"The genius of democracies is seen not only in the great number of new words introduced but even more in the new ideas they express."--Alexis de Tocqueville
In second grade that equation widened out its orbit. If Spanish was bad, and our parents spoke Spanish, they then must be bad people. In that way, in that almost scientific and mathematical way, we learned to be ashamed of them. What two and two adds up to, after all, is exactly what we were learning. But it was far more than numbers. We suddenly were put into the position of having to take care of our parents, because they didn't seem to get it. They didn't seem to understand it as well as we did. They acted as if nothing was wrong.
So, how do you take care of your parents at school? The clear answer for us was, Don't let them come to school. Don't let them show up. The teacher tried to convince us otherwise, and would give us PTA meeting notices, which were in English. She'd say, "Take this home to your parents." As if we were dumb enough to fall for that one.
We'd say, "Yes, ma'am" and put the notices in our notebooks. But on the way to the school bus, we'd do our walks, and as part of our walks we'd calmly drop the notes into the garbage can at the end of the playground. It was our little ritual, and we were true to it. We didn't talk about it.
The garbage can, by the way, had an interesting word written on it. The word was basura. It didn't say "trash," which is what it meant in English, because when you want people to do something, you use whatever language it takes. I knew all about that from before coming to first grade--you find the words that will get you dinner. So we got the PTA notices in English, but "trash" in Spanish.
We threw our notes away because we loved our parents, and that was the only way we could take care of them. I knew that if I took the notes home, because my parents were parents, they'd respond. I knew that because they were my parents, they'd come to school if they were asked. And I knew that if my father opened his mouth at school, Spanish might come out. And if Spanish came out, well, that was it for him: he'd have to get in the swat line.
I laugh now at the thought of my parents getting swatted because that is so clearly second grade reasoning. But we were second graders, and it's the only kind of reasoning we had.