Symphony 121

“If Oscar doesn’t stop acting stupid now, stupidity is going to become a reality for him in a few years.”

“So tell him.”

“I have, repeatedly. It doesn’t do any good, because he wants to be stupid.”

Teixeira slammed his chair back as he got up. “That is the most preposterous thing I have ever heard. I think I know what will cure Oscar. I’ll pull him out of this ridiculous little school and transfer him to some place that can handle him.”

“John.”

“What!”

“If a witness on the stand were to suddenly start to sweat and become defensive, what would you think?”

John Teixeira paused with his hand on the door. He didn’t answer. He didn’t have to. Neil could see the point go home. He looked back at Neil, puzzled by his own over-reaction.

“John,” Neil continued in a mild voice, “Oscar isn’t just playing dumb. He’s playing dumb Mexican.”

Teixeira’s voice was ominous as he said, “Exactly what does that mean?”

“I’ve worked with Oscar for eight months now, but I’ve only met you a few times. I can’t say I know you well, but this is the impression I get. You are Chicano. Your skin says it, your name says it, the shape of your face says it — but absolutely nothing else about you says it. You dress white, talk white, shake hands white, live white, walk white. You probably pee white, if you’ve been able to find any difference. In everything you say and do, you are telling your son that to be successful, to be intelligent, he has to be Anglo. He can’t be both Chicano and bright. I think you have forced him to make a choice between those two, when no choice was necessary. And I think he has chosen to be Chicano.

“John, I don’t think I can help him. I don’t think anyone can but you. You have to teach him he can be both Chicano and bright, both Chicano and successful. And you can’t just tell him. I think you are going to have to stop being afraid to be a Chicano yourself, before you can reach out to your son.”

Teixeira slammed the door behind him on the way out.

Neil sat back, discouraged and angry with himself. He should have sugar coated his words so that Teixeira would listen to them. By throwing them out like an accusation, he had probably destroyed any chance of helping Oscar.

# # #

Neil continued to watch Oscar’s lack of progress, and to search for a solution that did not require a change of heart on John Teixeira’s part. Then, a week later, Oscar came to Neil and said, “What are we going to do for Cinco de Mayo this year?”

“I don’t know. I never thought about it. Do you normally do something to celebrate it?”

“Of course!”

“What?”

Oscar described some of the things that had been done in previous years. It was all Neil could do to keep the triumph out of his face, but he managed to look disinterested as he said, “That sounds pretty lame.”

“Lame! Cinco de Mayo is as important to us Chicano’s as the Fourth of July is to you Anglos.”

“Tell me why.”

Oscar tried to explain, but he was intelligent enough to realize that his arguments were based on emotion and empty of fact. When he had ground to a halt, Neil smiled and reached out to squeeze his shoulder. “Oscar, I said the celebrations you used to do sounded lame. I did not make fun of Cinco de Mayo itself. I just think it needs to be presented better. Now, here is what I want you to do . . .” more tomorrow

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