When I was at Holy Cross, Adam Mendez was my best friend in the first and second grades. Despite having a Spanish last name, he didn’t speak Spanish. I really don’t remember him when we were in kindergarten together, but I remember being happy to see on the first day of the first grade. Then he failed the second grade, but I still saw him a lot at lunch and after school. We were classmates again when I failed the fourth grade because my mother took my brothers and me to Mexico for three months during the school year. He was always funny and could make just about anybody laugh. He was the class clown and I always got in trouble for laughing at him. But he was so much fun that I didn’t mind. No matter what subject we were taught, Adam always found somethng funny to joke about and make the class laugh. In geography, he asked a lot of questions about Lake Titicaca, and in science, he purposely mispronounced the name of the planet Uranus. We spent a lot of time together because we lived on the same block. Sometimes we would go to his house after school, but I would have to leave before his mother came home from work so she wouldn’t know I was there. One day, we were wrestling on his back porch and I accidentally broke the screendoor window as I was falling backwards. Adam told me I had to stay until his mother came home so I could tell her what had happened. He didn’t want to get in trouble for the broken window. When I finally met his mother, I was surprised that she wasn’t Mexican. That explained why he didn’t speak Spanish. Anyway, she asked why I was there and I told her that I had accidentally broke the screendoor window. Since it was an accident, she told me to be more careful next time and go home. One day, we must have been in the fourth grade, Adam tells me that he can sing a whole song in Spanish. Of course, I didn’t believe him since he couldn’t speak Spanish. He said, “I can prove it. Come to my house and I’ll show you.” So we go to his house and he pulls out an LP with some Mexican singer on the album cover. He smiles mischievously as he puts the record on the phonograph. He strikes a pose of the Mexican singer on the album cover before the music begins. Then he begins singing along with the record. He sings, “Te quiero, te quiero, te quiero, te quiero …” And that’s all he sang. The whole song consisted of only the words “Te quiero” and nothing else. But true to his word, had sung a whole song in Spanish. I had to laugh because he had tricked me again.

¡Te quiero! ¡Te quiero! ¡Te quiero!


Don't even think about saying anything bad about Texas!
Laredo, Texas

I don’t even remember his first name. But I always think of him whenever I play chess and/or drink a beer.

I met him when we were in the Marines stationed at Camp Pendleton, California. He was your typical Mexican from Texas. A true Texican. Everyone called him Alva. He was short and stocky, what would be called husky in the boy’s department. He was particularly handsome. In fact, he had one eye a little bigger than the other, his teeth were crooked, and he always had a bad haircut. What he lacked in looks, he made up for in personality. He was always the joker and he always had everyone in the shop laughing.

He retained the rank of private because he was always getting into trouble and so he would never get promoted. Drinking was at the root of all his problems. I never saw him sober even once. He was always drunk or suffering from a hangover. When we stood in formation, he would always teeter during inspection. I’m surprised that he never fell over because a few times he was leaning more than the Tower of Pisa. Despite all his flaws, he had a girlfriend whom he had met near the base. That is, until he got into a fight at the club and wasn’t allowed to leave the base for months. So he would drink at the club everyday, only leaving to check in with the sergeant.

One day, he went to the club to watch Monday Night Football and later returned emotionally distraught. He told us that the game was interrupted for a special announcement: John Lennon had been shot! None of us could believe it. But Alva was the one who was the most depressed by Lennon’s death. Alva seemed to drink less after that shocking assassination.

Our superiors really came down hard on Alva. They controlled every aspect of his duty hours. We all thought they went beyond the call of duty. Finally, he told our commanding officer that he was tired of being harassed and he wanted everyone to leave him alone. He wanted to everything to go back to the way it was. He even told the CO that he had written his congressman. Why did Alva feel harassed? He would have to check in with the sergeant every hour just to make sure he was still on base.

It was during this time that I learned about his special talent. He could play chess. That was surprising because he wasn’t the type of person who exuded intelligence of any sort. One day, he challenged all comers. He walked into the radio shop where we worked and announced, “Who’s the best chess player here? I challenge you to a chess match!”

Somehow he had heard that I used to play chess. It might have been from me because I used to like to tell people I used to like to play chess. I might have said that I used to play when I first arrived at Camp Pendleton and Alva remembered. He had a good memory. At first, I didn’t want to play because I hadn’t played since high school and I was afraid that if I started playing again I would get addicted to play chess again. But I couldn’t control myself and I accepted Alva’s challenge. Anyway, Alva won every game easily.

Eventually, I played chess with Alva regularly and he always beat me easily. To add insult to injury, he was always very drunk when we played. Okay, I was hooked. I wanted to beat Alva at chess. We played chess everyday in the shop. Whenever he made a particularyly good move, he would say, “Don’t mess with Texas!”

I never beat him until I finally figured out his strategy! He had no strategy! He was always so drunk that he would only play the best move for the position. With each game we played, I improved my game. Finally, I figured out that if I planned my strategy at least five moves ahead, his best move for the position wouldn’t help him. Eventually, I was beating him on a regular basis. He wasn’t used to losing even though he never studied or practiced chess formally. He was truly amazed that anyone could beat him. And I was surprised that anyone so drunk could play chess so well. Oh, yes, and Alva’s congressman called up our commanding officer and Alva was no longer on restriction.

I challenge you to a chess game!


My brother Rick in East Mesa, Arizona was having problems with speeding cars in his neighborhood. He contacted the local police and they investigated the problem. He then wrote the following letter that was published in the East Valley Tribune:

Speeding — Necessary traps

People need to stop and think! Do they call it a “murder trap” when police arrest a murderer? Do they call the mall a “shoplifting trap” when police arrest a shoplifter? Do they call a bank a “bank robbery trap” when police arrest a bank robber? So why do people call it a “speed trap” when police ticket speeders? When people speed, they are breaking the law. Plain and simple. Speeders endanger the lives, property of others, and pets, within their vicinity. A neighborhood with frequent speeders is less desirable to potential buyers, thus diminishing property values, which increases blight. Speeding automobiles are less efficient, thus increasing fuel consumption, and further contributing to impending global warming. Bring on the “speed traps” — I welcome them. People need to stop and think (or at least slow down).

Rick Martin

I want to hurry up and get home because my brakes don't work!


Of all of my Spanish students, Dee had to be the coolest! She was a non-traditional university student in that she already had a nursing degree and other university degrees. She was older than me, she was born and raised in Ireland, and she still spoke English with an Irish brogue. She was an attractive woman despite being in an electric wheelchair. She had studied French when she was younger, but now wished she had studied Spanish. In her assisted-living home, she spoke Spanish with the workers there, which really improved her Spanish. I would often see Dee outside smoking cigarettes before she came to class. I liked her because she would always liven up the class. If she didn’t understand something, she would ask questions without hesitation. If she thought that there was too much homework or the exams were too difficult, she was very vocal about that. All the students loved her because she would make us all laugh. Everytime I gave a pop quiz she would mutter things under breath, but not so softly that we couldn’t tell that she was cursing me in her own unique way. It was all very comical because she would eventually do everything required, but only after some grumbling. Sometimes she would jokingly accuse me of picking on her because she was a woman, or a foreigner, or something or other. I learned to have a witty repartee to defend myself. We went through these mock arguments quite often, so the students looked forward to them. The students loved it! She was so comical! One day, Dee tells me, “You’re just doing this to me because I’m a cripple!” Then she gives me a big smile. The students laughed. I said, “That is so lame!” And students laughed even more. Dee said, “You don’t care about needs of the handicapped.” And I said, “You don’t have a leg to stand on!” Everyone laughed out loud, including Dee.

You don't have a leg to stand on!

Francis Drake

Sometimes perspective affect how we see things. As a Chicago sports fan, I can give you a specific example. When Dennis Rodman played for the Detroit Pistons, Chicago Bulls fans despised him. However, when he was traded to the Bulls, he suddenly became our savior and Chicago won three more NBA Championships with his help. So perspective makes a big difference.

In Spanish textbooks, we see a different perspective regarding history and cultural aspects. When I was in grade school and studied history, I remember learning about Sir Francis Drake as a naval hero who was second in command when England defeated the Spanish Armada in 1588. When I started taking university Spanish courses and reading history books in Spanish, I discovered that he was Francis Drake el pirata because he helped loot Spanish colonial cities and ships taking gold and silver to Spain. In the Spanish textbook Sueña that I’m using now, the book mentions that these pirates were financed by the governments of England and France. So, you see, perspective changes a person’s status in history.

¡Hola! Me llamo Francis Drake el pirata.

Written Spanish

Spanish keyboard map.

I’ve already mentioned how when I went to Mexico everyone seemed to comment on my American accent when I spoke Spanish. Well, my written Spanish is much better than that of my Mexican relatives. I often get letters from Mexico and some relatives just don’t use accent marks that are absolutely necessary in Spanish. When I e-mail my cousin in Mexico, she is always amazed that I write much better in Spanish than her, even though she’s a native speaker. Another cousin constantly IMs me. Every so often, she asks me how her Spanish is. I tell her it’s pretty good, even though she doesn’t spell very well, doesn’t capitalize at the beginning of sentences, and doesn’t use any punctuation. Some of my Spanish students have seen these types of writings in Spanish and then question why I insist that they use accent marks and ñ and all things Spanish. Well, the main reason is to show that you have been educated. It works for me because my cousins take more seriously when I write proper Spanish.