Kingsville, Texas An Immersion Memoir 5

June 23, 2017

Endings and Beginnings

It’s Friday! The week is over. My stay in Kingsville prompted many memories and allowed me to revisit the campus and the past. As I bid everyone good-bye, I felt strangely nostalgic and energized at the same time. In Kingsville this week the past became the present again—hence the “immersion” memoir—a narrative chronicling a visit to a place where we have been before.

As I leave Kingsville again, I go back to my leave-taking in 1975. I say my good byes to my professors, friends, and classmates. I work at Upward Bound for the second summer and have terrific students from the region: Alice, Robstown, Falfurrias, Bishop. The university has given notice to several of the assistant professors because of budget cuts and folks are scattering. One professor gives everyone A’s as a form of protest. Another, my favorite American Literature is moving to Maryland. One will join the Navy.  But we are all graduate students teaching at Upward Bound and the university’s doings don’t affect us directly so we remain oblivious.

Summer 1975.

Time to leave. My parents have come to take me home. The white Chevy station wagon full of my stuff drives up to the dorm and we stuff in Rosa’s suitcase and boxes because we are giving her a ride to Falfurrias although it is out of our way. Rosa. My friend from Upward Bound. I will never see her again although we promise we will write and keep in touch.

The students have gone and the faculty we are saying goodbye. Everyone is anxious. Mary Lou and her boyfriend will move to Austin; they’ll be married soon. Tony will continue with the program and keep it going. As the federal funding expands and shrinks—Trio programs, Gear Up—the students

We are all going our separate ways to become the people we are preparing to become. I’m off toLaredo to prepare to start doctoral studies in Nebraska. Why Nebraska? It’s a long story, and several people know it, but I will retell it because it illustrates the way my life has been one of serendipitous eventualities. Unsure of what I had gone on retreat to Sarita, Texas at the Sarita Kenedy East mansion to think about my future. I was intensely drawn to law school but I was equally bound to literature. At the end of the retreat I knew that it was to be literature. I sacrificed to make the $20 application fee and applied to Stanford. In the fall, I wrote to a number of schools and applied to those schools that answered that yes, they would waive my application fee—not the smartest way to choose but given my limited resources I resorted to what I thought would work. Spring 1975. Accepted to a number of graduate programs in English-mostly in the Midwest I need to make a decision.

When Ralph Grajeda, an assistant professor of English at the University of Nebraska contacted to invite me to apply, I was flattered and submitted my application. Only two weeks later, I received the letter from the Department Chair who informed me that I had been accepted and with a teaching assistantship. I had been receiving acceptance letters—Ohio State, Michigan, Kent State, Bowling Green, and some rejection letters as well—Wisconsin stands out in my mind because they had been so enthusiastic waiving my application fee and sending me materials even before I applied.

So, I accepted the offer from Nebraska to come and work on a doctoral degree with what seemed to me a generous offer of a teaching assistantship the first year and instructor status the next 4 years. I thought I was on my way. But, there was a glitch. The master’s thesis I had been working on with the linguist in the department was an issue. I had found out that the professor had used the research and published an article, albeit with a footnote acknowledging my research. Nevertheless, I was distraught because in some places the article had the very words I had written and turned in to him for my thesis. I went to the Department chair, Dr. Sawey who advised I not submit the thesis and instead just take classes to fulfill the requirements for graduation. Following his advice, I didn’t file a complaint. I was fine with it, as all I wanted was to be done and get out. However, now I was in a quandary; Nebraska had accepted me with the understanding that I would have the MA in hand. I had not time to finish the classes necessary to earn the MA in time. Early the next morning, before going to teach my class and with a voice that I am sure sounded apologetic and disappointed, I called the Chair in Lincoln and explained my dilemma. You can always complete the two classes here, John informed me. You can then have them transferred back to complete the MA. His words spoken in his clipped British English relieved my heart and I practically floated out of the Department office to teach my class. And so it was. In the end, it was all as it should be. Had I not needed to take the extra hours to complete the MA, I would not have met Max Holland in my political science class at UNL; I moved into his apartment when he left to work in Washington, DC where I met up with him years later when I worked at the National Endowment for the Arts.

While only two years, my MA studies in Kingsville set me on my academic path and proved to be a segue into the PhD in Lincoln. It seemed that the prediction by Mr. Uribe, the astrologer in Laredo, was proving true. My undergraduate years were fraught with obstacles, but graduate school was proving to be relatively smooth.

TAMUK and Kingsville

Since my departure in 1975, the university has undergone changes, too. After dissolving the University System of South Texas and subsequent to the MALDEF lawsuit in the mid 1980s, Texas A&I became Texas A&M-Kingsville. By then I was teaching in Laredo and saw Laredo State University’s growth as well as it became Texas A&M International University. I was dean when that occurred and I recall suggesting that we have “International” in our name—I didn’t want Texas A&M at Laredo (TAMAL) for obvious reasons.

This week in Kingsville, I have traveled back into a foreign country that is the past. I know that the university continues to serve South Texas and I trust it will continue its mission into the future. All those friends and professors have gone on along their own life paths. Raffy is my friend on FB. Many having finished with their mission here, have transitioned and gone on along their soul’s path– Dr. Sawey, Dr. Rovira, Dr. Gallaway. Dr. Hildegard Schmallenbeck assistance to students lives on in a scholarship in her honor. Dr. Hinojosa-Smith just retired from UT-Austin. Such fond memories! All had an impact on who I am and I am honored to continue mentoring my students, teaching literature and love of story, writing and reading and being an academic.

There’s no denial that the university has had an impact on the community. As an example, two of the major Chicana artists, Carmen Lomas Garza and Santa Barraza, studied here; Santa has returned to teach in the art department. It was a gift that she visited our seminar when we were discussing South Texas art and artist and the aesthetic grounded in the cultural, historical and geographical terrain of South Texas.

The King Ranch continues to define the region and to be a colonizing force both for the campus and for the community. The King Ranch Museum tells the story of the past but erases much of the Mexican history, there’s barely a mention of the many who came along with the first cattle from the small Mexican town lured by Captain King to relocate when their town was reeling from the effects of a devastating flood.

As I end this blog, I thank you who have followed and responded. I am on my way to DC for the American Folklife Festival. A place I have been before. I am considering an other Immersion Memoir based on DC for I lived there from 1993-1995 and that too shaped who I am and what I write. We’ll see.


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