Years ago, I attended Divine Heart Seminary in Donaldson, Indiana. I recently went to a DHS reunion where my classmates and I remembered our Spanish teacher Enrico Mordini. Señor Mordini was the Spanish teacher who taught me a lot about being Mexican even though he was an Italian born in Italy and raised in Spain. He taught me that there is more than one way to speak Spanish. I never realized there were so many dialects. I was originally in his Spanish I class, but he moved me up to Spanish II because I knew some Spanish. I had always wanted to learn Spanish formally so that I could read and write it. As an aside, when I attended Holy Cross Grade School, since the Lithuanian school didn’t offer Spanish classes, I asked if I could go to Saturday morning classes to study Lithuanian. I was told, “First, you have to learn English.”
Once I started classes with Señor Mordini, I questioned whether I even knew Spanish. He said some words so differently from my mother that it took me some time to recognize them. For example, “to drink” to my mother and me was “tomar” and to Señor Mordini it was “beber.” I had never even heard the word “beber” before! When my mother said “good” in Spanish, she would not say it the same way as Señor Mordini’s “bueno,” but rather, she would say, “güeno” instead. The Spanish word for needle was “aúja” to my mother and me, but to Señor Mordini, it was “aguja.” Our word wasn’t even in the dictionary without the letter g. When I informed my mother of these differences, she said that’s because Señor Mordini spoke “castellano” and not “español.” When I told Señor Mordini what my mother had said, he said that “castellano” and “español” were synonyms for the Spanish language. My mother never really believed him! After all, he wasn’t Mexican. In fact, he wasn’t even Spanish either. He was Italian!
Once while discussing Mexican culture in class, I said that I knew all Mexicans were a mixture of Spanish and Aztec blood. I was shocked when he said that was only partially true because not everyone, in fact, not many people were purely of Spanish and Aztec ancestry. I insisted that I was right. Even my father had told me so. Even after several convincing arguments by Señor Mordini that there were people in Mexico of pure, unmixed Spanish blood , I still didn’t believe him. When I reported this to my mother, she said that not all Mexicans were only of Spanish and Aztec ancestry. In fact, her grandfather had been Irish! “What?” I was so shocked. “Why didn’t you tell me before?” I asked my mother. She just nonchalantly said, “I didn’t think it was important.” Suddenly, I was sixteen and learning for the first time that I had more than just Spanish and Aztec blood coursing through my veins. In fact, I might not even have Spanish or Aztec blood coursing through my veins. I was in shock! It took me years to adjust to this new discovery about my ancestry. Was this a possible explanation for why my best friend in the Catholic Lithuanian grade school was Patrick McDonald from Ireland? But the fact remained that Señor Mordini was right again!
Years later, when I applied to teach Spanish at a community college, I was hoping against hope to get the position because I saw in the school catalogue that Señor Mordini was on the faculty! But such was not my luck. Señor Mordini died that year and I didn’t get the position! I suffered two severe blows at once. But I was lucky enough to have met Señor Mordini when I did. He certainly made more aware of myself and made me a much better person.
Above: This was the Spanish classroom at Divine Heart Seminary in Donaldson, Indiana, in the 1970s. This is one of the many schools where Señor Enrico Mordini taught. As an aside, Señor Mordini had a good sense of humor and got along well with the students. Once my classmates talked me into hiding in the fire escape, which was a giant slide in a huge metal tube on the right in the picture but out of view, and Señor Mordini humored us by looking for me wherever my classmates suggested: under his desk, under the student desks, behind the bulletin board, etc. 🙂