Confessions of an Anglo -4 Kingsville They are little, they are many, they always move in bunches, they are dark, talk fast until I come near and then stare with a mixture of suspicibn and muteness. This is the first recollection I have of the Mexican-American, the first time I saw him, recognized him as someone different from myself. It was my first year in grammar school and the first year they were “allowed” to come to our school. Along with this image was the belief that somehow, somewhere every single one of those little people carried vicious pocket knives, which they all knew how to use, awaiting only the slightest provocation; though even at that time I wondered where amidst those ragged clothes they could hide pocket knives. Still, when I passed them I would glance over my shoulder and see them glancing at me over their shoulders. “Don’t fight them. They have knives,” I thought to myself and it was a source of wonderment and awe to me that the Anglos in Texas history could have whipped so -many knife-laden Mexicans who were half my size. “Roosevelt did it!” lamented Anglo child and Anglo parent at this innovation of the school system in peaceful German New Braunfels. “Roosevelt did it!” said the Mexican-American in joyous defiance. Now we were a Roosevelt family and if he did it, it must be right. So at that early date in my life I found some common ground with the Mexican-American in those playground arguments where children parrot the political doctrines of their parents. I noticed other things. Even though the little dark ones were supposed to be vicious, it was always the Anglo kids who provoked fights, who shouted “Spic” and “dirty Meskin.” If the Mexican-American won the fight, he was punished. He was spanked in the principal’s or teacher’s office, more often and more viciously than was the Anglo. I remember an Anglo boy taunting a Mexican-American no bigger than a small switchblade. It was amazing to me how tiny he was! When he fought back the Anglo child bawled. Later boy’s father Maurice Schmidt grew up in New Braunfels and now teaches art at Texas A&I College in Kingsville. He received a fine arts degree in 1958 from the University of Texas and a master’s degree from Cranbrook Academy of Art, Bloomfield Hills, Mich. This is the first of two articles. 14 The Texas Observer “THE PIPE HOUSE OF AUSTIN” Will D. Miller d on Magazines Daily Newspapers High Grade Cigars and Tobaccos Pipes and Accessories 122 West 6th St. Austin, Texas Maurice Schmidt appeared on the playground. He fussed at the Mexican-American, he grabbed him and shook him shook his finger in his face, shook his fist in his face, Tabbed his arms and shook him. The boy was impassive, he stared, he didn’t say a word. There was neither fear nor remorse, just that same mute stare that always puzzled me, even years later in Mexico. It must have puzzled the father, too. “Are you listening to me?” he shouted. Probably only half the English words were understood. To myself I thought, “He never cried. If anyone would ever fuss at me half that much I would bawl for a year.” I began to attribute to the Mexican-American, mysterious powers. They are spanked more often and harder, angry fathers tower over them and shout and they never cry. They must be immune to punishment. I hoped I would never have to fight one. 114 Y FEELINGS towards them at first were a mixture of fear and curiosity. Later a different element began to enter. I never had that animosity nor understood the hate that made so many Anglos shout, “Spic” or “dirty Meskin.” “I’d like to shoot Meskins,” one would say. We had a sheriff, I heard, who used to do this. I somehow got the conviction that being called “dirty Meskin” must feel to them as painful as the epithet “dirty Jew” felt to me. It was World War II. My oldest brother was in the Pacific. He was fighting for good against evil. Before he shipped out he had taught his kid brothers a little Navy judo and boxing. It would be a shame not to use these skills. I, too, would fight the battle for the underdog. I began to intervene when I saw Anglos gang up on a Mexican. One day a whole gang of Anglo lilliputians were baiting Julio Martinez, the largest and oldest boy in the third grade. He was 14 years old. They had him cornered against the red brick wall upon which he was moving a toy submarine green plastic. He hardly knew English. They were hitting at him and shouting like the hunting hounds around a treed panther. He could have swatted the whole group into insensibility, but all he did was keep them at bay. I went up behind and pulled at the Anglos, shouted at them to leave him alone. “He’s just as good as you are!” Later the event was reported to the teacher. “All of them were picking on you?” she asked sternly. “Ugh,” Julio nodded. “Not me,” I said. “I tried to make them quit.” But Julio did not know enough English to distinguish between what I did and shouted and the others. It remained for the Anglo kids to explain that all of them but me were guilty. I had opposed them, yet they exonerated me in their moment of guilt. It was my first encounter with a great curiosity of human nature that, though I have seen it many times since, never ceases to fill me xvith wonder. Later on I acquired a new toy that gave me great satisfaction a green plastic submarine just like Julio’s. C URIOUS THINGS happen in the mind of a child. Their desires project from a different reality and they know nothing of economics. That is the reason I began to envy my Mexican-Amerkan counterparts. On their way to school they stopped at our trees and everyone’s trees, knocked down the pecans, and ate them as they walked. We were not allowed to knock down other people’s pecans or to eat on our way to school. They :Went barefoot almost all the time. We could do this only on certain days, when the weather was just right. But the most painful of all deprivations occurred after a good rain. The Mexican-Americankids would be wading barefoot through the brown water running along the curbings. We could not even go barefoot after rain, much less wade in filthy water at street corners. It could be :very frustratl ing being born on the wrong :side ,of the tracks. All good .things .were. permitted them. They lived in quaint little: homes covered with flowers k so much more tike those described in. my favorite fairytales than was our home. There was always a wilderness around their houses full of animals, and no one seemed, to mind the noises, the dirt; chickens, ;dogs, cats, and the teeming, unregulated ilife in ‘general-, I wondered what it was like inside those enchanted houses. They must be full of exotic mysteries. , : My waning years in grammar ‘school were occupied with y interminable gang ‘wars. We had grown used to seeing the Mexican-Americans around, but we didn’t play with them unless it was against them. OUr yardman, our maids who smelled different., both belonged to this exotic. people who lived in those exotic ramshackle houses far from us. They knew how to build with tools, sharpen scissors, plant and trim trees, all the mysteries were in their gnarled old hands. .Thqy were the ones who were always losing relatives by having trains run over them. I couldn’t understand how someone couldn’t hear a train until later, when one almost got me. My oldest brother still remembers my Dad raking him over the coals when they took the maid home and he referred to her house as “a shack.” At times Anglos would fight MexicanAmericans in individual matches. If the Anglo boy won, a desire to imitate his valor would overcome many.. I was proud and reassured when I watched a MexicanAmerican boy take ,a beating from an Anglo. But, one day, when I found out the losing Latino was the son of my grandmother’s maid, I felt sorry and ashamed. We were walking home from school my brother, my friend, myself behind a “bunch of Mexicans” of assorted size.
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