Monday, November 09, 2015

How I Became a Racist in 1973

Imagine my confusion
when my fourth-grade teacher
kept correcting the way I
pronounced my cousin’s name.

Mr. Brown (ironically named)
confidently proclaimed:
“Roza Linh-deh”
and I countered with
“Rosa Leen-dah,”
which is how I heard it
my entire life.

We did this two-step
for about a minute
until I realized
he was getting mad,
and I didn’t want
to cause trouble
because my Mexican father
would have no problem
belt-whipping me
if he found out I disobeyed
the teacher.

I pretended to struggle,
pronouncing her name
in his blanched,
sterile way,

and then finally
it came, stumbling out
“Roza Linh-deh,”
and I faked smiled
as though I were proud
to have mastered
this deficiency.

He smiled,
genuinely oblivious
to my ruse.

It was one
of the few lessons
I remember from
grammar school.


  1. Oh dear... the things we teach when we won't learn.
    Your slices of life are so real, Mosk. And all the best in your new digs.

    1. Thanks, and yes, the most powerful lessons seem to unintentional ones.

  2. Anonymous2:27 PM

    Yikes, I seem to recall a similar convo. between you and I over some such words...tomato, tomata...hope that doesn't make me a racist. I would bend and say Leen-da

    1. You're no racist - least as far as I can see - but I remember this was one of the first times I experienced cognitive dissonance: "wait, how does he know how to pronounce her name?" "Wait, how can the teacher be wrong?" "Wait, can I disagree with him because he's White?" See, all kinds of nonsense! Linda, Leen-da, doesn't matter, unless you're forcing me to mispronounce it! Thanks, Angie!

  3. Now I have Bruce Springsteen's "Rosalita" (yes, I know, slightly different name) stuck in my head. Not a problem!

    1. Thanks, and you could have worse songs stuck in your head!

  4. Anonymous9:47 AM

    This is why, on the first day of the semester, I have each student tell me their name as they come in instead of reading it off the roster myself and butchering it. :)