Kingsville, Texas An Immersion Memoir 4

June 23, 2017

Various and Sundry

Since I arrived on Sunday, I have noted that Kingsville has changed; it has grown and spread out. Yet it remains the same quiet town it was 40 years ago. The downtown is still the same couple of blocks with small shops and the imposing King Ranch Saddle store at the corner of 6th and Kleberg. The train depot is still there, but it is now a train museum with red, white, and blue banners blowing in the wind—most likely in honor of the upcoming fourth of July celebrations. The movie house where I saw Last Tango in Paris is gone. The Kroger’s is gone, but there’s an HEB and a Walmart. The hotels along SH 77, including the EconoLodge where I am staying seem unconnected to Kingsville; they are on the periphery. The business and franchise fast food establishments have moved in to 14th street and Gen. Cavazos Boulevard. But, there’s still family owned restaurants like the Mariachi House of Burgers on Corral where I had a couple of breakfast tacos –handmade flour tortillas! Young’s pizza is still there—at least I think it is the same pizza place that was there back in the day when it was a real treat to get in Tavo’s car and go get a pizza and a beer on a Friday night. There’s even an Indian restaurant, House of Spice! The place where the Mexican dances were held is gone—or at least I couldn’t find it on 14th.

Tavo’s car! It was a long blue sedan that sat in front of his part of the house like a guardian. Once we went to the beach and it started to rain. His wipers were shot and we couldn’t see a thing. I was fond of the car with its smell of cigarettes and wet upholstery.

I never visited the King Ranch when I lived in Kingsville. But a few years ago when I was in town for an event at the Conner Museum, I took the tour. I was curious to see the largest ranch in Texas especially because I have had students who were Kineños, descendents of the families brought from Mexico to live there by Captain King himself because of their ranching expertise. On the tour, I learned all about the Santa Gertrudis cattle and saw the display of branding irons. I wonder why Dr. Sawey didn’t take us on a field trip when I took his Literature of the Cattle Range Industry seminar. I would’ve appreciated Tom Lea and the other writers much more. I was in graduate school in Nebraska when I read Edna Ferber’s novel Giant that includes several scenes presumably based on the story of the King Ranch.

After the breakfast at Mariachi House of Burgers, I went to Alberto’s history class and spoke to his students. Such wonderful smiles, eager smiles, smiles that told me that they appreciated my stories and that there’s hope. Hope in the future of our country and of our people. It was a diverse group of students from all over Texas and even a couple from out of state—so there’s hope for Texas A&M Kingsville, too.

Then Alberto and I walked to the post office so I could mail the sympathy card. I walked in and saw the mailboxes and remembered that I had one once. I received letters from friends like Becky and from home. Although my parents would come visit often, Papi still wrote me letters in his elaborate sprawling cursive penmanship. The post office was closed so Albert offered to mail the card for me. Incoming students and their parents swarmed the Student Union; they are on campus for orientation. Suddenly, I remembered the summer program Upward Bound and how I worked so hard to get the students ready for college English classes.  We then walked over to Fore and I began to set up for the seminar.

Upward Bound

For two summers (1974 and 1975), I worked with Upward Bound, the bridge program that gathered high school students and prepared them for college. I am sure it was Dr. Schmalenbeck;s doing as I had never taken a class with Dr. E. Mucchetti who approached me one afternoon in April as I was about to go in to take a linguistics exam. She must’ve told him I was available for the summer job.

What are your plans for the summer? He asked me.

I don’t know, I answered. Take classes and teach, I suppose.

Well, here’s the thing, he said. You can teach for Upward Bound. They are looking for someone to work with the students on their writing skills.

I was hesitant at first. I’ll think about it, I told him and dashed off to take the exam.

I had not really thought about the summer. I assumed I would stay in my apartment and take classes—I didn’t realize it and no one had mentioned that the teaching assistantship was only for the academic year and did not include funding for the summer.

I had agreed to a translation job for a friend’s father who held self-improvement seminars called The Symposium, but that was in August and in New Mexico. It would certainly not pay for rent and food or tuition for the summer classes.

So, the proposition was a godsend. My experiences with Upward Bound students and my fellow faculty remains the source of many stories for it was a learning experience all around. I was expected to live in the dorm so I had to get my stuff out of the apartment; luckily the landlady liked me and didn’t rent it but kept it for me to rent again in the fall. The dorm room was so much better although I had a room mate, Maria de la Luz Martinez, I think that was her name. She was a communications or journalism major and so we hit it off beautifully. It was the first time to actually experience college dorm life as my undergraduate years were in Laredo and I lived at home, and I loved it! The director Tony something or other along with some others including Bill who also worked in the local radio station, and Villarreal who played the guitar. Rosa who was from Falfurrias and confided her big secret one night when we stayed late into the night talking; she was a lesbian. She played the guitar and had a beautiful voice. I didn’t quite know what to do with the information except reassure her that her secret was safe with me and that I wouldn’t tell the Director or the other men who held the common misogynist views of the times. Several times I had to call them on sexist comments and what I perceived were inappropriate conversations around the young high school girls.  They laughed and said it was all in good fun but they did stop the sexual innuendos and double entendres, at least while I was around.

The textbook Stop, Look, Listen, proved to be an excellent tool, albeit there was little culturally relevant material. So I improvised and we looked at song lyrics in Spanish and English, and I found African American literature for them to read. I thoroughly enjoyed the freedom to design my own curriculum and classes, to test out pedagogy that would not do in the very structured composition classes I was teaching as part of my teaching assistantship. I had my students writing poetry and essays and we published their creations. I led them on trust walks (where one person is blindfolded and trusts the other to lead them and then they switch roles). Little by little their writing skills improved. The good writers became excellent writers and the poor ones got better. I felt accomplished!

The program emphasized more than academics and we worked to build community and group identiy. So, sports were part of the program. All the faculty members had to also teach a sport; I had no desire or ability to do teach anything. Mortified I went to Tony’s office — I thought for sure he would fire me when he learned of my limited physical education preparation. I didn’t know the rules of basketball or badminton. I just can’t do any of the sports, I confessed. But he didn’t fire me; he just smiled and said don’t worry. He advised that I teach swimming, or work with the track team. It’ll be easy he said. I chose swimming, but I didn’t dare share with him that I didn’t know how to swim!

So, just like that, I became the swimming instructor. I like to think that it was my superb skills at instructing the swim team that earned us the championship. Our team was number one at the regional competition! More than likely it was that the students were terrific swimmers already and all I did was give them confidence and instill in them a winning attitude. At the gathering held in Corpus Christi, we competed against the other Upward Bound programs in various disciplines, mathematics, writing, and in sports like basketball and baseball. I was elated when my students won in the writing competitions but even more so when they won the swim meet.

A highlight of the summer was our Sunday trip to the beach in Corpus after the competition and the formal banquet on Saturday night. I was just as excited as the students because like them, I had little exposure to pools or to swimming altogether. My parents made sure we went to the beach once a year on vacation—we would drive from Laredo to Corpus, stay at a friend’s house and go to the beach. Sometimes, though, we couldn’t stay anywhere, so we returned the same day—sunburnt and tired. I never learned to swim and so I remain terrified of the water a fact I attribute to an incident in the Sabinas river in Mexico when I was about 6 or 7. My father had taught me how to float, and I was just dreamily floating on my back when I felt a sudden pull and I panicked. I was thrashing and crying and just knew that I was going to drown. Tío Güero noticed, and jumped in; he saved my life by grabbing my hair and pulling me out of the current. The swift river was literally taking me downstream and I had no way of resisting. I had to be cured de susto (fright) when we got back to Laredo.

Almost at the end

Our seminar is over tomorrow and I am feeling sad about leaving Kingsville, about leaving my memories behind once more. Funny how the memories that have been kept at bay or have been buried suddenly spring forth and catapult me to the past in an intricate dance of present-past-present-past as I reminisce and sometimes shed a tear for what was, nostalgic for who I was. The tall thin graduate student loving her students and her life of books and intense conversations about Marxism, about modern art, about philosophy and the value of vegetarianism. That skinny young woman who toyed with Buddhism and yet kept her Catholic practice alive and well was shaping her heart, her soul, her face. I know. I learned about paradigm shifts reading Kuhn in one of my political science classes and wept reading Adrienne Rich’s “Diving into the Wreck” in an English class. I was learning Latin on my own and meditating—meeting my spiritual guide, who was Chinese and spoke French! I missed my family so much I wept walking home after my collect calls from the pay phone at the gas station that was next to the laundromat. Yes, I was becoming me, on a path that led me to today, to this time and space that keeps overlapping with the past.  I will post one more entry tomorrow. Maybe I will be able to take photos, although my efforts have been thwarted so far. But Elvia and Elsa will come tomorrow and maybe one of them will let me use her phone.

[Dear Readers:  I was not able to post this last night as I had no access to  WiFi at the EconoLodge–we are now in Port Aransas, and I am exhausted! I will write and submit the last entry for this blog tomorrow. Then I can begin to think of ways to keep the blog open and moving–perhaps posting travel blogs or keep it for the summer — not as an immersion memoir but as a way to reflect on all my travel and writing excursions.]

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1 Comment

  1. Fascinating!👩🏻‍🌾


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