CINCO DE MAYO, or
Imagine how many teachers we could have hired with all that money they spent building that border fence!
All across the southwestern United States, previously known as Mexico, the fifth day of May, Cinco de Mayo, inspires parades, huge spreads of Mexican foods, margaritas of course, and vague explanations of some kind of independence day. Actually, the day is special because the "they" is now "we." Mexicans -- both recent arrivals and those with generations of family history in "el norte" -- are, along with immigrants from Central America, becoming our new majority. These children are the children in our schools, the coming face of the nation beyond this southwest region.
Indeed, we have much to celebrate -- and much to learn.
One cause for celebration: finally, finally some dual language Spanish-English schools in Texas. Embarrassingly late, rarely fully funded, but immediately in high demand.
Another cause for celebration: the always informative, insightful and unabashedly challenging blog by my colleague Professor Angela Valenzuela at the University of Texas-Austin. A reliable and timely source for policy analysis (and monitoring of the Texas legislature), and today offering a story that explains what Cinco de Mayo is and is not, along with a creative celebration of the day by a group in Arizona.
Cinco de Mayo captures in one day the ambiguities and legacies of colonization, making us ask who is being colonized today? And who (and what) are the colonizers? Here is one story, one answer:
"Now we make you ugly, my mother said...In the mirror I watched her move the piece of charcoal across my face. It's a nasty life, she whispered.
It's my first memory. She held an old cracked mirror to my face. I must have been about five years old. The crack made my face look as if it had been broken into two pieces. The best thing you can be in Mexico is an ugly girl."
With this powerful image, novelist Jennifer Clement introduces us to the lives of girls and women in rural Mexico, tenacious in their dreams, fierce in their mutual protection, and caught in the cross-border violence of US demand and Mexico's drug cartel supply chain. The minute I finished reading Prayers for the Stolen, I read passages a second time to hear again the voices of the girls in the Guerrero region of Mexico. (I won't give away the name of the narrator, which completely unexpectedly evokes the British royals.) I added it to my course syllabus and bought copies to give away.
A poetic account of courage, fear, resilience, absurdity, and hope, and a portrait of the long shadow of colonization that carries into the lives of the youth who are our neighbors, not across an international border, but down the street and in our classrooms.
I heartily recommend you rush out to your nearest independent bookstore and grab a copy of Prayers for the Stolen -- and let me know if it raised your hopes, made you angry, and maybe sparked your imagination for ways we can take down those border walls, celebrate a shared history and imagine a more just future.