Education: Progress and Problems
Homesick Martín and Miguel Return to the Sierra Madre—with Difficulty
The two boys from Ajoya who were given the opportunity to study in the United States both did very well, academically and socially. Last year both boys had the good fortune to live with exceptionally fine American families, who took great interest in, and became very fond of, their Mexican protégés. Martín Reyes stayed with the family of Thomas Prosser in Cupertino. Miguel Angel Mánjarrez, with the family of Dr. Murray Walker in Palo Alto. In spite of their excellent experience in the United States, however, by the end of the school year last year both boys were tremendously eager to get home. Far from lessening the attractiveness of their native village by comparison with the far more complex and “advanced” culture in California, both boys seem to be more passionately bonded with their native village than ever.
Martín, who had only completed the fourth grade in Ajoya when he entered the 7th grade of Kennedy Junior High School in Cupertino, by the end of his first year was holding his own both in the new language and in his classes. By mid-year in the eighth grade he had made the honor roll. His cheerful good will and eager participation in both curricular and extracurricular activities won for him the “Friendship Award” at the end of the year. As Martín’s goal in education has been to return to the villages as a teacher, we agreed that after the eighth grade he should continue his education in Mexico. Martín’s teachers at Kennedy Junior High spearheaded by Mr. Gene Schneider, the librarian, were so impressed by his enthusiasm and accomplishments at Kennedy that out of their own pockets they raised a scholarship fund of over $600 for Martín to continue his studies in México.
Back in México, however, we had a rude awakening. Although we had previously checked with the Director of the Secondary School in San Ignacio, who had assured us that Martín should have no problem entering the equivalent of the ninth grade in the Mexican system, when we actually tried to enter him it was a different story. It turns out that all primary and secondary education in México is federally controlled, and that the Federal Government leaves no opening for evaluating or recognizing studies completed in other countries. Everyone we talked to, from the Federal Director of Public Education in the State Capital to the Chancellor of the University, was apologetic, but insistent: Martín would have to enter the fifth grade!
We tried private schools, everything. No luck. At last I came to a “friendly agreement” with the Directors of the Primary and Secondary Schools in San Ignacio whereby I made a substantial donation for improvements of the school buildings and creation of a playground, and Martín was admitted into the first year of Secondary School (7th grade). The Primary school certificate will somehow be arranged during the course of the year.
So Martín is in the 7th grade in San Ignacio, as ever at the top of his class. He has a school office, and is enjoying himself thoroughly. He has taken the setback far better than I. Although everything was set up for Miguel to return for another year at Terman Junior High School, the experience with Martín made us think twice. At present Miguel is enrolled in the Colegio Cervantes in Culiacán, where he lives with his married sister, Adela. He, also, is doing very well.
Success then Tragedy: the Education of Juan Sanchez
Project Piaxtla is also sponsoring another boy at the Colegio Cervantes. Juan Sanchez completed the 6th grade in Ajoya last June with very good grades. He is from a poor family in a small village several hours on mule back from Ajoya. His father, Manuel, is a relative of Chui Vega, the wealthiest land baron in Ajoya, and young Juan had resided in Chui’s household when school was in session. Juan had done well in school, and one day early this September when he came to the Ajoya dispensary for medicine, I asked him if he had plans for continuing his education. He told me no, his father couldn’t afford it.
“Wouldn’t Chui Vega help out?” I asked. The boy didn’t know.
I arranged a conference between Chui Vega, Juan’s father, and myself. The net outcome was that between the three of us we agreed to see that Juan continued his education. Manuel said that his son could stay with an aunt in Culiacán. He agreed to pay for Juan’s transportation and clothing, Chui and I (or rather Project Piaxtla) agreed to split down the middle Juan’s tuition, books, and other expenses. It was too late to enter-Juan in the over-crowded public secondary schools in Culiacán, and we therefore enrolled him, along with Miguel, in the Colegio Cervantes.
I was particularly delighted that Chui Vega agreed to sponsor Juan, for it was another step forward in encouraging the land barons to assume responsibility for the betterment of the campesino’s lot. From the first, Chui Vega has been a leader in this regard, and has repeatedly added both moral and financial support to the water project.
The pact between the three of us to sponsor Juan’s education was short lived, however, due to a tragic event. As ever, it centered around a dance, where there was drinking. Whatever the precipitating factors, Juan’s father, Manuel, murdered Valdo Vega, not only a cousin of Chui Vega, but the chief body guard and foreman of his ranch. Chui was so infuriated that he not only cut short his sponsorship of young Juan, but sponsored instead (or so it is rumored) a posse of State Police to track down Juan’s father. After several weeks Manuel was apprehended and is now in jail in San Ignacio. So now Manuel, also, is unable to help out towards his son’s education. Rumors of his father’s misadventure had reached Juan by the time I went to see him in Culiacán. The boy was distraught, the more so for fear that he would have to leave school. I assured him that even if I had to go pick grapes in California, he would continue his education. Poor kid!
The Improving Educational Situation in Jocuixtita
On the more positive side, educational possibilities in the Upper Barrancas are considerably improved this year. Whereas last year, as usual, the school teacher of Verano remained only part of the year, and the teachers of Jocuixtita left definitively after only two weeks, this year both villages have been sent new young teachers who are exceptionally dedicated. The teacher in Jocuixtita is a particularly sensible young man who has agreed to compromise with the Jehovah’s Witnesses in the village over the question of saluting the flag, rather than fight with them and finally leave town, as have so many of his predecessors.
Project Piaxtla has also cooperated with the parents to raise funds to cement the dirt floor of the school room.
For the school in Jocuixtita, Project Piaxtla has recently obtained a number of illustrated children’s storybooks and a children’s encyclopedia to add to the small library started by my students six years ago. Project Piaxtla has also cooperated with the parents to raise funds to cement the dirt floor of the school room.
El Zopilote as a Make-Shift Education Center
El Zopilote has also become a small nucleus of education, for grown-ups and children alike. I keep a small collection of carefully chosen books available for browsing or lending. These books (many from the Time-Life series in Spanish) are well illustrated and diagramed, as many who come to “read” can’t read. Volumes include such diverse titles as “Health and Sickness”, “Birds”, “The Universe”, “World History”, “Bible Stories”, and “Evolution”. Having often tried to explain the sun’s movements' the moon’s phases, etc., using oranges and lemons, I finally brought back a globe which now provides endless fascination to young and old alike. On Sundays a number of the young adults, who would otherwise be looking for a card game or a drink, climb the mountain. to El Zopilote to browse in the books, spin the globe, and shoot the bull. A flock of teen-age girls from Jocuixtita also makes occasional visits to plant flowers for me, “read” books, and enjoy the view. Two little boys, whose fathers don’t let them go to school, drop by sometimes on their return from the fields to help with hooves in exchange for lessons in reading and writing. Part of the beauty of El Zopilote is that I find time for the healthy as well as the sick.