I, the teacher with the twisted imaginationsay
draw yourself finding a treasure chest
just like Arnold Duncan.
And they, the students, eyes burning with kidfire,
flash bright teeth and smiles across their brown faces.
They know who Arnold Duncan is,
that old gringo with the beard from the story
we’re reading, another English story for English class
from our English textbook. And they know the story, but you,
you do not know the story. So, for
those of you not in Mr. Logan’s 4th Grade
English class, get this straight:
One. It was a sunny morning.
Two. Arnold Duncan went fishing.
Three. Arnold Duncan caught a treasure chest.
Four. Inside the chest were gold coins.
Doubloons is the vocabulary word.
And so my kids, these kids, they draw.
On the first page, dawn blooms an immense
sun, rising from the ocean like an Atlantis of fire,
just offshore from an imaginary place called San Francisco.
Second page, an ungainly man appears,
with a bright pink face and short arms. He
goes fishing in a boat the size of a skateboard.
Third page, Duncan’s fishing hook weaves
through the fishes, whales, turtles, dolphins and mermaids
until it snags itself on a brown chest of doubloons.
Last page. Duncan sits on the shore like an old man
finding out what he wants to be when he grows up,
too late. Spanish gold dripping through his fingers,
and his granddaughter sitting on his lap. Her head
is lopsided, her face is pink, and I, the teacher,
say very good. I think your drawings are beautiful,
beautiful like mermaids. Now, show me
your last drawing, the one in which you find
the treasure instead of Arnold Duncan.
And these kids, one after another, they unfold
their little illustrated books to show me their imaginations,
where they fill their small Mexican hands with Spanish doubloons.
Except inside, in these drawings, I don’t see my students.
Drawn inside, I don’t see their outsides. I see their imaginations,
I see how they see themselves and they’ve drawn
themselves with blond hair and pink skin,
brown hair and peach skin, light hair
and light eyes, rose cheeks and blue eyes,
every combination except ink black hair
and deep olive dark skin. Who are these
kids in these drawings? I ask,
Frida, who did you draw?
It’s me, teacher, says Frida Itzel, smiling
at me with all of her nine years, her strong,
wide face smooth and open.
Something inside me seems to pull too tight.
My beautiful students have disguised themselves,
they’ve hidden themselves from themselves,
a gone-wrong game of hide and seek.
They’re too young to see the danger,
too young to recognize their misrecognition.
My nine-year-olds draw themselves
to match the kids on the TV that
make the laughtrack laugh back.
My moreno students draw themselves
to match the kids in the cartoons, whose
dubbed voices speak Spanish through white faces.
These grinning innocents reimagine
themselves with the help of Hollywood,
see themselves in cities that are ununderstandable
jumbles that don’t look like home. And when
my students find treasure chests, they’re not
filled with pesos, or even with doubloons,
but with green dollars, they draw North
American loot. And I realize that my students
lack the colored pencils to draw themselves correctly.
And I realize that my students spend
half of their school day in my English class,
and the other half learning everything else,
because that is how their parents imagine
a better future for them. And I realize that
this school hired me because I look like
what an English speaker should look like,
and they see English as the hook to catch all
opportunity. I realize that the people
who write movies write sitcoms write laws
are the same people who write textbooks
and Arnold Duncan is just another textbook story.
My class of twenty-two kids stares at me.
And I realize that this teacher has got the
assignment all wrong. I should’ve said
people like Arnold Duncan can go fishing
and find a fortune, but that’s never going
to happen to you, Frida. You have to
imagine yourself from the inside out,
not the outside in, and disbelieve the TV
when it says that it knows who you are.
Fortunes that last are not made of doubloons,
dollars, or even pesos. They are made of a mind
that allows you to imagine all of the mermaids
in the ocean and all of the possibilities under
the sun. Look for other colored pencils, draw,
never stop drawing, and smile when you look in the mirror.
Arnold Duncan can keep
his treasure, because you
Frida, querida, you are your own.