Dual Language SchoolsConfessions of a Pocho from El Paso-Ciudad Juárez

Author Photo: Dr. José L. Medina

By: Dr. José L. Medina

Founder and Chief Educational Advocate at Dr. José Medina: Educational Solutions

Photo for: Confessions of a Pocho from El Paso-Ciudad Juárez

Pocho Confession #1: I have always been a pocho. The definition, as per www.definitions.net (2019), is as follows:

1. Pocho

Pocho (feminine: pocha) is a term used by Mexicans (frequently pejoratively) to describe Chicanos and those who have left Mexico. Among some Mexican Americans, the term has been embraced to express pride in having both a Mexican and an American heritage asserting their place in the diverse American culture. The word derives from the Spanish word, pocho, used to describe fruit that has become rotten or discolored.

From the time I was a little boy, I have been called a pocho. Rotten. Discolored. I hated the term because it made clear to me the fact that I was neither American nor Mexican enough. Never enough. In-between mundos. Ni de aquí, ni de allá. Not from here, but also, not from there.

When I entered the school system in El Paso, Texas, only speaking Spanish, I quickly learned the meaning of the words wetback and beaner. These were the terms that some fellow classmates used to describe me as an English language learner in their midst. I was often asked why I only spoke español and when would I return to my country, despite being born in a small maternity clinic in the segundo barrio neighborhood of the Texas border town.

On weekends, when I would go to visit familia in Ciudad Juárez, the targeted questions continued. I was taunted by some of my primos and primas for not being suficientemente mexicano. I remember specifically, one of my cousins, son to my tía Chona and the most aggressive of the primos, stating:

¡Pocho, gringo moreno!

¡Eres un pinche coco!

¡Color de caca, pero hablando inglés!

The verbal assaults, on both sides of the río Grande, left an imprint on my entire being. They would become the foundation in a lifetime of microaggressions that further strengthens the bias, that is still palpable today, towards immigrant communities and people of color in the United States—and in U.S. schools.

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Pocho Confession #2: For a long time, I did not like myself, who I was, a pocho, and the Spanish language that was spoken by my parents.

From the moment my first-grade teacher changed my name from José to Joe, I understood that whatever I was, it was not good and it—I—didn’t belong in school. I was a pocho. I was not enough. I had to be different. I had to fit in. I had to change.

It hurts to admit that once upon a time, a child version of myself dreamed of being White, fully Americano, English-dominant, and with padres that worked in offices instead of textile factories.

I yearned for the day when I would wake up from a deep sleep and my mamá would wear pearls and a pretty cocktail dress as seen in sitcoms, as she made pancakes from scratch. My papá would read the newspaper en inglés, his work briefcase at his side. And, my siblings would both speak fluently in English, conversing about the fun that was had at the sleepover at Molly’s and the upcoming track meet at school.

These feelings were not solely of my own creation. The world around me, both in and out of school, helped in getting me to a place where I felt that I was not enough. No era nada. I was nothing. Only a pocho.

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Pocho Confession #3: I am now pocho and proud.

Often, educators ask me what drives my work as a dual language advocate and researcher. The answer is simple.

We are not doing enough in schools to validate students, who they are, where they come from, the languages they speak, and the people they are working to become.

Opportunities to engage in this type of dialogue, to tackle conversations about privilege and bias and oppression, at every grade level, PK-12 and onward into university classrooms, are not the norm.

As a teacher, assistant principal, principal, and district leader, I could have done more. And so now, I am arduously working to ensure that students, and the adults that serve them, have tools that will facilitate the creation of inclusive spaces in each classroom.

In every educational setting at this moment, there is a student that doesn’t feel like they are enough:

  • not American enough
  • not Mexican enough
  • not English-speaking enough
  • not Black enough
  • not Asian enough
  • not woman enough
  • not heterosexual enough
  • not tall enough
  • not physically-able enough
  • not thin enough
  • not smart enough
  • not rich enough
  • not attractive enough
  • not enough
  • not enough
  • not enough
  • not enough
  • not enough

So, we must ask ourselves:

  • As educators, what are we willing to do to ensure that no student feels this way?
  • As educators, are we willing to acknowledge that we have been a part of the problem?
  • As educators, are we willing to own the fact that there is more to serving students than teaching content?
  • As educators, are we willing to go outside our comfort zones to engage in this dialogue and thus, empower students to feel like they are enough?
  • As educators, are we willing to share our own feelings of inadequacy as a means to create a safe and a brave space for all students?

As you read this, please understand that I am a pocho and a mess. A big mess. My journey of self-discovery and acceptance is ongoing. The wounds and insecurities run deep. And, there is so much work that I must continue to engage in as I strive to become a better servant for others.

At minimum, I know this: I love being a pocho. I am finally beginning to understand that I am not only enough, but more than enough. Mis padres, mi familia, mi idioma are enough, and beautiful, and important in this world.

I still don’t have most of the answers, but I am willing to learn alongside my fellow colleagues if it means that we are working to better serve all students.

Ultimately, my hope is that sharing my own testimonio and journey as a pocho, will lead to dialogue that empowers students to embrace all that they are, all that they can become, and equally importantly, how they can use their plethora of gifts to serve others.

Today and always, a pocho and yours truly in the fight for equity and social justice,

José Luis Medina Hernández Franco López Jr. Díaz-Cruz (formerly known as Joe)