Archived: Can a Burro Be a Genius?


What defines a genius?  Many people still say Albert Einstein since that is the image that has been ingrained in us to symbolize a genius.  Einstein was indeed a genius that I admire.  However, the truth of the matter is that geniuses come in all forms, sizes, shapes, and colors.

A burro can also be a genius.

That is the point that Victor Villasenor is trying to make in his book titled Burro Genius.  But the book goes beyond that enticing title and makes a point that geniuses are not limited to a specific skin color and that they can also be poor.

The story is really about Villasenor’s life experience while growing up as a Mexican American young kid in Oceanside, California. Incredibly, it took him forty-two years to finally complete and finish the Burro Genius book. He continually kept revising it and in 2004 he decided to complete it and published it. He was not officially diagnosed with dyslexia until he was forty-four years old.

This explains the trouble he had with reading and writing in school. But many of his teachers thought that he was ignorant and stupid and treated him as sub human. Villasenor has written a revealing and powerful book about how Mexican American students were abused and discriminated against.

In his book he describes how in the 1940s schools did not allow Spanish to be spoken.  If students did speak Spanish at school they were punished. Not just light punishment but through physical abuse such as slaps in the face. Imagine, being a small child and having one of your teachers beat you if you spoke Spanish?

I remember when I had just arrived back to the United States when I was five years old in 1978. I did not speak English and cried and cried so very much since I missed my grandmother and family who had stayed back in El Salvador. The teachers hated that I cried and they placed Scotch tape on my mouth so that I would not cry and they would threaten me that they would call “La Migra” – immigration agents so that my family and I would get deported.

Latino and African American students have historically encountered many barriers in obtaining a quality education in our public school systems. Many have been taught to be ashamed of their own culture and to reject it.

Latinos and African American students continue to have the highest school drop-out rates and the highest incarceration rates. There is a definite correlation between not being able to read or write and ending up in prison.

Our next President of the United States must make education a top priority and must demand that drop-out rates among minorities must be reduced.
We can no longer pretend that everything is o.k. while so many young children’s futures are destroyed.

Randy Jurado Ertll is Executive Director of El Centro de Accion Social in Pasadena, CA.

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