Who Am I?
I was born in South Texas. As far back as I can remember every year, we did the same thing year after year. We would pack up our belongings and head north. Along the way we would visit family, In La Vernia, San Antonio, and Marlin. Our destination was usually, Olton, Morton, Levelland most of the small towns where cotton was planted. We went to pick cotton. Everyone picked cotton, including me. It was a routine.
“Usually I was the only Mexican American in school.”
There was little opportunity for me to meet children my age. We were all picking cotton. Once I stated going to school, I would make it point to go to every school in every town we visited. Usually I was the only Mexican American in school. My lunch were tacos. Occasionally, White students would see me eating my tacos and come by and ask me what I was eating. Usual rely was, “tacos.” To which the reply was “I’ll trade.” We would exchange lunch.
In the evening my parents would tune in to XEW, a Mexican radio station and we would listen to novelas. Saturday afternoon and Sunday were our days off. Saturday was tub-bath day. Sunday we would all go to whatever small town we were at go to the movies. At first there would be the news portion, then Tarzan and lastly a Mexican movie. My Spanish was Mexican and my accent proved it. I was culturally a Mexican.
All this was to change when there was no more cotton to pick and we went to San Antonio. I started the 6th grade at Burleson Elementary. Although we were all Mexican Americans, we were not the same. Most kids spoke English. I spoke a different Spanish. And with an accent. I made my way to Edgewood HS. I still did not fit in with the other kids but I felt more comfortable. Speaking Spanish was forbidden. Twice I incurred the wrath of the Dean of Boys for speaking Spanish and I got swatted three times in my rear. Today I call that child abuse.
This was the same Dean of Boys who called me into his office and informed me that I was being suspended from school for playing hooky. I worked. My question to him was where was he when I was picking cotton and did not go to school. Life is not fair. So, I walked out. A few days later I was on my way to Fort Carson for Army basic training.
Fort Carson had its own challenges but I finally made it through and I was on my way to Europe. For some reason I was stopped at Fort Dix. Waited for a few days until I was forwarded to Germany by air. Fortunate. Everybody else went by ship. Reason I got stopped was that I had to process a security clearance.
Got to my first assignment. It too was a blessing and a curse. I was not exactly welcomed by my fellow soldiers. But I recalled other Mexican Americans and African American being kicked out of the Army for fighting or as the Army called it troublemakers. Eventually, I stopped being innocent and learned to strike back with equal voraciousness.
What came out of this is that the Yankee soldiers decided one day that they were going to get rid of my Mexican accent. So, their threat that if I did not participate voluntarily I would do so involuntarily, convinced me that I should play along. Every night we would sit down and practice speaking in English.
It was also in my first assignment that I became culturally a WASP. The officers that I worked with were all college graduates. They would correct me when words that I used had a different meaning that what I used. For example, my Mexican upbringing taught me a lot of words. The best one that I can remember is “molestar” In Spanish it means bother. A literal translation to Spanish is molest. I went through this process of acculturation.
I went to Spanish centers where I played chess with Spaniards. They had a good laugh at my Spanish. Which they all agreed was not Spanish. I learned from them. Then I married a Spaniard. Every time I went to Spain on vacation, I practiced my Castilian Spanish. Then I went to Spain for over six years. Eventually, I spoke flawless Castilian Spanish.
Finally, I returned to Texas. I returned a misfit. My Spanish and culture were out of sync with my environment. I have gone through several transformations. Which one of them am I the most of today?