“Pero Mami yo no quiero aprender frances”…”But mommy I don’t want to learn French,” I protested, as loudly and vehemently as my seven-year old self could, when I found out I was being taken out of the American School. I was to start at the Liceo Franco- Mexicano, the French Lycee in Mexico City, in a couple of weeks. “You’ll like it Susie, your brothers are going to go there too, but they’ll be in the Mexican section and you’ll be in the French section.”
I became apprehensive and fearful, because I didn’t want to leave my school, I didn’t want to leave my best friend, Nan Gonzales, and I didn’t want to be separated from my brothers. “What is the French section?” I asked, “Oh,” My mom answered, “It’s the part of the school for very special children…very smart children. It’s the part where you’re only allowed to learn and speak French.” “Why aren’t my brothers going to the French section with me?” “Your brothers will go into the easier part of the school where they will learn a little French and they’ll continue with their Spanish and English.”
“That’s not fair mommy why don’t I get to go to the Mexican section too?” Her answer, whatever it may have been, made me feel smarter than my two big brothers, but I was still mad and a little heart-broken at leaving my other school and my friends.
The schools my mother chose for us were always with one aim in mind. Get the best education possible, get as worldly as possible. At the American School in Mexico City, we learned and daily improved in English, while at the same time keeping up with our Spanish, but the inevitable day came, when we were transferred to the Liceo Franco-Mexicano. My mother thought that it would be good if I learned French. It was very becoming of a girl to speak French, she thought.
So, in 2nd grade I was placed directly in the French section, which was complete French immersion. We were not allowed to whisper or even breathe a hint of a language other than French. I was not happy but I did pick up the language quite easily. We wore uniforms of grey skirts and white blouses, and our navy blue sweaters had to have the school emblem sewn on them. White socks and black shoes were mandatory.
The teachers were strict and never smiled, and particularly disliked me because I was left-handed. In those days being left-handed was not acceptable and they tried to get me to write with my right hand until my mother told them to stop coercing me. The principal, a tall bespectacled, big-boned woman, would be called in especially to discipline the mischievous kids by slapping the backs of their hands with a long ruler. The victims were always, what I thought to be, normal 7 or 8-year-old, energetic boys they didn’t know what to do with. I made up my mind never to get hit, and I never did.
My teacher was very stern in her black net, which covered her black frizzy hair, that starkly contrasted with her milky white skin. Daily, she wore a crisp and fresh white button down sweater, and she never smiled. One day I asked her a question and as she leaned over my small pupitre…desk, I accidentally stained her white sweater with my blue ink pen. The look she shot at me injured my 2nd grade psyche so badly that I still remember it today, more than 50 years later.
There, in the French section of the Liceo Franco-Mexicano, close to Sears Roebuck, and Company, and across from the railroad tracks of Polanco, I found that even in French, I loved math…maybe because it was another language altogether. One day the word came that one child from each grade had been named the best calcule, or math student. And when my mother and father screamed with pride, and hugged and kissed me when they found out that I had won the award for “Calcule,” I felt so happy. I got a special certificate for being the best math student in the class, and from that day on, and even into adulthood my mother always called me her “Calcule girl.”