Monthly Archives: July 2015

Things we’d rather not know

SALT LAKE CITY — All the way along the route to what locals call Mormon Central, I thought about my friend Vince Distasio, who was a colleague back in the late ‘60s, when we taught at Cuba High School.

Back then, there were a lot of Highlands University alumni: Rosalie and Neil Niebes, Jack Bradley, Marcella Fuentes, Tomas Salazar, Elias Garcia, Joe Ray Atencio, Peter Arguello, Ruben Cordova, Robert Romero and me.

What about the Mormon Tabernacle reminded me of my friend Vince? In brief, it was my wondering about ancestors and how much information the Church of Latter Day Saints had gathered about all the Trujillos and Medinas (and others) in my family tree. We’ve been vacationing near Salt Lake City and thought of checking out the repository we’d heard much about.

We never set foot inside the church itself. More than a city block of downtown Salt Lake City consists of ancillary buildings for the church; there are a couple of welcome centers, places inside and out for children to play, rooms where members of the world-famous Mormon Tabernacle Choir practice and perform, and — one of the reasons we were there — the vast amount of genealogical research the church has conducted. It’s free, and at no time did any of us Trujillos feel disloyalty to our own congregation or pressured to donate to the Mormon cause, or join their congregation. Continue reading

Is Atticus a racist?

There was a bit of relief when I read a review of a new book that declares that “Go Set a Watchman,” is not a sequel to the 1960s blockbuster novel that became a great movie, “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

But before proceeding, let me release the long-standing pun regarding the Mexican mixed drink called “Tequila Mockingbird.” There might be some mixicologists who will prepare you a Bloody Mary, or Gin and Tonic or a Hot Toddy, but a Tequila concoction? I don’t think so.

Harper Lee wrote “To Kill a Mockingbird” back in 1960. It became an instant hit, spawning a movie by the same name, starring Gregory Peck. I’ve read it several times and love the give-and-take between Peck, qua Atticus Finch, and his daughter, Scout, who many readers assume represents the author herself. I wondered why the pre-teen daughter had the temerity to call her dad by his given name instead of simply “Dad.” How many offspring call their parents by their given name? Continue reading

Repeating the same errors

Don’t be surprised to discover that I’ve used this statement in several past columns: It’s a miracle that anyone learns English. I’m instantly reminded of the song Professor Henry Higgins blurts out early in the movie and play, “My Fair Lady.”

The professor, a dialectician and grammarian, sings “Why Can’t the English Teach Their Children How to Speak?” as he laments Eliza Doolittle’s use of “aawww” and “gawwn,” a form of Cockney-speak people of that time and place had grown accustomed to.

English is unpredictable. The schwa, for example, that phonetic symbol that looks like an upside-down “e,” and is called a neutral sound, can represent any vowel sound. There are only five vowels in the language (six if you count “y”), but 14 or 15 vowel sounds, depending on which part of the country you live in.

Yes, English is a strange tongue. It’s a language that renders the vowel combination of “ou” a half dozen ways, representing a host of vowels. Continue reading

Fiction is ‘made-up’ stuff

I find it irksome for people to define something only on the basis of what it’s not. Sound confusing? Let me explain.

I remember way back in fourth or fifth grade at Immaculate Conception School when Sister Mary Espantosa ran us through the reading curriculum by telling us that books were generally divided into two classes: fiction and non-fiction.

Well, literature in the form of short stories, usually in prose and consisting of “made-up” stuff, constitutes a mammoth genre. And what is the counterpart of fiction? Well, it’s non-fiction. How many geniuses sat around a table coming up with a label that covers just about everything else?

There’s biography, historic literature, drama, poetry and much more to the literary canon. And all we can come up with is non-fiction? How far can we carry that game in which we categorize things on the basis of what they are not?

Continue reading

Being pelted with erasers

The class of students that made perhaps the biggest impression on me was an eighth-grade language arts group I taught in a rural town in northwestern New Mexico.

Because of a scheduling mixup on the first day, the 24 students I would have had became separated: Ms. Virginia Vigil takes all the girls; I keep the boys.

That error became a brilliant move, not because of the unisex nature of the class but because of the personalities of the 12 boys.

These eighth-graders were tough. Some of them later became starters on the football team as freshmen. Yes, they were rough and rowdy, but they still had the old-fashioned respect a teacher appreciates; they knew how to say “yes, sir” and “no, sir.”

Happily, I can say that during my tenure as a teacher at Highlands, I had three of the tough boys’ sons in some of my classes, possibly 25 years later. Continue reading