December 8, 2000

First Person

The blue-eyed Stranger

Johnny Marquez
Tucumcari, Nuevo Mexico

I once had a friend named Kurt. In a predominantly Hispanic grade school, it was hard not to notice him. He was blonde and had really blue eyes. The first time I spoke to him he was really shy. To be honest he was the first Caucasian boy I had ever met.

When we would go out to recess, he would usually stand by himself close to the doors. It was during this time that I walked up to him and asked him his name. He seemed to be nervous as he looked around me at the other kids and said "my name is Kurt." We just stood there looking at the other kids playing. He was a skinny kid, and if he'd gotten into a fight, I really doubt if he could win. The bell rang and we all headed toward our teacher to get in line. We went to class and other than answering the teacher, he sat at his desk and said nothing at all. By this time I was really curious about him. There were a few shy kids in my class, but I knew them all and besides, he was the first Caucasian kid I'd ever met.

The next day during recess he stood by the door again. I was busy playing with my friends but decided I'd try to talk to him again. I walked up to him and told him "hi." As we stood there, I asked him "hey, you want to go with me to the slide." With a big smile coming over his face, he said yes. We walked over to where the kids were. As we stood there one of my friends was running by and slapped him over the head shouting "gringo." Now I knew why he would stand by the door. Being one of the biggest kids in my class I ran my friend down and told him not to do that again. He just smiled at me and took off running, but he never did it again. I ran back to Kurt and asked him if he was ok. He told me yes and I told him not to worry about being picked on, that I'd protect him. He smiled and said "ok." After that we would talk about what kids talk about. He really was a nice person, but I didn't know everything about him like I thought I did.

One day Kurt didn't show up to class. Well, one day turned into two and pretty soon I was asking the teacher if she knew where he was. She told me he was sick and that he'd be back in school soon.

As we made our way into the auditorium to watch a movie (I don't remember what it was called) I wondered about Kurt and why he was sick. I sat toward the back, having a good view of the whole class. I remember our librarian walking up to my teacher and whispering something into her ear. The surprised look on my teachers face made me aware something was wrong. She stopped the movie and told us all to head back to the classroom.

Honestly, I wasn't thinking it was about Kurt. When we were seated, she stood before the class holding back her tears. Then she said "the reason we stopped the movie is because something sad has happened. Kurt has passed away." Some of the kids asked what this meant and all I remember after that moment is children crying. I also remember running all the way home from school since they let us out early that day. I hadn't ever dealt with death, but I knew you were supposed to cry.

Mi madre asked me if I wanted to pay my respects to his parents. I told her yes, but as we drove up to their house, seeing the wreath on the door, I suddenly panicked and told her I didn't want to anymore. After all these years I wish I would have, but as young as I was I understand why I didn't. I've often wondered if he ever spoke of me to his parents.

Kurt was born with a weak heart, but his soul was strong. He was the first Caucasian kid I'd ever met. I realized then that no matter what color your skin is, it's what's inside you that matter the most. I've forgotten that lesson a few times in my life, but when I do I always remember Kurt and what he taught me. I've always been proud that I'm Hispanic. I'm proud of my culture and all that it can offer. Not only me but society in general.

As a human being I'm proud and feel honored to have known Kurt the short time he was on this Earth. The blue-eyed stranger in my brown-eyed childhood.

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