photos: Hugh Nocton, my father when he was a professor and Nancy Holbrook, my mother, in Germany as a little girl
Today I will carry you
in my fingertips and in the orange sunrise and in the soles
of my arched feet.
I will wear you in the wisps of my frustrated
hair and the enamel of my teeth
and in the worn clothes you gifted softly.
Today I will imbibe the amber shadows and salt spilled
for you and I will find you in the honeysuckle
that I have not, but know.
Tomorrow the echo of your voice will soothe my breast
shake laughter, cry memory, shimmer joy, encounter rage,
and reveal nothing.
These days, I don’t know what to believe about the uncertain future, which has always been uncertain, but I know that I need to remember the important people in my life who have helped me think about how and where to find a little hope, or, at least, some support.
It would be a lie to deny that I’m disappointed and sad after the elections. Declaring this, it is obvious that I am not in favor of Trump, and, in spite of the fact that many say that he probably won’t be as bad as his opponents think, nor will he be able to accomplish half of what he promised, thinking about the horrific things that he has said about women, immigrants, Muslims, journalists and many others makes me sick and makes me afraid. Yes, other politicians (and other people) have said offensive thins and have insulted various groups, but the actions, insults, and Trump’s threats have left me uneasy. I know that I am not alone and that others feel similarly. I know that some students where I teach also share my concerns, and I know that the faculty, staff, and the administration are upset about incidents of anger and cruel words directed at both those who favor and those against president elect Trump.
What can I do? I am going to reassure my students that, in my classroom, I won’t allow them to insult each other and, if this happens, we will have a chat about acceptable ways to treat one another. I will reassure my children and their friends that they live in a community that loves them and will protect their rights. I will treat people with kindness while expressing my disgust by hateful words. I am going to act and I am going to thank those who have influenced me in positive ways in my life.
My maternal grandfather fought in World War II and was responsible for helping to remove Nazi propaganda from the towns liberated from Nazi control. My father knew Saul Alinsky and fought in the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s. Later, my father would correspond with Howard Zinn. Both of my parents taught me and my siblings to always do everything possible to improve the world for all and to respect human rights. I am grateful for this gift.
When I was 19 years old, I lived for a little bit in Mexico. I was a volunteer for the organization Amigos de las Américas. In Mexico I lived with a marvelous family whose affection helped me as I learned that my parents’ divorce had been finalized. I still adore this family who took me in, and even though many live outside of Mexico now, I still speak to them every so often. They taught me so much, and I am grateful for the role they play in my life.
After my stay in el rancho San Cristóbal (on the outskirts of Huanímaro in the state of Guanajauto), Mexico, I left for Italy where I fell in love with a group of people who continue to influencing me. There I was witness to an immigrant hunger strike protesting racist violence. I was also a participant in the student strikes that took place while I was there (it was impossible not to participate since all of the departments had been occupied by students and there were no classes for three months in Florence, Italy). I frequently visit my friends in Florence and Givoanna and Roberto, Tonino and Elisa, Chiara and Valter and Pio have all taken good care of me and have gifted me valued friendships.
Years later, I lived in Chile with Luis Ortega and his family. There I met another group of inspiring people with whom I traveled for Chile. With them, I got to know their beautiful country. The young people with whom I traveled had lived in exile with their families during Pinochet. I have never forgotten them or their stories.
I am a teacher. I teach Spanish, Italian and composition. I dreamt about being something else. I studied Latin American history and Spanish literature and I wanted to work for a non-government, non-profit organization. In 1994, there weren’t many such positions, and, suddenly, I found myself teaching at Westminster School in Simsbury, Connecticut. I spent three years there and I began to work with my students and Cuban balseros (raft people) who had recently arrived in Connecticut. I also worked with other teachers at Westminster to change rules that benefited the male teachers and excluded the women.
Upon entering public schools, I created a sister-school with an elementary school in Hartford, Connecticut and later in East Hartford, Connecticut. Peter Kenny, a great man and wise educator, became my mentor. Our friendship joined high school students studying Spanish and elementary school students learning English (the majority of them were native Spanish speakers). Together they formed friendships and learned languages. Before the days of having to measure everything with numbers and data, we received a grant from CREC (Capitol Region Education Council) and we used the arts (like working with the group Pilobolus) to cement relationships among the students. We also fought racism when, on a couple of occasions, different bus companies refused to transport the urban children because the company owners were afraid that the children would vandalize their buses. Needless to say, we stopped using those companies.
I briefly worked with a sister-school in Rhode Island. There wasn’t any funding to continue with the partnership, but it was a lovely experience. The idea was similar to the previous arrangement: to bring together students from different backgrounds and to see what they could learn from one another. We weren’t looking for data but rather wanted to allow the students to learn from one another. Ken Giella and I worked two years with UCAP (Urpban Collaborate Acclerated Program) and we raised money for the school by showing Tim Hotchner’s documentary about the school, Accelerating America. We donated the money raised from the showing to UCAP.
I have traveled a lot with my students and, always, when I do, I insist on finding a way to contribute to the place we are going. We have painted schools, played with orphans, worked with animals in a wildlife refuge, and visited monuments dedicated to the disappeared where we listened to a talk given by the daughter of one of the disappeared. I have also worked with a wonderful group of teachers on a sister-school project in Córdoba, Spain. And with the students who haven’t been able to travel, I have done everything possible to open their eyes to the world and their place in it. I have collaborated many years with friends in Nicaragua, Guatemala, Argentina, Chile, Spain and El Salvador in order to inform my students about the histories of these countries and to give my students the opportunity to interview people from other countries while doing their own research. I have done all of this without ever wanting to a teacher.
No. I didn’t want to be a teacher. Moreover, I believe that in the United States there are many who don’t realize how hard good teachers work and the hours they dedicate to their students. Often I feel like I have to apologize for being a teacher, as if it were a profession that doesn’t merit respect. I know it’s true, but it is how I feel.
So, the next time I am asked, I am going to do everything possible to say with pride that I am a teacher the next time someone asks, “And what do you do?” And, I’m going to continue using my position to work with others to make the future better by showing students that I believe (we believe) in them and our ability to fight for human rights and combat hateful speech and actions.
I could write pages, but I don’t have time and no one wants to read so much from me in this moment. After the elections, I saw the students who contribute to this blog were wanting to express themselves and, for this reason, I invited them to write, to compose something to inspire them or to give thanks to others or simply to write to create something. And this is what I tried to do, too.
And now I would like to thank:
My family (who support me, council me and love me in spite of my fluke mind):
my husband, Jason Courtmanche and our children (Cormac, Elsa and our «Italian daughter» Maria), my brother and sister (Matt and Anne-Marie, my step-siblings (Scott, Greg, Jenny, and Kim), my nieces and nephews, my mother and step-father, my father, my aunts (who I always liken to the the fairy godmothers in a Disney film), my uncles, my cousins, and my «Phyllis»
Cata, Seana, Sean, y Colleen (for being other siblings to my children and for filling our home with joy and art)
My high school friends (among them): Robin Everhart, Gayle Rudzewick, James Peterson, Bryan West, and Wendy Oakes
My friends from the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp
My «Spanish» brothers, Nacho and José Eugenio and their families
Colette Bennett and Rochelle Marcus for traveling with me to Italy to present at an international conference on teaching languages
My cousins and friends in Ireland and Italy
My Cordoban friends (César, Ínes, Juanlu, Salud, Juanma, and others) and my other Valencian family (Alicia, Javier y Arnau) and my guide and friend, Alfonso, in Madrid
My former colleagues from RHAM (among them): Steve Pingree, Angela Brower, Mary Rametta, Yaosca González de Bemis, Marc Paluso, Mark Law, Deb Anger, Tim Landry, Meg Coffey, Meredith Dunbar, Scott Leslie, Jeannie Kmetz, Jennifer Mott, Tom Mueller, Jennifer Johnson, Renee Cahill, George Deliman, Bev Fisher and many more
My former RHAM students, those who traveled with me and those who haven’t, and all of my RHAM GSA (Gay Straight Alliance) students
My friends (writers and poets) from the Connecticut Writing Project Summer Institute: Elizabeth, Danielle, Bob, Jay, y Kim
My new colleagues at EO Smith (thank you Kim and Dana for encouraging me to apply for the position! You two rock!)
My new students at EO Smith and my students at UConn for welcoming me as their teacher and helping me adjust to a new environment
Isabel Allende and Leonor Varela for having corresponded with my students in the past
My other friends like:
Félix Ulloa hijo, Martha Guadalupe Romero García, Juan Maldonado, Ana María Díaz-Marcos (University of Connecticut), Ignacio Aldonis, César Morales Perez, Elizabeth Kennedy, Miguel Gomes, Steve Batt y Brian Boecherer who have guided and pushed my students much more than I could ever have done alone
And the marvelous community and my sharp, strong, formidable friends (and their families) in Mansfield, CT (You all know who you are!)
About the immigrant hunger strike in Florence, Italy in 1990:
About the student protests in Florence, Italy in 1990:
Watch and listen to Chiara Trallori, harpist:
Read about Peter Kenny:
About UCAP (la escuela de Rhode Island)
About Accelerating America a documentary by Tim Hotchner
About Amigos de las Américas:
About the Connecticut Writing Project, Storrs:
About The Hole in the Wall Gang Camp:
To see Robin Everhart:
To listen to James Peterson:
NEA Take the Pledge: Safe Learning Environments for Every Student