The Day A Texas School Held A Funeral For The Spanish Language Two women remember a day in the 1950s when their elementary school in Marfa, Texas, banned speaking Spanish on campus in a ceremony called the "burial of Mr. Spanish."
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The Day A Texas School Held A Funeral For The Spanish Language

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The Day A Texas School Held A Funeral For The Spanish Language

The Day A Texas School Held A Funeral For The Spanish Language

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(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And it's Friday, which is when we hear from StoryCorps. Maggie Marquez and Jessi Silva grew up in the town of Marfa, Texas in the 1950s. And we have their story.

In the 50s, Marfa's schools were segregated. Latino children were sent to Blackwell Elementary. And for many, Spanish was their first language. Maggie and Jessi were among the students at that school. And they came to StoryCorps to recall the day their school banned students from speaking Spanish in a ceremony called the burial of Mr. Spanish.

MAGGIE MARQUEZ: I walked into the room. And the teacher - she said for us to get a piece of paper and write down, I will not speak Spanish in school. So I wrote down on a piece of paper, fold it up and gave it to her. All the teachers - they had a little cigar box and put the kids' little papers in there. And we all marched out to where the flag pole was.

JESSI SILVA: The whole school was there. And they already had this hole dug.

MARQUEZ: Yes. And then they put the box in there and covered it up.

SILVA: We had gone to family funerals before, so we understood that there was a funeral going on. But we didn't know why. And everybody was very quiet. When they buried Mr. Spanish...

MARQUEZ: ...They told us to go back to the classes, and we were not supposed to speak Spanish at all. So I told my friends (speaking Spanish) - nobody's going to stop me from speaking Spanish. And I didn't know the teacher was right behind me. And the teacher took me to the principal.

SILVA: And what happened there?

MARQUEZ: He swung that paddle. And I got three licks.

SILVA: Wow.

MARQUEZ: It was my first time. And I was hurting so I ran home. I didn't go to school for three days. I had big bruises. My dad - he wasn't happy because they were not supposed to have hit me. But he told me I needed to go back to school, and I needed to follow the instructions.

SILVA: Our parents always supported the teachers.

MARQUEZ: Yes.

SILVA: And I remember my dad said if you're in school, you just be obedient. Don't stir the waters. But I felt a loss. I felt like something was being ripped away from me. And I was only 6, yet I understood that something's wrong here.

MARQUEZ: I wanted to ask questions, but I just kept quiet. But now as I have grown older, if I see something that is not right, I'm going to speak.

SILVA: It was part of the past, but you learn things through the past.

(SOUNDBITE OF BLUE DOT SESSIONS' "STEP IN STEP OUT")

INSKEEP: Maggie Marquez and Jessi Silva at StoryCorps in Marfa, Texas. So they had the burial of Mr. Spanish. Well, 10 years ago, a group of Blackwell alumni including Maggie and Jessi returned to the school grounds where they held a symbolic ceremony to unearth Mr. Spanish.

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