I: Twenty-One

Means of Escape

September approached and still I had made no headway with my father about going to college. He said Europe. I said New York. He said he wouldn’t spend a penny to educate me in the United States. I asked him how long I had to stay in Mexico. He said until I decided to act wisely. Not caring what that meant, I made up my mind to see about getting away myself.

I had no money, but Tomas’ father had asked me if I would teach his son English, so I accepted, receiving a modest fee. Probably because Tomas proved an apt pupil (and we pal’d around together quite a little, too), others heard of his rapid progress in speaking at English, and I soon found myself with more applicants for classes than I could accept. I raised my fee. When the schools opened, I was offered two positions as an English instructor—one in Señor Luis Tovar’s business college, another in Señorita Padilla’s private finishing school for girls. I was able to take them both, since Señorita Padilla’s classes were in the mornings and Señor Tovar’s in the afternoon and early evening.

I used the Berlitz method, all instruction entirely in English, and I found that it worked very well. My students really did learn something, and we had lots of fun together, besides. Very shortly, the mayor of the town sent for me and asked if I would give private lessons to his son and daughter at home.

The daughter was about sixteen and very beautiful, but the son was as bad a fifteen-year-old youngster as ever decided not to learn a word of anything. Result, neither girl nor boy got much beyond the words door and chair that winter, and I don’t think they cared. They were rather spoiled, cream-colored children, who played tennis with a doctor’s family, browner and more Indian-looking—one of the few Indian families considered “aristocracy” in Toluca, where Spanish blood still prevailed in the best circles and the exaltation of things Indian had not yet triumphed—for Diego Rivera was still in Paris.

As a teacher of English to the “best” families, I met a great many interesting people and my funds for escape grew apace. For the first time in my life, I had my own money to spend in decent amounts, to send my mother, and to save. All that winter I did not ask my father for a penny. And I knew by summer I would have enough to go to New York, so I began to plan my trip long before the winter was over. I dreamt about Harlem.


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