I went to grammar school (primary) in the lovely city of Newark, NJ. Not just any school, I went to a Polish Catholic school, since it was right across from where dad worked, and the leftover bastion of polish catholic strictness went well with the values of Portuguese brand catholicism. Something about the pulling of ears and wrapping over the knuckles with rulers that was supposed to be good for us.
Fortunately in my day, the revolution of personal liability lawsuits was beginning, so we students quickly learned the keyphrase “you hit me with that ruler and my parents will sue you.” Not that we ever said it directly, but after someone would get hit, a few days later, we’d get one of those long term substitute teachers.
But the wacky thing about this school wasn’t the phsyical abuse. Or the compulsery friday masses we’d have to attend in polish. Or that part of the school that was closed off and we all knew was haunted by dead students; murdered for talking during class.
The truely crazy thing about our school was we the students. In our brown pants and yellow shirts, we were mostly Portuguese kids, with some South American kids, sprinkled with some of the left over Polish (from Newark’s polish era) kids and the occasional Italian kid. Any time I went to the coat closet I could smell the aroma of a few dozen cuisines, my own reaking of whatever codfish we had last night. We’d speak English to each other, of course, determined to be what we thought was American. We watched the TV shows, begged our parents for the toys and other material things. Trying not to stick out, I think that was our thing.
I think about it alot when I tell people about my childhood. Despite having to attend hours and hours of Portuguese school and hearing only portuguese at home and on the street, so many of my generation woke up one day and just decided to close the book. They stuck to english and quit portuguese school. They refused to go to portugal for the summer and took up one of those sports like Baseball or Hockey that our parents had very little understanding of. Some might say it is a natural occurance when you’re raised with so many different influences in New Jersey. Natural or not… I just find it to be a huge thing… to be the person or generation that ends a tradition. That closes the book on languages or customs, and embraces new ones as theirs, while refusing to ever look back on their days in brown pants, yellow shirts, and cod fish dinners.