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Friday, July 13, 2012

Guerrero Then and Now (part one)

Three girls, two of them twins the age of eleven, the other, only ten, are cousins. They sleep on a wide canvas cot stretched on a frame with tall wooden legs under a thin cotton sheet. The summer stars stand guard over them on the path behind the kitchen between their grandmother's sugar cane patch and her orchard of peaches, fig and orange trees.
Next door the neighbor's radio plays ranchera music on the station from Monterrey, 150 miles to the north. Ranchera music is the exact opposite of American pop, whether you like it or not. The twins, Artie and Alice, show their younger cousin Linda how to play loteria earlier that evening, sharing their bottle cap collection with her, and chuckling to themselves about when long ago, last summer, they used to play the game using dried up pinto beans instead of bottle caps. "It is and it isn't like bingo," they explained to Linda as she scooted forward to see better on the chair around the neighbor's kitchen table.

After loteria and before their showers and brushing their teeth, the girls crouch under a street lamp in front of their grandmother's house. The cement under their feet is still warm from the baking summer sun. The concrete has a shiny surface laced with curly imprints made from shells as tiny as the nails on the little toes of the girls' feet. At the base of the lamppost mounds of sand rise to make a home for ants and other insects drawn to the light in the night sky. That night as the cousins quiet down and stop giggling and gossiping, Linda dreams she and her twin cousins are giants hovering over their circus-animal sand lions, poking at their hill top homes with thin blades of grass to get them to come out and perform.

The world the cousin live in is invisible to the old people, their parents, aunts and uncles and grandmother. The girls speak tomeach other in pig Latin English and also the very different Spanish variety of pig Latin. They talk endlessly about boyfriends and music that is on the car radio.  When the cousins arrived to Texas, after the uncomfortable hellos and hugs were over, Linda would ask her uncle to let her listen to the radio in his station wagon so she could hear the songs they brought from the Arizona radio stations.

The adults are necessary nuisances. They are bossy and always right, and that is only the beginning. They talk all the time and about the most boring things no one cares about like old times at the ranch and the old Guerrero that was flooded over for the new lake and the dam. That is boring and meaningless to the cousins, but it gets worse. There is Tia Marta.

Guerrero Then and Now (part two)

Tia Marta is on the warpath. You can see that by the way her eyes turn into little slits when she sees us as she walks on the sidewalk toward Nana's house. Her two girls are too young to play with us. We are relieved, mostly because they act like babies and we are tired of their forever bringing up how Texas was stolen from Mexico. "They study history like they mean it here in Guerrero," says Artie to Linda. Alice stayed to help her mother with getting supper started. Alice is like that and Artie isn't. "Who cares about the Alamo anymore, that happened, what, a hundred years ago, right?" Tia Marta acts like we aren't even there when we catch up behind her on the sidewalk. Her two little girls stayed at home where she has a beauty shop.
Artie is the first to guess why Tia Marta is acting colder than normal. "She heard." "She heard what?" asks Linda.
"Pues," she says  like people from Arizona do every ten seconds, "She heard about our going riding with the boys last Sunday night." "Get out. How do you figure she heard?" "Somebody had to have seen the gringas going riding with the boys, pues in the convertible." "Do you think they also told her that we went 100 miles an hour in that car with those boys on the road over the dam?" "Pues I don't know about that, prima. Just in case, don't say anything about that, OK? I have to tell you how to do everything!" "No way, man. No way."

Guerrero Then and Now (part three)

Artie and Alice live with their husbands and children in Arizona. Their cousins Linda and the two little sister cousins, Maricela and Martita, all live in Texas now. This despite the little sister cousins' ideas about whether Texas is Mexico's or not. 

Most of the old people are gone, along with some of the younger ones who died from drink, violence and ALS, like my brother Chai.

Tia Marta also lives in Texas now with her daughters. The girls grew up to marry two brothers from Guerrero. They taught school there for many years. They were forced to abandon their homes and jobs there two years ago when men in expensive SUVs and trucks began to use their town to run their new businesses. These are dirty businesses that bring lots of new money and gunfights day and night in  all corners of the village.

Tia Marta's family is one of hundreds who have left. Even the priest left Guerrero. The school where my cousins once taught was forced to close because parents wouldn't let their children leave home to go to school, fearing for their safety. This is from what I've been told and read, since I don't dare to drive down to Guerrero anymore. Even at a 100 miles per hour, I wouldn't dare to cross the road over the dam to revisit my family's home. My brother's ashes wait to be dispersed over the ruins of Guerrero Viejo. Thankfully where he sits, time is not an important matter.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Thanks to a Teacher

The email arrived this morning with news I had prayed would not come.  My teacher and friend is dying. Her son is beside her, and I know she is, among all her ideas, feelings and words, facing her death with characteristic courage.

She kept in touch by email since her move from South Texas to Florida to live close to her son. She learned about the cancer at a routine mammogram examination. There were other tumors, and she knew the fight would be up-hill, but she was game. She loved living in Florida, and enjoyed the climate and the cultural atmosphere with her usual enthusiasm.

I met her at the introduction to the doctoral program, and felt in her a supportive spirit, even a champion. Throughout the nearly six years of the process, whether as a teacher, mentor or friend, I got to know her.  She was a guest at our home and generously shared her home with us.

She loves to follow politics online as well as on TV, and her courses reflected her interest in public policy and how education is affected at all levels. She attended the first political blogger's conference in Austin, excited to be a part of the new force on the political scene.

A teacher has many roles, some hard, others easier; giving counsel through a rigorous doctoral program is one that my teacher managed with calm, clear and certain language. I remember thinking through the fog of my frustrations during our many meetings, if she thinks I can do this, maybe I really can.

As I think of her today, my memories range from when we met and I was accepted into the program to the last time I saw her at graduation in December of 2009.  I often remember the excitement of being with her in class, or socially, as she energetically dissected an idea.

Most especially, I hope to always keep present in my heart that territory inside myself that she saw before I knew it existed and to which she introduced me.  This is an educator's most precious gift: letting her students know they are seen and heard, beyond the surface, and to the core.

It's the sustenance of the soul, a teacher's understanding. It's as faint as a breeze. Yet, when it refreshes a thirsty spirit, it is the encouragement that spins forward with its immeasurable strength all progress, all endeavors.