O mi colegio Champagnat…

Chantel Acevedo of Yucababy and the author of “Love and Ghost Letters“, which incidentally, apart from being Winner of the 2006 Latino Literacy Now Award, has also recently been nominated for the Connecticut Book Award, has given me the honor of publishing the following written especially for Babalu. All I can say is that she sure did conjure up some memories for me. Enjoy:

Los Maristas

Remember Carmencita from that old show, “Que Pasa, U.S.A.?”? God, I wanted to be her friend so badly when I was a kid. And it wasn’t just because her crazy grandmother was just like my crazy grandmother, or that all the knick-knacks in her television studio house looked like they came from my living room. It had something to do with that Catholic uniform she always wore. You see, like Carmencita, I went to Catholic school too.

But I didn’t go to just any Catholic school. Mi escuela was one for the ages. And I’ll bet you didn’t know this, Babalusians, but our esteemed editor Val went to the same place (except he didn’t wear the plaid jumper). My mother picked the school because she knew they would keep me inside on cool days and would make sure I ate my lunch. There was also the added benefit that everything happened in Spanish, that we sang the Cuban National Anthem every morning, right after the Star Spangled Banner, that our little, independent, bilingual, Catholic school (settled right next door to a giant Sedano’s) would ensure that the next generation of Cubans growing up in Miami wouldn’t forget their roots.

I’m torn when thinking about these schools, still found all over Miami. They were hopelessly old-fashioned. Imagine, we had to wear our skirts down past our knees! And crossing your legs during mass! ¡Que horror! I remember, too, having to stand at the fence as a punishment, or copying out the Constitution by hand. I’m still haunted by the religion teacher who told frightening stories of child martyrs. Certainly, it all has crept into my writing in some way or other.

And yet. I think this school and others like it, Cuban exile run, humble recreations of the schools that once taught our grandparents what it meant to be free thinkers, classrooms raised like a phoenix from the ashes of a miserable revolution, made me who I am. I’ll bet it did the same for Val, too.

So, our schooling was a bit, um, intense. But, it also instilled in me a love for an island I do not yet know intimately. It gave me the gift of language, emphasizing reading and writing Spanish at an early age. It taught me to fight for my beliefs, despite the strict rules. In fact, meek-little-me confronted a coach who demanded we remove all sweaters during P.E. I remember staring him hard in the eyes and winning that battle at thirteen. I didn’t get in trouble either. In fact, I think he admired me for it.

And if schools like this aren’t what being Cuban is all about—keeping alive that link home, standing strong when you know you are right, being, dare I say, intractable, in our beliefs—I don’t know what is.

9 thoughts on “O mi colegio Champagnat…”

  1. Good Morning Val,

    OT here is an excerpt from that dumbass Alberto Fernandez in AJ

    I think that there are factors providing negative American thoughts in the Middle East. First, we should admit that there’s an American haughtiness and stupidity. We know that the U.S. made a lot of mistakes. And we said that about Iraq and other countries. Second, there’s hypocrisy in the Arab regimes. The Arab regimes want to present to the world and to their populations a decisive option, either the dictatorial regime or chaos. No third option. There’s no possibility of gradual fortification. It’s either non stop tyranny forever or chaos just like what we saw in Iraq sometimes. Third, there are the efforts of extremists and non democrats in the region. That means we’re all guilty to some extent towards the existing situation in the Arab world. Today, no doubt, Americans, corrupted Arab regimes and other people, organizations and individuals are trying intentionally to encourage hell in the Arab world.

  2. Reminds me of my days at Holy Trinity in Georgetown, (Washington, DC where Kennedy and the 1st Lady went to church) with Sister Mary Clemmons. Her thing was wacking you over the back of the hand with her 18″ ruler. One time while she was taking me out into the hallway for a beating she was in such a hurry to so that she slammed her cross accidently in the door and I knew my time on earth would be short. I thought, “You idiot! You’ve got Sister Mary Clemmons so mad she’s gone and cracked Jesus in half. She’s gonna kill you!”

    However, I survived the beating and learned to read and write and sypher despite my education.

  3. What amazes me most is how some of those little, independent Catholic schools run by exiles have really taken root and established themselves as cornerstones of modern Miami. Think of Belen, once a school held in spare rooms at the Gesu church downtown and where it is today. I am not denying that they had a wonderful history in Cuba to rely on, but those Jesuits have done very well over the years.

    I am also reminded of when I used to attend the YMCA Jose Marti in Little Havana, and every day started with the playing of both the US and Cuban National Anthems on a little portable Sears phonograph.

  4. I forgot to add that I love it when Andy Garcia appears on talk shows and they dig out a clip of his one and only appearance on Que Pasa U.S.A. Not everybody gets that show, but I know that I still talk to people about their favorite episodes and some people I know still quote it frequently.

    According to the IMDB, there is a documentary in the works about the show. Does anybody know more?


  5. I’m only 19, but I remember all this well (standing against the fance, fearing the wrath of Father Quien Sea, teachers who actually respected that you stood up for yourself, etc.) As an alumnus of both Conchita Espinosa Academy (Kinder – 5th) and Belen Jesuit (6th – 12th), Cuban exile schools were all I’d known until I made my way north to the University of Missouri…

    Gotta say, though, after making this move, my fondest memory about Belen has become NOT having to scrape ice off my car before going to school.

    Damn the Midwest.

  6. ***
    Ahh, I remember it well, Colegio Champagnat de Camaguey, Los Maristas.

    Como jodiamos as los curas (hermanos) esos!

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