Adventures in Education: Mexico and the U.S.
Delta Winds: A Magazine of Student Essays
A Publication of San Joaquin Delta College
Adventures in Education: Mexico and the U.S.
One of my sharpest memories took place when I was in second grade in Mexico. That morning my brother and I were eating our usual cereal for breakfast, dreading the time to start our thirty-minute walk to school. I had been complaining about having to walk to school. When my mom came into the kitchen, I told her that I did not feel like going to school that day because it was freezing cold. That was all it took to spark her anger. I had never seen her react that way. I had done worse things than complain in the past, but none of them had triggered such a reaction. She grabbed me by the shoulders and stood face to face with me while she yelled, "I am tired of your complaining!" I will never forget the look in her eyes. I am not sure if it was a look of anger, disappointment, or both, but it made me feel like I was the worst human being on the planet. One thing is for sure, though: I have never seen that look again in my life.
As I matured, I came to understand that my mother's fierce reaction on that day was based on her determination to give her children better educational opportunities than she had herself. My mom grew up in a very poor area in the south of Mexico, and she finished only the first grade. In her town, basic things like electricity and clean drinking water were not considered essential-and were not available. Having teachers was almost a luxury. There was only one classroom, and the teaching position was hard to fill due to the poverty of the town. The few teachers who were assigned to the local school stayed for only the year that it took them to get their credential. They then left. My mom was lucky to attend school for a year. Many parents did not bother to send their kids at all. She was barely able to learn some numbers, the alphabet, and a few short words before the teacher moved away. Still, that was all she needed to continue on her own. She knew about a literacy show on the radio, and every morning she would sneak out her dad's small battery radio and tune in the show. Listening to that show, my mom started learning the sounds of consonants and vowels put together, and eventually mastered reading and writing. She learned the basics of arithmetic on her own later in life. With this behavior, she created a positive role model for me. I share my mom's thirst for knowledge. I was always among the top students in my classes in Mexico.
However, my schooling in Mexico would not be the only educational challenge for me. Walking to second grade in the cold has been sharply etched in my mind. And it has only been matched by my first day of high school-here in the United States.
It was five o'clock on a Monday morning when my alarm went off. The few moments of peace vanished with the sound of the alarm. It had been really hard to make myself go to sleep the night before. I was awfully nervous about the upcoming day. I would have been less nervous if it were not for the fact that it was not simply my first day of high school. It was also the first time I would be attending a school in the United States. I had been living in this country for only a month. I knew merely a few words of English, and on that day, I had to go out on my own to figure out how the school system worked. I reached out for the alarm and turned it off. I thought about the long day ahead of me. It took a large amount of will power, but I finally managed to get up just because I didn't want to be late on my first day.
My sister had been of enormous help, giving me an orientation about the bus schedule. She explained when and where to take them. I did not realize, however, she had forgotten a minor detail until I was on the bus and my stop was approaching. She never told me how to let the driver know I was getting off. I didn't give it much thought until I got up and walked towards the driver, the way we did back in Mexico, but the driver never stopped. That is when I realized that things were done differently here. I felt the stares from almost everyone in the bus; a couple of boys giggled and pointed towards me. As I walked back to my seat, my face burned with embarrassment. Luckily, one of the ladies in the bus understood and signaled me to pull the cord next to the window. I pulled the cord and a green light in front of the driver turned on and he stopped soon after. I knew how to say thank you, so I thanked the lady and ran out of the bus.
With that start, I did not expect the rest of my day to be any better, and it was not. As I walked to my classroom, I paid close attention to the conversations of the people around me. I was trying to locate people who spoke Spanish. Without any luck, I just kept walking to my classroom. Once there, I listened in to the students around me.
It was finally time to start. The teacher began with a short introduction, which I tuned out because I did not recognize any of the words besides "good morning." After a while, everyone got up and began to make a circle. I mimicked their movements, but I was clueless about the imminent activity. One girl across from the circle was the first to speak. She started with the words "My name is" and continued to say something that was incomprehensible to me. Then it was the turn of the person next to her.
I felt cold as ice and my legs began shaking when I realized we were doing introductions. I counted ten people ahead of me. It all seemed like a slow torture. I could barely breathe when the person next to me spoke. It was finally my turn, and I could not say a word. Everyone waited. At last I managed to say, "My name is Eloisa," in the shakiest voice I had ever heard. Everyone waited for me to elaborate, but I could not say anything else. The teacher said something that I assumed was an encouragement to say something about myself, but I just shook my head and looked at the floor. The person next to me began to speak, and as she did her introduction I felt like leaving the classroom and hiding in a place where they would never find me. Unfortunately, I still had an entire year ahead of me.
The rest of my classes were not as painful because there were no more introductions involved. During lunch, as I waited in the food line, I heard two girls behind me speaking Spanish. My feelings from that moment can be compared to those of someone who had just found an oasis in the middle of a desert. I was beyond excited because I had finally found someone I could talk to. I immediately turned to approach them. I introduced myself and asked if I could sit with them during lunch. They assented, and we started to talk about our classes. Sadly, lunch was over too soon. When the bell rang, I had to go back to being on my own. The feeling of relief I felt during lunch did not return until the bell rang again at 2:10, signaling the time to go home.
My first day of high school was one of the toughest days of my entire life. However, I would not change anything even if I could. It was a hard experience, but on that day I learned a lot about my strengths. Now, I like to reflect back to that day whenever I feel intimidated about a new challenge. After that day, I can face anything.
Thinking back to that morning during second grade, I can now understand and justify my mother's reaction. My mom did not want me to be the kind of person who quits when a few adversities appear. She did not want me to throw away the educational opportunity that I had in hand. I realize now that by forcing me to take that long, cold walk to the classroom in the second grade, she was helping me to develop the strength that would enable me to survive greater challenges, such as that traumatic first day of high school in my new country. She made me a stronger person by encouraging me to take advantage of the opportunities that she never had.