I stumbled through my stay-out-of-jail Spanish with the taxi driver, who was taking two of my Oregon high school students and me back to our hotel. He seemed somewhat upright—so I delicately probed that. (Teachers are notably curious.) What he said in response was sadly true.
“These kids,” he jerked his head at my two teens, ”have the money to spend on travel; ours don’t get to travel….anywhere. Our kids have not enough money, often not even to eat.”
I had warned my students to be careful about being too obvious with their money, for several reasons, but one had been about the economic situation in Mexico
That afternoon, Gabino, our Mexican contact teacher, took us on a walk through the seaside town. U.S. teachers tend to “bring up the rear” to shepherd lagging students. Not so in Mexico, not then anyway. When I sought my spot at the rear, Gabino rushed up, “No, no, maestra comes up front.” I argued, not wanting to appear “entitled,” but lost the battle, since both nations’ kids had already made room for “la maestra” at the front.
And the bullfight was yet to come. Talk about cultural differences! I had avoided the topic of bullfighting, but now was faced with a deadline. (I also knew the parents of my students might have an opinion to offer, so I’d tread gently.)
Gabino explained to the high schoolers that a major part of the bullfight was the colorful presentation—almost like a dance of two equals. The matador had a knife and cape; the bull a set of horns and a thousand pounds more behind those horns. He stressed the peppy and dramatic music played before and during part of the fight; he mentioned that the “olé” call was a cheer for the matador. He talked about the long training it took to become a matador; he had to be physically at his peak, as well as nimble and quick on his feet.
As a horse-lover, I kept worrying about the horns coming too close to the helpless horse. Gabino said the horses were trained to help avoid the bulls. He then explained that the meat from the bull was sent to hospitals and orphanages. (I wondered about that, since my dad warned me not to “run” our cattle, because it made their meat “too strong” or “too wild” to please folks at dinner time.)
The students behaved well at the bullfight; there were no tears or jeers. I even heard an “olé” or two. They all mentioned the music as being the high spot; why wasn’t I surprised?