ILLEGAL – Chapter Three – Charlene the Queen of It

Three years had passed since the trial in Laredo.  For a while the Pena family feared retaliation for Rush’s testimony that convicted two white men for murder, but Laredo was now experiencing the sublimation of another evil; drug running.  Violence broke out on the streets on a regular basis.  Some folks moved away just to avoid the chance of getting caught between the bad guys and the good guys and sometimes it was hard to tell the difference.

By this time Rush was in high school.  He delighted in learning, so his high school experience was the best.  As for the label of being a rat, teens in Laredo loved the romance behind the legend.  Rush was a hero.  His outrageous way of always looking outside the box for answers became his signature; his shoes, his trademark.

This was his sophomore year.  He had waited for this year with wild anticipation because it was in this year of magnificent acquisition of knowledge Rush got to take Sociology. The Soc teacher had a reputation for unorthodox teaching methods and Rush was up for that. But, besides the teacher, he loved the world.  He loved different cultures and groups and organizations.  Appreciating each new experience outside of his own realm of experience only made him crave further adventures about the differences in people.

Room 108 bore a euphoric ambiance that reflected the unique characteristics of its inhabitant – Charlene Bogimill.  Rush stood at the entrance where he smelled incense burning. Huge posters of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Mahatma Gandhi, W.E.B. DuBois, and Mother Teresa hung in estimable repose.  The Chinese proverb, If you want one year of prosperity, grow grain; if you want ten years of prosperity, grow trees; if you want one hundred years of prosperity, grow people hung directly over Bogimill’s desk where Rush found her drawn intensely into work.  The sensation of awe was broken by a crackly, hoarse voice, “Speak it!”

“Excuse me, Ma’am?”  Rush was mesmerized.  He had never come into contact with such a person.  Her hair was wrapped in scarves.  She wore dangling earrings and a Mexican peasant blouse and a long skirt with sandals.

Undisturbed by Rush’s presence, Bogimill said, “Don’t just stand there.  Enter the abyss and state your purpose.”

“Yes, ma’am …”

Still unmoved she said, “Okay, let’s get one thing straight.  I am not anyone’s ma’am.  I’ve been called lots of things, but never warmed to ma’am, so cut it.”

“Sure, okay. Uh … well, I guess I’m going to be in your next period class, and well, I just wanted to introduce myself.  I’m Rush Pena.”

Bogimill slowly looked up from her work.  Over her reading glasses impeccably balanced on the end of her nose, she eyed the boy from top to bottom.  “Oh, so you’re the guy that took on the Alliance.  Bravo, fella, good show.  Welcome to my world.”

Rush felt the words of admiration wash over him.  It was better than winning his writing award.   He was so entranced by Bogimill’s eccentricities that he could hardly utter a word in response.

“Do you like sociology, Rush?”

“I do, so much.  I want to study social research.”

“See all those banker boxes against the wall?  Those are my babies.  All research projects.  If you want to work alongside me, I could use a good assistant.”

“Yes, I would like that very much.”  Rush could not believe what he was just invited to do.  This was his dream.

The shuffling of feet rustled in the hall and class was about to start, so he anxiously took a seat in the third row.  He did not want to appear to be the kid who sucked up to the teacher; Bogimill would hate that kid.

The regular crowd of high school students filled the classroom.  Prom queen destined cheerleader sat to his right, football jock in front of her, pimple faced math geek sat all the way to the back, but the person he was most interested in walked right over and sat down in front of him.  “Hey, Rush. Didn’t know you were in Bogimill’s class.  I’m glad.  Maybe we can study together.”

“Yeah, that sounds good.”  Holy crap, what a day this turned out to be.  I’m Bogimill’s research assistant, and my crush wants to be my study partner.  Janie Churchill was the typical girl-next-door.  She was blond, blue-eyed with a sweet personality.  Rush had known Janie his whole life it seemed, but really started to notice her last year.  She shed her braces and something changed.  She looked different somehow … a good different, but he couldn’t put his finger on it.  The ringing of the class bell interrupted.

“Okay, everyone.  Let’s settle down.  As most of you know, I’m Ms. Bogimill. Welcome to Sociology. I hope that you will learn much about the world around you and as C. Wright Mills nailed it, enhance your sociological imagination.  Today you are going to introduce yourselves to each other by describing your family ethnicity.  For example, let’s say your father is Native American and your mother is Irish.  Get my point?  Let’s start with, uh … yeah, Bradley Schmidt.”

Brad, the school’s up and coming star quarterback stood up next to his desk and wringing his shirt said, “Yeah, well, ah, I’m white and proud of it.”  Everyone broke out in laughter.  “Yeah, let’s see, uh, Dad’s side of the family is German and Mom’s is Irish.”

“Welcome, Brad.  White and proud of it?  What does that mean?”

“You know, it means we were here first.  It means we have more claims on this country.”

“Well, does anyone beg to differ with Brad?”

Rush raised his hand, “Whites were not the first people to inhabit the North American continent.  Before Europeans settled here, there were aborigines or what is more commonly known as Native American Indians throughout this country.  As the early Spanish explorers married Indians, they produced a biracial culture, especially in the Southwest, which was labeled Chicano in the 1960s.”

“So what?  You’re still nothin’ but a wetback Mexican who should go back to where you belong.  You’re a cockroach.  You’re no better than those kids who were killed by the Alliance.”

The cheerleader’s cell phone went off with, You’re darker than dark / You’re like bark, bark / On a tree, on a tree why you looking at me? /I want to kill you, kill you, kill you, cutting through the mounting tension.  Shaken by the outright racism and eyes wide with shock, Bogimill swung around in a sweeping circular fashion, pointed to the cell phone and in a shrill voice resounded, “Kill it!  Kill it!  Kill it, now!”   This type of bigoted banter unnerved her and she used the cell phone as an excuse to vent.  “Listen, in this class we will discuss many areas that might not agree with some of your own personal viewpoints.  That being said, I want you all to know that I expect you to treat one another with respect and dignity.”

The rest of the class seemed lackluster after the wild interaction between Brad and Rush, but ended on a good note for Rush because he and Bogimill were already planning a social project. Bogimill, who did not speak Spanish, was concerned for the undocumented immigrants who found it difficult to live in Laredo and along the border, particularly with vigilantes roaming all over.  Many Americans do not understand that because of the poverty that exists in Mexico, mostly attributed to the drug cartels, many Mexicans cross the border into the United States for shear survival.  The old insipidity that Mexicans come to the U. S. because they want a taste of “the American dream” is too simple, too ignorant to explain their migration to the States.  Making a living in Mexico is hard and until their government does something about the organized crime syndicates that commit murder on a daily basis more and more people will flee. Rush knew firsthand about the violence within Mexico and how it leaves many in fear of their lives, not just for the men, but for the women and children.  When they come singly, they find work and send the money back home to their families who are waiting for their return.  Their migration and their anticipated return to Mexico only becomes a problem when they marry in the United States and have children who then are citizens.

Bogimill’s hope was to start a food bank where anyone could come and get free food.  She especially needed Rush, not only for his bilingual talents, but he understood the dynamic of poverty.  He also could lend advice about Mexican cultural norms and folkways. Rush left school happy with that and the fact that Janie chose to sit in front of him.  Right now, life couldn’t get any better.

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