I found the first three photos in a book titled Images of America - Pharr, by Romeo Rosales Jr. of the Pharr Memorial Library. The next three photos are from my own personal collection. First one is a class photo. I’m in the bottom row, wearing a TMNT sweater. The other two have me in the middle, wearing t-shirts, during the annual Mother’s Day performances. The last three photos were taken today, so y’all can see how the school looks like now.
I always heard growing up that this school was made specifically for Mexican and Mexican-American children in Pharr, so I’m glad I finally saw this statement published in a book. When I was attending, the student body was 99% Latin@s, who came from a small neighborhood-area in East Pharr, or from the colonias in Las Milpas.
When my mom first came over from Rayones, Nuevo León, Mexico, this was the first school she was enrolled at. That was in the early 1960’s. Then my older brother had classes here in the 1980’s, with myself and my little brother following him in the 1990’s.
I went to Buell Elementary from kindergarten to 2nd grade. I left one year going to Ford Elementary for 3rd grade, before returning back to Buell for 4th and 5th.
In those first few years at Buell all of my class, including myself, would speak mainly in Spanish. That’s how we socialized at home, and at school. Since the classes were part of a bilingual program, we benefited by learning the Spanish alphabet, spelling, grammar and rhymes. They had another separate class for kids that were English-speakers only. For Halloween, we would sing that silly pumpkin song, “Calabaza, calabaza, Muy chistosa, muy chistosa.” My older brother, when he heard me sing the song, repeated it but said, “Muy chichona, muy chichona.”. (“Really busty, really busty.”)
Since it was bilingual, we also had to learn English. I always remember this one moment where we had to spell something out-loud in English, in front of the class for a grade. I was spelling the word right (which I can’t remember anymore), but I pronounced the letter “I” the way it’s pronounced in Spanish, which sounded like I said “E”. The teacher immediately stopped me, telling me I had spelled it wrong. I didn’t say anything, since it would have sounded like I was making excuses, and all of my classmates were watching. Code-switching gone wrong in an academic setting, I guess.
When I entered the 4th grade, they moved me to the English-speakers class, and that’s the point where I stopped conversing in Spanish with my classmates at school. I was talking to my friend Rose recently about how growing up, becoming teenagers, we felt pressure to speak in English, and not talk in Spanish. This stigma hurt my overall development in being comfortable communicating in Spanish in public settings.