Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A perspective on education

1558433_10151988517971353_4894519815946806628_nMy time at the University of Massachusetts has been atypical. I’m not a four­years­and­done student. My education was interjected with experiences: with travel, with adventure and life. Because of that, my perspective on education is unique. During my college years, my life was influenced by experiences and adventures as much as it was changed by professors and textbooks.

For a while I was lost, but then I found my way – and I guess that’s what college is all about. I traveled a lot while I was at UMass. My first trip was to Europe, then to Canada, Sweden, and a boys’ home in Mexico. It was in Mexico that I learned that life is about experiencing the world around you; it’s about curiosity and taking advantage of every opportunity to live in the moment. And it’s also about learning, because some people don’t get that privilege. The following passage is my perspective on education.

The old 15-passenger Dodge van was a classic: complete with roll-down windows, groaning ball joints, doors that screamed and rasped every time they shut, and a seat in the back that wasn’t fixed onto the rotting floor. Personality, that is what it had – lots of personality.

The once white paint was now a dusty brown, peeling around the wheel wells. Rust crept down from the windows. Out on the highway, the blistering Mexican sun pulled a permeating stench of burning oil from its straining engine and cooked its passengers alive to a coffee­brown crisp.


Every day at 2 p.m., the chicos raced out of the squat white buildings — all but little Oscar, who lagged behind searching for bugs and dragging his oversized backpack through the dust.

They piled into what felt like an oven, screaming and punching each other and laughing sweet laughter that drowned out the sound of cicadas.

Every day at 2 p.m., a little boy jumped onto my back, saying “Arriba, arriba!” Off we’d go, jostling and running to the van. Inside, tiny hands grabbed my already stretched shirt, pulling me next to one smiling face, and then another, grabbing my heart at the same time and tugging me away from America.

Every day at 2 p.m., Javier awakened the old van from its slumber with a jolt, backed out over the crunching rocks and pulled out of the sun-bleached compound of El Rancho Del Rey, where Noah’s Ark is painted on the outer walls. Off we’d go out from the shadow of the towering Monterrey Mountains. The boys would start singing and I would join in. I made up for my lack of Spanish with enthusiasm.

They called me “Capitan America” (the Spanish equivalent of Captain America.)


The streets were narrow and lined with houses, which were surrounded by stucco walls to keep out the wild dogs and wild people. Potholes came out of nowhere. After it rained, rivers ran through the streets. Once, while we were getting ice cream, a stray dog had his leg run over by a passing car. No one even seemed to notice. We ate our ice cream while the creature cried underneath the van. At the schoolhouse, Javier pulled over and the boys piled past me, yelling to friends and shoving each other.

On Friday, Carlos was suspended from school for stealing, Francisco for failing grades.

Francisco said he hoped that if he did poorly enough, his father would come and take him home (even though he had never come to see him). Most of the boys lived in drug-infested communities. Most experienced abuse of some sort; none of them had a chance at an education apart from El Rancho. Once, the boys (who ranged in age from about seven to 15) were caught sniffing paint. Every one of them said they regularly saw drug use at home, and most of them said they drank or experimented with drugs. Not one of them chose their life circumstances.

Growing up in the barrios of the Monterrey Valley is, in many cases, a life sentence to poverty and hardship. In 2013, nearly half of Mexico lived below the poverty line. The war on drugs and crime has ravaged the nation, leaving a wake of broken families and hurting children. Drug­orphans are everywhere and the government doesn’t have enough resources to take care of them all. Most fall through the cracks, existing on the fringes of society, falling into crime or simply fading out entirely.


El Rancho Del Rey is a bright light that shines through the dust. Just off the highway in the middle of a growing neighborhood on the outskirts of the city of Monterrey, its white walls provide a safe haven from the dangers that lurk outside. Around 15 boys stay in the residence each school year. They’re given a safe place to run around and be kids, eat three square meals a day, and an opportunity to pursue education. Since its start in the 1950s, the home has given thousands of boys a chance for success.

El Rancho is opposite of schooling in the United States, where education is a legal right, where we complain if our school is too far away, where we expect to be spoon-fed knowledge, where we throw education away like it’s disposable, and where we don’t appreciate learning. For many American college students, attending a university is a chance to escape from home and to party without consequences, classes are an annoyance and studying is a waste of time.

My perspective on school changed while racing down bumpy Mexican highways in that old Dodge van. It changed when I looked into those beautiful, smart and bright eyes that were cheated by life before they opened for the first time. It changed when small arms wrapped around my neck and didn’t want to let go. How many future scientists, doctors or lawyers sat among them? How many more were never given the chance? How many more died in ignorance? Most Americans will never understand how privileged they are to have the freedom and ability to attend school and study.

In her short story “Salvador Late or Early,” Sandra Cisneros bottles up this reality perfectly: little boys, who have a “hundred balloons of happiness” inside of their hearts, are plagued by a “single guitar of grief.” Their potential is squashed by reality. Many of them, despite the love shown to them through the home, will drift off into the sea of crime and oppression without a say in the matter. But some will become mechanical engineers, doctors, lawyers and scientists, and some might even run for Mexican President.

Andy Castillo is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected].

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