Who Spoka Da Shut-Up?
The speaker was Sister Mary Cruz, my fourth grade teacher at St. Martha’s parochial school in La Puente. I first met her in the winter of 1961, when she appeared in the back of my third grade classroom, and took up residence for the remainder of the school year.
Because Sister Mary Cruz did not speak a word of English when she first joined us, she did not talk much. All she did was observe and move amongst us kids, doing what she could to help Mrs Carrari with her 43 students.
Why didn’t she speak English? Sister Mary Cruz and three other nuns were among those who either fled Cuba when Fidel Castro rose to power, or were given the boot. My distinct impression has always been that these gals were flung out of Cuba like so many rag dolls. Now they were our teachers.
Though I never remember Sister Cruz discussing Cuba in any way, she apparently thought the children in her native world, were more civilized than her new charges, or at least she led us to believe that. Exasperated to the point of distraction, her frequent refrain of, “Who spoka da shut-up?” has remained with me all my life. She did not like kids being mean to kids.
Those reading this who had the misfortune of being chained to a chair in a classroom of mine, know that it was an instant “two-put-ups-offense” to use that particularly degrading phrase within the scope of my quite-efficient ears; by comparison, were you to be so bold as to exclaim, “Shit!” it was an instant three-step offense, and meant a lunchtime stay with Pinkie, or later on, Richie.
|"Two put-ups, please."|
Your two put-ups had to be genuine-none of this your-shirt-is-too-cool malarky. Something along the lines of, “I saw that catch you made at break today-it rocked!” was more what I had in mind. Of course students resisted giving compliments, but my policy also did much to curb inappropriate language within the scope of my ears.
I couldn’t see a student texting from six feet away, but I could hear a whisper from across the playground.
Besides, if you were simply incapable of vocalizing two compliments to your victim, you could write a 500-word essay, explaining the rationale for being polite in a classroom setting-in lunchtime detention.
I have always felt that to have an individual snap, “Shut-up!” at another, is the verbal equivalent of slapping someone in the face. Or as I used to put it, “Rudeness abounds!” Figure out a more civilized manner of expressing that sentiment, or refrain from saying anything at all.
In any case, Sister Mary went from being a silent instructional assistant in the spring of my third grade year, to being my full-time fourth-grade teacher only months later, when September of 1961 rolled around.
By the way if you think 43 is too many third graders to cram into one classroom, a couple of years down the line, my younger brother Tom was to find himself in a second grade class of 72. But hey, my folks wanted us to get a Catholic education. Apparently.
As a dutifully raised Catholic, I hated Fidel Castro because of his intolerance for the Church, just as I loved John Fitzgerald Kennedy because he was one of us. I loved Sister Cruz, too, because she was so genuine.
She played football with us and treated the boys the same as the girls, a trait I much appreciated. Sister Annunciation, my fifth and eighth grade teacher, a woman who stood at most, four feet ten inches tall, blatantly favored the girls.
I can remember the entire class just being out-of-it, snd having her lose it. “Girls, you may leave. Boys, stand alongside your desks.” As if eighth grade girls are paragons of innocence.
I can remember two different sets of eighth grade anarchists in my sixteen years of middle school life. The first featured four boys and one girl; the second featured five girls. ‘Nuff said.
Eighth grade girls pack their share of swag.
Sister Invencion, my sixth and seventh grade instructor, actually LIKED boys, making her my all-time number one favorite teacher. She didn’t give us preferential treatment over the girls, but that made her even better. She assessed any given situation, and held those accountable for their behavior, regardless of gender. All of the nuns from Cuba were comfortable around a lot of kids, and were most capable of sharing the warmth of their personalities.
Warmth of personality, notwithstanding, how was Sister Cruz able to instruct her 43 fourth graders in the intricacies of the English language, when she could barely speak it herself?
In an unheard of notion in our school, we switched teachers with my sister, JT’s, second grade teacher, Mrs McDonough, a short, cold, round, terrifying woman who made us long for Sister Cruz. Naturally, Mrs. McDonough taught us English grammar while Sister Cruz taught Mrs. M’s class, religion.
If I remember correctly, JT viewed Mrs. M similarly as I did at first, but found that her bark/looks were worse than her bite, and that she was actually a fine teacher. I am equally certain that my sister never gave Mrs. M any reason to be anything but sweet towards her.
Now Castro is gone, leaving his impact on our little fledgling parish, almost a forgotten matter.
I saw that Colin Kaepernick wore a tee-shirt with Castro’s picture on it, sharing a photo with Malcolm X, a figure who exercised much influence over Kaeprnqick as he was growing up.
Criticized for wearing the image of a man who oppressed his own people, contrary to what Kaep purports to believe, the athlete replied that he wore that shirt to commemorate what was a pivotal point in Malcolm X’s life.
Additionally, Kaep mentioned that he supported Castro’s investment in Cuba’s educational system, his universal healthcare system and Castro’s involvement in helping to end apartheid in South Africa. Anyone who knows his political views, Kaep said, would know that he did not support Castro’s oppression of the Cuban people, overall.
Regardless of how he is viewed, Castro’s actions had a direct impact on me, and for that I am grateful. I liked my Cuban teachers, I learned the basics of speaking Spanish and I formed a corner foundation piece for my discipline program as a middle school teacher:
“Don’t speaka da shut-up!” Translation: Be respectful to your fellow students.