Stories of Learning in New Mexico

For the last several months I’ve been working with a team of artists to launch Stories of Learning in New Mexico, a series of community gatherings for current and former New Mexico public school students to reflect upon and articulate their own stories of learning: what works, what doesn’t and everything in between. The gatherings are facilitated by Littleglobe, and are part of the Learning Alliance of New Mexico’s Countdown to Better Schools Campaign, which engages New Mexicans in a focused, statewide conversation about the values, priorities, and approaches that are needed to better serve our children.

We kicked off last weekend in Albuquerque (hence, no blog post for the last few weeks) and will soon be in Las Cruces and Northwest New Mexico.

We talked about our first teachers and the gifts they gave us. A father who took his daughter to the river and the mountains and taught her the names of plants, showed her which mushrooms she could eat and which would make her ill. A tîa who made space in her home for a boy’s creativity. A great grandmother who taught her granddaughter’s child the history of our people and this place.

You can be part of the conversation by submitting your stories to our blog. Beginning today Stories of Learning NM will post a story from our workshops and a prompt. Visit Stories of Learning NM to read “Eyes Wide Shut,” Vernon Butler’s ode to the great-grandparents who taught him to show love and to be a man. Then check out this week’s prompt and send in your photos, anecdotes, and written reflections (up to 500 words) about learning in the Land of Enchantment.

Here’s mine:

My First Teacher

My Grandma China was not the nicest person.

She was the only one I knew who said exactly what was on her mind all the time—whether you asked her or not.

I don’t like that woman your cousin married.

Michelley, you look like a boy with your hair cut like that.

You don’t have to be married. Just have a baby.

She was my “Mi’ja, bring me a cold one” grandma. She smoked Kent 3 100s, and if she was out of cigarettes, she’d stand in front of her house until some kid walked by, summon him with a “Hey, you,” hand him a few bucks, and instruct him to get her a pack of the low tar kind from the corner laundromat. “And I know how much change I’m supposed to get so don’t go spending it on candy.”

She did a lot of those things that Chicana grandmas do. She made tortillas from scratch, kept her home spotless, tended to my grandpa, raised her children, and always sent you from her kitchen table with your belly full and some leftovers in an old Cool Whip bowl. When the cough she couldn’t shake turned to pneumonia and pneumonia turned to cancer, she spent the days before her lung removal cooking and packing a cooler with brisket, beans, red chile, and “those little pudding cups your grandpa likes” so we wouldn’t have to eat in the hospital cafeteria.

Just by being her she taught me something about being proud of who we were. 

We were brown and drove old cars and her English was funny and we didn’t have a lot, but her husband served honorably in World War II, her children were respectful and kind, and her granddaughter went to Harvard, dammit. Nobody could say we were stupid or dirty or lazy.

She taught me something about defending myself, about not taking sh*@ from anybody. 

When the Mexican Elder in her front yard started dropping leaves, she remembered smelling gas when she walked past it to get the mail, and called the gas company to check for a leak. They sent a guy who said he didn’t smell anything and gave her property a seal of approval. When the tree died and then the hedge, she called the gas company again. She called Deming’s city manager, who said there was nothing he could do. The grass browned. She couldn’t shake the smell of gas. She called the city manager again. She called him every day. She left long messages and wrote him letters. She showed up at his office. Her campaign ended when a city work crew showed up at the house on Rural Route 2 with strict instructions to “do whatever that woman says.”

She was one of my first teachers. I have her rolling pin, keepsake, symbol of tortillas, perfectly round, of flaky piecrusts baked from scratch and apricots from her tree, of her joints swollen by arthritis and the calluses she’d slice from her big toes with a razor blade. Her rolling pin cut from simple wood, a weapon if need be, unfinished but smooth from the work of her hands.

 

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Published in: on October 2, 2013 at 11:00 am  Leave a Comment  

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