At Juan Seguin, most of us spoke primarily Spanish and only a few words in English. I venture to suggest that most students came from homes where Spanish was the dominant language spoken. Thus, when we left our homes to attend school, we entered a totally new language environment. English was a new and foreign language for us. But, it was very important to learn English and heavy emphasis was placed on English language acquisition. We were not encouraged to speak Spanish. This meant that we were assigned to pre-primer for a year before moving into first grade. That first year of pre-primer was clearly to teach us sufficient English to prepare us for first grade. I was 6 years old when I enrolled at Juan Seguin School. Our teacher during that first year of schooling was Mrs. Oralia Rodriquez. She was a caring person and an outstanding educator. Respect for her was widely shared and celebrated.
A special treat for our family was that our grandfather, Samuel Maldonado, was the custodian at Juan Seguin. What a joy it was to see my grandfather “Papa Samuel” every day at school. I can imagine that it provided some comfort to our parents knowing that our grandfather was there to keep an eye on us. From his small closet, he could observe a good chunk of the playground. At school, my grandfather was known as “Sam.” He was popular with the teachers and the students.
Most of us at Juan Seguin were poor. The majority of our parents came from farming and rural backgrounds where they labored as tenant farmers. As they moved into town, most took up manual labor and blue collar jobs. There were also veterans of World War II. However, poverty backgrounds and limited education were our common history. Many of our parents were not well versed in school issues and processes. Most of us as children learned the school system on our own. As a school for poor Mexicans, Juan Seguin School did not have many of the usual school facilities and activities found in other public schools. We did not have a gym, a sports field, or even a cafeteria. However, we did have some monkey bars and two seesaws on the playground; needless to say, we all made good use of this equipment. All of us brought our lunches or ran home for a quick meal. The norm was for most for us to bring our lunches in brown paper bags that appeared to have been recycled several times. I venture to suggest, that most of our lunches consisted of tortilla folded in half with beans and cheese inside. Eating lunch under the huge oak trees is still an enjoyable memory.
With poverty commonly shared, we wore similar clothing, shoes and had limited school resources. Poverty placed us all on an equal footing. There did not appear to be much of a class hierarchy or status. We could not tease other students for what they wore because we all wore the same type of clothing. Unfortunately, because of our poverty and language challenges, some of our fellow students were forced to repeat the grade, thus resulting in age and size differences among grade peers.
There was also the reality of some of our peers leaving early in the spring to work in agricultural fields in the northern part of the country and returning to school in the fall. This resulted in their being further behind academically. Academic and language learning became an uneven and frustrating reality. As a result, many students dropped out of school as soon as they finished at Juan Seguin School.
Yet, Juan Seguin Elementary School was a place with a sense of belonging. We were all in the same place economically, socially, and culturally. We identified with each other. Although we had no school mascot or logo shirts, we all knew we were from Juan Seguin Elementary because we were all Mexican Americans. We were from “La Juana.” Even today, I suggest that among the older generations, we can look at each other and recognize and affirm our common history and experiences through our shared school. We recognize the limitations at Juan Seguin due to economic and political realities. However, we also recognize and celebrate how that humble little school helped many of us face other challenges and overcome equally challenging realities. And we especially celebrate that Juan Seguin Elementary School brought us together as a community and continues to bind us in a shared history and memory.