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Mexico City comes to Coronado High

Bilingual boys talk life on both sides of the border

The gang (from left): Pedro, Daniel, Eduardo, Diego. Bilingual is it!
The gang (from left): Pedro, Daniel, Eduardo, Diego. Bilingual is it!

“Hey, Eduardo!”

Pedro, 16, shouts out some joking conversation that’s way too fast for my halting Spanish. Luckily, he’s talking to his three pals and not me. The four of them, all 16-year-olds, have plopped down for a coffee at Buona Forchetta’s place on Orange Avenue. Eduardo, Diego, Daniel, and Pedro. The thing you can’t help notice about Pedro is that he is cherry-cheeked, blond, and very blue-eyed. Which makes all the it more, well, pleasantly shocking, when he comes out with perfect teen Spanish, interchanging with English, as he joshes away with his friends.

This language thing: I have to say, it really impresses me. These are kids who show a prowess for language, a dexterity with language, and a refusal to be intimidated by it. Pedro comes pouring out in Spanish and then does seamless switchbacks into perfect, cool Californian. And all his pals get it. What I get is a tinge of something I haven’t felt in a while: envy. It’s not just fluency. It’s today’s science-backed knowledge that you’re smarter if you have command of two languages and the cultures that spawned them. I also envy the joy of getting inside thoughts and ideas and expressions that have taken cultures thousands of years to arrive at.

We get talking. These four guys all go to Coronado High School. And they all come from Mexico City. Chilangos. So what’s it like, being a Chilango at Coronado High? “There’s a lot of people from Mexico City at Coronado High,” says Pedro. “But at high school here, you speak mostly English. In the school yard, groups do break down by language.” National groupings, it seems, still rule. He says there are differences in the programs they’re taught by. “It is a different system here. The math is more advanced in Mexico. Like, your 9th grade here is more like our the 7th grade in Mexico. But here, you can be more flexible with what classes you like, what you don’t like. In Mexico, you have to take your 14 different classes, whether you like them or not.”

But they say the big difference is the social atmosphere: “The freedom to move around that you have here, we don’t have in Mexico. Like, here, you can go out at night, you can go biking with your friends. In Mexico, you can’t. You can’t just go walking out of your house, like go to a store to buy some things. Not at night. Because it’s dangerous. All over Mexico.”

These guys are all from privileged families. They come from private schools in Mexico City, and they’re not ashamed to have abandoned Mexico’s social experiment with free public education. “Public schools in Mexico are bad. It is really dangerous,” says Diego. “People who can’t afford private school don’t have anything. And if kids like us came to that school, they would want to fight us.”

“Public schools in Mexico are really low class,” says Daniel. “Here in San Diego, you have like, the highest class goes to public school and it doesn’t matter. Our parents haven’t brought us up to fear poorer people, because not everyone on the street is [bad], but they do fear us being abducted because we are from wealthy families.”

“Yes,” says Eduardo, “I guess you just have to live with the fear. Of course, it can happen anywhere. But here in San Diego, it’s just not so dangerous.”

“In Mexico, there are zones,” Daniel says.

“Like, we all live in a certain zone, near each other. We just go to our friends’ houses,” says Pedro. “We don’t go into other zones. It’s not safe. That’s how we live.”

But when it comes to talk, their choice is still Mexico. They’re almost bilingual, but if they have a choice of language? “Spanish!” They all say. “It’s just more comfortable.”

And other languages, indigenous to Mexico? “I had a nanny who talked to me in her language,” says Pedro. (It was possibly Mixteco.) “But I didn’t learn it. The only language we are encouraged to learn, apart from English, is French. The problem is, they speak so fast.”

But here in San Diego, when they’re talking away in Spanish, do they ever get pushback from American kids? Like, “Come on man, you’re in America. Speak English.”

“Yes, at school sometimes,” says Daniel, “but only from kids who don’t understand Spanish. It’s a pity we don’t all speak both languages.”

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The gang (from left): Pedro, Daniel, Eduardo, Diego. Bilingual is it!
The gang (from left): Pedro, Daniel, Eduardo, Diego. Bilingual is it!

“Hey, Eduardo!”

Pedro, 16, shouts out some joking conversation that’s way too fast for my halting Spanish. Luckily, he’s talking to his three pals and not me. The four of them, all 16-year-olds, have plopped down for a coffee at Buona Forchetta’s place on Orange Avenue. Eduardo, Diego, Daniel, and Pedro. The thing you can’t help notice about Pedro is that he is cherry-cheeked, blond, and very blue-eyed. Which makes all the it more, well, pleasantly shocking, when he comes out with perfect teen Spanish, interchanging with English, as he joshes away with his friends.

This language thing: I have to say, it really impresses me. These are kids who show a prowess for language, a dexterity with language, and a refusal to be intimidated by it. Pedro comes pouring out in Spanish and then does seamless switchbacks into perfect, cool Californian. And all his pals get it. What I get is a tinge of something I haven’t felt in a while: envy. It’s not just fluency. It’s today’s science-backed knowledge that you’re smarter if you have command of two languages and the cultures that spawned them. I also envy the joy of getting inside thoughts and ideas and expressions that have taken cultures thousands of years to arrive at.

We get talking. These four guys all go to Coronado High School. And they all come from Mexico City. Chilangos. So what’s it like, being a Chilango at Coronado High? “There’s a lot of people from Mexico City at Coronado High,” says Pedro. “But at high school here, you speak mostly English. In the school yard, groups do break down by language.” National groupings, it seems, still rule. He says there are differences in the programs they’re taught by. “It is a different system here. The math is more advanced in Mexico. Like, your 9th grade here is more like our the 7th grade in Mexico. But here, you can be more flexible with what classes you like, what you don’t like. In Mexico, you have to take your 14 different classes, whether you like them or not.”

But they say the big difference is the social atmosphere: “The freedom to move around that you have here, we don’t have in Mexico. Like, here, you can go out at night, you can go biking with your friends. In Mexico, you can’t. You can’t just go walking out of your house, like go to a store to buy some things. Not at night. Because it’s dangerous. All over Mexico.”

These guys are all from privileged families. They come from private schools in Mexico City, and they’re not ashamed to have abandoned Mexico’s social experiment with free public education. “Public schools in Mexico are bad. It is really dangerous,” says Diego. “People who can’t afford private school don’t have anything. And if kids like us came to that school, they would want to fight us.”

“Public schools in Mexico are really low class,” says Daniel. “Here in San Diego, you have like, the highest class goes to public school and it doesn’t matter. Our parents haven’t brought us up to fear poorer people, because not everyone on the street is [bad], but they do fear us being abducted because we are from wealthy families.”

“Yes,” says Eduardo, “I guess you just have to live with the fear. Of course, it can happen anywhere. But here in San Diego, it’s just not so dangerous.”

“In Mexico, there are zones,” Daniel says.

“Like, we all live in a certain zone, near each other. We just go to our friends’ houses,” says Pedro. “We don’t go into other zones. It’s not safe. That’s how we live.”

But when it comes to talk, their choice is still Mexico. They’re almost bilingual, but if they have a choice of language? “Spanish!” They all say. “It’s just more comfortable.”

And other languages, indigenous to Mexico? “I had a nanny who talked to me in her language,” says Pedro. (It was possibly Mixteco.) “But I didn’t learn it. The only language we are encouraged to learn, apart from English, is French. The problem is, they speak so fast.”

But here in San Diego, when they’re talking away in Spanish, do they ever get pushback from American kids? Like, “Come on man, you’re in America. Speak English.”

“Yes, at school sometimes,” says Daniel, “but only from kids who don’t understand Spanish. It’s a pity we don’t all speak both languages.”

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