Author Archives: Randy Bullis

About Randy Bullis

A husband, father, and teacher who wonders why he gets senior discounts automatically now without being asked. A collection of random thoughts that cross my mind.

Goodbye to the Clown

The title of this blog may sound demeaning when you consider that this is a reflection on the life of an amazing person.  I chose to call it that because for many people that went to school with him, Ralph Alvarez was the class clown – the one mimicking Mr. Heil, the semi-permanent substitute we had for a while our junior year, the one who ran through a pep rally in full Jerry Lewis style, or the one drawing a mildly inappropriate cartoon that made a comment on the conditions at school.

I was quite shocked when I heard of his passing.   When I shared this news with friends, they also were quite taken aback.  We always wondered what had happened to Ralph, and now we find out he has passed and we  have no way to reach out to him to tell him how he touched our lives.

We all have our wonderful memories of Ralph.  When I asked for people to share their recollections, most people recalled what a great talent he was.  He went to state finals with his rendition of “The Hollow Men” by T.S. Eliot.   Anyone that ever saw him perform pantomime in Speech competitions were enthralled with his precise and very effective movements.  I can still recall his interpretation of a Charlie Chaplin piece, “The Great Dictator” which just gave you the chills.  Even if you were not familiar with the movie, his pantomime told the story in an incredible way.

Many of us saw his wonderful cartoons and caricatures.  He did a parody of “The Exorcist” which he called “The Abortionist” which was drop dead hilarious.  My one regret is that I did not get to hold on to a sketch book that I had of his with pages and pages of his drawings.    He came by my office one day, about 10-12 years after graduation, and asked if he could have it back to use as a portfolio of his work.  Of course I gave it to him, but I honestly wish I had made a copy.

He had a unique way of punching through things that were too serious.  We once had to perform a record pantomime in class as part of a project.   He and I had done “Santa Claus and His Old Lady” by Cheech and Chong which he nailed.  Most of his record pantomimes were so funny you didn’t realize how well he was mastering the recording. Our speech teacher, Miss Griffing, told us all we had to do a serious song lip sync, and she made sure that Ralph got the message that this was strictly serious, no kidding around.

We did not know what to expect.   Curtains opened, and he sat there in a chair, with a smoking jacket, holding a pipe, looking all sophisticated.  The song was “This Guys in Love with You” by Herb Alpert.  Word for word, line by line, he lip synced that song and he had us in awe!  He was doing it!  Playing it straight.  Expressing every emotion that is in that song.   Until . . . it came to the part of the song where there is a short trumpet solo.  Without breaking character, he held the pipe to his mouth, and pretended he was playing the solo on his pipe.   We lost it.  We were rolling on the ground  in laughter.  When the solo was over, he went back to playing it straight and really showed us how to do it.  We expected Miss Griffing to be quite upset.  She just shook her head, smiled, gave him an A, and went on the next student.

I think Miss Griffing had it in mind that she was going to make Ralph be serious at some point in his life.  It was no secret that Ralph did not want to wear our bright orange graduation robes for our various Senior activities.  If I am not mistaken, she either bought his robe for him or had it made available to him, which she forced him to wear at our Senior assembly.    Ralph had a serious part to read as part of the ceremony.  He was given  his lines, and told to say those lines and nothing else.

The day of the event came, we all did our part, and it came time for Ralph to do his speech.    He came to the podium, stood there silently for a few moments, and then said, to the entire crowd assembled there, “I feel like a spokesman for Sunkist oranges.”   Of course we all lost it, and I will never forget the look on Miss Griffing’s face – a combination of anger, laughter, and resignation.   He then went on and did his portion of the program perfectly.

One of his dearest friends, Pat Grissom, mentioned that Ralph had a photographic memory.  I never realized that, but now I understand how he learned his lines (and everyone’s lines) so quickly.   He was also quite smart.    Pat mentioned in his recollection that he and Ralph were a debate team at El Paso Community College, and in one tournament they beat the #1 ranked team in the nation from USC.  Apparently Ralph did his argument on school reform in his Vincent Price voice.

We all expected at some point that Ralph would have been a successful artist or performer.  For whatever reason that never happened.   But to consider his life a failure would be to shortchange him as a person.  Ralph was a kind dear friend.    He was always so positive, even when things around him weren’t always good.

When he came to pick up his sketchbook, he found out that I had just gone through a divorce.  His words of encouragement and understanding meant the world to me at a time I was having a difficult time.

A story about him was shared with me by my friend and primo Joe Alanis.  Joey and Ralph were neighbors and grew up together.  He mentioned that he could never get Ralph to give up his street shoes to play ball, but he knew every word on every George Carlin album.   (My first instance of hearing about Al Sleet the Hippy Dippy Weatherman was from Ralph, not the record)  Anyway, Joey mentioned that the only one of his classmates that gave him  a graduation present was Ralph.  It was a copy of Winnie the Pooh that belonged to Ralph, and he presented it to Joey with a personal inscription which is too personal to share.    That is the Ralph I knew.   That is the Ralph that those of us who had the pleasure of being around him will remember.  I am embarrassed that I lost touch with him, and that I never said these few short words I’ve written here face to face.

This story is also called Goodbye to the Clown because that is the name of a play that most of us that were in Speech and  Drama are familiar with.  The imaginary clown in the play helps the young girl get through the trauma of the loss of her father.    Ralph was that way in a lot of ways.  His humor, his kindness and his caring helped carry us through school and those difficult emotional times that we call high school.  He never let us get down and he certainly never let us take ourselves too seriously.

Thank you Ralph.  May you rest in peace, and may you make the angels laugh.

Capture

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Happy “Dad’s” Day

Today would have been my dad’s 84th birthday.  He taught me hard work, mechanics, carpentry, frugality, and even a few new cuss words I had never heard.  When other kids were playing, he had my brother and I working on cars, busting down swimming pools, helping around the house, and any other chores he could come up with.

He was far from perfect, as most of us are.   He had an inherent mistrust of people, a bit paranoid at times, and quite insecure as well.    You see, he grew  up being largely unwanted by his family, and it took a lot of time for us to break through that wall.

He spoke a lot about his boys, my brother Art and me.  When I went to claim my dad’s remains and make funeral arrangements in the little town of DeBerry, Texas, his neighbors, friends, and fellow church members knew all about Art and me, even though we had never met them.    My dad spent a lot of time talking about us.

I call this post Happy “Dad’s” Day because this man was my dad, even though he was not my biological father.   From day one of his marriage to my mom we never used the word step-father or step-sons.   When we asked him what we should call him after he married my mom, he said “call me Don.”    We asked if we could call him dad (my brother and I were 10 and 8), he said that would be ok.   We never called him anything else.

On Father’s day this is the man I think of, not the biological father who chose to leave us when I was two years old, never to be seen again.  Thank you Dad, for loving us, protecting us, and showing us what a Dad should be.   I hope I make you proud.

Miss you.

dad

The death of part of my childhood – RIP Dennis

I grew up in a much simpler time when kids could play outside for hours at a time without parents having to worry. We knew that we would be at each other’s parents house and no one worried. When it was time to come home, our parents would yell out the door for us to come home. Sometimes it took calling us by our full name, middle name included, to get us home, but we went home, and we were safe.

In fifth grade we moved from the Sunset Heights area in El Paso to the Lakeside area, all the way across town. Normally that kind of move would be tough, but for me, and for my brother Art, it meant the start of a great set of friendships. The first day of school I went to my class with Mr. Rhymes, and sat in front of someone who would be my best friend for the next 49 years, Hugo Echavarri. Across the street and down about three houses lived the Romero family, with a young boy my brothers age, named Dennis. The four of us would spend the better part of several years playing street football, Monopoly, Stratomatic football, cards and a number of other games. Sometimes we would start early morning and play till it was time to go to bed.

We invented a game called Calvin Hill, where we would throw a football up in the air and whoever caught it had to get to one side of the end zone (our lawn) with the other three tackling them. We did this during the heat of summer, on rainy days, and even a couple of times when it snowed. We would be banged up, scratched and bleeding at times, but we kept on going.
Our street football games would go on forever, and sometimes included Dennis’ sister Donna. We hated it when she got all girlie on us and quit playing because she would break a nail. Sometimes a kid from down the street named Louie would join us as well. When Dennis and I were playing on the same team we made up an audible system to call plays depending on where Hugo and Art lined up. Did we use numbers? Nope, we used cartoon characters.

We played a lot of tennis, we “experimented” with blowing things up with a balloon full of acetylene gas and oxygen from my dad’s welding torch. We even came up with a way to use a battery and steel wool to set off the balloons. One time Art and Dennis blew a big hole in the back yard with their little experiment.

These were fun times, and innocent times. But as happens, as we got older, we kind of lost touch. Hugo and I remain best friends, and of course I keep in touch with my brother, but Dennis and I lost touch. We managed to find each other on Facebook a few years back, and spoke maybe three or four times since that time.

About ten days ago I was driving to Round Rock to take my granddaughter to a Daddy-Daughter dance. My phone went off, and it was a message from Donna, Dennis’ sister, advising me that Dennis had passed away that morning, peacefully, in his sleep.
Certainly I am sorry that we had not kept in contact more often, but I choose not to linger on that. We had a lot of good times together, and those memories will always remain. But I can’t help but think that a little part of my childhood died when I learned of his death. I will miss you my friend, but our good times will always be in my heart.

dennis

Just when I thought . . .

As I get older my mind and my heart want to tell me that we have come a long way from the early 60’s when the world was a much meaner and heartless place. No, I did not go to Selma, nor was I involved in the farm workers strikes, which even as a young kid showed me how less than perfect the world could be. But I did not have to be there to see the cruelty in the minds and hearts of people.

My mom raised my little brother and I as a single mom for a large part of my life. That sweet woman, a Mexican immigrant, worked harder than anyone I have ever known to provide a life for me and my little brother. She did this while having to answer the questions of people who would see us together and ask – “Where is those boys’ mother? Do you have permission to be out with them? Shouldn’t you be back at their home taking care of them until their mother gets home?”

You see, my brother and I were much lighter than my mom. These clueless people thought that our dear mother was the maid that was taking care of us. It never occurred to them that we belonged to her.

I was exposed to that sort of crap early on. We would walk to the park a block from our house and the Border Patrol would follow us. My mom would try to find a place for us to live and had to subject herself to claims that the place was rented once they saw she was “not like them.”

I have a vivid memory of being in first grade and my mom looking for a cheaper apartment for us to live. As we walked around the Sunset Heights area in El Paso, we encountered a sign that is clearly imprinted on my mind. I learned to read pretty early, even before starting school, and the sign clearly said “apartment for rent. No dogs or Mexicans allowed.”

You know, it was not until that time that I realized that people looked at us differently. Even though they called me the little gringito or “el pocho” when I visited my grandparents in Juarez, it didn’t affect me because I spoke the language, played the games, and fit in regardless of how “guero” I was.

So I carried this in my heart for a long time. Being in El Paso, which is predominately Hispanic, and going to a high school that was overwhelmingly Hispanic, this feeling of discrimination slowly started to fade away. Then one day, a sportscaster on an El Paso television station (Chip Taberski) called a football game between our school (Riverside) and our big rival (Ysleta) the “battle of illegal aliens.” Boom! the feeling was back.

After getting married to my high school girlfriend, we moved to Austin where I was finishing law school. We went to eat at a fast food joint, and in conversation another patron asked us if it was difficult being in a mixed marriage. My wife, a Mexican-American, and me (the half Mexican kid) were apparently considered an oddity to these people. He was quite surprised when I questioned his lineage in Spanish as we left the place.

I finished law school, moved to Laredo where I worked in a city where everyone, regardless of racial or ethnic background, spoke Spanish. We all got along, there was little to complain about in terms of disparate treatment. Naive as I was, I thought the tide had turned.

After a couple of years, we moved to El Paso. We looked for an apartment, and found a great and affordable place in the newspaper. We called, made an appointment to see it and showed up at the landlords house, which was the other side of the duplex. When she answered the door, she took one look at my wife and told us that the apartment had been rented. We told her that we had just called, but she insisted it had just been rented. When we returned home, we called back, and this time I talked to her on the phone. She was friendly as heck and insisted that we come right over and look at the place. After mentioning to her that we had just been there and been told that the place was rented, she quickly hung up.

Shall I go on? I could name you several times when this type of stuff has occurred in my life. Previous posts to this blog talk about many other experiences.

So why do I call this post “just when I thought . . . ?”

Probably because I had lulled myself into self delusion and thought that this sort of crap doesn’t happen anymore.
I thought that little by little we were approaching a society where blatant racism like that had gone away. Don’t get me wrong. Recent events in this country show that it is not all gone, just the contrary. But I really thought that the old plantation mentality had at least mellowed somewhat.

Then this showed up on my Facebook page.

http://www.latina.com/lifestyle/our-issues/austin-landlords-demolish-pinata-store-jumpolin-sxsw-party

I cannot recall having felt this amount of unfettered rage when I read about this. Roaches? Really?
Drug Dealers? Is that the best you can come up with?

This has set me back quite a bit. Quite frankly, it just pisses me off. All those memories of the stuff my mom went through, of the unfair treatment we received growing up, and the kind of junk that people talked about Mexicans not knowing that I am Mexican despite my last name came flooding up.

What a disappointment. I just have to work harder in my own little world to try to make sure my grandkids don’t ever see this. Good luck with that. OK, now I have partially vented. Discuss.

The Passing of Robin Williams – that could have been me

The recent death of Robin Williams hit me kind of hard. Here was someone whom I had never met, but somehow felt a loss at hearing of his death. From Mork and Mindy to The Fisher King, Moscow on the Hudson to Dead Poets Society, Mrs. Doubtfire to Bicentennial Man, he made me laugh, he made me think, and he made me cry at times.

I read a post from Mike Rowe today, and in it he was asked to comment on Robin Williams. Part of his post really stuck out. He said “Some people enter our lives and become benchmarks in ways we don’t realize. Then they exit, and we struggle. Sometimes, those people are high-school buddies, and sometimes, they’re strangers who somehow felt like friends. Either way, it sucks when they go.”  Very well put.  It explains my feelings very well.

But I digress. What struck me was finding out about his struggles with depression. Depression is an illness that many people do not understand. Somehow they feel that all they need to do is yell at you to “snap out of it” and instantaneously you are cured. It doesn’t work that way. I know it doesn’t. It did not work for me.

Many of you that know me know that I used to practice law for many years. I was a prosecutor for several years, then went into private practice as a defense attorney, and served for almost ten years as a Municipal Court judge and night magistrate. Then it all came tumbling down in a relatively short time. It cost me a marriage, my law license, my ability to make a living, and then another divorce from an ill-conceived marriage to a friend.

Was it drugs? No, never tried them, not interested in them. Was it alcohol? Nope. After a short time in high school and part of college I realized that my genes would not allow me to be a casual drinker – I had too many alcoholics in my family, particularly my biological father. So I quit drinking when I was 20.

The plain fact of the matter is that I was suffering from clinical depression. There, I said it. Very few people other than my immediate family and close friends know about it.  I went through some health problems, a divorce that I did not see coming, my ex-wife moved my kids 600 miles away, and I found myself horribly alone.    Increasingly I found myself going home on Fridays, locking myself in my apartment with the blinds shut, and never stepping out again until Monday when it was time to go to work.

I lacked the energy and desire to do anything at all.   That included the very thing that I needed most, which was contact with my family and friends.    Add to that my reluctance at the time to ask for help with anything (a misguided sense of self-reliance) and it made for a perfect recipe for what became more than just sadness.   I also quit doing the one thing that could have helped me a lot –  I quit attending church.    My faith had always been an important part of my life, especially considering that I made quite a change in my college years by breaking away from the faith I was raised with when I joined the LDS church against the wishes of my mom and my grandmother.

I could have very easily slipped back into drinking, or started experimenting with drugs, or even toying with the idea of just ending it all.   Certainly I was ripe for that to happen to me.  Luckily for me, I guess, I was hurt in a car accident.   The doctor I went to go see for my neck pain was also trained as a psychiatrist.   He recognized the symptoms right away.  After a short trial of antidepressants (did not like them at all) he referred me to a counselor that I saw on a regular basis for quite a while.    He made me think about things that I did not want to think about.   He made me do things I did not want to do, like reach out for help from friends and family.

Little by little, I came out of a very deep fog that seemed to surround my life.  I had a very good home teacher from church that would come by my apartment every Sunday, make me wake up and shower, and go to church with him.    He kept me busy helping do service projects for others and would take me to Goal Oriented Leadership Functions.  (GOLF).  After a while I realized things were not so bad.

I was very bitter about life, did not trust people, did not want to show any sort of emotion or vulnerability to anyone except my daughters.    Believe it or not, I learned how to trust and love again because I got a dog.  That dog helped me through a lot of my down times.  He was there when I was sick, when I felt low and when I was lonely.   He never went anywhere and showed me unconditional love.   That helped to start the turnaround in my life.

It was around that time that my wife came into my life.  I had met her earlier when we worked at the same law office.  We were friends for a long time, and that eventually led to what is now the best relationship I have had in my life.    She helped me to go visit my daughters in Austin.   She got me used to a day-to-day life of being around people and doing simple ordinary things that give your life structure and meaning.   My distrust of others and fear of opening up my feelings gradually went away because of her.  It took a long time, but we eventually got married.   Molly is who encouraged me to teach, which has become my passion.  It was because of Sam, Molly’s youngest son, that I became involved in Boy Scouts,   Scouting has given me a multitude of great experiences and life long friends.

So I guess I can say I am lucky.   Consider the following:

  • Men with depression are more likely than depressed women to abuse alcohol and other substances, according to Jill Goldstein, director of research at the Connors Center for Women’s Health and Gender Biology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.
  • Depressed men may also try to mask their sadness by turning to other outlets, such as watching TV, playing sports and working excessively, or engaging in risky behaviors, Goldstein told Live Science in an interview earlier this year.
  • Men’s symptoms of depression may be harder for other people to recognize, and the illness is missed more frequently in men, Goldstein said.
  • Men with depression are more likely than women with the condition to commit suicide, Goldstein said. Men with depression may go longer without being diagnosed or treated, and so men may develop a more devastating mental health problem.  Copyright 2014 LiveScience,

 

So I dodged the perfect storm.  I am alive today and very glad to be here.  But don’t get me wrong,  I am not bragging, nor am I putting down Robin Williams and others that were not able to overcome it, or who continue to suffer.  Like I said, I was lucky.   Keep an eye out for those you love.  Don’t leave them hanging.   Look for the symptoms of depression –

  • Fatigue or loss of energy almost every day
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt almost every day
  • Impaired concentration, indecisiveness
  • Insomnia or hypersomnia (excessive sleeping) almost every day
  • Markedly diminished interest or pleasure in almost all activities nearly every day (called anhedonia, this symptom can be indicated by reports from significant others)
  • Restlessness or feeling slowed down
  • Recurring thoughts of death or suicide
  • Significant weight loss or gain (a change of more than 5% of body weight in a month)  http://www.webmd.com/depression/guide/major-depression

If  you are depressed, you may not know it.  Even if you do know it, you are unlikely to reach out for help.  Don’t be afraid to reach out.   It could have cost me dearly if the right set of circumstances had not occurred that led me out of haze.  This is not easy to write or to admit, but I hope that somehow it may strike a chord with someone who needs that extra push to get help.

I join the rest of the world in mourning the loss of a great entertainer.  My hope is that his death may draw attention to this misunderstood illness.    “There but for the grace of God go I”

If you ever had a father figure in your life, you are blessed. If that person isn’t your blood, but treats you as such, you are even more blessed.

If you ever had a father figure in your life, you are blessed. If that person isn’t your blood, but treats you as such, you are even more blessed.

Those words really pierced my heart, because they were posted by my son Sam Gorena on my birthday a couple of months ago. They touched me because it confirmed to me that I had done a good job in helping raise this young man, a young man that I became aware of when his mom was 6 months pregnant with him and I attended her baby shower. Little did I know that I would be a part of his life for so many years after his father passed away.,

They also touched me because it made me realize how I had learned to love Sam as my own. I learned it from my Dad. He came into our lives in 1965, when my little brother Art and I were 9 and 7 respectively. My “father” had walked out on my mom many years before that and we were raised by my mom, with some help from my grandmother and my wonderful grandfather. We did not have a father figure in our lives until my Dad came into our lives and swept us off our feet.

From day one, after he married my Mom, we were “his” boys. He was not “Don” to us, he was just Dad. He was hard on us at times, and we did not really understand why he worked us so damn much.   I would have rather been roaming the streets with my friends than back at home rebuilding cars, going to salvage sales, or recycling aluminum and tin to make a few extra bucks for the household.   But when I am able to rebuild my brakes, change out a clutch, or build a raised garden bed from discarded decking material, I have my dad to thank.

I was a total butt to my dad as a teenager at times. I challenged everything he said, I was sarcastic, and I even at times ridiculed his ideas.   But at the end of each night, when it came time to go to bed, he always said “I love you son.”   I guess that is why I never uttered those words that many stepdads end up hearing – “You aren’t my real dad.”

After my mom passed, my dad’s relationship with me changed.   He now relied on me to help him with important decisions, make medical and financial decisions, and work out some pretty intense feelings of anger, loneliness and resentment that he had built up over his life.   We talked often, even when he left El Paso and moved all the way across the state to DeBerry, Texas.   (Yeah, I didn’t know where that was either.)

I told him it worried me that he was 6 hours away and that I was afraid something would happen to him and I would not be able to be there right away to help him.   My worst fears were confirmed when I got a call one late December evening telling me that my dad had suffered a heart attack and was found laying out on the back porch.   We had talked just two evenings before, shared a few laughs, made plans for me to go with him all the way back to El Paso to see his cardiologist, and talked about some ideas he had to remodel some stuff in his house.     His last words to me?   “I love you son.”

Sitting with my brother one day several months after my Dad’s passing, my brother said something that still sticks to me to this day.   He said our dad taught us a lot – how to work, how to survive, and more importantly, how to love.  Sam’s words to me were directly the result of what my dad gave me; it was his legacy to me.

I would give anything to hear those words again – I love you son.   I miss you Dad. Happy Fathers Day.

Don’t let the last name fool you.

I cannot tell you the number of times that people have tried to classify my ethnicity by my last name.   In fact, I have blogged about this in the past.   My father was from Michigan, the son of parents that were half Canadian.  But since he was not a part of my life after the age of one or two, my upbringing was certainly influenced by my mother Evangelina and her parents – my grandmother Mauricia and my grandfather Arturo.

Since I am a first generation American on my mother’s side, and my abuelos spoke no English, it should come as no surprise that I learned Spanish early.  In fact, it was my primary language.  My mother, who had learned to speak passable English from living in the Mormon colonies in Mexico with my aunts, emphasized the importance of speaking English well since we would be living in the U.S.  As a result, i was bilingual from the time that I can remember having any conversations with others.

I started first grade at Vilas Elementary in El Paso in 1962.  There were no kindergarten programs at the  time, so we all started in first grade.    There was a boy in my class (Jorge) that spoke very little English, and my teacher Miss Wilson spoke no Spanish.  That certainly presented a problem to both Jorge and Miss Wilson.

During recess Jorge and I struck up a conversation in Spanish and quickly became buddies.  Miss Wilson noticed that we were talking and was shocked at my ability to communicate with him.   She loudly asked something to the effect “Randy Bullis!  How on earth did you learn to speak Spanish?”  Apparently when my mom had brought me to school that day she assumed my mom was the maid.  (which is an entirely different topic that I will address some time.)  Because my last name was Bullis she assumed I could not possible know Spanish.

Jorge and I were assigned to sit with each other for the school year and we worked together with me translating as we went.  By the end of the fall, he spoke English much better.  (Isn’t it amazing how quick kids pick up language skills?)

I never thought much of my ability to speak both languages, it was just part of who I was.   I spoke English at school and with some of my friends, I spoke both languages at home, and I spoke Spanish with my family in Juarez.

It came in handy a lot of times, and I know it saved me from harm at least one time.  My brother and I and some friends were at the little park near our house when a group of thugs approached us at the park.  I listened to them as they planned, in Spanish, to take the baseball equipment from us.   As they approached i was able to warn my brother and friends to run before they got to us.   They seemed confused about how we knew what they had been talking about until my brother stopped, turned to them, and yelled some choice words in Spanish.  I don’t remember what he said, I just know that once i reached over and grabbed him to keep running that I couldn’t help but laugh.

Fast forward a few years.  My mom met my Dad (not my father) and they quickly married.  My dad spoke no Spanish except for the naughty words that he had picked up here and there.  Because of that, we quit speaking Spanish at home.  During the mid to late 60’s there was a large push in the schools to prohibit speaking Spanish, so we pretty much quit speaking it at school too.   In a short time my ability to speak Spanish was almost gone.  I struggled to speak it well enough to still speak to my loving grandparents.

In high school I dated a  young woman that insisted that I speak Spanish when I could, especially since she spoke Spanish with her parents.  There would be times when she would only speak to me in Spanish and forced me to respond in Spanish as well.    Thanks to her I gradually started to regain my ability to speak it, although with an accent.  During our marriage it was common for us to speak Spanish, and we tried to make sure our daughters learned it as well.  Although we are no longer married, I am thankful that she made me embrace my culture and language.

My first job out of law school was in Laredo, Texas.  I was quite surprised when I moved there in 1981 that the city was quite Spanish oriented.  Everyone spoke Spanish.  It did not matter if your last name was Sanchez or Bullis, people spoke to you in Spanish assuming you knew the language.   It was there that i regained my familiarity with the language, to the point that I did presentations for the DA’s office at schools, PTA meetings, etc. in both English and Spanish.

I have shared the story before about the poor shocked criminal defendants who appeared before me as a night court judge and cursed me repeatedly in Spanish, only to have me start reading them their rights in Spanish. The look on their face was priceless.

Back in the days before databases and other software programs, the courts in El Paso used an old Rolodex to appoint attorneys to represent defendants.  If you were bilingual, you were in as a pink card.   If the defendant spoke no English they skipped to the next available pink card.  I was a pink card.  My ability to speak both languages helped me keep my law practice afloat.

I do not turn my back on my father’s heritage.  I embrace that part of my ancestry with no qualms.   But I was raised in a different culture and I love it.  It is who I am.

My stomach turns when people say that i should not identify myself as Hispanic, that I am an American first.  Really?  I can’t be both a proud American and embrace the culture that defines me?

in fact, I am quite surprised that in my adopted home town of San Antonio that more Hispanics don’t speak Spanish.   While they ostensibly accept the culture, they don’t speak the language.  I think that misses a huge part of what it’s all about.   So let me say this to the many persons who in the past were surprised by my ability to speak Spanish  – Don’t let the last name fool you.

Good, I got that off my chest.