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El Weekender

No 75

(Part 2)

The term “sellout” has a meaning.  I will describe my journey from South Texas to the Army, to the Air Force and teaching to be able to fully describe what the term means.

My youthful days were spent in South Texas and the cotton fields of West Texas. Our yearly journey would take us as far north as the New Mexico border.  When we had picked all the cotton it was back to South Texas for the winter.  I can remember my dad returning from WWII.  Then my memory fades into first and second grade at Orange Grove Elementary School, and picking cotton.  At best, I had a sporadic education.  Somehow, I managed to go through twelve years of high school.  Given that I was only eighteen when I joined the military, I like to say that I grew up in three places, Germany, Spain and Fort Worth. 

Cotton picking began at such an early age that smaller cotton bags were manufactured for children.  In between cotton fields, I would somehow find my way to school.  My high school transcript has a notation that I attended 24 public schools grade 1 through 5.  When the cotton-picking machine appeared, our job picking cotton disappeared.  We were no longer needed and we had no income.

One year the cotton-picking machine appeared.  The next year there was no more cotton to pick.  Of the families that trekked north when there was no more cotton to pick many went to cities like San Antonio looking for work. Others made West Texas their home, never to return to South Texas.  We went to San Antonio.  I went to Burleson Elementary in the Edgewood ISD. 

In Jr High, I played sports.  We did not win many games but we tried.  I also joined the band.  Started with the trumpet ended with the trombone.  The only president that I have seen face to face was Harry S. Truman who came to dedicate Roosevelt JHS. 

In high school, I joined the Naval Reserve.  I wanted to follow in the footsteps of my older brother.  My dream of joining the Navy was shattered as was a scholarship to college.  Instead I ended up joining the Army.  I spent twenty-eight years in the military six and a half in the Army and twenty-one in the Air Force. That in addition to one year in the Naval Reserve.  I was blessed my entire time in the military. 

Little in my upbringing prepared me for the challenges I would face in the military.  It was more than a radical change.  Perhaps it was a sign of the times, but we grew up dirt poor.  Like most Mexican Americans from the barrio I grew up eating tortillas, papas and frijoles.  That was our main staple.  We had an occasional helping of chicken, armadillo and liebre.  In the Army, all of the menu that I ate was foreign.  I now had a choice.  All of the food items were strange to me, morning, noon and night.  I learned the names of the menu by listening to the person in front of me and behind me.  What they ordered and what they got.  I had no problem with the Navy menu.  You got in line, grabbed a metal tray, as you went through the line all you heard was “slop” which is what the food was called, “slop”.   This was a process of acculturation that took time.  It was a steep learning curve.

Felix Alvarado


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