(The following is a letter written to me by my friend Keith after I was hired as a beginning teacher in Pico-Union by the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). It is translated from the Spanish.)

read the original letter in Spanish

"Trapped between the culture of his family
and that of his friends from the streets."

July 20, 1994

      Dear Mr. Geib the Teacher!,

      Congratulations! I was thrilled to hear the news of your new job! I still remember the student days at UCLA when you were always studying Spanish - perpetually surrounded by a pile of papers covered with nouns, verbs, idioms and most importantly, the goal of mastering the Spanish language. My friend, you have worked hard and have reached your goal. You are the only person I have ever known who has taught himself Spanish. The truth is that I am a admirer of your diligent manner.

      Three days ago when I was working in my city, I received a call - a "415" between parents and their child. The twenty-four year old son had H.B.D. (had been drinking). You and I know that there is little that we can do in such Keith a situation since no crime has occurred. But we (you and I) also know something more important: the culture of Latin American and the family relations between parents and their children.

      I spoke with the father (in Spanish) and he told me that his son was drinking beer outside (near the pool inside the apartment complex) without a shirt on. He wanted to protect his son, but he also wanted that I should speak with his son with respect to the beer.

      The son (Ramón) told me that he only wanted to drink two or three beers near the pool and that his father had become angry. I tried to explain to him the importance of the family, and how his actions reflected upon the whole family. Ramón, covered with tattoos, began to cry. I could feel his sorrow - trapped between the culture of his family and that of his friends from the streets. Ramón is a good son, but he has started down the negative path of gangs and their destructive influences.

      In ten minutes I had straightened out the situation. The father, mother, brother, and Ramón himself were all crying. Everyone had accepted to do something to resolve their family problems.

      This example is my job. I am an actor, arbiter, and more than anything a link between the community and its problems. I love my job. I have much power. The power to take away liberty or even the life of someone, and the power such a position brings with it.

      I believe you have chosen a career that carries the same power. You are going to have the opportunity to teach your ideas and understanding of life to your students. Never forget that you are a positive role model and that you have accepted a profound responsibility in your choice of a career.

      I cannot believe that we are adults living in a world with so many problems, working in positions that carry more responsibility than all the rest. We are civil servants, functionaries of the state... a police officer and a teacher.

      Una Amistad única y fuerte,

       Officer Cuif

      P.S. The law without force is impotent. - Pascal.

(Reading this letter now makes me want to cry for two very idealistic and enthusiastic young men! Three years after he wrote this letter, Keith had shot a man to death in the line of duty and I had quit the LAUSD in utter disgust.)

Back to Inner-City School Teacher Blues Page