Wings of Bamboo
By Esperanza Zendejas (KNFP 10)
Published by Ojo por Ojo; 261 pages; $14.00
A former superintendent in four different school districts, and author of two works of fiction, Esperanza Zendejas’ new memoir of her childhood is a testament to the power of close family ties and a strong cultural identity. The youngest of nine children, Esperanza immigrated with her family from a small hilltown in Central Mexico to California’s Imperial Valley in 1960.
With a self-reliant mother who cultivated her own oasis in the desert, an industrious father who read the LA Times each day, and a cast of siblings and grandparents looking out for her, ”Espy” was able to bridge two cultures, two languages, and two countries with little difficulty. Like the sturdy yet flexible bamboo canes used to form her angel wings worn on pageant days, the traditions and love rooted in her family shaped her strength, drive, and spirit.
Q: What inspired you to write Wings of Bamboo?
A: I have written two books of fiction, fiction is easy to write because you make up things. But writing a memoir was very important to me in order to leave a history of our childhood to my children and grandchildren, and to my brothers’ and sisters’ children and grandchildren. Often, today, family histories are not told, partly because of the increase of television, computers, and other forms of entertainment. Many years from now, when my grandchildren become readers and are attuned to their environment, they will be able to appreciate these stories and laugh and understand how it was for us.
Q: How has your experience of bridging two cultures helped you in your role as an educational leader?
A: My former college invited me for a book signing last weekend. One person came up and said she was a fan of mine, that she liked how I had not lost my Hispanic culture. I love, and am so proud, to be Mexican. Sharing my culture and background with people has been a plus for me. My long hair is a good example. Most professional women do not have this very long hair to deal with. But I love the Mexican long hair, so I keep it. I don’t just talk about my culture, but I display it.
I’m very proud that my parents brought us to this country and put us to work here. My dual cultures and languages have been an inspiration to me, and, to an unknown degree, I believe to other people. If people see a person who is well-planted and proud of who she is, it builds confidence in them and helps them to not be ashamed of who they are.
Q: Do you think your family’s experience of immigrating from Mexico to the United States in the 1960s is similar to the experience of immigrants today?
A: Yes. I think many people still come to this country hoping that the American dream is only a few steps away, as my parents hoped and prayed. My parents’ vision for all of us was never deterred. When I do workshops, my message to families is what I saw my parents do gracefully and inherently: ”Never give up.”
In my book I write how people in Mexico said, ”All you need to take to the United States is a broom to sweep up the dollars flowing in the streets.” People from other countries believe they will make a lot of money in this country, but you don’t without hard work. My parents not only guided us, but inspired us to work hard. It’s no different today. What is lacking today are parents who give up on their children too soon because their children have not easily transitioned. Some parents have too much confidence in our system and don’t monitor their kids. Then, pretty soon, the kids are influenced by gangs, or drugs, or delinquency. That’s happening a lot. Children today are quick studies of what’s going to make them feel good, opposed to what’s going to help them succeed.
Most people I know who come from Mexico will say, ”We want our kids to be better than us.” Sometimes, parents are easily impressed by the fact that their kids learned English, and then think their kids are better than they are. Migrant children need to have a strong sense of who they are, where they’re going, and how to stay out of trouble, which is sometimes more difficult than getting into trouble.
Q: What audience do you most hope to reach with Wings of Bamboo?
A: One audience I hope to reach is teachers who work with migrant children, because a lot of the things that happened to us are still happening today. Teachers don’t often have the opportunity to understand some of the issues, such as poverty, or they underestimate determination. In my opinion, determination is a stronger factor of success or lack of success than poverty; yet, some people think that if you’re poor, you’re not going to make it. I would also like to get this book into the hands of 7th through 12th graders to give them the perspective of how family provides the great lessons of life; you can learn a lot from your parents and siblings.