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!
You probably have a few questions for me and so I feel obliged to explain my long absence from my blog. No matter what explanation I give or what excuses I enumerate, nothing will seem to justify me absence. Except, perhaps, only to me.
I mainly write for myself, and mainly for therapeutic reasons. I could tell you about how I was so busy last semester because I take teaching Spanish seriously. And how I spent a lot of time preparing for a Spanish composition class that I was teaching for the very first time. That meant I didn’t have any handouts that I love to hand out to students. Then, I had to spend a lot of time grading all those compositions!
Plus, I must also add that I was Assistant Coordinator for the Spanish Basic Language Program at UIC. Doesn’t that job title sound impressive? That impressive title permitted me to work many more hours per semester than I had anticipated. Oh, joy! That was time I was forced to spend away from the Internet! Whenever I did have free time, I no longer had the energy to write a blog entry. But now I’m on summer vacation. And I plan to make time to write as many blog entries as possible this summer. I won’t promise to post an entry each and every day, as I once boldly promised as a New Year’s resolution a couple years back. I try to forget about that unfulfilled resolution, but a couple readers constantly remind me. You know who you are.
One of the highlights of my trip to Mexico was going to my cousin Becky’s college graduation party! Becky invited me last summer when I visited with my sons, so I planned to go to México for it. She graduated as an engineer in December and from now on she will be addressed by her official title of ingeniera. As part of her curriculum, she had to learn English because it’s an international business language. So when she couldn’t take courses she needed in Spanish because they were closed, she would take them in English. We went to see The Day the Earth Stood Still, El día que se detuvo la Tierra in Spanish, and Becky insisted that we see it in English with Spanish subtitles. In many Mexican theaters you have the option of watching movies dubbed in Spanish or in the original English language with Spanish subtitles. Unlike when I was boy, the movies come out at the same time in Mexico as in the U.S.
This was such a cool graduation party! We went to the Ex-Convento de San Hipólito near the Zócalo in downtown México City. There is a courtyard in the middle of the building, but they put up a temporary roof in case it rained. We arrived at 9:30 pm, even though the party officially started at 9:00, and many graduates and their guests were still arriving. Becky had a table for ten reserved for her. Her parents, my cousin Mara and her husband Enrique, Becky, six of Becky’s friends, and me sat at that table. There was a DJ playing music until the evening program began. A few students gave speeches and each table cheered on their graduate. Click on the link below to hear Becky’s. And, of course, there were Mariachis. Everyone who wanted to drink brought their own liquor. The waiters for our table would then mix our drinks. We had tequila, so the waiter made me a Paloma, tequila with Squirt (Esquirt in México). This custom was something foreign to me. For some strange reason, one of the waiters kept speaking to me in English. The waiters served us our dinner, but I can’t even remember what we ate! After dinner, there was dancing. Everyone danced except me. That is until Mara asked me to dance. My cousin-in-law Enrique commented that I danced like an American because I didn’t raise my hands above my head.
Each graduate was seated at a table for ten, for family and guests. Throughout the night, tables would cheer on their graduate. They would erupt into cheer unexpectedly. Click the link below to hear our table cheering Rebeca proudly.
The party roared all night long. About 6:30 am, the waiters started asking us if we wanted coffee and chilaquiles, fried tortillas with eggs. That was the one thing I loved about the party. We didn’t have to forage for food after the party as we usually do in Chicago. As the evening progressed, the waiters became friendlier with us and talked with us when they weren’t busy. The one who spoke English to me was especially friendly. I told him I could tell he had lived in the U.S. At first he denied it, but then admitted to living and working in Las Vegas for about eight years. But he came back to Mexico because he missed his family. I asked him why he spoke to me in English. He told me that he thought I was Canadian! Go figure!
Well, the party was a lot of fun! When we got home, we immediately went to bed because when we woke up, we were driving to Ixtapa Zihuatanejo!
So, I’m in Mexico, visiting mi familia, and the whole time, everyone keeps reminding me that I’m an americano. Just look at me in the picture. I’m sitting on green, white, and red bench wearing an Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo tourist t-shirt. Now, be honest with me. Do I look American or Mexican? Okay, please tell me after you finish reading this post. I think I’d rather not hear your answer right now.
It’s December 30, 2008, and I’m at my cousin house visiting because all her brothers and sisters are coming in for New Year’s Eve. She has an impromptu dinner because, unexpectedly, she is expecting about thirty guests in her house. No one complains about the fast food (fast for Mexico) that we eat buffet style on styrofoam plates. I already have my food and I’m eating in the living room at the opposite side of the house where the food is on the table in the dining room.
Suddenly, one cousin begins to speak Spanish with a fake American accent. Then, someone else joins in the conversation with his fake American accent. Before you know it, about ten people are speaking Spanish with a fake American accents. I think it’s rather funny. Much laughter ensues until my cousin notices me. Everyone immediately stops talking in Spanish with their fake American accent and everyone looks at me. My cousin asks me if I was offended. Actually, I tell her, I thought it was very funny. I had never heard Mexicans talk in fake American accents before, so I kind of enjoyed it. I heard other people talking like Americans on my trip through Mexico, but they always stopped when they noticed I was near. Everyone seems to think I’m an americano. To be honest, I’m not sure what I am!
My cousin’s husband (my cousin-in-law?) constantly reminded me that I looked American. He couldn’t explain why, but he said I didn’t look Mexican. Other people told me the same thing. I’m sure my skin color had nothing to do with it because Mexicans come in all shades, from dark to light. Perhaps it was my gray hair? Mexicans my age, in general, don’t have as much gray hair as me. Maybe it was my clothing. All my clothes were bought in America. Okay, I bought some of them in Wal-Mart in Evergreen Park, Illinois, but they don’t sell the same clothes at the Wal-Marts in Mexico. I just don’t get it. I have cousins in Mexico who look more American than me, but everyone immediately recognized them as Mexicans.
Conversely, when I’m in Chicago, Mexicans approach me and immediately speak to me in Spanish. How did they know I speak Spanish if I look American? Wouldn’t that make me Mexican? When I’m in Mexico, my cousins eventually concede that I am, in fact, Mexican. Unlike other Mexicans who go back to Mexico to visit their familia, I do eat all kinds of Mexican food and I do understand EVERYTHING they say, including all the colloquialisms and swear words. I always seem to blend in with my familia. Until someone points out that I don’t look mexicano!
My Spanish class met for the last time this morning. Some students will never study Spanish again, but hopefully, they’ll remember more than just, “Buenos días” and “¿Cómo está usted?” The students take the last exam and they slowly leave the classroom one by one. The classroom is now empty. It’s very quiet for the first time in the semester. I’m all by myself and I already miss my students. They sometimes annoy me during the semester, but then I miss them when they’re gone. Go figure! I’ll just have to wait untill next semester to see my new students.
If you ever start to offend a Mexican, they will reply with a remark like, “¡No manches!” In other words, don’t smear my good name.
Well, I was at the Ford City Mall the other day with my sons when I saw this t-shirt stand right there in the middle where you can’t miss it. I immediately saw the t-shirt with the map of Mexico. Underneath the map it read, “United States of Mexico.”
The girl working the stand immediately approached me and handed me a card saying that they had a website. I responded half in English, half in Spanish without really thinking. I assumed that she wasn’t even Mexican because Mexicans, or any Spanish speaker in Chicagolandia, are always happy to meet someone else who speaks Spanish. So, I gathered that she wasn’t a Spanish speaker, or perhaps not even Hispanic. And here she was selling these Mexican-themed t-shirts to–well, actually, no one!
The whole time we were in the mall, I was the only one to approach the stand and actually read the t-shirts. I didn’t even bother to ask the price of the t-shirts. As I read these t-shirts, I was offended. I like to think of myself as very open-minded and I have a high tolerance for political incorrectness and profanity, but I wondered what kind of Mexican would buy a t-shirt that read, “got mica?” and “as seen on immigration”? Maybe I’m missing something here! They seemed more offensive than funny.
If they’re going to be that politically incorrect, they might as well should have named their business, “¡No manches, güey!” Why did they stop short? Don’t get me wrong. I’m not overly sensitive. In fact, I always smile when I see someone wearing the t-shirt that says, “I’m not late. I’m running on Mexican time!”
Look closely at the t-shirt above. I was looking to buy t-shirts as souvenirs from Mexico, but they mostly sold stuff from the U.S.A. Talk about American cultural imperialism! It’s such a good parody of the actual Corona shirt that my cousin and I almost didn’t notice it. I suppose this t-shirt will only be funny for people who know Spanish and Mexicans.
I just received a very disturbing phone call. Well, maybe not all that disturbing, but it made me think. A Mexican female–I could tell by her accent when she spoke Spanish–called and asked for Señor Rodríguez? Señor David Rodríguez? At first, I thought it was one of the Spanish TAs asking about a solution to a problem while teaching at UIC. But I didn’t know this woman at all. Our entire conversation was in Spanish. The more I spoke as I answered her questions in Spanish, the more engaged she became in our conversation. Then, she asked me if I spoke English. If I was bilingual. I answered yes and yes. In fact, I told her, I was very fluent in English. She sounded very disappointed. I guess I spoke Spanish well enough for her to think that I didn’t speak English. Apparently she was trying to gather students for an ESL class. I think I hurt her feelings because I spoke English–but not to her. This comes as quite a surprise to me because for my entire life almost everyone I ever met insisted that I speak English. And today I finally met someone who was disappointed that I already spoke English.
My twins are visiting me this weekend and I woke up before them. They’re still sleeping, but I like the feeling of knowing they’re here with me at least for the weekend.
Sometimes, I look in the mirror and think, “You’re somebody’s father!” Some days this thought totally surprises me. I have had a few surprises in my life–some pleasant and some quite horrific. I would like to tell you about one that left me quite speechless and changed my life completely. All for the better, of course.
When I was still married, my wife didn’t feel well. I suggested that she go to the doctor, which she reluctantly did. The doctor wasn’t exactly sure what was wrong with her, so he did some blood tests. I didn’t like this doctor because he wouldn’t tell her the results of her blood tests unless she went to see him in his office. He insisted that she had to go to his office for the results. I had never heard of doctor requiring you to schedule a visit to get test results. They usually tell you the results over the phone. So, she begrudgingly went. He told her that something was wrong with her liver. Then he made another appointment so she could have more blood tests done.
That meant two more visits to his office–and two more billings. Well, after the second round of tests, the doctor was pretty sure it was her liver that was causing her problems. I wasn’t convinced. Then, my health insurance denies payment for the follow-up visits to get the results of the blood tests. I, too, refuse to pay. The doctor himself calls me up demanding payment. I had never had a doctor call me in person about billing discrepancies. Somehow he didn’t seem very professional and I also didn’t believe his medical diagnosis of my wife. He called several times demanding payment. Finally, I told him that no doctor charges a patient for an office visit just to learn the results of their blood tests! He insisted that I pay him. So I told him, “If my insurance refuses to pay for those visits, they must not be legitimate charges. So I’m not paying you either!” And that was the last I heard from him.
However, my wife was still not feeling well. She saw another doctor and underwent another round of blood tests. This doctor was fairly sure something was wrong with her liver. He would have to do more tests. Déjà vu! Immediately, I make an appointment with another doctor. Another round of blood tests and–Voilà! My wife is pregnant! Okay, I was floored because this was the last thing I was expecting. But, it was much, much better diagnosis than liver or kidney problems.
Let’s see. We had a seven-year-old son. She stopped taking the pill about three years before. She was convinced that she had gone through menopause. I wasn’t, but I wanted a daughter, so I didn’t complain at all. But after two years, I adjusted my expectations and decided I was happy with only one son. We were all happy together. I was very happy with my small, intimate family. But, no! Now my wife was pregnant again! Would I get the daughter that I always wanted? I truly hoped so!
We made an appointment to get an ultrasound at Mercy Hospital. The ultrasound technician’s name is Domingo, which makes me nervous. In Spanish, domingo is a gift given to children in the form of money on Sundays. Is this Domingo my domingo? Well, I know that my wife is very scared and nervous by the fact that she may really be pregnant. When I ask her how she feels, she says, “I’m scare-vous!” Well, she goes in the ultrasound room with Domingo while I wait outside.
Finally, the door opens and I’m allowed to enter. My wife’s face is completely pale. Okay, I think, she really is pregnant! Domingo asks, “Are you ready?” I nod. Domingo scans my wife’s womb and says, “Here’s baby number one.” I immediately panic, but quietly, inwardly. Then, he says, “Here’s baby number two.” I say, “You better stop that!” He says, “That’s it. You’re having twins!”
I’m talking about the little cartoon that you see in the newspaper comic section. You know, the one with little cartoon couple that illustrate some aspect of love. I saw it today, but I didn’t even read it. I just kind of stared at the picture because I recalled the very first time I became aware of the cartoon way back when I was still in high school. All the girls used to like reading it. Some of them even clipped out the ones that they especially liked. I was your typical teenage boy who didn’t pay much attention to those cartoons. But then one day, I met Maria Pardo …
At Gage Park High School, I met a lot of interesting people that I still remember to this day. I’m still friends with many of them. Instead of staying in the assembly hall for the study period, I used to go to the library because I loved reading magazines or whatever book caught my interest. I never actually studied for any of my classes. I used to read U.S. News and World Report cover to cover. Occasionally, I talked to the librarian.
Then, one day, I looked up from my magazine and I saw her. Apparently, she had been sitting there for weeks, but I had not noticed her before. Actually, she noticed me first, but it took her two weeks to catch my attention. But that’s how I am. I’m frequently oblivious to everything around me once I start reading. When I finally took a good look at her sitting at the table across from me, she was smiling and signalling me to sit by her. She was beautiful! She had long black hair and brown eyes. She wore makeup even though most of the other girls didn’t. She even painted her fingernails. When I sat next to her, I smelled her perfume that just captivated me. From then on, I always sat next to her in the library. And somehow, she always managed to sit right next to me. She always read the Chicago Sun-Times, but she always read the horoscope first and then the comics. I always preferred brainy girls, but she was the prettiest girl I had met at Gage Park and she had asked me to sit next to her.
At first, I thought she was Mexican. I mean, she looked Mexican, very Mexican. But then she told me that she was born in Ecuador. I was surprised because I thought everyone who spoke Spanish in Chicago was either Mexican or Puerto Rican. She spoke English with this really very sexy accent. I loved listening to her talk, so much so that when she spoke to me in Spanish, I lied to her and told her that I didn’t know Spanish just so that she would continue talking to me in English with her sexy accent. But the highlight of the study period was when she would read the “Love is …” cartoon. No matter what it was about, she would always squeeze my hand and say, “Isn’t that so cute?” Frankly, I didn’t get it, but I played along. We got to know each other quite well that year. Or so I thought. When spring came, I asked her to the dance, but she said that she already had a date. At the end of the school year, I asked her what she was doing for the summer. She said she was getting married and moving back home to Ecuador. I was disappointed, but for a while, everyone thought I had the hottest girlfriend in the school!
When I attended Divine Heart Seminary, Latin was no longer the required language for freshmen and sophomores, so I studied Spanish. My sophomore year, I continued to study Spanish, but I also took French as an elective. I was the only sophomore in the class and the rest were juniors and seniors who had abandoned Latin. There was a certain mystique to study French ever since the seminary hired Miss Lundi to teach French, who was partly responsible for me enrolling in her class. Ever since I was little, I had this desire to be fluent in at least ten languages. So, there I was anticipating studying Spanish and French. However, when I returned to the seminary from summer vacation, I heard the rumor that Miss Lundi would not be returning to Divine Heart Seminary. The details of the rumor were sketchy, which made it even more salacious! The previous year, Miss Lundi had found a teacher’s pet who was an all-around varsity jock in his senior year. He was tall and muscular and as hairy as a caveman. Rumor had it that their friendship blossomed into a full-blown romantic tryst. But for the fact that he was already eighteen years old, no crime had been committed. However, Miss Lundi was not asked to return to the seminary.
Well, we were all abuzz wondering who would now teach us French. We also wondered who would be lucky enough to become the French teacher’s pet. We were all full of hope and elevated expectations. On my way to my first day of French class, I could sense that there was a lot of excitement in the hallway. In fact, a couple of upperclassmen rushed past me to get good seats in the classroom. In the process, they bumped into me, and my glasses fell off my face. Another student ran past me and accidentally stepped on my glasses. I picked up the pieces and put them in my pocket since I could no longer wear them. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as I would soon learn. Well, when I walked into the classroom, the class was staring at the new French teacher. The whole classroom smelled of expensive French perfume. She was hot! Only I couldn’t really be sure without my glasses. I was judging her based on the reactions of my classmates who were so painfully obvious as to how they felt about her. She had long black hair, blue eyes, a svelte figure, and beautiful legs. Oh, yes, I am a leg man! I may not have learned much French that year, but I did learn that I am a leg man! Much to the dismay of the students in the front row right by the new French teacher, she immediately assigned desks by alphabetical order. As luck would have it, I was stuck all the way in the back row in the corner at a desk with horrible sight lines. She immediately began the class by introducing herself in French and the entire class of adolescent boys just melted, this author included. Actually, “melted” is not the most accurate word to describe our physical reactions as teenage boys with an over-active libido, if you know what I mean.
She sashayed back and forth across the classroom as she spoke. All eyes followed her back and forth as if watching the French Open. Within minutes, she began writing things on the blackboard in French. While her back was turned some of the students silently made irreverent and obscene gestures, but they stopped immediately when she turned to face the class again. She told us to copy what she had written on the board. Without my glasses, I couldn’t read a word. I asked her if she could read the board aloud. She gave me a quizzical look and I explained that my glasses were broken and I couldn’t read the board from the back of the room. She immediately moved me to the desk in the front row directly in front of her desk. The student whom I displaced was relegated to my desk in the back row and hated me for the rest of the academic year. To this day, I’m afraid that I will bump into him in some dark alley for fear of how he might avenge himself on me for the loss of the best desk in French class.
I took my glasses to the optometrist for repairs, but I wouldn’t get them back for two weeks. Two weeks! For two weeks, I sat in the front row of French class, and I still couldn’t read the board. I would copy the questions from the board and ask her if I had copied them correctly. She would stand at my side and bend over to read my notebook. Well, she had spent the previous summer in Paris and done a little shopping at many boutiques, so she had quite a wardrobe of the latest Parisian fashions. She wore low-cut dresses with high hemlines. She said that her dresses were décolleté, which if I remember correctly is French for, “I think I’ll show off my breast today!” So, when she bent over to check my notebook, I was exposed to quite a scenic view. Soon, the rest of the class was asking her to check their work, too. Every boy vied to become the teacher’s pet. But she was too wise for them and soon stopped checking everyone’s work.
When I finally got my glasses back, our assigned desks were ours for the rest of the semester! She never even noticed that I was wearing my glasses now. When I finally got a good look at her with my glasses, I felt as if I had been blind until then. What I had imagined her to look like from a distance without my glasses correcting my nearsightedness paled in comparison with her actual beauty. She truly looked like a runway model who had walked of the pages of a French fashion magazine. Why was she teaching French at a Catholic seminary? Well, rather than question God’s infinite wisdom, I decided to enjoy my newfound vision that felt like the superpower of a comic-book hero. The beauty of the whole situation was that she spent most of the class sitting on her desk directly in front of me. Her dresses were marvels of fashion design. Like a good French composition, they were long enough to cover the subject, but short enough to keep it interesting. When she sat on her desk, her dress reminded me of the tidal movements of the ocean. Just as when the ocean causes a high tide on one shore, the waters will recede on another. So, too, her dress would emulate tidal movements. And I had the best seat in the house! If she wriggled too much while sitting on her desk, her skirt would recede up her thighs. If she pulled her skirt down too far, she would expose too much of her breasts. But the absolute highlight of the class came when she sat on her desk and would forget that she was sitting in front of twenty libidinous adolescent boys. She would actually cross her legs at the knees. As I sat right in front of her, I could see the color of her panties. After class, everyone would surround me and ask me what color they were. I was the pride and envy of French I.
That was the best French class I ever took, but I never did learn to speak French! Other than, “Je ne sais pas.”