|The ninth annual Slice of Life|
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Thursday, March 17, 2016
Aracelli and Gloria #SOL16 Day 17
Both girls carried green cards indicating their legal status as Mexican immigrants. Both girls worked diligently in my classroom, which at the time was a temporary trailer that had been permanently located nearly a block from the nearest restroom on the Kofa campus. The school had a large migrant population, and Gloria and Araceli belonged to that demographic.
As the school year progressed, the girls started babysitting my boys. Often I'd take them home to San Louis after school activities.
When I first met Araceli her family lived in a dilapidated trailer I was forbidden to enter.
Eventually, Araceli's family moved into a house, which was built with government funding for migrant families. Araceli's parents didn't speak English, but Araceli would invite me into the house to visit with her parents anyway. The house had no furniture, sans mattresses on the bedroom floors, so I would sit on the kitchen floor and lean against the wall with Araceli's father sitting across the room where he leaned against the cabinetry. Araceli stood to my left, to her father's right. From her standing position, Araceli translated as her father and I talked between sips of Tecate beer.
Mom spoke few words. She labored at the stove to my right and served the father and me tamales. These lovely people treated me as an honored guest in their home, and I loved them the way I loved Araceli. They gave me the best they had.
More importantly, Araceli's parents gave this country, the United States of America, their best. They gave their children to American schools, and their children blessed me by being my students. They gave their physical comfort as they labored in lettuce and cabbage fields, labor that fixed their hands in permanent bowl shapes, labor that froze their posture in permanent bows, labor that began when they awoke at 4:00 a.m. to catch the bus to the field at 5:00 a.m., labor that ended at dusk.
The Sotos worked harder than any people I have ever met. They are vertebrae in the backbone of this country, as are all other farm laborers who do the backbreaking field work and do it for wages far below the minimum. They are the reason why we have cheap food.
Like most migrant workers, Araceli's and Gloria's families had little money, so I started taking the girls to San Louis, Mexico to see a seamstress I had employed. I could show this lady a picture of a dress, and she'd make it for me for $8.00. That was in the late 1980s. I took Araceli and Gloria to the seamstress to have their prom dresses made.
On the night of prom, Araceli and her date, Misael (the spelling may be wrong), stopped by my home to show me the dress, which was a lovely drop-waist, t-length, asymmetrical satin gown, black on the bottom and teal on top. Misael had a matching cummerbund and boutonniere.
On another occasion, Gloria's parents invited me to their home for an anniversary party. My husband and I went. We were two of fewer than ten people who spoke English, but language wasn't a barrier. We ate goat, a delicacy in Mexican culture, and had a glorious time experiencing traditional Mexican culture.
Gloria taught me to dance. Growing up Baptist, I hadn't learned, so when Dirty Dancing came out, and we were all swooning to "The Time of My Life" and going gaga over Patrick Swayze, Gloria rescued me from my two left feet and gave me some dance lessons.
Teaching in Yuma afforded me a chance to experience a culture I knew only from a distance. In Yuma a developed a personal relationship with the Mexican culture by getting to know Mexican people. That's something impossible to do through soundbites and headlines.
I hadn't thought about Gloria and Araceli in a long time. The revolving door of students from year to year fixes a teacher's gaze in the present, but a memory sparked returns me to the past where I can reflect on the lessons I've learned and the ways I've grown and changed.