Una Mosca en la Pared (A Fly on the Wall)
On a clear and sunny late August morning in 1969, about forty-five children started the first grade at St. Nicholas Catholic School. Little uniformed children paraded about the school grounds. The girls were dressed in navy blue and hunter green plaid pleated skirts, white cotton blouses with little peter-pan collars and black patten leather shoes. The little boys were clad in navy blue or black slacks, white dress shirts and black shoes. Most of the youngest children, the first graders, arrived with their mothers. Holding tightly to their hands, they made their way to one of two first grade class rooms. When they reached the designated room, the children were seated at the desk which had his or her name boldly printed in black ink, across a three inch wide strip of white construction paper, taped to the upper left-hand corner of it. A loud shrill bell screamed from a speaker above the class room clock, exploding the murmuring voices into absolute silence. Everyone turned and looked in the direction the noise had come, and then as if cued the mothers said their last goodbyes and left the school building leaving their children to experience education.
The first lesson Father T- and the Sisters at St. Nicholas taught the six-year-old children was separatism. First they joined the two first grade classes together, then they instructed the children to form two lines, boys over here, and girls over there. Father T- then walked the length of both lines as though inspecting new recruits. With the aid of the new name-tags each child wore pined to the front their shirt, Father T- called each child by name to come and stand at their place in line. Sister L- then wrote in her book the name of each child along with the number that corresponded to his or her place in line. This line, Father explained to the children was very important, it would be exactly how they would lineup for morning mass, a practice that must be preformed with quickness and accuracy every scholastic day there after until completion of primary school.
After both first grade classes were lined-up Father T- lead the procession of marching children across the school court yard to church. Two lines were formed, one male, one female with everyone in attendance from smallest to largest by grade. When the procession reached the front door of the church, girls entered first, followed by class mate boys. Silently entering the fortress, the children one-by-one dipped their right first two finger tips into the little container of holy water, and crossed themselves. Silently, slowly they continued toward the front of the altar. When the first child in line reached the front row of pews, Anglo Americans filed in on the right, Hispanics the only other ethnic minority at the school, were to sit on the left side of the church as Father T- instructed.
My uniformed court yard march to church continued from that day in 1969 until the last day of the sixth grade. Our "to morning Mass" routine became so exacting that when a student was absent their spot on the pew was left vacant. My silent march down the aisle of St. Nicholas Church and to the pews on the left were followed by the religious teachings of Father T-. "Seated at the right hand of the Father (God) are Jesus, Joseph and Mary, and all the apostles, and all the saints that have done His bidding." When that time in my life ended, a new world awaited me. A world, which for the most part, did not know I was a left sider,"For ever and ever Amen." The instructors at the institution had taught me many life long lessons, religion and bigotry, immortality and racism, segregation and separatism.
The way a person views the world is due in part to his experiences in it. I know that my experiences have been influenced more by what my parents are, than by who they are.
My Dad was born in Coffeyville, Kansas, and graduated from the University of Idaho with degrees in Forestry, Range Management, and Animal Husbandry. He is a cowboy. He chews Copenhagen, and drinks Oly stubbys. Local bar tenders know him on a first name basis. He wears Paul Bond cowboy boots with black bottoms and red tops, 501 button fly Levis, one particular style of Stetson hat for work, or a hand made black felt Amish hat for dress. He smells of horses and cows, leather, hard work, beer, and chewing tobacco. His face is that of a man who has spent most of his fifty-eight years working out in the weather. Wrinkles have become gashes in his tough leathery skin, and his legs bow in tribute to the years he has spent in his saddle. I have heard people describe him as "One of the best American cowboys left." "The real McCoy." He owns and operates a cattle ranch. He speaks slowly, and not often.
My Mom was born and raised in Guerrero, Cohauila, Mexico. She along with her three sisters and four brothers were educated at the Santa Teresita and Sagrado Corazon Catholic schools in Mexico. As a member in a family of ten, she emigrated with them to the United States in 1955. She was a fifteen-year old girl then; now she is a very formal, dignified, and polite woman. Occasionally she might drink a small amount of vino with a Sunday or Holiday dinner, but she will not go into a bar. She dresses herself conservatively, and smells of soap, flowery perfume, and spices. She attends the 11:00 a.m. Spanish Mass every Sunday at St. Nicholas Catholic Church. She owns and operates her own business. She speaks quickly, with an accent. She is exuberant and talkative.
My parents taught me different things. My Dad taught me about the outdoors, and the blissfulness of solitude. He taught me how to read nature, where to find shelter in a storm, the direction of the rising and setting sun, and how to find north in the dark. He taught me "When you fall off your horse; you get back on." Dad taught hard lessons about survival while Mom taught the softer lessons of life. She taught love, warmth, and security. She taught good food with plenty of spice. Tamales are the tradition on Christmas Eve, followed by midnight Mass. She taught me about life and love ethnically; she taught "La Familia."
Somewhere between my Dad's American cowboy and my Mom's Mexicana matriarch is my world. It is like walking along the top of a great wall that separates two distinctly different places. If a town could liken itself to a country with a great wall dividing its people, one from the other, then Rupert would be that place. Rupert is a small agricultural town, not unlike a lot of small farming communities scattered through out the United States. I have lived here most of my life. My "American" Father and my "Mexican" Mother have provided me with a bridge between both worlds here.
In 1955, when my Mom immigrated to Idaho, there were only five Mexican families living in Rupert. They were the Espinoza, Garcia, Maldenado, Santos, and Valdez families. The Santos family became my Tias y Tios, my Abulitos and my Mom. When she speaks of the first families and her first few years in Rupert she says,"We get here about the same time and we were escared. We didn't espeak too gooda English jet, so we cling to each other back then. We work berry hard en the fields when we come to make a better life for la familia." Today 3,735 Hispanics call this place home; the total population is only 16,362 people (Rupert Chamber of Commerce). I know why they have come, I have heard the dreams of the newly arrived Mexican immigrants, "A better live for themselves and their families." I also hear the growing irritation in the voices of the "White Americans" as they comment on the "growing 'Mexican' population problem." In 1981 my Mom was the first Hispanic person in Rupert to own and operate her own business, now there are eight Hispanics in business for themselves. I know that Mom has helped each of them, in some way, get started. I hear the responses of both peoples. I watch the wall. Constructed with prejudice and ignorance, fortified by segregation and bigotry, it grows. I see it. I live it, every day.
My Northern experiences for the most part have not been pleasant ones. As a member of the "Anglo" school system between the late 60's and early 80's I have witnessed the devastating effects of segregation. I learned that the grade school battle ground is a treacherous place. Children repeat what they hear at home, "Beaner" "Spick" "Lazy 'Mexican' wetback." "White American" children call names with the intention proving to everyone just how much better they considered themselves to be. Giving tribute to, not only what they grew-up hearing, but also displaying the superior attitude which accompanied it. They were better they said, "because their Mom was not 'Mexican, ' they were not 'Mexican, ' they were 'White' which, as every one knows, is better than red, or yellow, or brown." Therefore they were simply better then the "Brown American" children. Unfortunately the school system here in Rupert facilitates a continuation in the process of teaching prejudice. During the time I was an elementary student the Hispanics were grouped together and separated from the main stream of the class room. They were given remedial lessons in Math, English and Spelling, little else was expected of them. The effect was twofold. The first thing that happens in this situation is that the children who were separated form the rest of the class fall further and further behind their peers, the "white" main steam; and because there was never an attempt to bring the Hispanic students, as a group, or as an individual student, to any specific competency level, High School level before graduating for example; the majority of the segregated group, the "Mexicans" I started school with dropped out before graduating. Secondly it solidifies the cast system as it exists here. The Hispanic students who do not graduate from High School, will most likely never be able to compete in the same job market as their "Anglo" counter parts, and will never be part of the same social structure. The "North American White" caste system or pecking order I learned at school was a hard lesson.
The caste system here has many layers and levels. The color of a persons skin and the way they sound. The thickness of their accent, is directly related to the treatment they receive. Thousands of people have said to me, "well you don't LOOK Mexican!" That they mean is they were not immediately able to visually place me in to a category they thought I belonged in. Maria J., a seventeen year old cousin of mine, almost refuses to spend any time outdoors in the sun because she is afraid of getting too dark.
Martha lives a few miles North of me. She was born and raised in Rupert. Her parents and grandparents were born and raised in Texas, making her and at least third generation American. She and her husband Laurence Alvarez, of similar heritage, and their three children are dark complected. The Alvarezes speak only one language, and according to Martha both sets of grandparents are mono-linguistic also.
One day Martha and her family decided that they wanted to have a black Scotty. They checked the local newspapers for several weeks, until she spotted the advertisement she had been waiting for. Martha called the number and talked to the woman that had placed the ad, making arrangements to go over and see the puppies. Fully intending to buy one, she called and excitedly told me the news, saying that she would be stopping by on her way home to show me the new puppy. Thirty-five minutes later Martha was knocking at my back door. I was expecting to see a happy face, but what I got was a little boys bottom lip pouted so severely it almost touched his chin, and big brown eyes reddened because he had recently been crying. I opened the door asking, "What happened?"
As Martha entered my home she said, "I just can't believe it, you'll never guess what just happened! I got to the woman's house to buy a puppy; Tommy was so excited he danced around on the sidewalk all the way to the front door. I noticed this older woman peering at us through the curtain. While we were standing at the front door I heard the door chain rattling, I thought she was unlocking it, but when she opened the door, the chain was on! She stuck her bitty ol' eye ball up to the opening and glared at us. 'What do you people want? ' she snapped. Tommy told her that we came to look at the puppies, and I told her that I had just talked to her on the phone. 'Will there must have been some mistake. You people didn't tell me you were "Mexican" did ya! I don't sell dogs to "Mexicans" because they eat them!' Then she slammed the door in our face."
"Your kidding!" I exclaimed. I started laughing, but I could see that Tommy and Martha did not think the whole situation was as funny as I did. I asked Martha if she really wanted the dog, she said yes and Tommy said yes. . . So I called the woman with the bitty ol' eye ball, and drove across town to her house. As I walked toward the front door, I too noticed her sizing me up, she peered through the curtain at me as I walked the length of sidewalk that led to her front door. I knocked, and she opened the door with a pasty smile smeared across her face. With Martha's money in my pocket, it was not hard to ignore her pretended politeness. I picked out the cutest pup and offered her twenty-five dollars less then her asking price, paid the woman and promptly left her house. I stopped at the store and bought some dog food, a bowl and a big red ribbon I tied around the little pup's black neck. I drove to Martha's and presented Tommy with his new puppy, and gave Martha her remaining twenty-five dollars. Tommy gave me a big hug and a huge smile, and then he named the pup Poncho. Almost three years have passed since that day, Poncho has not been turned in to tacos and still lives happily with Tommy and the rest of the Alvarezes.
Varying degrees of pigmentation is not the only determinant many Rupert "Anglos" use to categorize people. I have also seen the same judgments used to determine levels of discrimination based on a person's ability to speak English. The thickness of a person's Spanish accent, in combination with the level of brokenness is directly related to the responses they receive. For as long as I can remember I have watched and heard the reactions to my Mom's voice.
Mom would say to me,"Rosita ju go ala house de su Nanice (Grandma Santos) cuando la fiesta iz ober."
The response became so predictable. I have watched the faces of my "Anglo" single language friends become distorted after hearing Mom's voice. Their noses wrinkle in disgust, with questioning eyes and in a sarcastic tone they would ask, "What did she say?" "How can you understand what she says?" It made perfect sense to me; It still does. "Go to Grandma's after the party."
Ordering fast-food at the drive-thru window was always an adventure with Mom. Once when I was about seven years old, Mom and Tia J- took my sister and me to the drive-in for ice cream. Mom pulled up to the speaker to order.
A voice said,"Can I help you?"
"Jes," said Mom ,"gibe uz fourten cen conez prease."
"Excuse me!" the voice came back.
"Gibe uz fourten cen conez prease" repeated Mom.
When we got to the window, the lady standing there had made fourteen ice cream cones! As my sister and I got older we tried to help Mom out. Drive-through windows were handled more effectively.
Mom pulled up to the speaker and ordered, "Jes gibe uz three esprits an two esmall friz please."
The person at the other end of the speaker would always, without fail, say, "Excuse me?"
"Would you repeat that please?" Or more often than not just, "What?"
Either my sister or I would repeat the order, it saved both time and money. "Give us three Sprites and two small fries please."
Three months before I graduated from High School was the first time I was faced with the challenging dilemma of deciding for myself what I am. I had booked passage to Europe and was scheduled to leave the day after graduation. I was filling out passport forms, a task I found quite arduous at the time. About half way down the form I was asked . . . Fathers name, birth place, U.S. citizen? and "choose the box that best describes race." Immediately after that the same questions were asked about Mom. I studied the choices available.
"Mom, what are you?" I asked.
She looked at me very puzzled and said,"What ju mean, what I am?"
Frustrated I replied, "For this stupid form, what race are you?" "Hispanic?"
"Ju know what is 'Hispanic'?" "I am a Mexicana and a Ju.S. citiesen." She said proudly.
"Will they don't have "Mexicana" on this form Mom, but I think that "Hispanic" is the term they are using for all the Spanish speaking, or Latin people now.
"Hey mucho gente, no?"
My boxes on the passport form were next. When I got to the race choices available, I looked them over again. It was the first time I had ever been forced to make a choice. Choose a race. Choose a parent. I looked at my Mom, and thought about my Dad, then I did what seemed to me the only sensible thing to do. I wrote 1/2 in the American box and 1/2 in the Hispanic box. To this day, whenever I fill out any form which requires that I choose a race . . . pick a parent . . . I choose 1/2 and 1/2. When someone says to me, "Your just 'American'," or "You were born in the United States, so your only 'American'." I know they do not understand the consuming power of "La Familia." If I would have had the courage, I would have told them, "Yes I am American, but to not claim the Mexican part, to take La Familia away from what I am, would be like trying to tear off one of my arms or ripping out my heart. The mix is what I am. 1/2 Dad and 1/2 Mom, a little of this and a little of that.
I spent four wonderful years traveling throughout Europe. I returned to Rupert not as a child or a student member of the school system, but as an adult person. After I was married, my husband Philip replaced much or my Dad's Anglo influence. The farmers and ranchers I used to come in contact with because of my Dad, I now meet and associate with because of my husband. He is a nationally licensed, certified crop consultant. When we were newly married and Philip would introduce me to one if his clients, or farmer friends, he would say, This is my wife Rose, she's 'Mexican'."
I told him that I found it odd, and the looks people gave me when he said that made me feel uncomfortable. I do not like feeling put on the spot to explain why I look the way I do, "No my Dad is actually darker complected than my Mom." One day I had the opportunity to introduced Philip to a couple of long time friends of mine. Introducing him I said, "This is my husband Philip, he's a 'Gringo'." He got the point. I know that Philip introduced me that way in an attempt to put the farmers he talked to in my presence on alert. I was with my husband one beautiful spring afternoon; he was checking the progress of potato planting. Field after field, farmer after farmer, the language was the same. "I'll get my 'Mexicans' on it first thing." "I like my 'Mexicans' in the field early." "I got some pretty good 'Mexicans' this year."
Steve Jones is one of the two brothers that together own Jones Farms Inc. They farm several hundred acres of ground. He is also one of my husband's clients. He was sitting at my kitchen table early one morning talking with Philip. Every other sentence Steve uttered began with or contained the phrase,"my 'Mexican'." My tolerant level reached, I finally asked him, "When exactly did you buy those people?" His blank stare reveled his dumbfoundedness, and I knew he had no idea about the meaning of what I had just said. I restated the question so that he could understand it. "Tom do the people who work for you have names? or could you possibly refer to them as the guys, or the crew or field hands or something besides 'my Mexicans'! ?"
"Oh, gosh I forgot that your Mom is Mexican, you guys don't look Mexican, but you can sure tell when your Mom talks to ya." "I went and got my hair cut the other day," he continued. Lifting his hat off his head and running his fingers through his hair, he said,"Boy I could hardly understand what she was saying, she talks really fast don't she?"
Because of my husband, I receive hundreds of phone calls during the growing season, more in the spring, and less in the fall. The conversations usually go something like this, "Rose how do you say . . . , I've got this 'Mexican' who can't speak any English."
"Really, how long has he been in the United States," I always inquire.
"He just got here this spring, but he's a real good worker," is the usual response.
Most of the time the problems encountered because of the language barrier are easily overcome. Sometimes they are not. Larry Smith, a co-owner of A&B Farms, called me this summer. "Can I come over and talk to you?" " I have a problem and I need your help," he said in a somber voice. A few minutes later I was with Larry in his pickup driving toward the home of one of his field-hands. I was faced with the task of informing his wife that her husband had just been killed in a farming accident.
During the past sixteen years since Mom opened her shop, I have watched the town change along with the thickness of her accent. The most pronounced change has been the opening of seven other Hispanic owned and operated business in Rupert. In 1981 my Mom was the first to own her own business. In 1986 the Valdez family started making and distributing tortillas. Now most grocery stores in the area carry the Casa Valdez brand. They recently moved their operation to Caldwell, Idaho because of distribution logistics. In 1987 Dago Berto started a little clothing store that caters to Hispanic people. Essentially the only difference between his clothing store and the other clothing stores in the area is that he employs people who can speak Spanish to his patrons. A year later he opened a small grocery store. He stocks many items that are difficult to find, like molinillos, massa, and tomatillos. In 1992 Saul and Maria opened Playa Azul an authentic south of the border restaurant. Then in 1993 La Mexicanita opened it's doors followed by two businesses in 1994, La Michuacana Panaderia a bakery, and La Fiesta Mexicana a dance hall that provides Spanish entertainment. This year, Alguno con el Taco is due to open in November.
I have watched Mom's beauty shop become a clearing house for help and information. I meet a lot of the newly arrived families there. I have helped many of them to complete the long and complicated immigration forms. Some of the people I have helped over the last few years include Saul and Maria, and the two brothers who own the Panaderia, Victor and Javllar Torrez. Six months ago I met Jesus at mom's shop; I helped him too with the process of becoming an American citizen. He will be opening Alguno con el Taco soon, he has told me, "ju come ober with a empty estomach, en I will fill em up!" I fully intend on taking him up on his offer, he makes the best tacos in town.
I know all of the Hispanic people who have opened businesses here; they have become my friends. I know their stories and struggles, working hard in the fields or in the agricultural processing plants, or both as Mom and others did to save the money they needed to get their start. I also know most of the "White" business owners; some of them have started their own businesses, most however inherited them.
I have had the opportunity to meet with several of my towns distinguished businessmen, all members of the Rupert Merchants Association. The decided upon meeting place was The Pancake House, a local cafe. I arrived early and chose a table in the back. I sat with my back to the wall so I could see the entire dining room and watch the door for their arrival. A waitress with a coffee pot greeted me at the table and poured me a cup of coffee. I thanked her and she left. I watched the dark brown color of my coffee change as I added cream and stirred. I looked up and scanned the room; the crowd was horribly predictable; I was the only nonwhite in the establishment. Table after table nothing but Anglos. A sea of farm hats, baseball style caps with logos like Ro-Neet, John Deer, Roverall, or Simplot, embroidered on the front of them. Country Music whined from an unseen speaker. The four men I had been waiting for arrived; I stood up as they walked toward my table. We exchanged greetings, shook hands and seated ourselves around the table. I looked at the faces of the men who had come to meet with me, and thanked them for coming. Three of them I have known since childhood, the other man, I know but not as well as the others. The waitress with the coffee pot returned, as she filled everyone's cup, we made polite conversational small talk. When she left, I explained again why I had wanted the opportunity to talk to them. We talked briefly about my project and how I wanted to write about the town we call home.
My four table companions immediately started raving about the virtues of Rupert. As they each jockeyed to be lead speaker, they assured me that this is a wonderful place to live and raise a family, and that the people here are friendly. This is a rural community based on agriculture. Hunting, fishing, and other outdoor activities are available here, a sportsman's paradise they said. I had listened to them for almost thirty minutes and I could tell where the conversation was heading, but before they drifted to favorite fishing holes, and dear tags, I asked Frank if he could tell me about the store his Grandfather had started seventy-five years ago. He told me all about the store, and finally, I was able to ask if he had any Spanish speaking employees at the store that could help his Hispanic patrons.
Frank's response was,"'Mexicans' don't shop at Ropers, they get their cloths at K Mart." They laughed. They talked amongst themselves about the growing numbers of "Mexicans" in our town. I asked Steve if he planed to stock any Spanish books in his store because as they had just said the Hispanic population is growing. They looked at me in disbelief.
Steve looked at me and said, "The 'Mexicans' in this town don't read, they're just a bunch of immigrants that can't even speak English, and besides I don't want them in my store most of them are troublemakers, or thieves." Steveís father started The xxx in the mid 40's.
I looked at Alex and said that I knew he and his father employed a lot of Hispanic people at the potato processing plant. His grandfather and father started Smith Inc. some fifty years earlier. "We have a lot of 'Mexicans' working there." Alex said talking about the plant. "I Don't get many immigrants though if that's what you mean, everything has to be legal. I get the 'Mexicans' that were too stupid to finish school and go to college."
I noticed that Oscar had not commented recently, although occasionally he nodded his head in agreement with his companions. Oscar Johnson's father started Johnson Sales Inc., a local store. I asked him some questions about Johnsons, he said, "I donít deal much with the 'Mexicans', I don't know any that could afford to buy a tractor, or of any bank around here that would lend them the money to do it." "Mostly what I've noticed," he continued "is that they're all over the place now. I cant even go shopping at Ridleys (a local grocery store) on Saturdays or Sundays anymore because that's when the 'Mexicans' come out, you'd think you're in Mexico if you didn't know better."
They talked among themselves for a moment. I sat trying to collect my thoughts, made an obvious gesture of checking the time on my watch, cleared my throat, and looking across the table, which suddenly seemed too small, I said, "I really have to be going now." I thanked them for making time in their busy day to meet with me.
"No problem, we weren't busy anyway, and besides we always meet here on Wednesday for the lunch special. Are you sure you won't join us?" asked Frank.
"Positive!" I said, "I've really had plenty thank-you!" We said our goodbyes and I left.
I have observed many changes during my life here in Rupert, I have also seen that many things remain the same. Relations between "Mexicans" and "Americans" remain poor. The reality is that so much potential is wasted by the delinquent school system here. I know first hand that segregated teaching does not work, and that the "White" Americans are receiving a far better education than their "Brown" American counterparts. Newly arrived immigrants have a difficult time because of the cultural and linguistic barriers. They group together for comfort and support because they have no one else to turn to but each other. People are judged by how well they can, or rather, cannot speak "the language." The majority of the farm labor preformed and required to bring in a harvest is done by the Hispanic people living here. There would be very few large farms requiring manual labor without them; however they are for the most part neither appreciated nor respected for what they do to help maintain this community's agricultural way of life. Both the newly arrived and the longer established Hispanic people are consumers, and they, just like the Anglos spend dollars to purchase goods and services they need and want. Business people who exclude potential customers need to reconsider their bottom line from an economic stand point at the very least.
The school system continues to be steeped in prejudice. Hispanic students are still expected to tolerate bigotry and biased treatment. Recently I talked with several of the staff members from Minico High School. Mrs. P- is a school administrator. She told me that approximately 20% of the students at Minico are Hispanic, and that has been about the average in the fifteen years since she started working there. No figures are available to determine how many of the Hispanic students who started Minico actually graduate. However according to Mrs. P-, it has been her observation over the years, that typically, it is less than half.
I also had the opportunity to talk with Mrs. W- , who also works with students at Minico. She talked about the growing "racial tension" at the School as if it were a completely new phenomenon. I knew that it was not, but did not tell her so. It had been through her a few days earlier, that I had arranged to speak with the members of the Latin Club. Mrs. W- asked if she could sit in on our meeting, saying that she hoped to gain some insight into this "sudden increase in racial tension" she had talked with me about earlier. The students and I talked for almost two hours. At first they were reluctant to say anything they thought a "white" person would not want to hear. I noticed several students looking occasionally toward Mrs. W- before answering a question or saying anything to me.
What I most wanted to know was how they felt, not what the School thought I should know, or a statistical number pulled from the record books. I looked at this group of students, they looked nervous and tense, unsure of what was expected of them. I took a beep breath and then in Spanish said to them, My mom was from Mexico: I had been a student here long ago, I knew what it had been like for me and the other Hispanics I went to school with, I wanted to know about them, I was interested in how they really felt. How the students responded to my Spanish spoken words, was evident in their smiling expressions. Mrs. W-'s wide eyed, open mouthed expression also reveled how she felt as she stared at me in disbelief. I knew that she had no idea what I had said to the students, but I wondered if she thought I had tricked her by not revealing to her my heritage at the beginning. Should I have said to her when we first met, "My name is Rose and I'm Mexican?" It was the only way I knew to get the hesitant students to trust me, and open up. Our conversation changed after that, they stopped looking at Mrs. W- for approval, or some silent signal giving them permission to speak, and just talked.
They told me about three different instances accruing at Minico recently when "Mexicans" and "Americans" rumbled, to put it in their words. The "Mexicans" got suspended the "Americans" got nothing, said one angry student. Mrs. W- was quick to point out to them that the "White" students had each received one hour detention for their part in the fights. "They get one hour, and we get three days, that's how it is here, commented an angry young student voice.
The students told me about "Teachers" that Donít like "Mexicans" in their class rooms. "They make it hard to be in their classes, if you're a 'Mexican' they won't answer your questions if you didn't understand something, but if a 'Gringo' asks the same question a minute later, then they'll say something like, 'that is a very good question ' and answer them, but not us," complained Hil. "Ya and they treat you like your stupid too," added Agnes. Mrs. W- confirmed, without mentioning any names, that there are five "Teachers" at Minico who have a difficult time with Hispanic students in their class rooms, and that the school thought they would be able to work through this problem.
"What's really bad is the way they (White-American Anglo students) look at you, like your trash or something." "No one here really expects you to actually graduate, and that's how we are treated," commented John.
I listened to what they had to say, I saw the expressions on their faces, and in their eyes. I wanted to be able to tell them that things would get better, and that their education was just as important, to the school system and to the community as any "White Anglo Americans" education was. I could not make such a claim, because I know the opposite to be true, although I did not say that, either. I remembered all to vividly how I felt when I was their age and went to that school.
First, to those "Teachers" that have a "problem" with Hispanic students in their classes, they should resign or be fired. In this day-and-age prejudice bigoted instructors should not be tolerated. That they are, only exemplifies how deeply rooted the problem is here. Segregation in the schools must stop. It puts both low income and minority children at a disadvantage from the beginning. By seeing minority groups as problems, it deflects attention away from the minority group and its culture. So long as the majority group children are not seen as needing to learn another culture, implicitly they are being taught that minority groups should be treated like second-class citizens, either by refusing to take their traditions and beliefs seriously or with a patronizing acceptance aimed at manipulating them. The school system here tries to eliminate minority cultures and make everyone like White middle-class people, except the White people here in society, make sure you know they do not want the minority Hispanics to be a part of their social structure.
I would not pretend to know the specifics of the various instructional methods available today. However I do know that the school system here is in need of a great many changes, and they should be considered as serious as they are, and be attended to. The all white Anglo male school board has demonstrated its ineptness at handling the situation here. How many more Hispanics will be undereducated by our school system before some changes are made I wonder. "The most productive approach in improving education for minorities has been a school-community partnership. In this partnership, the community's contribution is to define the problem. The school, representing both the dominant culture and the education profession, then contributes to problem solving abilities. The coequality of school and community can strengthen school-community relationships and can reveal problem areas which have escaped previous identification.".
A new school board must be formed. One comprised of both peoples here, brown and white, men and women who truly have the children's best interests at heart. Volumes have been written about Multicultural education. The new school board along with a group of teachers chosen from various grades should study the curriculums available and then choose one, or tailor make one, which would be best for our area and its people, all its people, and implement it.
To ease relations a few services are needed. First, Rupert needs an information center. A place where newly arrived immigrants, or anyone new to the area for that matter, can go for basic information. Where is a good doctor or dentist, information about housing, where to go if you need a job, or where is the Post Office for example. And because there are no city ordinances in the barrios of Mexico, and possibly other places in the world, it would also be a help to have at least a list of city ordinances available. I am sure that if someone had told Felix that the boiling of pigs heads is not usually done in the front yard, he would not have done so, and then the Police would not have had to come to his house after his "White American" neighbor called and complained.
English as a second language should be taught openly and free of charge because English, both the language and the culture, create the very barriers used to judge people who are unlike the Anglo majority. Times and locations should be convenient, and grade school students whose parents do not speak English could be targeted through the school system. I wish I could tell every mono-linguistic Anglo American how hard it is for a native Spanish speaker to make the hard sharp sounds of the English language. The flip side of this coin is the farmer who would directly benefit from learning to speak Spanish. Because farming is the main source of our communities economy, farm labor it would follow is also an important part of the whole. As a farmer who at some point in making his living, will employ people who do not, at the beginning speak English, would it not be wise to be able to speak to them. Some farmers have learned a little Spanish; more need to. If Rupert had a cultural or information center, which would be an ideal place to learn both English and Spanish. The only way anything wonderful like this could happen would be to introduce the idea to the general public in Rupert and convince them how beneficial it would be form an Anglo point of view. "Mexicans" could learn to speak English, and our farmers would have a helpful place for them to go, or call when they need to know how to tell "Their Mexicans" to move the lines south, what time to be in the field, or what field to be in. This Idea would first be presented in several different radio announcements, followed by scheduled town meetings. Once the problems and benefits were known, and communicated openly, city and public funding along with volunteer help could be secured.
To the business men and women of Rupert who choose to make Hispanic shoppers uncomfortable in their stores that their Daddies started, and who choose not to carry items Hispanics might like to purchase, Spanish books in the only book store in town for example, I would like to say to them that they need to take a class in economics. Perhaps some day I could say just that. The fact of the matter is, there are over three-thousand Hispanic people living here in this small town of only sixteen-thousand. They all buy things, food clothing furniture, appliances, cars the list goes on and on. It only makes good business sense to provide the items they want to perches, because if existing businesses do not, a new business will.
I stood at the top of the wall again today, watching as both sides went on about the business of living. My bridge makes it easier for me to function here in this raciest community. I make a mental note to thank my parents, my Dad who taught me about survival, and to never stay down. "Get back up there," he would say every time I hit the dirt, and my Mom who gave me "La Familia."