The images of the school I attended in rural Nuevo Leon come to me when I watch pregame flag ceremonies of an international soccer match involving the Mexican national team. Like the players, the students would stand shoulder to shoulder, saluting the colors, mouthing the Himno Nacional, on the rectangle cement slab in front of the school on special occasions.
Mexicanos al Grito de Guerra…That is the only verse I remember.
The two-room school building was fabricated out of adobe and stucco. It had a cement foundation, a rarity in an area where the bare ground served as the floor for all structures. A portón distinguished the mission style façade of the school. The entryways to the building and classrooms were arched. I do not remember if the classrooms had a door. A foyer separated the classrooms. Regardless, I am sure the students in the other classroom could hear the day I challenged my mother for inadvertently incorrectly marking the answer to a problem on my math work. A shy quiet first grader, the familiarity with the teacher allowed me to briefly come out of my shell.
The high vaulted ceiling of the edifice made it airy. Everything seemed so large then. Sufficient windows provided plenty of sunlight. Each classroom seated 30 to 40 pupils. My mother’s class consisted of students up to third grade.There was a green board attached to a wall where my mother wrote her lessons. I did not realize that blackboards existed until I came to Texas. Nor did I know that the aesthetic and construction of the school building was similar to the Alamo Mission in San Antonio.
During recess, the girls marked the slab with chalk to play hopscotch. The boys played soccer on the dirt school grounds. From a distance, the movement of the soccer ball could be followed by the cloud of dust raised by the herd of running kids. Green blades of grass were non-existent. As an adult, more than once, the thought crossed my mind that being totally exposed to dirt and germs at an early age helped me develop a strong immune system. Allergies, asthma or ear infections never seemed to be an issue for me, my siblings or our schoolmates. The maladies endured were the result of physical activities, like being slammed on the forehead by a flying soccer ball. A momentary blackout would make Galaxy-like lights appear in my head. My mother would rub my temple while repeating sana sana colita de rana, (Heal heal little frog’s tail), a children’s rhyme that is sung when someone is hurt. Then, the game would continue.
For some reason, the images of the soccer team members awaken thoughts of the tale of Los Niños Heroes (the Boy Heroes of Chapultepec):
As the well-armed adversary advances on the military academy, six young cadets between the ages of 13 and 19 refuse to retreat and fight gallantly giving their life to defend the lightly manned fortress. The last cadet wraps the flag which flew over a fortified castle around his body. He jumps into the adjacent valley to his death instead of letting the invading troops take the banner.
It is a romanticized version of a sad episode in Mexican history. A lesson which my mother taught me in the school in Albercones for self-esteem purposes. Similar to the folklore I was taught in middle school in the US about the fallen heroes at the Battle of the Alamo.
The images also make me think about a saying my father would utter from time to time: Traes el nopal en la cara (I have the cactus on my face). A blunt not-so-politically correct way of conceding that in terms of morphology one is a mestizo, a person of combined European and Native American descent, the ethnography of the majority of people of Mexican origin. The refrain is probably derived from the fact that the nopal (cactus) is on the Coat of Arms which appears on the Mexican flag. The Coat of Arms depicts a golden eagle devouring a snake perched on a nopal.
Seeing the images of the faces of the individual players appear on my television screen make me think about how today I am continually perceived as a foreigner in what may likely be my ancestral land.
As an American citizen, my allegiance to the Constitution and laws of the United States is absolute. Still, thinking about once standing at attention in the school ground with fellow hijos del sol (children of the sun), I’m reminded of a universal human foible: all individuals, whether of European, Asian or African origin, have a lasting bond with the people in whom they see themselves.