In the 60’s I was a Beatnik in El Paso with my first husband. It was a crazy time. We had this large calendar on the wall where we would put the dates until we could leave. We hated El Paso and spent our days listening to a lot of Lenny Bruce. I loved him! I also witnessed the Freedom riders getting dragged out of restaurants in Texts and it deeply effected me. So much so, I volunteered to wait for the busses in the hopes that I could interfere with the violence, as a demonstrator. But there wasn’t much I could do without getting beaten up myself.
Lack of respect for people in general was all around me. I was teaching for the first time in my life. My days were filled with trying to help people, however when I was interviewed by the Principal she said, “Now Judy! I don’t want you bringing in your New York Jewish ways!” She said I smelled of sex. I had a moment where I could have said, “Go fuck yourself”” But I realized this was where I was needed the most. And while the other teachers called their Mexican student Wetbacks, I did my job. Teach.
Many of the Mexican students were learning English for the first time. Getting past the language hurdle was the first step to getting to know who they were as people. I had a couple of students who were cousins; Matthew and Catalina Gonzalez. They knew more English than the others and ended up being the brightest kids in the class. They were very smart and eager to learn. The Mexican kids were so thirsty for information I could do no wrong. I taught them as much as I could fit into my days and they absorbed everything like a sponge.
I met the parents of a lot of the students on parents day and they were lovely. The other teachers treated them with disdain, but I told them all of the wonderful things about those kids.
To see Mexicans in any way besides with respect is purely prejudiced. Back then they were productive and had a growing middle class. I remember feeling safe and inspired by their creativity. And regardless of how much money they have they made beautiful things and sold them in the streets. They were driven to get out of poverty and educate their children. And they have.
I haven’t been there in years, but I often think of my students and their parents. I wonder what they think about Trumps plan to build a wall. They were forward thinking like I was and I know I don’t like the idea of it at all. If one goes up, I plan to help tear it down. Maybe they’ll help me.