Mexico D.F.

Be careful when talking about schools in Spanish! If you’re talking about school in the general sense, use escuela. For grade school, elementary school, and grammar school, use escuela primaria. For high school, use escuela preparatoria, escuala secundaria, colegio, or instituto. Unfortunately, there is no term for junior high school. When you graduate high school, you attend la universidad. Do not use colegio because colegio refers to high school. College and colegio are false cognates. If you attended a junior college or a community college, you must use universidad because junior and community colleges do not exist in the Spanish speaking world. 

Students in the general sense are estudiantes. If you are a college or university student, you are either an estudiante, alumno, or alumno subgraduado. Graduate students are alumnos graduados or alumnos de posgrado. 

Be careful what you call the teachers! Grade school and high school teachers are maestros  or maestras. High school teachers may also be profesor or profesora. College and university professors are either profesor(-a) or doctor(-a).

But I like going to e-school!


Mere shadows of ourselves

Sometimes accidents happen unexpectedly. It’s at moments like these that I truly appreciate the life I have. While in Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo with my cousin Mara, her husband Enrique, and their children Daniel and Rebeca, we were enjoying ourselves until Becky was involved in a swimming accident with a boat’s outboard motor. We were there for a whole week. The accident became our reference point. Before Becky’s accident and after Becky’s accident. Everything happened so quickly!

We were sightseeing like typical tourists. We were having a lot of fun. We liked to talk and joke about whatever we were doing. As we walked down the main street, people were trying to sell us trips to beaches where we could snorkel, swim with dolphins, see alligators, and swim on the beach. We eventually found a good deal and went to Ixtapa Island where we snorkeled and then went to swim and tan at the beach. I was in the water a short while–I’m not much of a water person–and then went to talk to my cousin Mara while Enrique, Becky, and Daniel continued swimming. Becky had actually swum competitively so she was really swimming, unlike me who merely dog paddled awhile. I watched her swim and envied her swimming skills. How I wished I could swim like her.

Mara was asking me why I had come out of the water so soon and I told her that I been in the water long enough. We talked awhile when suddenly I heard some yelling in the water. I walked toward the water where I saw some people near a boat with an outboard motor. I could hear a female voice screaming for help, but I could barely see her head. A few men swam toward her to help her. She appeared to be caught up in the propeller of the outboard motor. One of the men asked for a knife–I assumed so he could cut of her clothing. One woman who was lying on the beach swam toward the boat yelling, “I’m a doctor!” Another woman went to the jet ski stand and told the man to call an ambulance on his cell phone. When they finally released the woman from the boat, I saw that it was Becky! She was holding the propeller against her abdomen, so I thought it was embedded into her body. She had blood on her shirt and I could see a gash on her arm. But she was walking with the help of her father who helped steady her as she walked. The doctor tried to stop the bleeding as Becky walked to another outboard boat that took her and her father to the ambulance.

Our tour guide told Mara, Daniel, and me to get all our things. He would take us to the hospital. When we finally got to the hospital, we learned that Becky had been slashed by the propeller on the wrist, abdomen, and leg. She didn’t have any life threatening injuries. A woman who looked vaguely familiar approached at the hospital and told us she was from the resort where the accident occurred. She had seen everything and she had witnesses, too. She explained that Becky had been swimming in the area where swimming was prohibited because of boat traffic. Becky was swimming underwater when the boat operator started up the boat. He then started moving slowly when he heard a thump near the front of the boat. He shut off the engine immediately, but the propeller kept spinning. He never saw Becky swimming. When he heard her screaming, he tried to free her from the propeller. Others then came to help her. The woman then explained that their company would pay all of Becky’s medical expenses if we agreed not to sue. I said that I was merely a cousin and that she should explain all this to Enrique, Becky’s father. But the woman insisted that I sign. I refused because I’m not familiar with Mexican law. I didn’t want to jeopardize anything to which they were entitled. The woman became more assertive, but I continued to refuse to sign.

I watched as she later tried to convince Enrique to write a statement that he agreed to her terms and sign it. He thought about it long and hard. I pulled him aside with Mara and he explained the situation to us. Yes, he could sue, but in Mexico it would take about eight years to settle the lawsuit and chances were slim to none that they would win any settlement, particularly since there were witnesses who had seen Becky swimming in the no swimming zone. Eventually, he agreed to their terms and they did reimburse him with cash for the medical expenses. They even sent a doctor to the hotel room to visit Becky.

After the accident, we were all shaken up. We were mere shadows of our former selves. Becky had to stay in bed the rest of the vacation. Driving in the car caused Becky great pain. We had to drive ten miles the next day to see a doctor to give her a tetanus shot because they didn’t have one at the hospital. That ride was extremely torturous for Becky because of all the bumps. We had to return in three days and we wondered how we would drive Becky home if every little bump caused her so much pain. Finally, Enrique announced that she would fly home with her mother. One of Becky’s friends would take her home from the airport.

However, we were all grateful that Becky was still alive! She was extremely lucky to be alive!

I’m not that kind of doctor!

May 2004

I’ve learned that with my Ph.D. and five bucks I can buy a cup of coffee at Starbucks. I’ve also learned research skills that allow me to circumnavigate the Google-verse. I can find anything and everything on the Internet—everything except a job.

I’ve been searching unsuccessfully for a tenure-track position in Spanish for twelve years now. However, I’m not bitter at all. Actually, I’m sure I’m on the verge of finding a job very soon. In 1995, I was actually awarded a tenure-track position at a community college near my home. This was the ideal job for me. As a community college student myself, I would have been the perfect role model for most community college students. I was supposed to teach some combination of English and Spanish courses because I had one M.A. in English and one in Spanish. I immediately applied to a doctoral program in Hispanic Studies so I could move up another step on the salary scale. Sadly, when the college board of trustees met, they decided that my position wasn’t necessary and the college couldn’t afford to pay another salary. I had lost my tenure-track position before I even taught my first class! And I have continued my fruitless job search ever since.

Now why did I want a Ph.D. again? Well, since I was in grade school, I wanted to be the most educated person in the world. I remember I once asked my seventh grade teacher, Sister LaVerne, “What’s the highest degree you can get?” And she immediately responded, “Ph.D.” with a sense of awe and reverence. “I’m going to get one of those someday,” I told her. In my heart, it was more like a solemn vow, an eternal quest for knowledge. I would someday be Dr. Rodríguez! However, I never wanted to be a medical doctor. I get squeamish if someone describes medical procedures in too much detail.

There were a few bumps, detours, and stalls on the road to becoming Dr. Rodríguez. My parents groomed me for the life of a manual laborer. As a high school student, I was already a full-time factory worker and couldn’t graduate. Well, it’s hard to get into college if you drop out of high school. Go figure! But I got my GED. I’d hate to think that I wasted six years in high school! Then, I worked in a peanut butter factory for twelve years with a brief three-year stint in the Marines Corps in the middle. I’d say that was a significant detour to becoming Dr. Rodríguez. I must admit that while I was in the Marines, I enrolled in an English composition class at Fallbrook Community College, but ended up dropping out because the composition professor critiqued my writing. Didn’t she know that I would someday be Dr. Rodríguez?

Dr. Rodríguez was ever-present in my thoughts as I continued reading and writing. I always fondly recalled my conversation with Sister Laverne. I didn’t even know what a Ph.D. was back then. (And now, I’m not sure what to do with it!) There was no escaping those constant reminders of my becoming a doctor. My initials are DR! Every time I bought a house, I kept initialing DR. My license plate, the same one that I’ve had since the 70s, begins with my initials: DR.

When the peanut butter factory closed, I tried my luck as a standup comedian. I was pretty good, but I couldn’t handle the Bohemian lifestyle of the starving artist. I needed a steady, good-paying job. Okay, I admit it. Over the years, I’ve developed an addiction to food.

So I became a police officer because the job paid well and offered good benefits. Being a police officer wouldn’t be so bad if there weren’t so many criminals. In 1987, the Chicago Police Department encouraged everyone to go back to college to get a bachelor’s degree order to qualify for future promotional exams. Well, at first I resisted going back to school. But the very first time I had to work midnights, with the realization that I would have work midnights every third month, I made up my mind to finally graduate from college and find another line of work. So I enrolled at Richard J. Daley College and earned my A.A. in two years while working fulltime on the afternoon shift. When I went back to school, I was able to request working the straight afternoons and avoid midnights altogether. I loved the fact that Chicago’s Mayor was Richard M. Daley and I attended the college that was named after his father.

When I transferred to the University of Illinois at Chicago, I also transferred to a police district closer to home. So I lived and worked in Bridgeport, the home of Mayor Richard M. Daley. As luck would have it, I was the new officer in the district so I would have to work assignments that the seasoned veterans didn’t want. As the new guy, I had to sit in an unmarked car guarding the mayor’s house because most police officers didn’t want to be anchored to one place for the entire shift. I, on the other hand, loved guarding the mayor’s house, sitting there reading the assigned texts for my classes. I was the perfect officer for the post because the mayor didn’t like the officers to watch TV while on duty. I loved to read and I always studied to get good grades. When the mayor would leave his house, I had plenty of time to put away my book before he saw it. For a while there, I really loved being a police officer! I must admit that I loved the job, but I hated working most of my weekends.

Well, I graduated with a double major in English and Spanish. And since I could study most of my shift, I also graduated Phi Beta Kappa. I applied for a few jobs after graduation, but I was unsuccessful. When the mayor was reelected, I just had to take advantage of my situation. I applied to graduate school for both English and Hispanic Studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago, since they offered many classes that would fit my schedule. I applied for two graduate programs because I desperately wanted to go to graduate school. I wasn’t sure which program would accept me and I really didn’t care as long I could become a graduate student. I wanted to guard Mayor Daley’s house with a purpose. The mayor’s security detail loved having me in front of the Mayor’s house because I was always wide awake and actually guarding the mayor.

Well, I did get accepted to graduate school! To both programs! I agonized over which program to choose. I loved English and American literature, but I realized it would be more difficult finding a job with an English degree. I made up my mind to choose the Hispanic Studies program because I loved Spanish literature and I could probably find a job with a Spanish degree since I was bilingual. But, why should I be forced to choose between the two programs? Suddenly, one afternoon, while I was guarding the mayor’s house, it occurred to me, like an epiphany. Since I could read all day while I’m at my police job, I could enter both programs! And so I did.

When I graduated with two MAs in 1995, I was hired by the community college, even though I never actually got the job. But I was still in a doctoral program for Hispanic Studies. Mayor Daley was reelected again and I was finally on the road to Dr. Rodríguez in earnest.

When I earned my Ph.D., one of my police partners bought me a nameplate for my uniform that said, “Dr. D. Rodriguez” as a graduation gift. At first, I was hesitant about wearing it, but then I wore it proudly. The supervisors and top brass who saw the nameplate were impressed. All my police colleagues began calling me “Dr. D.” Whenever someone would ask me a question and I knew the answer. Someone would invariably say, “That’s why he’s the Doctor!” Of course, there were playful jokes, too. One police officer would always tell me about his aches and pains, and then ask me for a prescription for painkillers. “I’m not that kind of doctor,” I’d tell him. “But if it’ll make you feel better, I’ll read you some poetry.” No one ever took me up on the poetry reading.

I’ve been teaching for twelve years now. I really love the interaction with the students, even when we argue over silly matters. I’m the greatest teacher in the world! (But aren’t we all?) Most students seem to enjoy my classes and often ask me what I’m teaching next semester. Sometimes, I say things that make the students laugh, so I write them down. I’m thinking of going back on stage. I’m not joking!

Well, I’ve given up looking for a tenure-track position. So if some university or college wants to offer me a position, I may accept it, but only if I don’t have to go through another interview with a search committee. I’ve learned to accept the fact that I’m a retired police officer after a mere twenty years of service: I came, I saw, I retired. I really enjoy teaching so I’ll continue teaching as a lecturer at the University of Illinois at Chicago. However, I am proud to have earned a Ph.D. I once made a pilgrimage to the UIC Library to visit my doctoral dissertation. As I wrote it, I often wondered if anyone would ever read it. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that not only had it been checked out a few times, but someone had also marked some passages! So now, I flaunt my degree whenever possible. I use Dr. or Ph.D. next to my name whenever possible. My PBK newsletter comes addressed to Dr. David Diego Rodríguez. I can’t wait to start getting bulk mail addressed to Dr. Occupant. I started a blog titled, “David Diego Rodriguez, Ph.D.” at I love being Googled. If I ever accidently bump into someone on the mean streets of Chicago and they say, “Watch it, asshole!” I’m going to say, “Hey, that’s Dr. Asshole to you!”