Davies says last year "6 or 7" SDSU students crossed the border every Saturday morning to study the language for four hours. This year the number of students has doubled to 15. Included are health workers, teachers, and Davies's wife Adele. "We have become very close to the Mixtec community," Davies says. "And Adele became very close to Julita. Every time there was a birthday party or a special ceremony in the community, they took my students out there. It was marvelous. We just love them. They're beautiful people. And yet for a thousand years someone's been literally kicking the shit out of them. The Mayans beat them up, then the Aztecs beat them up, and then the Spanish, and then the Mexicans. These are people who have always lived outside the Mexican culture. Even the Mexican Revolution didn't want them. If they gave them land, it was marginal. Now Chiapas has blown up in Mexico's face. It was a sign these people they had ignored were not going to be ignored anymore. There are revolutionary movements in 19 of the 31 Mexican states. You're surprised?"
Despite Chiapas, Davies says, there's still a "shame factor" that inhibits Mixtec parents from encouraging their kids to go to bilingual class. "They've been told that they're...shit! All their lives. That their language is not good, that their culture is corrupt and stupid. They've also been heavily discriminated against. So parents react the same as I used to see in New Mexico 30 years ago. An immigrant Mexican father would say, 'If I make sure my kid speaks only English then he won't be discriminated against like I was.' Today Mixtec parents in Tijuana say, 'Maybe if my kid speaks only Spanish then he won't be discriminated against like I was.' Of course, that's not true. They'll still be discriminated against. But they don't know that. So it really is a tough one."
At least Tijuana has six bilingual schools. But through López, Davies learned of the absence of formal teaching materials. That gave him and López's husband Tiburcio Pérez their idea to create written Mixtec materials -- both for the Mixtec children learning Spanish as a second language and for his SDSU students learning Mixtec as a second language. "I'm going to insist that we set up materials in such a way that they can be used in Julita's school and in the classes for my [students]," he says. "Because my kids are starting at zero too."
And he's realized what computers can do to save a language. He's looking to use his department's own resources to write down this largely unwritten language. "My Language Acquisition Resource Center can put Mixtec up onto a template to make sure it doesn't disappear."
Then Davies discovered a true windfall. "San Diego State's going to throw away a thousand 486s! They made me take a new one the other day. So now my old one is operating at Julita's school. We're making sure that thrown-away 486s somehow -- miraculously! -- wind up in [Tijuana bilingual] schools. We're taking them down one at a time in our trunks."
Davies acknowledges the anti-bilingual backlash currently raging through California could turn against him. "I do a lot of talking to the community, and this will always come up. Someone will say, 'My grandfather came to this country and didn't know one word of English and did just fine.'
"And I say, 'No he didn't. He had the lowest-rung job, he barely made minimum wage, probably didn't make that, people chased him with brooms, and he had a hell of a time.' But the public-school system in the United States from the 1820s on enabled his children and grandchildren to go to school. And they learned English, and they did okay. He didn't. If you take a student and you throw him into a class where he doesn't understand anything at all, in a very short period of time he's going to drop out. And we've lost him. And what we don't need is 150,000 kids dropping out of our schools, because they're going to wind up in prison."
But Davies doesn't have much hope for helping Mixtec kids in San Diego County. "Now with the so-called end of bilingual ed, no one's going to be interested in starting something in Mixtec on this side of the border. That'd be just too dangerous. Some clown in the state legislature would hear about it and come down on them like a ton of bricks."
He fears that the Chiapas situation will cause even more serious anti-bilingual backlash in Baja California. "But what I'm hoping is that we can throw whatever umbrella we've got at San Diego State around Julita and the Mixtec professors at UPN and protect them. And I think we can."
Back in the schoolroom, profesora López is explaining how the Mixtec word koo can mean "viper," "let's go," or "no," depending on the tone.
"I have been working here 17 years," she says. "I started because so many of the children just couldn't understand the lessons in Spanish. Now I want to make sure they don't abandon their Mixtec either."
I notice José speaks only Spanish to López. I ask if he speaks Mixtec at home. "No, my parents only speak Spanish to me," he says.
I ask why.
"They say I will have a better job when I am a man."