints for the people to get drunk in,” offered Catarina. Catarina’s father is the minister of a church in the community. Less than a month ago the four-year-old daughter of a parishioner wandered out the door during the Sunday night sermon and was raped by a 19-year-old pachuco in the brush near the churchyard. “The pioneers made their own wine from grapes of the forest,” said Rafael. Rafael is something of a dreamer, with a poetic, a philosophical turn. Although agreement between him and Pancho is rare, just that morning they had agreed on Negro status. “They’re mean,” Rafael had said. “They steal.” “That’s right, Miss,” Pancho had agreed. “They go around in gangs, and when they find somebody littler than they are, they take your ball away and break up the game. I’d vote against them every time.” “I would too,” said Rafael. “My grandmother says it doesn’t matter about them because they’re no good.” Rafael is the one student in the room who speaks with no Latin accent. The teacher was nonplussed, considering the accent of his parents, until she discovered that Rafael lives in the middle of the colored district and has no Latin neighbors. His front door is an old army blanket on a cross of lumber scraps. “The pioneer boys had to stay with the fathers and chop the wood, and the girls had to stay with the mothers and wash and dye the wool and cook,” Vidala contributed. “They couldn’t be pachucos and be with their mothers and fathers all the time.” Vidala’s 16-year-old brother was currently in hiding from the police for stabbing a boy in the high school hall during school hours. He has since been caught and is now in the juvenile shelter. Vidala’s father was killed in a truck accident shortly after he returned from the Korean war. Her mother and the children are on welfare. Federico regarded his hands thoughtfully, especially one of them. Federico is the best reader in the group. He can always be counted on to give a thoughtful answer to thoughtful questions. On one of his hands was a curiously indented, crescentshaped raw wound about the size of a kitten’s mouth. “Something did it while I was asleep,” Federico told the teacher. She had visited the home and found the mother and father and 12 children under 16, the youngest of whom was ten days old, living in three rooms that smelled foully of urine. All the children were born at home rather than in a hospital. Three of them were blind. \(Was the mother attended during these home births? Did the children get the necessary drops of silver nitrate at birth door had the bottom half ripped off. Austin Last month the University of Texas held its annual “Challenge Colloquium”; students from the University and 14 other Texas colleges and universities heard speeches, held roundtable discussions, and engaged in informal conversations with the speakers on the subject of “Poverty in the Midst of PlentyA Study of the American Paradox.” The speakers were Roger Shattuck, professor of Romance languages at the University; William Stringfellow, a New York lawyer and lay theologian, who lived in Harlem for nearly eight years; Dr. Otis Singletary, director of the Job Corps in the war on poverty; Sen. Albert Gore of Tennessee, and Sen. John Tower of Texas. I participated in Challenge, taking to it my suspicion that poverty is not, in fact, a paradox in American society, but a logical consequence of our economic life. As Shattuck suggested and Stringfellow explicitly affirmed, poverty for some, in this society, is necessary if others are to Jim Clark is a student from East Texas at the University of Texas. He wrote for us last from Atlantic City, where the Democrats had held a meeting. \(Could Federico’s curious wound have been on the Old Frontier to be pachucos,” Federico observed. THE LAST ONE to speak was Jesus. Jesus is undersized. He is also a natural athlete. The only ball he ever throws is a curved one. When he runs, his muscles combine the smooth control of the panther with the fleetness of the deer. He is fondly called Tigrito by his followers. Tigrito is the lekder of a budding young band of pachucos. They are only nine and ten-year-old boys, but they roam the streets, fighting, breaking bottles on the pavement, bullying children they find alone. “Tigrito says he has been in the juvenile shelter five times,” Enrique had told the teacher in admiring unbelief. Tigrito sometimes shares honors with Federico as one of the two best readers in the group. His answers to thoughtprovoking questions are always pragmatic and practical. This morning his answer was: “They didn’t have no city parks in Pioneer Days.” “No city parks!” exclaimed the teacher. “Why I thought . .” She didn’t finish what she had been educated to think: that more city parks were needed to curb the rise in juvenile delinquency, park space for the slum children to play in. Instead she asked, “How did that keep the pioneer boys from becoming pachucos?” “The parks are where it’s dark and they smoke marijuana and do bad things,” said Tigrito. be prosperous. Long ago South Carolina aristocrats, much more honestif indeed, more callousthan their Northern contemporaries and our present-day “decisionmakers,” argued that every prosperous and advanced society must have a “mudsill class” to do its dirty chores so that the privileged would be spared the time to develop for themselves and their posterity a civilized and a comfortable way of life. The everyday presence of human slavery compelled the South Carolinians, if they were to defend their system, to be so frank; today such chores \(some eliminated or by invisible men, such as those who clean our offices and libraries in the middle of the night; Professor Shattuck spoke of how we may pass day by day without confronting poverty, of how real estate companies and our economy separate us from the poor. Hence we are able to ignore these people, and if they intrude into our lives by some protest against their condition, we keep them in their own section of town or out on the farm, if we are Southerners, or we pay taxes for their care and appoint bureaucrats to deal with March. 19, 1965 5 Reflections on a Conference Jim Clark
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