When I was a child I read books. I read the Gran Larousse Ilustrado, several volumes of a Greek mythology collection my father had bought when he first arrived in Buenos Aires, the Tales of Hans Christian Andersen, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Mujercitas (Little Women), a collection of encyclopedias about nature, some Karl Marx, a volume on Egyptian mythology. I was born and reared in Buenos Aires and found one of the hardest tasks when I came to the United States at age 19 - after completing my secondary education where I read numerous literary books and textbooks on all aspects of science and the humanities - was to persuade North Americans that growing up in South America was not intellectually crippling. On hearing me speak about some subject or other people often ask, how do you know that? At first dumbfounded, and later irritated, I answer, because I read books.
I had the good fortune of attending one of the best public high schools in the city that happened to be five blocks from my home: Liceo de Senoritas No. 11 Cornelio de Saavedra. In those years (1960s), the school was considered one of the best public schools and, being a "liceo", it meant that you were preparing for a university degree. There were then three types of secondary education possibilities: a business high school ("comercial"), a teaching high school ("normal"), and the "liceo". I was looking forward to attending the "Facultad de Filosofia y Letras" where I would study literature, writing, perhaps journalism. A few months before leaving from Buenos Aires I took the entrance exam and passed. I couldn't wait for March 1970 to begin my college life. But, on February 28 my parents and I left Buenos Aires for New York.
In my naive mind I assumed I would be returning home after a year or two to restart my university work. In the meantime I worked at a factory for a month before being fired and later as a secretary in an engineering firm. The ten years of English lessons and typing Summer class before leaving paid off. Eventually I came to accept the fact that I was here to stay and enrolled in a city college for a few years before transferring to the University of Illinois at Chicago. And, as they say, the rest is history.
On learning that I teach, people often ask, "Spanish?"
My answer, "No, English."
Inevitably the follow-up question, "ESL?"
"No, English literature and creative writing."
We have often shared similar stories with my friend Irma who lives in Mexico City but used to live in Chicago for a number of years. She confronted the same questions, the same assumptions, and fought them off fiercely. In a way, my writing and teaching is a means of demonstrating that people
from South of the border are not intellectually crippled.