How Do You Say Blueberry in Spanish?

 

Story Summary:

 Antonio explores the challenges and joys of trying to raise a bilingual child. As anxious new parents, Antonio and his wife ask, “Are two languages better than one?” and find humor along the way.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: How Do You Say Blueberry In Spanish

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why did Antonio and his wife begin to doubt their choice of raising their son to be bilingual?
  2. What is the advantage of speaking more than one language?
  3. Two-way Immersion (TWI) classes or bilingual immersion classrooms are springing up in many urban/suburban communities where people new to America settle. What used to be a rare challenge for the public schools has become mandatory. Also, many English-only speakers want these programs because parents understand that their children’s world is much more global than the world in which they grew up. Would you put your child into classes that teach core subjects in a language other than English?

Resource:

Themes:

  • Crossing Cultures
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • European American/Whites
  • Family and Childhood
  • Identity
  • Languages
  • Latino American/Latinos
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking

Full Transcript:

Hi, my name is Antonio Sacre. Have you ever felt in your head that what you were doing was right but in your heart, you weren’t so sure? When my son was born, my wife and I decided we were going to speak to him in English and Spanish. So, my wife would sing and talk to him in English, and I would sing and talk to my son in Spanish.

And as the months went by and he began to crawl, we began to think, “What will his first word be? Will it be in English? Mommy. Or Spanish? Papa. Cat or Gato?”

And when he was about 9 or 10 months he said his first word. “Ba.” I said to my wife, “What did he say?” She said, “I think he said, ‘Ba.’” Ok, it wasn’t English or Spanish but it was a clearly enunciated syllable.

And we knew from our parenting books that real speech was not too far behind. And it was cute. The first few things that he said was “Ba” for everything. Cat-“Ba,” dog-“Ba,” Mommy-“Ba,” Daddy-“Ba,” fire truck-“ Ba, ba, ba, ba, ba, ba, ba.” And we would laugh. Now after a while, it was still just “ba” and I was beginning to get a little worried, although I didn’t say anything about that to my wife.

Then our neighbor, Catherine, came over. She’s a high school teacher in the Los Angeles school district and she has a couple kids. She lives just, lives a couple homes up; we love her. And she asked, innocently enough, “So is your son speaking any words yet?”

I said, “Yeah, yeah. Watch this. What do baseball players play with, Honey?”

“Ba.”

“That’s right. A bat. And what you take before you go to sleep? A…”

“Ba.”

“That’s right a bath. And what’s on the other side of your chest?”

“Ba.”

“What’s the opposite of good?”

“Ba.”

“What’s Ebenezer Scrooge’s favorite word?”

“Ba.”

“What’s the chemical symbol for Barium?”

“Ba.”

“What difficult exam do lawyers need to pass?”

“Ba.”

“See Catherine, my son is a genius!” and we had a huge laugh about it. And Catherine left and that night, though, I sat my wife done after we put our son to sleep. And I said, “Ya know? Maybe we’re not doing the right thing. Maybe he’s confused? Maybe we should just speak to him in English and then he’ll learn Spanish as he got older?”

My wife said, “No, absolutely not! We are going to raise him bilingually.” I love that about her. Things that, in my heart, I wasn’t sure that we doing the right thing for our son. And I decided that we would continue to speak to him bilingually at least until we saw our pediatrician in a couple of months.

Now the reason that this was part of our discussion about raising our son is that my father is from Cuba. And when he came here, he didn’t have any English and it was so hard for him. And all my life growing up I heard about how great it would have been if he had been bilingual. He did learn English eventually, and he met my mom who is Irish American. So, I’m Cuban Irish American. Or like a friend of mine calls me a leprechauno.

I grew up speaking both Spanish and English because my grandmother lived with us. She came from Cuba, as well, and only spoke Spanish. So in my life, I was bilingual. When I got to be about 6 or 7, I stopped speaking Spanish because kids at school made fun of me. And when I got older, that precious gift of speaking those two languages, was gone. Now luckily for me, my grandmother made sure that I continued to speak Spanish. And as a high school student, I learned Spanish from her. And so all of this was part of my background. We wanted to raise our son in these two languages. I knew how important it was but I still was worried about his ability to communicate.

So then we went to see the pediatrician. Dr. George is so sweet and he looked at our son and checked him out. Everything was fine. And then I said to him that I was a little worried about his language. And he said, “No, no, no!” He was adamant that we raise son our son in two languages. He said that kids that have two languages, of course, get to communicate with more people. But, also, there is a lot of research that supports that when they are raised bilingually, their brains are actually stronger in many other functions; not just language.

I had doctor’s orders. Raise my son in two languages. That made me feel a little better. And a few weeks after that visit, my son actually spoke his first word. He said, clear as day, “ball.” Oh, we were so excited! And it was a few… couple days after that, he began to speak more words and then it came in like a flood. Words in both English and in Spanish. It was fantastic! And whenever he said a word in English, I made sure that he knew the Spanish equivalent. So when he said “ball,’ I said “pelota.” And when he said, “Thanks,” I said, “Gracias.” And when he said, “Fire truck!” I said, “Camión de bomberos.” And when he said, “Blueberry,” I said, “Variedad de arándano que es azul.” Why does Spanish need thirteen syllables to say blueberry? I called my dad, “How do you say blueberry?” He said, “Mi hijo,” which means my son, “we didn’t have blueberries in Cuba.” So I looked it up in the dictionary and it says variedad de arándano que es azul, a variety of cranberry that is blue. Ah! It’s driving me crazy!

But there are some words in Spanish that are so beautiful in Spanish they don’t translate into English. And the way my father says to his grandson, “Mi tesoro, mi vida, mi alma, mi corazón,” my love, my heart, my treasure, my soul. It really means, Sweetie or Honey but it doesn’t really translate. And the specificity of English is amazing. We have blueberries and boysenberries and blackberries and raspberries and strawberries. And in Spanish they are just arándanos (berries). So I want my son to have those two languages.

It was pretty exciting! And as we are going along, my son and I would make up our own vernacular. So I have a little watch alarm and it went off one day and my son says, “Oye, Papa, que es eso?” (What is that?) And I didn’t know how to say the watch alarm that chimes on the hour.

So, I said, “Suena las campanas.” It just came to my mind. I didn’t know exactly what it meant. And a few weeks later, I was with my dad and my son and my little watch alarm went off.

And my son said, “Abuelo, suena las campanas.”

And my dad started laughing. I said, “What, what did he say?”

He said, “Mi hijo, it doesn’t really translate but what your son said to me was, ‘Granddad, the bell tolls for thee.’”

So now whenever we hear a bell or a bong or a horn, my son says, “Suena las campanas, the bell tolls for thee!” And so my dad now calls my son, Campanas, (Bell). The first of many nicknames my son is gonna have from my dad as he grows up – a Cuban tradition!

Well, now that my son is older and we’re beginning to think about school for him, I have discovered dual language programs. Dual language programs are when the kids study half the day, or more or less, in one language and half the day in English. It could be Spanish or Japanese or Chinese – whatever it is. Now in Los Angeles, ironically, there are a lot of dual language programs but none close to our house. And the ones that we can get into in other districts are very far away. But I still thinks this is what’s right. I actually did some research and I found out that the research team of Thomas and Collier state that kids’ tests scores are actually higher in junior high if they study in both languages. And we wanted that for our son. Well, I mentioned that to Catherine, our neighbor, and I said, “You know what, the waiting lists are really long and they are really far away.”

And she said, “Oh, no! Your son doesn’t have to be on the waiting list because he speaks both languages already. He’s at an advantage because of that.” And then I knew in my heart we were doing the right thing. And then she said, “Why don’t you send him to our local elementary school?”

And we said, “We’d love to but it just doesn’t have a dual language program. That’s a huge part of what we want.” A week later she called us and said she had marched down to the principal’s office and said that if they wanted, they could institute a dual language program. I never thought…it never even occurred to me to do that. And here’s this neighbor doing that for us, for our family. And a month after that, there was a meeting at the school about possibly instituting this dual language program. I was moved by Catherine’s desire to help us, to help the neighborhood. Now will that dual language program go? I don’t know. But I’m moved by Catherine’s work and by the neighborhood and the principal.

And like my dad said, “Centavo a centavo se llena elsaco.” Penny by penny, we fill the sack.

Mr. D’s Class

 

 

Story Summary:

 Thirty teenagers from twenty countries, one Jewish teacher, and one Cuban-Irish-American storyteller (story artist, Antonio Sacre) set out to publish a book of writing in one of the poorest and most challenging high schools in Los Angeles. Will fear and distrust stop the project before it begins, or will they stand together?

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: MR-Ds-CLASS

Discussion Questions:

  1.  Why did the class attitude and atmosphere change when students started sharing their own stories?
  2. Why was it important for the students to have the experience of their lives being witnessed and appreciated by others?
  3. What difference do you think the publication of their stories made to the students that year and the years that followed?

Resources:

  •  The Situation and the Story: The Art of Personal Narrative by Vivian Gornick
  •  The Power of Personal Storytelling by Jack Maguire

Themes:

  •  Crossing Cultures
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • Identity
  • Latino American/Latinos
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking

Full Transcript:

Hi, my name is Antonio Sacre.

Have you ever been inspired by a teacher to do something you didn’t think you could do? Have you ever felt like you let somebody down for not being able to do what you said you were gonna do? I meet Dennis Danzinger, a high school English teacher, at Venice High School, part of Los Angeles Unified School District where I lived a few years ago. He had heard me tell stories in English and in Spanish. He was interested in me possibly working with his kids about how to write stories and tell their own stories. And so I met with him. And when I met with him in person, I was surprised at how intelligent his eyes were and how caring he looked and also how tall he was. I looked at him and before I even said hello, I said, “Wow, you are tall!” He was well over 6 feet. I just blurted it out, “Did you play basketball in college?” He said, “As a matter of fact, I’ve played in college and my college basketball coach said that if I was just a little bit faster, a little bit taller, a little bit better on the pick-and-roll, a little bit better outside shot, better hands on defense, I still wouldn’t make the pros!” He had me at such ease and calm and I was just laughing and talking with him. Loved meeting him!

He told me that he had gotten a grant from a wonderful organization called Pen in The Classroom. It was for money to encourage kids to tell and write their own stories and at the end of the project, they would publish it in an anthology. An actual book that the kids could hold in their hands. And he was intrigued, he thought that I might be good with those kids. And I was happy to talk to him about the possibility. He told me about the money, though, and there wasn’t a lot of it. And I told him that right away. I said, “That’s not a lot of money!” And he said, “I know it’s not a lot of money but these kids have so much potential and so many people have already given up on these kids. These kids have been given up on by parents, and administrators, and school districts.” And he said, “These kids are almost graduating; they’re seniors. There’s so much potential with these kids!” And his passion for his kids moved me a little bit and I had to still consider it.

So as we sat, talking some more, he talked about how when he first moved out to Los Angeles, he was a screenwriter and a TV writer. And he got his first big break on a huge TV show. I thought that was great. So I said, “What was the show?” He said, “Taxi.” And I said, “Wow!”

And he said, “Yeah, it was a pretty big show.”

And I said, “Yeah, it was a big show. It’s just that you are older than you look. Gosh, you are old, old, old like senior citizen old. Like didn’t they shoot that in black and white?”

And he started to laugh. He said, “Listen, you’re not so young yourself! I see that gray around your temples, you know!”

And we had a big laugh, you know, and I thought it would be great to work with this guy.

And then I thought about what he had done. He said he’d given up working on that TV show, with all the dream and money and prestige that comes from writing for a big sitcom to become a high school English teacher in one of the toughest school districts in one of the most embattled districts in the country. He’d given up a world of wealth and pressure for a world of the pressure and none of the wealth. And he seemed happy. He seemed exciting; I was intrigued. And he took my silence for reticence.

And he said, “Listen, I’ll tell you what, I will buy you lunch before every class at the best sandwich shop in Venice, California and I will give you a copy of my new book.”

He held out his hand. I shook it. I said, “Dennis, lunch better be good and your book better not suck!”

He laughed and he said, “Listen, my book will make you laugh at least once, guaranteed. And if it doesn’t, I’ll give you your money back.”

When he took me to his car and gave me his book, I laughed immediately. The title was “A Short History of a Tall Jew.” He said, “There you are. One laugh guaranteed. See you in a couple weeks.” I read that book for two weeks and it made me laugh out loud a lot. I couldn’t wait to start with Dennis and his high school seniors at Venice High School.

When I showed up at his school (we had lunch before) and he talked to me. He said, “I want you to tell your bilingual stories in English and Spanish. ‘Cause I have kids from 30 different countries. A lot of them from Spanish speaking countries but all over the world. They’re gonna love that you’re bilingual. They’re gonna love you. It’s gonna be fantastic!”

And I got to his class; they had a little podium in the front. Huge seagulls right outside screeching away.- not too far from the beach. And I began to tell my stories. My bilingual stories of growing up Cuban Irish American, like one of my friends calls me, a leprechauno. And as I was telling those stories, those kids mostly listened and mostly looked at me. Although one kid was texting underneath his desk, another kid had his head on the desk the whole time. A bald kid over here, looked like a gang banger for sure, shaved head, tattoos, piercings, black clothes! Looked like he was gonna do something to me after school and none of it was going to be good. When I was done, nobody clapped. Nobody said anything. And then the bell rang. Those kids walked out of the classroom, not even looking at me. Mr. D, Mr Danzinger, came up to me afterward. He said, “That was brilliant! That was incredible! I’ve never seen them listen for that long!” Now he had a way of inspiring me, making me feel like I did better than I actually did.

The next lunch meeting a week later, he said, “Listen, keep going on. Tell them how you write your stories. Tell them what you do when you’re coming up with stories.”

And so I told them more stories and I told them about all the things I do when I’m writing stories. And the same response! Silence! Kid still head on the desk, kid still texting, bald gang banger kid staring daggers into me. And again, when they left, no response.

The next week at our lunch meeting, I said, “Mr. D, maybe I’m not cut out for this, maybe I can’t reach these kids.” He says, “You know what? I will talk to them.” The next class, he’s cajoling and pleading and joking with the kids and making them listen. And they’re very excited and he sits back down again. And they’re looking at me again and I just looked at them. I had no idea what to do. Maybe I couldn’t reach these kids. Maybe I was too old, too out of touch, not with it with these kids. Maybe I just didn’t have anything to say. And I finally just said, “Look, I told you all the stories I know. I’ve taught you the things that I do when I write stories and I’m at the end here. So maybe it’s just time for me to shut up and listen. Maybe it’s just time for me to see what kind of stories you got. So what I’m gonna do is I’m gonna sit down on this desk right here and I’m going to leave this podium open. It’s open podium. You come up and you just tell me one sentence of one story that might go in our anthology at the end of this little time that we have together. ‘Cause you have an opportunity to be published in an anthology! An amazing opportunity to do that! Mr. D and I are working hard to do this. It’s up to you now.” And I sat down.

And Mr. D was silent. And I was silent. And those kids didn’t look at anything. Just sat there. The longest 5 minutes that I’ve had in my performing career, my storytelling career. I sat there and I didn’t say anything. Just the seagulls blaring on the way to the beach a mile and a whole world away.

And then, Courtney stood up. Courtney, long hair, she looked younger and older than she should have been. She stood at that podium and she said, “I left my mom in Washington State 2 years ago. She was doing things that I don’t want to tell you about. I got on a bus with my under-the-mattress money, and I came to Venice. Got me a job at the grocery store, I work, I put myself up in my own apartment, and I’m a straight A student.” And she sat down.

And there was silence. And then, a kid got up, took his head up from the desk and walked up to the podium. And he said, “I don’t know if many of my extended family survived the Tsunami in Japan.” And there was a deeper silence in the room. And he sat down and put his head back on the desk. Maybe that’s why his head was on the desk these last three weeks.

More silence and then a kid walked up, wispy kid, blonde hair, blue eyes. He said, “I’m not Mexican enough for my friends and my white friends think I’m too Mexican. I’m somewhere in the middle. I’m 100% Mexican. I don’t know. They call me Little Blondie, Whitey… I don’t understand.” And he sat down.

And then bald, gang banger kid stood up. I didn’t flinch… or maybe I flinched. He was scary. I don’t know. He came sauntering up to me, just passed me; stood at that podium. Turned around, growled at the kids and he said, “It’s not easy keeping this head so smooth and shiny.” (Moves hand down head as he says “smooth and shiny.”)

And we all busted out laughing. 30 kids from 20 countries and 2 old, old, old as dirt dudes laughing, laughing as this kid went, “smooth and shiny.” (Moves hand down head as he says “smooth and shiny.”) And he walked back to his desk, high-fiving and fist bumping. And kids now, could not be contained in their chairs. Leaping at that podium. Everybody wanting to speak with one sentence of what their story might be in an anthology.

And at the end of that class that bell went off and nobody moved. And baldy in the corner said, “Yo, we just got started!” And Mr. D said, “That’s what I’m talking about. We just got started. You got eight more weeks with this guy and me and that podium to create an anthology that’s gonna be published in the world!” And a kid started almost to smile. And he said, “Next week he’ll be here, I’ll be here, that podium will be here! Don’t forget to read Chapter 7 in your book tonight and get on out to 5th period and don’t be late you Scallywags!” And the kids, as they walked by, looked at me through the corner of their eye and almost smiled. Mr. D came up to me, held his hand out, I shook it. He leaned into me and said, “It’s about time, Shorty!” I laughed and said, “Thanks a lot, senior citizen!”

And Mr. D and I worked with those kids. And those kids wrote their stories and after 12 weeks, we submitted them to Pen in The Classroom. And they published this book, “I Stand Alone: A Collection of Stories and Poems From Mr. D’s 12th Grade English Class.”

And if 30 kids from 20 countries and two old as dirt teachers can create this. (Points to book.)

In my heart, I sometimes feel that we can do anything. Now I don’t always feel that way but when I do, it’s powerful.

And I want to read to you the poem that I wrote for those high school kids that is included at the end of this anthology. It’s called “For Mr. D’s High School Kids in the Anthology.”

I came to Venice High School to work a two month writing residency with questions.

Would Mr. D be as cool in the classroom as he seemed outside the classroom?

Would I be able to find the office through the maze of jean-clad, texting teens?

Is this really where they film “Fast Times at Ridgemont High?”

Would I be too nervous to share my stories to seniors who are ready to graduate? Would they listen? Will I ever be able to help them write anything?

Is that kid white or Mexican? Is that gang banger in the corner going to kill me after class? And how does he get his head so shiny and smooth? It’s so smooth and shiny! I wonder how he does it? And then those high school seniors began to read one sentence of their story from that podium after that one break through. And they started talking and listening and I had more questions. Do they have the courage to face their woundings and put it on the page? Will that kid ever stop texting? Will that kid ever get his head off the desk? Will that girl ever have the gumption to leave that boyfriend of hers? And how did that kid get his head so smooth and shiny? It’s so smooth. And will he kill me after class? And those kids started to write and rewrite. And then they’d stand at that podium with the recycling piling high in the corner and the seagulls screeching. And they started to pour forth a rumped up, drizzle down, gush over, scream, whisper, speak secrets, reveal wonder, reveal wonder, show courage, rip tides, tear hearts open…Revealing wonder, revealing wonder, revealing wonder! Making me laugh, making me sigh, making it hard to keep my eyes dry! And I would witness and talk and question. And they would pour forth, knowing that I couldn’t take away the pain of what they’d face in a day. But I know that they’re survivors because they are here in class. They are not dead. They’re not in jail. They’re not ditching. They’re here struggling to graduate.

And I knew it didn’t feel like anything to them. But to me, it’s amazing! And José wrote an amazing poem where we got our title saying that he stands alone. He stands alone. And I say to José, “You do not stand alone. I stand with you. You stand with me. We stand together.”

And I will carry your memory from this class out into the world as I tell stories. And I will tell it and tell it and tell it. And journey with you even though we may never see each other again. And you gotta know and we gotta know and we gotta remember that we stood together for a time. We stand together, we stand together!

And even though I have more questions, always questions, at least I have one answer. For a smooth head, all you need is Neutrogena and a Mach 5 razor.

LOOKING FOR PAPITO

by Storyteller Antonio Sacre

 

Story Summary:

 As a Cuban and Irish American child, Antonio deals with being “too ethnic” or “not ethnic enough”. By trial and error and with the support of his family, Antonio reclaims all of his ethnic heritage and his Spanish language.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Looking-for-Papito

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you think Antonio is white or brown? What does he think he is?
  2. What could Antonio have done when he was teased about speaking Spanish? Have you ever hidden parts of your cultural background to “fit in”?
  3. Does each group who comes to this country eventually lose its culture? What is gained and what is lost from assimilation?

Resources:

  •  How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accent by Julia Alvarez
  • America Is Her Name by Luis J. Rodriquez 

Themes:

  • Crossing Cultures
  • European American/Whites
  • Family and Childhood
  • Identity
  • Languages
  • Latino American/Latinos
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination

Full Transcript:

Hi, my name is Antonio Sacre and this is an excerpt from a longer story called Looking for Papito. Spanish …When my father left Cuba he didn’t speak any English at all … and when he came to the United States he met a woman who didn’t speak any Spanish at all … and the two got married. And they had me. That meant I grew up speaking Spanish with my father and English with my mother.

Now I was born it was just me — and life was perfect and on my very first birthday my mom and dad gave me twin baby brothers. My mom was up to her ears. My dad said, “Three boys in one year that’s the man that I am you know!”

We were a handful for my parents of course, and so my dad did what very many other Cuban men would do in the same situation he called his mother. Spanish. My Cuban grandmother came to live with us. We were growing up in Delaware at that time. And so, in my house our first language — my two brothers and I — was Spanish. So, we

spoke Spanish with my dad, Spanish with my grandmother and of course we learnt English from my mom and we all learnt each other’s languages.

Now, it’s typical in Cuban families for the first-born male to have the nickname – Papito … and I was given that nickname by my grandmother Papito. It means little man … little boy. But in my family, it reminded her of my grandfather who died right after they came from Cuba and so it was honor to have his name. And when we got out of diapers my grandmother moved back to little Havana in Miami Florida.

 

Now my first day of kindergarten I was five years old. I was so excited to go to school to get out of the house with those two other boys and my mom was sad and my dad was happy — “my boy was going to school you know”.

I get to this school and I see all those kids and I am nervous and excited and I looked at them and I spoke in my first language I said … Spanish … And the kids looked at me and said — what? — Spanish … And my teacher … she was very sweet … and she said, “Honey nobody speaks Spanish here we only speak English”.

“Oh, that’s OK I speak English too.”

“Hi everyone, my name is Papito.” And one boy in the back said “Pa-Papido sounds like Dorido!” “No, no its Papito” “No, no its Dorido!”

Now he is just a five year old having fun with the nickname that he never heard before, but obviously I didn’t like it so much. I went home and spoke to my dad. Now if you don’t speak Spanish don’t worry I will translate what I said but this is what I said … Spanish … and my dad said … Spanish… I told my dad I didn’t want the Cuban nickname that my grandmother gave me I didn’t care it was part of the family I wanted to be called a more American sounding name I wanted to be called Tony. My dad said okay.

A couple of days after he dropped me off at school and he said “Adios Papit..aa, Tony adios” “OK Papa, Adios”

And one of those kids is in the playground … he was maybe third or fourth grader — he looked like a giant … he came up to me and he said, “What was that language you were speaking?” “Spanish.” “Sounds stupid.” “Are you stupid?”

I didn’t know what to say and I went home I did what I lot of other kids do from immigrant families I said … Spanish … I never want to speak Spanish again” … Spanish … “No from now on — only English.” And when my father spoke to me in Spanish I answered back to him in English. And after a while he spoke to me in Spanish. I pretended like I didn’t understand until he only spoke to me in English and little by little my first language was slipping away.

And when I turned eight my parents got divorced… there is a long story behind that part of … with their cultural background and part of the way it just the way it worked. And so, my dad moved out and I didn’t have anyone to speak Spanish with anymore.

But it didn’t matter to me everyone at school spoke English. Everything on TV was in English. Movies were in English. My grandmother was in Miami and maybe I’d see a couple of times a year maximum. And the older I got by the time I got into the high school it didn’t matter to me that I didn’t know any Spanish.

Now in my first day of history class…American history in high school … I will never forget the teacher was reading roll call. He said, “Antonio Bernardo Sacre who’s that?” “Ah…that’s me but…my name is Tony” “What kind of a name is this??” “Well its Cuban” and the whole class turned and looked at me and I said “I am not Cuban. I am American. I was born here. My father, he’s Cuban” he said, “Oh yeah…where is your mother from?” “Well she is an Irish American” what kind of a combination is that?” and the whole class laughed – he was just, you know being funny. It was okay.

Now, at lunch there was a kid who came up to me and said “You are a Cuban and Irish huh? I guess that it makes you a spic – mick – or maybe a “mick-spic”. And soon in my school that’s the nickname that I got even though I had long ago stopped speaking Spanish, even though I fell and looked as white looking as everyone in that high school, that’s what I became known as — I was the “other” in my high school.

Now, what was happening at the time was there is the movie “Scarface” had come out and there is the stereotype that all Cubans were drug dealers and bad and was just this odd thing was happening.

Lucky for me my grandmother wanted to see me this summer after my first year of high school. And my brother was there that whole summer and when I got in to her house (in Miami) and she saw me she threw her arms around me with a beautiful hug. I was so happy to see her and she started speaking and I couldn’t understand her.

And she said … Spanish … she’s screaming at me yelling at me and my brother said “What’s the matter? You can’t speak … you gotta talk Spanish with your grandmother.” The whole family is in a big consternation yelling at me and my grandmother said …Spanish … “You need to learn how to speak Spanish.” So every day she would sit me down and drill words into me tell me stories about my dad.

And every night … not every night… but every now and then my brother and I would go out to these big Cuban dance parties. He knew the salsa and dances. He could dance with all these girls I would be dancing by myself. Whenever we walked down the street the old Cuban men would say to my brother…. Spanish … “You speak Spanish perfect what’s the matter with your brother? He needs to learn Spanish you know!”

And soon in that little Havana neighborhood in my family I was called … “El gringo de la Familia‟ …the Gringo of the family…they were calling me names and my family — the gringo of the family. And so it was odd for me because I don’t fit in with my family. I don’t fit in my high school. I didn’t know what was going on you know and by the end of the summer.

I was jealous of my brother because his Spanish is perfect he looks more Cuban if there’s such a thing. I couldn’t understand my uncles when they are telling jokes with my grandmother, and I said in my halting Spanish “I don’t feel very Cuban in this family” and she said, “You are never gonna be fully Cuban or American” she said “You are Cuban American.” And she said you have to speak Spanish with me because I am too old to learn English and you have to speak English in this country.

And at that point I realized that it was worse to be called gringo in my family than to be called names in the school I didn’t really care about. And so I tried the best I could that summer to accept the gain as much of that language as I could. And sat with my grandmother while she told stories of the family she told me jokes — some silly, some a little racy, some beautiful little stories.

Some of the jokes became basis of the stories that I tell now all these years later. One is just a little joke — a “barking mouse”. There is a cat who chases a family of mice and the mother barks at the cat and the cat runs away and she says, “You see kids it pays to speak another language.”

And I think about my grandmother every time I think about that little silly beautiful message about the importance of speaking another language.

And I went back to my school proud to be the school’s only Cuban Irish American. There’s one of my friends who calls me – a “Leprachano”. And so now I embrace both parts of it. And I still am not fully Cuban in little Havana — and I am still not fully whatever American means or … whatever the words you would say… but I am somewhere in between the both. And I know now, in all my travels around the country, there are many, many other people just like me and we have lots to learn from both sides. And that is just the part I wanted to do.

FASTER THAN SOONER

by Storyteller Antonio Sacre

 

Story Summary:

 While studying to become an actor, Sacre happened into storytelling through a class at Northwestern University. Because he found that he was often excluded from acting jobs because he was seen as either “too ethnic” or “not ethnic enough,” he took on storytelling performances to pay the bills. He started to understand the power of his bilingual storytelling and remembers an encounter with a grade school bully where learning the other boy’s story made all the difference.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Faster-than-Sooner

Discussion Questions:

  1. Antonio described how surprised he was to learn about the history and culture of many Latin American countries, but especially Mexico. What have you learned about another country or culture that surprised you or made you think differently? How might you do more of that learning?
  2. When Antonio tells stories switching back and forth between English and Spanish he sees students becoming more engaged. What might be the advantages of a fully bilingual education?
  3. When have you learned another person’s story that has caused you to change your mind about him or her? How might you listen to others’ stories more? How might you tell your own? How might we better encourage sharing our authentic stories?

Resource:

  • Be Bilingual: Practical Ideas for Multilingual Families by Annika Bourgogne

Themes:

  • Bullying
  • Crossing Cultures
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • Identity
  • Languages
  • Latino American/Latinos
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking
  • Workplace

Full Transcript:

Hello, my name is Antonio Sacre and this is from a larger story called Faster Than Sooner.

In 1990, I decided I was going to be an actor and I moved to Chicago to study at Northwestern University. And it was fantastic. I had a very difficult semester once and the easiest class I could take was a storytelling class. There were no books to read, there was no tests to take, exams to do … and so I took it. It was just something that was fun, passed the time but I liked it and I found out that if I would tell the stories before a big audition I would feel better.

Now, even though I was comfortable with the fact that I was a Cuban Irish American man like my friend says — a “Lepricano” … I never really felt quite at home in the acting world. There were times while I was doing auditions and they would say to me “you are too ethnic for this part” and then times I do the other audition they say “you are not too ethnic enough,” I was constantly falling through the cracks. Maybe I was just a terrible actor, I don’t know, but I started to tell more stories in the neighborhood that I was living in Chicago. I was living in Logan square.

And I was at one of the schools telling stories, telling one of the only stories which I knew at that time which is the tall tale from the American West — Davy Crockett …   And I am telling the story to 300 3rd graders and I’m noticing that its going pretty well except that off to the right there’s a class of maybe 50 kids they don’t seem to be paying attention at all. I wonder what’s going on.  I look.  And at the back of my head I think, maybe they understand Spanish better than English and since I think in both languages anyway.

I switch the Davey Crockett story into Spanish. And as soon as I did those 50 kids their eyes got big. They were so excited to be hearing their language from the stage and I was so into the story that I just started telling the story in Spanish to them, but then the English speaking children why you speak English here, oh yeah then I switch back to English, but the Spanish children …Spanish … I switch into Spanish and soon I am telling the story simultaneously in English and Spanish. Davey Crockett said ..Spanish … and the kids started laughing together and I tell one part in Spanish, these kids translate it to English speaking kids and I do another part in English and they translate for Spanish speaking kids.  And it was for me one of the most exciting and fun performances I ever had. It’s usually one all Spanish — and all but to do both at the same time, the principal recognized it.

And she came running down to me and she said “that was amazing, you know how many schools in Chicago need somebody like you?” I said “No, I don’t” she said “a lot” and she actually wrote out the names and numbers of the principals I had to talk to and she told me how much money I could charge which was more than the money I was making as a waiter at that time, so by default and by accident and also because it was fun, I became, almost overnight, a professional bi-lingual story teller. Which was hard because I knew only that one story you know.

So, I began to study much of other stories because I was living in Chicago was a lot of people from Mexico and Puerto Rico at that time, so I began studying those cultures and I ended up travelling to Mexico and I ended up finding out things that I never taught ever. I never knew things about Mexico, the fact that there are pyramids there. That are incredibly large and some of them are the largest pyramids in the world. You know as a kid I learned pyramids are in Egypt, but Mexico right here? So close to the United States and I learned all the rich history and culture and the clash between the Indian and the native population in Mexico and Spanish, all the other cultures that came to Mexico and all the different states.. it was incredible.

I have learned one just small example — the Day of the Dead celebrations that the Mexicans have the beautiful honoring of the ancestors that happens on the same time when Halloween happens, and it’s interesting to see how the Day of the Dead celebration is coming up for us, and we are learning how to honor our ancestors from this culture right or not , but it’s part of our country for sure so this is what is all happening while I was becoming a story teller.

I like the money, I like the finding about all the cultures, I love that I was broad in my mind view and one day I was telling stories in this school and I never forget this, teacher came up to me. He was this granola dude …he was in Birkenstocks. He said, “You were great man …  It’s cool to hear about Mexico.. yeah , you know.” I started to talk like him you know, yeah what’s up…he said “storytelling can save the world” ….  I’m like rock on dude …yeah. I’m totally wantin’ to goof on this guy, want to go and tell all my friends about this crazy volunteer and I am thinking story telling can save the world??

Then I thought about it..the power of knowing somebody else’s story and then it reminded me of the time when I was in 4th grade. We had a class bully, his name was Larry Sergeant. He was three years older than everybody else because he was held back because how stupid he was we all said you know and he would beat up all of us you know.

One day he just came around and started beating up on Binkey Meyer, he was youngest in all of our class; because he was so smart he was promoted. There was Larry 4 years older than Binkey, five feet taller it seems, giant beating up Binkey and now I decided to do something about it. I stepped in between the two and tell Larry, “Larry you should pick on someone your own size.” Now I thought he would go finding the 7th graders because he was as big as a 7th grader, but no. Larry with a pea brain decided to pick on me, I much shorter than him anyway; we started fighting — it was terrible.

We ended up getting separated by the teachers and we both got major detentions. But I felt a little bit like a hero for sticking up for Binkey — but still you know it was just a bad situation. And while we were sitting in there, I saw Larry has started to cry and I couldn’t wait to tell the playground the next day that Larry was such a cry baby and I was going to make sure … but then he started heaving, sobbing it was awkward for my age you know may be eight or nine years old in the 4th grade. I am like what’s the matter? It’s not a big deal, it’s just a detention. He said “No, this is my third detention which means I’m going to get expelled.”

I am like “yeah yeah…I get the school bully kicked out, they ride me around the playground the next day you know. But he started crying even harder, I said “wat’s the big deal” he said, “Now I’m gonna go home and my dad gonna beat me.” At 4th grade I didn’t even understand what he is talking, you get grounded you get in big trouble. “No, my dad will beat me, he’ll keep me out of school until my bruises heal and put me in another school, that’s why I have been held back all these years.”

And at that moment I was so ashamed to have been the one to pick a fight with Larry… to have stepped in the fight and ashamed to send him home for another beating by his father and if I had known his story… maybe you know… honestly now, I don’t know anything would have been different about it, maybe Larry can be just kicked out anyway.

But I know, if I had known his story I would have acted differently that day. I don’t know if knowing someone else’s story can save the world …  but I know that there is great power in that. I think the more that we can learn each other’s stories and have the courage to tell our own stories … the more that we can begin to find some sort of solution.

IF ONLY YOU WERE MEXICAN …

By Storyteller Antonio Sacre

 

Story Summary:

 A director tells Antonio that he would produce his play if only he was Mexican. This makes Antonio reflect on the importance of listening to stories outside our own ethnic groups. Antonio travels to Mexico and learns Mexican folktales to share with the community.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: If-Only-You-Were-Mexican

Discussion Questions:

  1. It’s important for communities such as Mexican-Americans to see plays written, directed and acted by Mexican-Americans. However, it’s important to hear stories from other cultures as well. How does a teachers, parents and community theater directors balance both concerns?
  2. Do you know the folktales and history of your family’s cultures? Did you hear them in school? From the adults around you? From books?
  3. How did knowing and learning the stories that have existed in your culture for hundreds of years affect you? Does it make you curious about other groups’ stories?

Resources:

  •  Mexican Folk Tales by Anthony John Campos
  • Momentos Magicos/Magic Moments by Olga Loya
  • Mexican American Theatre Then and Now by Nicolas Kanellos

 Themes:

  • Crossing Cultures
  • Identity
  • Latino American/Latinos
  • Living and Traveling Abroad
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking

Full Transcript:

“We might be able to produce the play if you were Mexican.” The artistic director of a medium sized theater in Los Angeles told me this recently. As an actor and a playwright faced with the tantalizing possibility of actually getting a play that I’d written produced in an established theater, my first reaction was… I can be Mexican! Just as in the past being rejected from numerous acting jobs, I have said, I can play tougher! I can be shorter! I can grow my hair! I can shave it off! I can buy a wig! I can be a woman! I can be older! I can be younger! I can be anything you need; I’m an actor, that’s what I do!

But I found myself constantly wrong, as an actor in Chicago. I found I was too ethnic looking for many of the parts I would audition for, and not ethnic enough for others.

But instead of being angry with that artistic director, I asked him gentle questions. “Why couldn’t you produce a play about a Cuban-American?” He told me he went to the local organizations, the churches, and libraries, and school, and they told him they wanted a Mexican production.

Even though it angered me, it made sense to me. I thought of my relatives in Little Havana. They are much more likely to see a play by one of their own, too.

I thought, good for the community, to state what they want, to finally say your theater’s been in our neighborhood for 10 years, and you’ve rarely presented what we want to see. We can fill a house, we can make you some money, we can sell you some tickets, just listen to what we want right now.

And good for the director, to listen to them. It’s not so common yet for artistic directors of English-speaking theaters to reach out to their Spanish-speaking audiences unless they are after some grant. For all their talk of outreach, theater in the places I see theater in (Chicago, New York, LA and San Francisco) and the size of theater I usually see (small) remains as segregated as many of the Churches I’ve been to across the country.

So I said, “If you are going to work in a community, it seems that you should listen to what they want.”

I thought, “How does anybody learn anything? How can these walls be broken down or at least scaled for a moment to view the other side?” The only small answer that I have found is learning and listening and sharing each other’s stories.

As a storyteller, I listened, I read, I traveled to Mexico, I learned the amazing stories they grow up with there. The Nahautl creation and war stories, La Malinche and her daughter, La Llorona, La Mano Peluda, Alacrán de Durango, Callejón de Beso, and the snake girl from the hills of Guanajuata, Las Momias, Perfecto Luna, tales of wonder in Oaxaca and I walked the pyramids of Teotihuacan.

I travel between these worlds Cuban and American, Mexican and American, Spanish and English, and report what I hear, what I see.

So, instead I offered to the director my talents as a bilingual storyteller, offering to do community outreach for him, to serve as a bridge between the cultures.

I said, I’ll go to their churches, their schools, their meeting places and then share their stories with them, and then listen. Listen to them tell me, “No, that’s not how La Llorona sounds, she sounds like this, AAAIIIIIEEeeeeeee.” Hear them tell me, I heard that one too, but it goes like this…watch them tell their children and each other old Pepito jokes, thankful that they listened, grateful to be included, to be trusted with their story.

The director got excited. He went back to the community, and they got excited. So, I’ll probably have to wait a little longer to get my play out here, but I’m patient. But, in the meantime, did you hear the one about the Cuban-American that tried to be Mexican?

He asked for Congi y Picadillo with his burrito, and they just haven’t stopped laughing.

MUSIC TO DREAM OF CUBA BY

By Storyteller Antonio Sacre

 

Story Summary:

Antonio’s father listened to classical music that transported him back to his beloved Cuba. Antonio thinks of listening to music in the future with his son and the memories and scenes the music will evoke.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Music-to-Dream-of-Cuba-By

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why do you think Antonio’s father rarely talked about his time in Cuba?
  2. How did the music make it possible for Antonio’s father to share a little bit of his childhood memories?
  3. What music moves you? What pictures does it create in your imagination?

Resources:

  •  The Vintage Guide to Classical Music by Jan Swafford
  • How to Listen to Great Music: A Guide to Its History, Culture and Heart by Robert Greenberg
  • Waiting for Snow in Havana: Confessions of a Cuban Boy by Carlos Eire

Themes:

  • Education and Life Lessons
  • Family and Childhood
  • Latino American/Latinos

Full Transcript:

My Dad used to have a state-of-the-art alarm clock, and I feel old describing it to you. It would play music AND wake you up, and it had an incredible feature called the sleep button. You could hit it, music would play, and 29 minutes later it would actually turn off! It was amazing! The problem was, you had to wait the whole 29 minutes to see it work its magic, but that wasn’t too bad, because you could watch the numbers change on the clock, and I mean actually change. Each minute of the hour and every hour itself was its own little plastic tab that actually flipped down or folded over the other number, an interior dial of time perpetually flipping forward, clicking, keeping perfect rhythm, lit by a little light, just bright enough to see the numbers themselves change.

It was endlessly fascinating to watch the numbers flip, time flipping forward, and wait for the sleep button to magically shut off the music.

I loved sitting in my parents’ room listening to the music that played on the only station my Dad listened to before bed, WJBR, Just Beautiful Radio. My Dad’s from Cuba and my Mom’s family is Irish, but they both loved classical music and this station played only classical music, 24 hours a day. My Dad would hit the magic sleep button, the music would start, and I would watch the little plastic tabs click off the time until it was time for bed, but hopefully, not before the sleep timer did its things. My Dad would often stand, transfixed, in front of the radio. I always thought he was looking at the numbers as well, but he would close his eyes, sway very slightly and say, “Mijo, can you hear that?” I strained toward the radio. “What?” I asked.

“That, right there, and there again? There, right on top of the piano, the violin?” I couldn’t hear anything. “And now, the clarinets, and the drums rolling in the back, like thunder over the hills? It reminds me of Cuba, right before a storm, can you hear that?”

I could never hear anything he heard, but I loved watching him go to the place where the thunder rolled over the hills. The only time he ever talked about Cuba was when he listened to classical music, otherwise it was just too painful to talk about being forced to leave and all the family had lost. Then, the sleep button would do its things, and he would scoop me up, and bring me to my room.

When I was about 10 years old, my Dad gave me that radio. He got a new one with a sleep button that could actually be programmed to any amount of time he wanted, from one minute to 59 minutes, and with numbers that actually glowed, floating like green fireflies, silently changing with no click at all to tell you that time still moved, whether you saw it or not.

I asked him what I could listen to, and he said whatever I wanted. Over the course of the next few months, I listened to every radio station my hometown carried. I listened to pop and country and late night baseball broadcasts from far away – 29 minutes every night – but none seemed as mysterious and as beautiful as the classical music station that transported my Dad back to Cuba.

I began to listen to it, and while I never heard drums rolling like thunder over the hills, I pretended like I could, hearing something that only adults could hear, and the complexity and the beauty of the music would make me forget about time falling down and I would fall asleep.

In my home town, WJBR doesn’t play classical music anymore, but where I live now, there is one station left that still does. Now that I am older, I can hear the drums underneath the violins, and the swelling music reminds me of egrets landing in shallow water.

I have a son now and, someday, when he is older, I will stand in front of the radio, or whatever new music playing device we’ll have then, and say, “Mijo, can you hear that? The piccolo over the strings? Like butterflies landing on flowers? No? Can you hear that? The piccolo over the strings? Like butterflies landing on flowers? Can you hear the strength of your grandparents and great grandparents coming from Cuba and Ireland to start a new life here in America? Can you hear that? Don’t worry. When you get older, you will.”

MEXICANS IN CHURCH

By Storyteller Antonio Sacre

 

Story Summary:

 Occasionally, Antonio brings his friends and family to Catholic mass, not always with the results he hoped for. However, in Los Angeles, he goes to church with Mexican-American families where he finds people who are deeply into the ritual and their passion for their religion makes him proud.

 

Discussion Questions:

  1.  Do you go to a faith-based service of some kind? Is your church, temple, synagogue or mosque primarily one ethnic group? How do the ethnic cultures and religions in your community mix, influence and play off of one another?
  2. Why does going to a Mexican-American community’s church make Antonio proud to be Catholic?

 

Resources:

  •  Latino Catholicism: Transformation in America’s Largest Church by Timothy Matovina
  • Mexican-American Catholics by Eduardo C. Fernandez

 

Themes:

  • Crossing Cultures
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • Interfaith
  • Latino Americans/Latinos