Ten Birthdays

In the entrance hall of Macey’s middle school are two framed photographs that often catch my eye. The first is of the school when it was first built, in the early 1970s. It then was surrounded by fields, palm trees dotted the grounds, there was hardly a car on the street outside, and only two brightly-coloured, classic American cars stood in the school car park. These days, those fields have become low-rise apartment blocks, live oaks and mountain laurels have replaced the palms, the road heaves with traffic and the multitude of cars in the car park look mostly no different to those you would see on European roads.

The second photograph is entitled ‘The Hansen Quads’ and this one I find particularly interesting because it features four identical, blond, curly haired sisters who attended school there in the mid-1980s. In those days, the majority of pupils would have been white. Nowadays, the majority, like the City of San Antonio itself, is overwhelmingly Hispanic.

I thought back to that photograph of the Hansen quads on Monday, when I attended the school’s band concert. I looked around the audience and was struck, not for the first time, by the number of enrapt, little brown-skinned brothers and sisters, all beautifully behaved, and the expressions of their proud parents as their older children performed. I also observed several white and Hispanic children, chatting and laughing together during the intervals, and I wished I could have frozen that moment of obvious harmony in time, so that none of the children would ever be confronted by racism.

As another proud parent, I watched Macey, with her flute, during the performance of Star Spangled Banner, and I have to say that tears came to my eyes as I thought of her having just celebrated her 14th birthday – her 10th with me. I then noticed her feet tapping to the beat, and I recalled that minutes before the concert, Madam had informed me that she had no black dress shoes to wear. ‘Why don’t you think in advance?’ I had admonished her, ‘I could have picked you up a pair today! ‘I’ll wear my navy Converse,’ she said, ‘They’ll be OK.’ I then shifted my gaze to all the other tapping feet and noted that only one other child was wearing Converse.

During the subsequent playing of America The Beautiful, it was the band director’s, Mr Rios’, shoes that interested me. At last year’s performance, this hugely popular, and recently promoted, music teacher came up to me, as I sat on the front row, and joked that he did not have any black shoes and consequently had had to borrow a pair. I recall chuckling to myself as he then shuffled, in his huge shoes, to the rostrum. This year, happily, Mr Rios was wearing shiny black, brand new loafers – and they fitted him to a tee…

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