When I was a little kid back in the early 1950's at Our Lady of Grace Catholic School in the Logan Square Neighborhood of Chicago, I learned to read with the aid of a little book with the pretentious name of "Here We Come, This is Our Home, Here We Are Again". It was the story of David and Ann, two lovely white Catholic children who lived with their wonderful parents named Mother and Father in a nice home in great neighborhood. In fact, Mother and Father looked a lot like June and Ward Cleaver of "Leaver to Beaver" fame. As I recall, the little book started out with very simple sentences in which very short words were repeated many, many times as David and Ann were at play under the watchful eyes of Mother and Father. For example, Ann would be swinging on a swing and David would say, "Go up, Ann. Go up, up, up. Go, Ann, go". Then it would be Ann's turn to watch David roller skate and she would say, "Go David, go, go, go. Look Mother, look Father. See David. See David go." We were positively thrilled that we were learning to read and we would read the story of David and Ann to anyone who would listen. My parents had four children and we all started off with David and Ann and we used to drive my father nuts.
The beginning of the last century brought a great influx of Catholics to America. They came from countries like Ireland, Italy, Poland, and Czechoslovakia among others. The Catholic church spent the first twenty or thirty years of the Twentieth Century building a parochial school system to meet the needs of the children of the immigrants that would include Catholic doctrine in the curriculum. In the aftermath of World War One there was a general distrust of the Catholic immigrants as the American public opinion had begun to seize upon the idea that true Americanism entailed rejection of all foreign values . The Catholic Church in America found itself in a decidedly defensive position and adopted a progressive stance that defines American Catholics to this day. Out of this scenario were born David and Ann to prove that a Catholic education was right in line with American standards and values. The David and Ann series of readers was even named "The Faith and Freedom Readers" in order to tie the Catholic faith to American patriotism. In contrast, The Public School System (or "the heathen children" as we sometimes jokingly called them) had the Sally, Dick and Jane "Curriculum Foundation Series," designed primarily by Dr. William S. Gray and William H. Elson around 1930. The most famous phrase from that series was "See Spot run".
After the Mexican Revolution the Mexican Constitution was re-written in 1917 to include the provision that elementary education must be compulsory and that all education provided by the government must be free. Furthermore, the education should be designed to develop harmoniously all the faculties of the human being and should foster in each citizen a love of country and a consciousness of international solidarity, in regard to independence and justice. This was all well and good but the students were required to purchase their own books and many of these books were expensive beyond their reach and at the same time of dubious origin and quality. There were a number of important men who realized that access to good books would be a key ingredient in the education of the populace. One of these men was José Vasconcelos Calderón who was a Mexican writer, philosopher and politician. He was one of the most influential and controversial personalities in the development of modern Mexico and he was the driving force behind many efforts to make education accessible to everyone. He created the Secretariat of Public Education (SEP), in 1921 and later directed the National Library of Mexico in 1940. It is ironical that he died in June of 1959, just four months after Mexican President López Mateos created the National Commission of Free Textbooks. One year later in 1960 the free textbooks began flowing to the students. The first of these textbooks were reading primers.
The name of the book was "Mi libro de Primer Año" (My Book of First Year) and it contained a total of 192 pages and was 18 centimeters by 25 by 25 centimeters in size (approx 7" x 10"). About 1,100,000 books were printed for the first edition and by the end of the first year 17,354,000 books in total had been printed and distributed including books for the second, third, and fourth grades. The front cover of "Mi libro de Primer Año" at first had pictures of national heroes but later on displayed a famous picture called "La Patria" that was painted by Jorge González Camarena. It depicts a protective mother figure, a woman with strong open arms yet at the same time she is sheltered by the wings of the Mexican Eagle. In her left hand she holds the tricolor Mexican flag and in her right hand she holds up a book that indicates her apparent wisdom (see image below).
The difference between the David and Ann, Dick and Jane books of the United States And the Mexican book was that the former focused on white, middle class, and idyllic family settings while the later focused on simple things that all children could relate to no matter what their status. If you mention the phrase "Ese oso se asea así" to just about any Mexicano or Mexicana in their 40's or 50's I am sure that you will evoke a smile. One of the first lessons goes like this:
Se asea así.
He cleans himself like so.
Sí se asea.
Yes he cleans himself.
Así es su oso.
So this is your bear.
Another goes like this:
Pepe pide la pelota.
Pepe calls for the ball.
Lupe se la pasa.
Lupe passes it.
Luis pisa la pelota.
Luis kicks the ball.
La pelota salta alto.
The ball jumps high.
La pelota es de todos.
The ball belongs to everyone.
The authors use a story by way of introduction that sets the theme for the book. I thought it might be nice to include the story here here for my fellow students of Mexican Spanish.
Todos los días, al terminar las clases, los niños atravesaban la calle y se detenían frente al puesto de juguetes, que contemplaban con avidez.
Every day when classes were over the children crossed the street and stopped in front of the toy shop where they eagerly looked at the toys.
"Mira qué bonita muñeca", decía Maruca.
“Look at that beautiful doll”, Maruca was saying.
"Sí", Anita decía, "pero a mí me gusta más aquel osito".
“Yes, Anita was saying, but I like that little bear more”.
"¡Bonitos soldados! Tienen uniformes y cascos de verdad."
"Beautiful soldiers! They have real uniforms and helmets."
"Cuando yo pueda", Luis comentó una vez, "compraré aquella máquina. ¡Me gusta tanto!"
“When I am able”, Luis once said, “I will buy that steam engine. I like it a lot!
Y pasaban las semanas, y los niños seguían admirando los juguetes y repartiéndoselos con el deseo.
And the weeks were passing, and the children continued admiring the toys and sharing their desires.
Cierto día, Luis, el mayor del grupo, dijo a sus amigos:
One day, Luis, the oldest of the group, said to his friends:
"Creo que, si todos ayudamos, poco a poco podremos ser dueños de los juguetes que más nos gustan. Miren: desde este domingo ahorraremos algunos centavos de lo que nos dan para comprar dulces; los pondremos en una alcancía, y cuando se reúna la cantidad necesaria, compraremos el juguete que prefiera alguno de nosotros. Después volveremos a reunir nueva cantidad y compraremos el juguete para otro, y así hasta comprar los de todos. Yo seré el último.”
"I believe that if everyone cooperates, little by little we can be owners of the toys that we like the best. Look...beginning this Sunday we will save some of the pennies that they give us to buy candy...we can put them in a piggy bank, and when the necessary quantity is raised we will buy the toy that one of us would like. After that we will go back to collecting a new quantity and we will buy a toy for another, and so on until one for everyone is bought. I will go last."
No hubo quien no celebrase entusiasmado la idea de Luis ni quien rehusara ahorrar.
There wasn’t anyone who didn’t enthusiastically entertain the idea of Luis nor anyone who refused to save.
Se compró primero el osito para Anita, luego los soldados para Carlos, después la sala de Lola. Pero algunos niños vieron con tristeza que las semanas volvián a correr sin que ellos tuvieran sus juguetes. Luis les dijo entonces:
First a Little bear was purchased for Anita and then the soldiers for Carlos and after that the doll furniture for Lola. But some children watched the weeks go by with sadness without having received their toys. Then Luis said:
“Compraremos una pelota. De esta manera, mientras llega nuestro turno, juntos podremos jugar y divertirnos.”
"We will buy a ball. This way while we are waiting our turn we can play together and have fun”.
Así lo hicieron, y, a partir de entonces, todas las tardes jugaban un rato al salir de la escuela.
That’s what they did and from then on every afternoon they played for awhile after leaving school.
Un día, brincando tras la pelota, Juanito se cayó. Luis estuvo a punto de tropezar con él, y para no cuasarle daño lo evitó tan bruscamente que se lastimó una pierna. Sus compañeros lo alzaron casi en brazos y lo llevaron a su casa. El doctor dispuso que guardara reposo.
One day, jumping after the ball, little Johnny fell down. Luis was about to trip over him and so as not to harm him he stepped aside brusquely and hurt his leg. His friends lifted him up practically in their arms and took him home. The doctor ordered that he should rest.
Los amigos de Luis resolvieron entonces, para agradecerle lo mucho que hacía por ellos, comprarle esa semana la máquina que tanto le gustaba, y el viernes siguiente, al visitarlo, la sorpresa resultó muy agradable.
The friends of Luis then decided, in order to thank him for all he had done for them, to purchase for him this week the steam engine that he liked so much, and the next Friday upon visiting him the surprise that resulted was very pleasant.
Atentísimos estaban todos viendo correr la máquina, cuando llegó el papá de Luis que era marinero, y su esposa lo entró de la buena acción de los amiguitos y amiguitas de su hijo.
They were all very intently watching the steam engine run when Luis’s father, who was a sailor, and his wife arrived and discovered the good deed of the little boy and girl friends of Luis.
“Es necesario premiar a estos niños por su conducta”, dijo el papá, y, en efecto, así que Luis hubo sanado, los llevó al circo, donde pasaron la tarde muy felices. Además, al terminar la función, el papá se acercó con ellos al puesto de los juguetes y les compró los que más habían deseado.
“It is necessary to reward these children for their conduct", said the father, and so as soon as Luis was better he took them to the circus where the spent a very happy afternoon. Moreover, when they were done with that he gathered them together at the toy shop and he bought the toys that they most desired.
Note: It was customary (and still is) for the father (papá), or the godfather (padrino) or the grandfather (abuelo) to give the children some coins on Sunday for a teat. The children actually call this money their "domingo" (Sunday) and politely, and sometimes not so politely "Piden su domingo" or "Ask for their treat money" which the children in the USA would refer to as their "allowance".
Also, the word "máquina" or "machine" in English is short for "máquina de vapor" which means "steam engine". Likewise the word "sala" refers to "living room" but here it means a set of doll furniture.
The little stories get progressively longer and document the trip to the circus. All in all it is a charming little book and I like it very much.
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