The international symbol of distress.

Teaching is very rewarding in many ways, but just not financially. My alma mater and present employer, the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC),  is suffering from budget problems. Well, the whole country is suffering from these hard economic times. UIC is suffering because the state of Illinois isn’t paying UIC what it is owed and therefore hirings of new faculty and staff have ceased. Faculty and staff have to take unpaid furlough days to meet the budget shortfall–in addition to the budget recisions already implemented over the past few years. Illinois has one of the worst budget crises in the country, second only to California.

Of course, my job security is also on the line. My contract as a Spanish lecturer with UIC expires on May 15, 2010. Will I be rehired next year? No one knows with any certainty. We’ll see. The good news for me is that I don’t have to take any unpaid furlough days. The bad news is that I don’t earn enough to take furlough days. I feel the budget cuts in so many ways. I can’t call anyone on my office telephone outside of the Chicago area codes. Every year I’m allowed to make less and less copies for student handouts. Luckily for me, Spanish is the foreign language most in demand at UIC. Unfortunately, gone is the golden age when everyone who earned a Ph.D. would more than likely get a job in academia!



Marina was a Mexicana whom I met when I was in the police academy. We met just by chance because the Chicago Police Department, in its infinite wisdom, divided all the new recruits into four different classrooms based on race, ethnicity, and sex in order to be politically correct. There we were, in the police academy gym, and the instructors asked all the white males to step forward. They were immediately divided into four groups. Next, they called the females who were sorted out on the basis of their gender regardless of their race or ethnicity. Then, the African-American / Black males were equally divided into the four groups. And last, but not least, the Hispanic / Latino males were assigned to a classroom. The department tried to avoid racial and sexual discrimination lawsuits using this system for hiring new police officers.

Anyway, Marina and I were assigned to the same classroom where the entire class was assigned desks by alpabetical order. Since her last name was Perez, she sat directly in front of me. Well, we became good friends because we were partners for many of the training activities. She was a very pretty Mexicana, but a little on the plump side. However, she could meet all the physical requirements for calesthenics, running, and self defense. I was single at that time, but she had a boyfriend then, so we remained just friends.

One day during self-defense class, we had to practice applying a wrist lock on each other. We had to command each other to walk in a certain direction, lay face-down, and then handcuff our “arrestee.” If the arrestee didn’t obey, we applied more pressure on the wrist lock until they complied. By then, I knew Marina well enough to joke around with her. The instructor observed everyone to make sure they were applying the wrist lock properly.

Well, when I had Marina in the wrist lock, the instructor told me that I did it well and then walked away. I took advantage of the fact that he wouldn’t be back for a few minutes. So, I steered Marina around the mat by tightening my grip on her wrist. I told her to get on her knees and she did. I told her to lie down and she did. Then, I asked her if she wanted to go out me. I was just joking, of course. She immediately said “No!” I applied a little more pressure on her wrist and she changed her answer to “Yes!” even though she had a boyfriend. Then, I told her to tell me that she loved me. With a little bit more pressure, she did. I just had to smile.

When I released her, she said, “You’re gonna get it!” Now it was her turn to restrain me! Well, I immediately apologized, but it was too late to be sorry. But I was surprised when she applied her wrist lock on me. I was able to control the pain. You see, I would just recall all the times that my mother used to hit me with the belt, the broom, the extension cord, or whatever else was within reach whenever I angered her. Thanks to my mother, I had a high tolerance for pain and Marina wasn’t able to make me do anything I didn’t want to do. Eventually, I just went through the motions and let myself be restrained. After classes were over, we saw her boyfriend and I told him what I had done. He wasn’t very amused, but I thought it be better if I told him instead of Marina.

Eventually, we finished our academy training, but I always saw Marina at traffic court since they assigned our courtrooms by alphabetical order. She later broke up with her boyfriend and invited me to go to her family Thanksgiving Dinner, which I did. Later, I went to her family Christmas party, but we remained merely friends. I didn’t see her again for a couple of years.

I met her again through her fiance who happened to work in my district. We just started talking one day after roll call and I learned that he would soon marry Marina. We became friends after that. He was Lithuanian so he had lived in the same neighborhoods as me. We had a few things in common. Well, when they married, they invited my wife and me to their wedding. When I asked Marina about his family, she told me that they weren’t too happy that he was marrying a Mexicana. They wanted him to marry a nice Lithuanian girl. So at the reception, the hall was evenly divided with the Lithuanians on one side and the Mexicans on the other. They had hired a DJ for the music, but they had also hired some Mariachis to play while everyone ate dinner to show everyone how wonderful Mexicans are. However, the Mariachis were late! And his side of the family was upset. Eventually, the Mariachis showed up, but dinner was almost over. The police had pulled over their van for running a redlight and the driver didn’t have a driver’s license or auto insurance. So it took a while before they got to the reception. Well, the Lithuanians were upset at the Mariachis and the Mexicans were embarrassed by them!


I am the proud recipient of a Phi Beta Kappa Key!

PBK stands for Phi Beta Kappa, which is America’s oldest honor society. Some of you probably already knew that. I studied very diligently as an undergrad and I was fortunate enough to earn a PBK key when I graduated. I actually surprised myself! I was hoping that I would be inducted into the honor society, but I was actually surprised when they wrote to me to notify me that I was. Later, I felt that maybe I didn’t deserve to be a Phi Bete. I never wanted anyone to give me anything that I didn’t deserve. I always wondered about it.

Now as a Spanish lecturer at UIC, I volunteer to review academic records to see who deserves to earn a PBK key upon graduation. So I usually compare myself with PBK prospectives. I am proud to say that I usually fit right in the middle somewhere. I wasn’t a brainiac, but I wasn’t exactly a slacker, either. Most students who earn the PBK key have a GPA of 3.7 – 4.0 out of 4.0. I had a 3.71 GPA. Students must also demonstrate depth and breadth of study, risk taking, and a general love of learning. So if a student takes many honors college courses that contributes to his or her dept of breadth of studies. Doing a double major also accomplishes this. Well, I was in the honors college, and I did a double major in English (3.79) and Spanish (GPA 3.99), and I took a lot of upper lever-courses that I didn’t need just for the fun of it. I attended college later in life, so I really loved school and I tried to get as much out of it as possible. After reviewing students this year, I realize that I did deserve that PBK key!

I graduated with honors!

Choosing a major

University Hall, University of Illinois at Chicago

When I was an undergrad, I couldn’t decide on a major. After much deliberation, I finally narrowed it down to English or Spanish. After even more deliberation, I decided not to decide and I double-majored in English and Spanish. My emphasis in both majors was literature.

I love to read. And besides, my personal agenda includes writing The Great American Novel, that is, if I ever actually got around to sitting down at my computer and writing a novel. Nothing would help me achieve my goal more easily than majoring in Spanish, and oh, yes, English, too.

Anyway, by doing this double major, I straddled two academic cultures. I saw the best and worst of both worlds. Most of the students who majored in Spanish were from the middle or lower class and were very humble. The students who majored in English were also from the middle or lower class, but they thought they were really cool. Not every English major exuded this arrogant aura of “cool.” Just a handful, but just enough to annoy the rest of the class. Whenever they said something they thought was extremely brilliant or witty, they would proudly announce, “I’m an English major!” as if no one else in the classroom was also an English major.

Some of the English professors were of the plain vanilla variety who seemed tired of Academia, the “cool” English majors, and the literature they taught. The Spanish professors, on the other hand, were from Spanish-speaking countries who also seemed tired of Academia, but lacked “cool” students, and absolutely loved their subject. In general, there was much more laughter in my Spanish classes than in my English classes. The Spanish professors weren’t afraid to reveal their cynicism and world-weariness in satirical and humorous ways, and besides, the literature in Spanish is generally much funnier than literature in English. Of course, whatever literary theory I learned in English classes, I applied to my Spanish classes, thereby making me one of the better Spanish students. I have never regretted my decision to major in both English and Spanish. Eventually, I will write a novel, even if it doesn’t achieve The Great American Novel status. But I did learn a lot about world literature as a double major in Spanish and English. I feel so “cool” since I majored in English!

Look at me! I'm cool! I'm an English major!!!