In this post I’m going to introduce you to el “Chapparo,” my third older brother. His name is Fernando but my apa called him Chaparro, for you non Spanglishers this means a shorty, sorry Fernando I had to clarify. Of course Fernando did not put on that nickname, it was exclusive for my apa and ama. In high school he was dubbed “Zap” by one of his teachers. I believe it was a derivative from our last name Zepeda, which every teacher mispronounced. That teacher must have pronounced it “Zapeeduh.” My brother had his own battles to fight while in transition to learning the English language and American ways.
School and the Immigrant Child
Like my other siblings, Fernando was dropped into the American education system without knowing how to speak English. I know the difficulty of going to an unfamiliar place as a little kindergartener and not having your safe and secure pillars, like ama and apa visible and near. I was a chilliona my first year and cried until the teacher handed me to my 4th grade big sister. Pero no me imagino what it must be like for a child to be dropped at school with a bunch of strangers and not understanding a word they’re saying to you. Chapparro (it feels weird to call him that since it was an exclusive name used by our parents) went along with the program as well as he could.
No Hablo Ingles
Un dia, while the class was working with messy art stuff, Fernando needed to wash his hands, he looked around and didn’t see a sink, so he went looking for one. He walked right into the girls bathroom and proceeded to scrub his hands. Luego, as he was washing vigorously he felt that uneasy feeling of someone watching him. He turned around and saw that some of the little girls in his class had followed him. They were chattering indignantly and staring at him in disbelief. Didn’t he know that he was in the girls bathroom?! Since he didn’t understand them, Fernando went back to washing his hands, but before he could finish he felt a nasty tug on his ear as he was being pulled out of the bathroom. Now he was indignant! The teacher was saying something to him and pointing at the words on the bathroom door “GIRLS” Fernando looked at the door and at her and using the universal “body language.” He shrugged his shoulders and knowing my brother, he had that natural Zepeda frown on his face. That’s when it hit the teacher, a “face palm” moment, that if he couldn’t speak English, he wouldn’t be able to read it. She showed him where the BOYS bathroom was and from that point on Fernando knew exactly where to go. No confusion, boys used the boys bathroom and girls used the girls one, and the English acquisition continued steadily for my big bro.
I really enjoy sharing these stories, in my opinion, they are such a vital part of our American history. Y, para mi, it enriches my treasure vault.