Without knowing it, our words can be easily turned into muddy shoes.
Let me explain.
Recently, a person unknowingly, took their muddy shoes (their words) and trampled on my accomplishments. Their words unwittingly undermined my story.
A Puerto Rican girl from humble beginnings, with an illiterate mother and a father whose first language was Spanish, and didn’t come to America until the age of 13.
She didn’t learn how to read until fifth grade, and even then, for years struggled with the composition of writing- expressing herself through the written word .
She dreamed of becoming the first member of her family to receive a college degree.
Despite how high the cards were stacked against her, she was accepted to her dream school- DePaul University, and received a bachelor’s degree in education. But, her educational journey didn’t stop there, she would go on to receive two Masters Degrees, one from Erikson Institute the other from Concordia University.
My journey wasn’t easy.
I had to make sacrifices, and overcome many obstacles. But looking back, I know God took me through this journey to break through some generational curses- of poverty, alcohol addiction, verbal and physical abuse, and educational setbacks.
This blog is about three generations- my father, myself, and my daughter. These stories are intertwined through the Latino blood that runs deep within our veins.
However, it is important to note that our experiences are sadly not exclusive to us. We know many have struggled before us, with us and future generations must endeavor to overcome, what we faced.
To this day, my daughter has to face obstacles because of her Latino last name, and that is where my father’s journey began…
My Father’s Story, written by Carlos Maldonado
In the winter of 1968, my godmother/aunt, from my mother’s side, went to Puerto Rico for vacation. She persuaded my parents to move to Chicago.
So, in the summer of 1968 we came to Chicago, with only our clothes in our suitcases.
My aunt’s kids taught us how to answer basic questions in English, so that when we went to school we were at least a little prepared.
On the first day of school in 8th grade, I was horrified. The class was mostly black and white kids. I was the only Puerto Rican kid.
My white teacher asked, “What is your name?”
I told her, “Carlos Maldonado.”
She told me to repeat it, which I did.
She said, “mmm no. Your name is Charles McDonald. You are in America now, so your name is Charles McDonald. When I call your name, answer to Charles, Ok?”
I didn’t know what she was talking about, so I just said yes.
The next day when she was doing roll call, and said “Charles McDonald”, I didn’t answer. This made her really mad. She came over to me, told me to get up, took me – by the arm – to the back of the classroom, and told me to sit there until I learned to answer roll call.
Again, the next day, she did the roll call, and again I didn’t answer. For weeks, this happened.
Until, I was taken out the class and put in a classroom with kids with disabilities. I was demoted a grade, because I didn’t speak English, and mostly because I refused to answer to my, so called, “American name”.
My story, written by me.
It was my first day of Kindergarten. And I, unlike some crying students, was ecstatic to start school. I couldn’t wait to learn how to read.
But, that excitement was short lived. I was placed in a Bilingual Classroom. My teacher only spoke Spanish to us.
This would’ve been fine, if I was fluent in Spanish. But, my first language was English. At the time, it really was my only language. I barely understood basic Spanish, and I struggled to form simple sentences in Spanish.
While the colors, shapes, alphabet letters, and numbers were being taught in Spanish, I was doing my upmost best, to capture the gist of what was going on around me.
But, no matter how hard I tried, I was lost. The only time I felt at ease was during song time.
Oh, how comforting were the songs- De Colores and El Pollito Pio.
I am not sure how I ended up in the bilingual classroom. And why, I wasn’t switched to the English speaking classroom after the first week of school.
Perhaps, I was placed there as a result of my last name. Or, more likely than not, I was identified as someone who could help with adding to the school’s bilingual student count. Especially since, the student population was predominantly African American, and the Bilingual Teacher most likely needed students for her program.
You see, my dad’s education was “sink or swim” . The Bilingual Education Act was approved in 1968, the year my dad arrived in Chicago, and it took a few years for schools to develop an effective bilingual program in their buildings. Shoot, there are schools that are still struggling with this.
And, here I was, a fluent English speaker receiving a Transitional Bilingual Education in 1980.
After four months, I was finally placed in an all English classroom. But, the damage was done. The students already were taught the colors, shapes, alphabet letters and numbers in English. And they were moving on to learning the sounds of the letters.
I was behind.
And, that became my story for five years.
My daughter’s story, written by Bianca Ariel Sanchez
Northwestern University runs on a quarter system. Winter quarter is infamously the hardest of them all. The combination of frigid weather and dark nights, make it hard to motivate oneself into doing work. Can I get an amen?
Well, I too was hit with this winter quarter syndrome and procrastinated on an assignment for my Multimedia Storytelling class. It wasn’t a complete mess, just a typo here, an error there.
The next class, my professor began mid-quarter evaluation.
Now let me take you into this class for a minute. The population at Northwestern is not representative of the US population. There are 15 students in the class. Four are not white. Coincidentally, or perhaps not so, the majority of us minority kids are huddled at the end of the long conference room table, the farthest away from our white female professor.
I had been doing well in this class. I never caused any trouble, and mainly tried to blend in with the white conference room walls. So, I wasn’t expecting to hear anything negative.
When I walked out for my evaluation, my professor greeted me with a smile, and welcomed me to sit on the sofa in the middle of the hallway. I sat down, and waited to hear whatever average comment she was going to give me.
Then *** plot twist*** I got racially stereotyped.
Let me back up. Remember that assignment I procrastinated on?
Well, this professor took notice of the sloppy work. And, rather than suggest that the classic winter quarter syndrome had hit me hard, this teacher decided to ask me if I have always had a problem with grammar.
Because, as she said, “Well, I know with English as a second language….”
And in that moment, I felt as though I really couldn’t speak English.
For the record, I don’t speak Spanish fluently. I can understand it pretty well and possibly carry a basic conversation, but I do not consider it my second language, let alone first.
After attempting to regain speech, I mumbled through my sad story of procrastination and winter quarter syndrome. After which, she reminded me that she is always there to help me with my grammar.
She talked for another minute, then I walked back into class.
I looked at the class and realized none of those other students would have been asked the same questions that were asked of me. She would have asked them if they had a tough week, or if their computer broke down. Never, would she have asked if the cause of their errors was because English was their second language.
I was the only one.
The ironic thing is, I used to not embrace my culture as much as I do now. As of late I have developed an admiration for people that look like me. I listen to Shakira, not mainstream blonde Shakira, I am talking red-hair-punk chic, Spanish -singing Shakira. Every Monday I watch Gina Rodriguez on Jane the Virgin, #TeamMichael #Rogeliomybrogelio. I have been jamming to Broadway musicals, In the Heights and Hamilton by Lin Manuel Miranda, a fellow Mexirican. I even have begun trying harder in my Spanish class, actually attempting to retain some of the language.
It was like my Latino appreciation was flowing out of me, and my teacher picked up on it. I tried to laugh the situation off, but couldn’t. My mom and sister both told me I should have had a stronger reaction. I should have corrected her, or as Naomi said “cuss her out in Spanish, show her the language you really know.”
But I didn’t. I was silenced. And I regret it. Because, now I know if another Latina walks into that class and makes the smallest of errors, the same thing might happen to her. And, she too could feel as if, despite how she has proved her capability, despite the several well graded assignments, she is still a Latina that needs saving.
My father did become fluent in English. He received his high school diploma, and he went on to attend UIC (Circle Campus- as it was known then) for one year. But, he had to drop out because my mother became pregnant with me.
At an early age, my father instilled in me the importance of an education. He would always tell me, “use your brain, so you won’t have to use your hands too much in the future.”
My father and mother understood all too well, the struggles of having to work hard in the factories. Day after day, their bodies were overworked, and to this day, his body is paying for it.
I am not muddled by the muddy shoes that trampled it’s way through my past. But, it’s concerning that some can be so limited and constrained to their own cultural and experiential framework, that to totally disregard the inequality in both opportunity and impact of others, comes so freely.
Now, if anything, I am thankful. These last few days I was able to look back, and appreciate all that God has done for us. And, more importantly, I was able to have my dad write and share his story, as well as my daughter.
How beautiful it is for her to know her grandfather’s past, my past, and how that has influenced her present.
Sadly, her father and I had to inform her, that as a Latina, with a Spanish last name, she will experience this inequality again, somewhere down her path.
And, this won’t be the last time for any of us…