3 Questions

3 Questions

with Educator and Author Gloria Elena López

Throughout her 40-year career as a bilingual educator in Colorado and New Mexico, Gloria Elena López has kept her love and passion for her language alive, despite growing up in a world that taught her to see Spanish as a “second-class language,” and herself as a “second-class student.” In her memoir released last month, Stop Speaking Mexican: The Price of An Education, López details the systemic racism and abuse she faced in the public education system throughout her childhood and career, beginning with her first-grade teacher in 1962. Throughout her autobiography, López speaks out about the trauma these abuses created, and her journey toward recovery from PTSD through eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy. The following editor has been edited for concision and clarity. (Mo Charnot)

How did you first decide you would write about the trauma you experienced in the public education system?

For three years, I’ve been with a therapist here in Santa Fe…and she was my miracle. I was able to go back and meet this little girl and hug her and love her just the way she is. Most of my therapy I spent in that first-grade classroom, watching what this teacher did to me, because in order for me to heal her, I had to first go to the classroom with her.

Last June, I’d already been reprocessing for quite a while. By the time you reprocess your trauma, you’ve worked through it—you know what hurt, where the first cut was. Ninety minutes wasn’t enough with my therapist, so I took to writing, and this book pretty much wrote itself. It was coming out of me. She’s been talking. For me, this is giving her a voice.

Despite the abuse you endured from your teacher, you also become a teacher. Why do you think you chose this career path despite your experiences?

I was part of a class of 100 students, all Hispanic and from different high schools, called ALMA—Advanced Leadership for Mexican Americans. This program created the opportunity of a bilingual internship at Adams State University [in Alamosa, Colorado]. I was a sophomore in college, and they were recruiting teachers and they needed us to be bilingual. You’d think that I would abandon my language after what that woman did, but I never did because my parents never, ever told me to stop speaking Spanish.

I fell in love with teaching. But because I was the only Spanish-speaking teacher in a group of four teachers…[I] got all the Mexican kids. They put them all into my room, and the few that spoke a little bit of English sank or swam in the other classrooms because that’s what they do to them. Unless you really have this passion, I think most people would have walked out in my situation.

What do you believe is the best way to remedy how schools have erased bilingual students’ languages and cultures?

An act of God, maybe. Un milagro (A miracle). I don’t think anybody would argue [with the statement] that English is the dominant language of this country. It is—I’m OK with that. But we also live in the world’s second-largest Spanish-speaking country, and we’re still going to play this game of full immersion? I’m not sure I have the answer, other than raising the level of awareness of people to say, ‘Taxpayers, this is what your dollars pay for. To drown out, to dumb kids down to one language, not to raise them up.’

Because I did not feel raised up or even accepted. I still remember the little things. [Professors] saying: ‘These poor little things come here and don’t speak a word of English,’ and I’m saying, ‘But they speak Spanish…and they are smart, very smart.’ I knew how to add and read, but you couldn’t convince my teacher of that. My story isn’t going to be popular…because [the US] does want to stop Mexicans from coming here, and I am here, writing this story called Stop Speaking Mexican. What my teacher was really telling me was to stop being Mexican. How do we get past that notion that we’re smarter if we only speak English?

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