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El Weekender

No 76

Part 3

By Felix Alvarado

In the Army, I was a clerk-typist.  A good one.  I had good command of grammar and spelling.  As the clerk typist, I had to make sure that the grammar was correct and understandable. Later I would also write endorsement or letters to other agencies.  They still had to be approved by my boss but so did everybody else’s. 

Learning the different meanings of words, phrases and sayings I had to learn quickly.  This was the most important part of my acculturation because the officers that did the writing would use all sorts of expressions when writing.  I also got a Top-Secret clearance which given my background was easy to obtain I had a clean background.  

I lived in two White worlds.  At work, I was surrounded by college educated officer.  They were the pick of the crop.  Very sophisticated and intelligent.  My race to them meant nothing or at least they did not show any type of discrimination.  They were concerned about the Top Secret plans they produced and getting them typed perfectly.  The plans had to be approved by generals so they were very picky.  It was a joy working for them.  This was the breeding grounds for future generals.

After work, another world awaited me.  The White racist world from the South and the tolerant White world from the North.  The Southern rebs were ugly racists.  They were the cream of the crop of the racist South. 

I saw other Latinos and African Americans who were also the victims of racism fight back in anger.  They got beat up and the next day they were processed for discharge as trouble makers.  For us it was a lose-lose situation.  After a while I learned to fight words with words.  I decided to separate from the Army after six and a half years. 

I met some Spanish ladies my first week in Germany.  I started hanging out with Spaniards.  Their Spanish was different than mine but we could understand each other.  Eventually, I would speak flawless Castilian.  Given my social isolation in the Army, I acquired the German cultural value of food, beer and their oompah music.  I became detached from my Mexican American cultural roots.  This was the irony of my situation linguistically, The Spaniards poked fun at me because I could not speak Spanish, in the barracks the Whites poked fun at me because I could not speak English. 

I have to admit to my fear of failure.  I asked to attend the 7th Army NCO Academy.  I was afraid of marching people in formation, doing the cadence count, hup two three, etc.  I never overcame this reluctance.  Graduating meant that I had overcome one fear.  I also became more confident.  I could not let fear hold me back.



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