Posts Tagged ‘menudo’

NEA Today Article: Border Crossing

August 19, 2008

BORDER CROSSING

NEA Today

By John Rosales

Throughout the year, Rivera High School custodian Ramón Tamayo fires up his grill to celebrate his children’s birthdays. In addition to standards like hot dogs and chicken, his inventive Tex-Mex menu might feature cabrito (roasted goat), menudo (tripe soup), and ceviche (marinated shrimp).

In 2006, when Tamayo’s friend from work, second-year teacher and native New Yorker Matthew Webster, attended the birthday party of Tamayo’s 12-year-old daughter, he learned a classic Brownsville, Texas, tradition.

“They grill on the front lawn here,” says Webster, 24. “In New York, we grill in back.”

Grilling traditions are just one of many differences between these unlikely pals: a teacher and a custodian from separate generations, with diverse backgrounds and a different first language. Yet, their friendship developed around what they have in common: a passion for soccer and a commitment to helping students deal with cultural barriers.

Webster would seek out Tamayo, 54, after school as Tamayo cleaned classrooms during his evening work shift.

“It was our time to talk,” says Webster. “After I found out that he played and coached soccer in Mexico, I asked for his help with the team.”

In addition to teaching English and ESL, Webster also coaches a speech club and the junior varsity boys soccer team.

“¿Cómo se dice esta palabra (How do you say this word)?” Webster says he would ask in one breath, then in the next, “Which is the best soccer team in Mexico?” Tamayo always took the time to answer.

“He took me under his wing,” Webster says. And that’s exactly what Webster needed. The lifelong East Coaster had signed up with Teach for America after his 2006 graduation from Penn State. Traveling down to the Rio Grande Valley, Webster imagined “tumbleweed and cowboy country.” In reality, he says, he found “America’s Mexico.”

He recalls the first time he came to the security checkpoint about 50 miles north of where he would be living. “I wondered what kind of place I was going to…a no-man’s land where they stop motorists and inspect their cars.”

The high school honors graduate and marathon runner who studied in Ireland found himself more than a little disoriented among the farms, fields, and sweat of Texas’ southernmost city.

“I didn’t know who to go to with language and cultural issues,” says Webster.

He felt fortunate that Tamayo was willing to help him navigate his new home, a place of many intersections, between First and Third Worlds, wealth and poverty, English and Spanish.

Tamayo has worked at Rivera for three years but he’s lived in the city for almost 20. He knows many of the school’s 2,000 students and most of the neighborhoods in Brownsville and its sister city of Matamoros, Mexico. Reflective and reserved but not without a sense of humor, Tamayo speaks little English and is known as an excellent cook and athlete who once coached soccer in Mexico.

“He is very important to me,” says Tamayo, in Spanish, of Webster. “We have different backgrounds, but once we got to know each other we found out we have a lot in common.”

It’s not unusual for a new teacher to find a friend or mentor who is an education support professional (ESP), says Laura Montgomery, president of the NEA National Council for ESPs.

“When new teachers arrive at school, there’s always an ESP around to help them get oriented,” Montgomery says. “Teachers and ESPs might have different roles [at school], but they have the same mission to serve students.”

In addition to classroom issues, Webster and Tamayo also enjoy talking about Brownsville’s border culture.

“I taught him to eat Mexican food with lots of chili,” Tamayo says.

Nopales, Enemies, and Assets…

April 6, 2008

Gandhi once wrote, “In the dictionary of the non-violent there is no such word as an external enemy” (Satyagraha, 93). This concept is key to understanding the dynamics of India’s liberation movement, King’s civil rights movement, and the ongoing use of nonviolence. For Gandhi, an “enemy” is just someone who doesn’t realize they are his friend yet. If one views opposition as a potential ally, then reconciliation is the aim rather than victory. Victory is achieved together through mutual progress.

Relocating to la frontera, one is confronted with a host of new cuisine. Barbacoa (stewed beef cheek), tamales veracruzano (corn paste baked in a banana leaf), elotes (roasted corn swimming in mayonnaise), menudo (spicy stew made of cow intestines and touted to be the ultimate hangover cure) – all these new foods astound newcomers to the border and remind us all of limitless creativity.

But the food I love best here in Brownsville and Matamoros are nopales.

Nopales are prickly-pear cacti. Their fruits, tunas, are a delicious mix between honeydew and pomegranate. But it is the spiky cacti themselves that are a delicacy here on the border. De-spined, the green fleshy vegetable is diced and stewed for hours. It is often served with eggs for breakfast – mmmm, huevos con nopales in the morning.

I am struck by the nonviolence this food embodies. Most people when confronted with a cactus write it off as something to be avoided, a painful and dangerous plant. Other people would try to clear these cacti from their land, equating them with weeds and scrub. But the Mexicanos and Tejanos on this border look at these short, spiky plants and see nourishment. Instead of a nuisance, nutrition; instead of an enemy, an asset.

In life, there are those who view people as assets, and those who view people as liabilities. Those who call for the mass deportation of 12 million people, even at the staggering cost of $100 billion dollars, see people as liabilities. Homeland Security currently views people as liabilities and threats so much that it is willing to disregard 39 laws protecting men, women, and animals in order to rush the construction of the border wall. Nativistic dialogue from xenophobic showman highlight the worst in us humans, while neglecting to show the millions of individuals committed both to their family and this country.

We must recognize that every person is an asset to our nation if this is truly to become a fully-integrated Beloved Community. As a teacher and a nonviolent social activist, I must look at people and see their potential for goodness rather than their capacity for evil. In the end, everyone’s a nopale – it simply depends on how we look at them.

Charro Days Without a Wall

February 28, 2008

Charro Days Parade Elizabeth Street     Charro Days makes me happy to live en la frontera. Teenagers too cool to read come to school dressed in native Mexican caporals and anguila boots. Their jangling galas harken back to the first Charro Days some 71 years ago. Charro Days celebrates Frito Pies and tostadas, the indiscernible difference between American tejano music and Mexican norteño songs, the wild festivity of a good grito, the seamlessness of real integration.

    Charro Days, Inc., is a sister-city celebration between Brownsville and Matamoros. With the three bridges and shared population between them, these two cities flow into each other like the lazy Rio Grande which separates them. Parades march through both cities, celebrating life and bi-cultural peace on the border. Sombrero Fest brings several of the best tejano bands to Brownsville, while tacquerias flout their best flautas, tacos, menudo, enchiladas, pozole, elotes, carne asada, barbacoa….

    This local festival flies in the face of the 2006 Secure Fence Act. This act, which calls for the construction of 700 miles of border wall, some of which will cleave Brownsville from Matamoros, cannot have been made by people who have celebrated Charro Days in Brownsville or Matamoros. No longer is Matamoros a potential haven for drug lords; no more is Brownsville the poorest city in the nation. For these few days, these cities are united in celebrating their history, their interconnectedness, their “inescapable network of mutuality.” The laughter, the bilingual children dancing in the streets, the cowboy hats and Mexican mariachi bands – what place does a wall have here? Even Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton weighed in on the wall’s effect on this tradition, saying, “”It is troubling to me that our country’s current border security plan threatens a South Texas tradition historically created to celebrate the sharing of cultures. As I discussed during the debate at the University of Texas at Austin last Thursday, I believe we need to re-evaluate the border wall as it is currently being implemented.” (Brownsville Herald)

 

    Coming from New York, I thought it strange at first that Brownsville schools do not celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. I longed for a special day to honor my personal hero, and I wanted the chance to talk to my students about this supremely important figure of nonviolence and social activism. I could not understand why a celebration called Charro Days was replacing the MLK Day of Service I had always known.

    While Brownsville could certainly use a day of service, I now feel Dr. King would revel in the Charro Days’ festivities. Charro Days celebrates his concept of the Beloved Community. For one day, Mexicans and Americans join together to make real the idea that, “Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds” (Martin Luther King Autobiography 189). The single garment of destiny Dr. King envisioned looks like a charra outfit worn by Mexicans and Mexican-Americans alike. In Sombrero Fest’s jubilation or the tremendous optimism of the Children’s Parade, King’s dream is realized as little white girls and little white boys hold hands with little brown boys and little brown girls. Immigrant and resident, legal and extralegal – none of these terms matter as the sounds and tastes of Matamoros and Brownsville mix in the February air.


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