Dia De Los Muertos

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The Cotton Picking Sack

As a sixty year old woman, I wonder why I was so anxious to grow up so quickly.  I could have waited and remained a child for many more years.

Here it was again. The beginning of the summer cotton picking season; and Mom was distributing the cotton picking sacks to my sisters, brother, and me.

 I was so excited. I knew I was old enough to get my very own large cotton picking sack that adults used. I had cried previous summers when my mom would hand me a burlap sack that little kids used. I was no longer a little girl.

 Mom saved the largest sack for herself and handed another large sack to my oldest sister. I kept smiling knowing that it would be my turn before too long. My older sister got the following cotton picking sack.

Mom looked at me and said, "I have no money to pay for a large sack for you, my dear."

"What do you mean?"  I cried.

How could my mother do this to me?  I was too old for a burlap sack.  I stomped to the bedroom so that I could cry my heart out by myself.

I could hear my younger sister and brother laughing as they received their burlap sacks.  They were happy to begin the summer cotton picking season.  They were not too old for a burlap sack.  I was already ten years old and I needed a cotton picking sack for adults.

I was caught in the middle again.  I was never old enough for most things, and I was never young enough for most things.  I was never enough to fit in anywhere.

Mom walked into the bedroom and said, "Mijita, I will talk to the foreman tomorrow and ask him to lend me a cotton picking sack for an adult."

I rubbed my tear swollen eyes and looked at my mother to see if she was telling me the truth.  I could tell that my mom felt bad that I was crying.

When we arrived at the cotton fields next morning, I saw my mom approach the foreman.

"Domingo, I need to buy a cotton sack from you for one of my daughters." I heard my mom say.

"Teresa, are you asking for a large cotton sack for your daughter, Paula?  He asked as he looked at me.  She is too young to fill a cotton sack all by herself.  Just give her a costal (burlap sack)."

My mom responded, "No, Mingo, my daughter is old enough to fill the cotton sack by herself.  She says she is too old to carry a costal."

Domingo winked at me as he handed me a brand new cotton picking sack just like my older sisters had.

I felt like a grown up as Mom showed me how to place the thick strap of the sack on my shoulder.  I knew I was no longer a baby.

When we reached the other end of the field to select our rows of cotton, I noticed that Mom selected four cotton rows for us.  I looked at her with a question in my eyes.

"Mija, you need a row of cotton all your own so that you can fill the big cotton sack," my mom said.

Having a cotton row all to myself was scary.  But, I was determined to prove to everyone that I was old enough to carry a cotton picking sack for adults.  I quickly began to pick cotton and stuff it into my sack.

I kept looking back every five minutes to see if my sack was getting as full as the ones that my mom and sisters had.  An hour later, I felt like I would never be able to pick enough cotton to fill the sack.  But, I was determined to prove to Mom that I deserved an adult-sized cotton sack.

Two hours later, I did not have to look back to know that I was filling up the cotton sack.  I was having problems walking forward.  The cotton sack felt heavy on my shoulder no matter how I twisted the strap that went around the shoulder.  Now I understood why my mom and older sisters did not talk while picking cotton.  It was hard pulling the big sack behind me as I picked cotton and tried to stay up with everybody else.

Mom saw my red face under the hot sun and came toward me.  She took the strap off my shoulder and used both her hands to hold the sack up.  She shook the sack up and down.

"It is easier to pull the sack behind you if you push the cotton to the very bottom." she explained.  We have about an hour before lunch."

I wondered if I could hold out for a full hour, but I said nothing.  I kept on picking, even though the strap on my shoulder was cutting into my skin.  That was a sign that I was really filling up my cotton sack.

I looked around and noticed that my sisters were hauling their cotton sacks on to their shoulders.

"It's lunch time," my mother said as he turned to look at me.

The panic was all over my face; there was no way I could lug the cotton sack up onto my shoulder and walk all the way to the truck to weigh it.

"Here, let me show you how to do this," my mom said as she picked up the sack and placed it on my shoulder.

The heavy cotton sack kept falling off my shoulder.

"Once the sack is on your shoulder, place your hand on your hip so that the sack will not fall to the ground," instructed my mother.

I was ready to cry with exhaustion, but was determined to keep my agony to myself.  I walked as much as I could and had to keep stopping to re-adjust the sack on my shoulder.

I finally made it to the truck and trailer and let the huge cotton sack fall to the ground as I waited in line for the foreman to weigh the my sack.

"Let's see how much this brand new cotton sack weighs, little one," said the foreman, Domingo.

I gave him a huge smile.  I knew the cotton had to weigh at least one hundred pounds.

"Let's see," said Domingo, "You have thirty pounds of cotton, mija."

I could not believe my ears!  All morning long, and I had only picked thirty pounds of cotton.  That meant I had earned about $1.25.  My face turned as red as my shoulder.

My mom quickly placed her arm around me and said, "thirty pounds of cotton is a good morning's work.  You have earned the right to use a large cotton sack for adults."

I was determined not to cry.  I was so exhausted, I could not eat.  I simply lay under the trailer and fell asleep.

It seemed like I had slept for five minutes when Mom woke me up an hour later.

"You can stay here longer, if you like," she said.

I quickly rose to my feet as my whole body protested.  My shoulder was in pain from where the strap of the cotton sack had rubbed the skin raw.  I was determined not to admit that maybe I had asked for a large cotton sack a few years too early.

My mouth silently switched the strap to my other shoulder without saying a word.

I headed out to the fields with my mom and older sisters.  My younger sister and brother would sleep a little longer under the trailer.

I kept wuiet as I picked cotton the rest of the afternoon.

We followed the same procedure of weighing our cotton sacks before going home.  I remained quiet when Don Domingo told me my cotton sack weighed sixty pounds.

"Mijita, you should be proud of yourself.  You have worked hard all day long." praised my mom.

I folded my cotton sack and climbed on to the truck to head back home.  I sat on the cushion my big folded cotton sack provided and thought about everything that my huge cotton picking sack represented.  I looked at my mom and two older sisters with a new-found respect and sadness.

None of us could exchange our huge cotton picking sack for the light burlap sack reserved for the children.


Picking Clean Cotton

Even though my mother spoke no English, I was learning the most important lessons in life.  All I had to do was watch how my mother lived life.  She was good at answering my questions and tying in everyday life with the values of honesty, courage, and perseverance.

I learned about honesty while I picked cotton.  I remember that not all people picked cotton in the same manner.  Some pickers would not just pick the pure white part of the cotton plant.  They would start from the bottom of the plant and take the leaves, some of the branches and boll, along with the cotton.  Other pickers would add dirt and stones into the cotton bags.  Mom had taught us to pick only the white part of the cotton and place it in the sack.  Our way of picking cotton was slower, it would take longer to fill the sack and then the cotton sack would not weigh as much as the others.

I began to pick like some of the other pickers.  I picked faster and my cotton was dirtier.  Mom told me that was not the right way to pick cotton when she observed what I was doing.

I stood up, placed my hands on my hips and said, "Everyone else picks cotton differently than we do.  They leave us way behind.  We are the last ones to finish picking a row; we are the last ones to fill a cotton sack; and by the end of the day we have made less money than most of the other cotton pickers."

Mom responded with the question:  And if all those cotton pickers jump in the canal without knowing how to swim, will you follow them also?"

I looked at my mother with a puzzled expression on my face.  What on earth was she talking about?

She continued.  "You don't do things just because other people do them.  You need to decide what is right and then follow through based on your truth."

"But Mom," I argued."  "some of your friends and relatives do not pick clean cotton.  I've seen them put stones in the cotton sacks so that they will weigh more.  We are losing money by the way we pick cotton."

"Truth is more important than money," Mom said quietly.

I looked at my mom while she picked cotton and realized that truth and honesty were important to me, also.  I understood that many times, following my truth, meant following the lonely road, the one less traveled.

Several times I heard the foreman explain to cotton pickers that they needed to pick cleaner cotton.  I knew I would feel shame if the foreman ever had to tell me and my mom that our cotton was not clean enough.

And so it was that, at a young age, under the hot sun in the middle of the cotton fields, I learned about truth and honesty from my mother.


Discussion and Writing Prompts:

1.  What important  life lessons have you learned in life by watching your parents lead their lives.  Write or talk about your lesson and elaborate about it in a well developed essay.

2.   Draw a cotton bag.  Decorate it with words pictures and quotes that go with the story.

3.   What activities does your family enjoy doing together?  Do these activities provide time for discussions for the opportunity for learning?  Explain and use examples.

4.  What if someone does not have a traditional family unit?  Think of nontraditional family units?  Can they create activities and situations to learn life lessons?  Explain.

5.  Draw a cotton plant.  Decorate it and cut it to look attractive.  What kind of discussions can plants have with one another?  What lessons can they teach one another?  What lessons can students learn from having discussions with lesson plants?


Math Task Cards

I am a secondary teacher and I love task cards.  They can be used in so many different ways to help students.

# 1:  Task cards can be used in math centers.  You can place 5 - 10 task cards or more.  Students get to choose which task cards they want to work on or solve.  Our task cards are set up with differentiation in mind, but the teacher does not select the card for the student.  One problem is set up in four different ways to help students.  The first has pictures and lower level vocabulary.  The numbers are not spelled out but written in numeric form.  The second card is the same as the first, but has no pictures.  The third one has simple sentences, and the numbers are spelled out for the students.  The fourth and last card has a compound sentence and higher level vocabulary.  The students will select the cards that will show his mastery and success.

# 2:  Teachers can give each student a set number of cards, and the students can sit at their desk and solve the problems.  The teacher selects the cards for each student.  The students can be given additional cards when the student has completed the first set.  The teacher can even provide an answer key for each student so that they can grade and correct their own work.

# 3:  The teacher can place cards at each desk.  Each student will work on the first set, and when the teacher says "scoot", the students can move to the next desk with a different set of cards.  The students can scoot as many times as the teacher wants them to do so.  Scoot is wonderful because students do not have to sit long periods of time in one place.

Feel free to visit our store, www.teacherspayteachers.com/Store/Creative-Expressions to get the hundreds of task cards that are available.  We have the cards in Spanish also.

Hasta luego!!!  



The Border Patrol/La Migra

Little did I know that the issue of immigration was going to be as strong when I was six years old as when I was sixty years old. The story and issue have become a nightmare that haunts me still.

"Orale muchachos!"  is what I heard the foreman say as we saw the border patrol van stop by the side of the road where we were picking cotton.  I heard the scurrying of feet of the young men, but I couldn't see where they were going.  I really didn't  understand what was going on.  I saw two men getting out of the truck.  They were wearing beige hats, dark glasses, black boots and khaki green uniforms.

"Mom, who are those men?"  I asked, puzzled by the activity.    

"Ignore them and pick cotton.  Tell them you are from the United States, if they ask," my mother whispered back to me.

I was confused and scared because I had no clue what was going on and everyone's behavior had changed to one of quiet fear.  I was used to the conversations going back and forth between the groups as all of us picked cotton.

I looked toward the cotton trailer and could see one of the young men underneath the cotton.

"Mom, why is that man underneath the cotton?  Won't he find it difficult to breathe?  Why is he doing that?"

"I told you to be quiet and pick cotton.  Do not say anything to anyone."

I lowered my head and continued to pick cotton even though I kept wondering what those men were going to do to us.  I wondered why everyone was behaving so differently.

I could hear the men in the green uniforms asking different people if they were U.S. citizens and wondered why they were asking that question.  Everyone was responding yes.  In some cases, one of the men in the green uniforms would ask for a birth certificate and inspect it while the other man looked around at all of the cotton pickers.

It was difficult to pick cotton as I worried about what the men in green were going to ask me and what would happen to the young men that had disappeared from the cotton fields.

I saw a black boot right beside me, and I had to look way up before I could see the man's face.  The man bent and patted my head, "And, how are you doing?  Aren't you a little young to be out here picking cotton? he asked.

I continued to look at him and thought "How can I answer two questions at once?"  I knew how to speak English, but fear made it impossible for any words to come out of my mouth.

"You sure are a cute little girl," said the man with the boot.  The other man in uniform continued to look all around the cotton field as if he was looking for something.

The man beside me continued speaking, "Are you a U.S. citizen?"

My mom answered for both of us.  "Si, somos de los estados unidos."

"Thank you, man," said the uniformed man and continued walking through the rows of cotton speakin to the different cotton pickers.

After they had spoken to everyone of us they went back to the foreman who was picking cotton.  I could see that he stopped picking as the uniformed men were talking to him.  He removed his cotton sack from his shoulder and headed toward the cotton trailer.  I watched, trying to figure out what was going on with the uniformed men.

I saw the young man who had been trying to hide come out from underneath the cotton and jump off the trailer.  The uniformed men asked him some questions, but the young man just cast his eyes toward the ground and placed his hands behind his back.  One of the uniformed men placed handcuffs around the young man's wrists and they both escorted him to their van.  As they drove away, everyone started speaking at once.

"It's okay, he will return within a couple of weeks," hollered the foreman.

"He could have died underneath all that cotton and the heat is unbearable," said a woman beside us as she made the sign of the cross over her face with her fingers.

Everyone began to laugh and rejoice as three of the other young men who had hidden re-appeared.  They had not been taken away.

"Who were those men in uniform?" I asked my mom with my hands on my waist.

"That was la migra, mija," answered my mom as she picked cotton.

"I don't know what that word means, but why did they take that man with them?" I pestered my mom with a frown on my face.

"They took him because he was not born in the United States," my mom told me.

"How did they know he was not born in the United States?" I persisted with my question.

"Well, he could not speak English and he did not have a birth certificate to prove that he was born in the United States," my mom answered patiently.

"But Mom, you don't speak English and neither do the majority of the people in these cotton fields!" I said in exasperation.

"I don't speak English, but I carry our birth certificates with us to prove that we are U.S. citizens," she explained.

The whole experience had frightened me terribly.  Even though I was six years old, this was the first time I realized that people were not free to travel wherever they wanted.  They had to prove they had been born in the United States; and the English language proved that you were a U.S. citizen.  

This just did not seem fair to me and I let my mother know that I did not like the men in the green uniforms.  My mother informed me that I had better get used to the border patrol visiting the cotton fields or any other field we were working.

At about 6:00 in the evening, the foreman announced that it was time for us to go and everyone began to climb on to the back of the truck to head home.

I could see two young men picking cotton.  They had hidden from the migra and would be able to stay in the United States to pick cotton.  

"Why aren't they going home?" I asked my mom.

"They don't have a home here.  They live far away in Mexico, just like your dad did before he died," my mother answered sadly.

"But mom, what are they going to eat and where are they going to sleep?"  I asked in desperation.

"Don't worry, mija.  They will have extra hours to pick more cotton to make more money to help their families in Mexico.  I am sure that they have some food with them."  My mom was trying to reassure me that everything would be fine, but at the same time, I heard her say a brief prayer for the young men.

Because I was six, I did not fully comprehend what had happened, but the little I did understand did not seem just or fair to me.  As human beings, shouldn't people be free to walk on whatever part of the earth they wanted?  Who had made these laws and why? It was a difficult lesson for a six-year-old to learn.

As a child in the cotton fields, I was petrified that la migra would take me to Mexico.  As an adult, far away from the cotton fields, I carry my birth certificate in my purse at all times. 

Discussion and Writing Prompts:

1.  Why was immigration an issue in the 60's and why is it an issue today, 2016?

2.  Are you familiar with a situation like the one in this story?

3.  Why are immigrants getting hired in the U.S. if they do not have the proper documents to work in the United States?

4.  Why can't people travel wherever they want?

5.  Why is there a wall between the United States and Mexico?  Is this the answer to the issue of immigration?  Compare and contrast the Berlin wall that President Reagan was responsible for removing and the wall between Mexico and the U.S.  How are they different and how are they alike?


My Name is Maria!

Have you ever wondered why so many Hispanic women are named Maria?  It's tradition in our family....seriously!

I have three sisters, and all of us are named Maria.


It all started with all of us having different names..... Santos, Enedelia, Paula, and Diana.  Our mother did tell us that our first name was Maria.  She had given all of us the first name of Maria.  No big deal we thought.  All of us go by our middle name so it doesn't matter that all of us are named Maria.

We didn't discover how wrong that belief was until we became professionals.  We had to fill out forms for all kinds of governmental agencies like the Social Security Office, the Internal Revenue Service, and the Human Resources Office.  We wanted to get paid so we filled out the forms.  

It wasn't too long before all of us were having to sign with our first name, Maria.  Our checks had to have our first name on them, Maria.  When different agencies call us at our home.  Guess who they asked for?  You got it, Maria!!!

I asked my sister why all of us were named Maria.  They didn't know.  I decided to ask the person who named us, our mother.

"Mom, why on Earth did you name all of us Maria?  

"No, I didn't.  I named you, Santos, Enedelia, Paula, and  Diana."

"But, Mom, all of us have Maria as our first name.  When people ask us what our first name is we have to say and write Maria."

"Oh, when I went to baptize you, the priest asked that I give you a name out of the bible.  I selected Maria."

"Mom, there are several names in the bible aside from Maria."

"I know, but every time I spoke to the priest I could only think of Maria.  So I named all of you Maria.  I didn't think that all of you would have to go by your first name."

There you have it.  That is why so many of us are named Maria.  I guess all parents thought like my mother did.


Discussion and Writing Prompts:

1.  What is your full name?  Do you like your name?  Why or why not?

2.  What is the true meaning of your name?  Do a bit of research and find out the meaning of your name. 


3.  Does your name fit you or your personality?  Why or why not?

4.  Select the name that you would like to have.  Why did you select that name?  What do you like about it?


Uno, Dos, Tres

Nifty Numbers - Counting Spanish 1-50

One of the concepts to learn next in Spanish is numbers.  

The easiest way to start is to have students repeat the numbers after you.....uno, dos, tres, cuatro, cinco, seis, siete, ocho, nueve, diez.

Something fun to do is have one student say uno, another student says dos, the next one says tres and so on.  The students have to be alert and ready to say whatever number is next.

 Have students stand in a line, but have them change the order so that they can practice saying all numbers that they need to practice that day or class meeting.

Another way to practice is for the teacher to say a number in English and the students can say the equivalent number in Spanish.  The teacher can also use a soft ball to throw at a student.  She/he can say the number in English and the student can say the same number in Spanish.

It's also a good idea to have a number line with large numbers.  Use a yard stick and point to different numbers, and the students can call out the correct number in Spanish.  

Students can also recite the numbers in order individually in front of the class or whisper it to their teacher so that teacher can assess mastery.

This lesson has several of the necessary handouts to help students learn the numbers in Spanish.

Nifty Numbers