“bad, dirty people …”

Villasenor, V. (2004). Burro Genius: a Memoir. New York: HarperCollins. pp. 57-93.

Victor Villasenor began kindergarten just like any other five-year-old—anxious and spirited. He took a lot of pride in his religious beliefs—which were passed down orally from his mamogrande (grandmother), to his father, and then to him—and his parents who survived the bloodthirsty Mexican Revolution and built a life for themselves in America. From this day forward, Victor would be forced to endure his personal hell: school.

Within a couple of days, Victor’s kindergarten teacher broke his spirit, torn down his self confidence, and tainted his perception of his family and their people. In a “huge, awful scream” she shouted “‘ENGLISH ONLY!’ As she came rushing down the aisle toward us Mexican kids in the back” (pp. 61). Following the teacher’s outburst, he timidly asked if he could be excused to use the bathroom; to Victor’s surprise, the teacher refused to allow him to leave. Victor peed his pants in class and silently asked to Papito Dios to watch over and protect him at school (pp. 63). Victor assumed he would find some relief at recess where he could play with the other Mexican kids and speak a little bit of Spanish. To their disbelief, he and his friends were publicly reprimanded on the playground for speaking their native language—the only language they have ever known and one “that felt good to hear in the sound of the language with which our mothers had rocked us to sleep when we’d been little” (pp. 70).

Victor notes that “life at school became a living nightmare, because now I could see very clearly … that I was becoming what everybody told me about Mexicans; they were stupid-liars and sneaky and couldn’t be trusted, and why? Because we were no-good people” (pp. 93). Following the most hellish day he had ever had, his dreams quickly became nightmares as he imagined his schoolteachers with “big, sharp teeth like a dog’s” who were determined to attack any child who uttered a word in Spanish (pp. 66). In addition, he began to believe that his parents were ignorant fools because they believed Mexicans were a respected and hard-working people (pp. 66). Only Victor knew how wrong they were …

Several months later, Victor befriended two white cowboys traveling through their hometown; these men told Victor that Mexicans were “naturally warm, loving, good people” (pp. 81). With tears in his eyes, Victor realized for the first time that “maybe Mexicans really weren’t bad people, after all. So, then, maybe it was alright for me to love mi familia” (pp. 82). Though Victor regained his confidence and faith in his family, he was still unable to believe in himself. He knew that he was slow in school and different from his peers but thought it was because he was Mexican; he never would have imagined that he had a legitimate learning disability. It would take over 40 years to discover this. Until then, Victor would suffer immensely at the hands of his brutal and unforgiving schoolteachers.

“To break a horse, for the cowboys, actually, really meant to take a green, untrained horse and rope him, knock him down, saddle him while he fought to get loose, then mount him as he got up on all four legs, and ride the living hell out of the horse until you tired him out, taught him who was boss, and broke his spirit.”

Villasenor, V. (2004). Burro Genius: a Memoir. New York: HarperCollins. pp. 90.
Image retrieved from: http://archive.jsonline.com/entertainment/arts/victor-villaseors-books-track-difficult-journeys-7g55n9i-149360375.html

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