A Mango for the Teacher: Running the Beach and Running a School in Cancun's Early Days
René Colato Lainez, award-winning Latino author of more than seven books for young people, says, " 'A Mango for the Teacher' is a memoir of dreams, hopes and learning. 'A Mango' is a "manjar" (a delicious dish) for teachers, students and readers of all ages."
In the words of Lucille Bellucci, winner of eight prizes for her novels and stories, "A Mango" is "a wild roller-coaster ride of an adventure."
Cancún, pristine? That’s how Deborah first finds it, on the last day of 1972. The turquoise breakers she plunges into, the pelicans diving around her, the stretch of beach and point of rock jutting into the Caribbean drive her wild.
“This is where I want to live!” she shouts to Paco, her Mexican boyfriend.
“Really?” he responds with a laugh. “Where?” There is no trace of a town, not a shack, not another human being in sight.
At twenty-four Deborah has put her master’s degree in teaching ESL on hold for a few months so she can study in Mexico and become fluent in Spanish. The vacation trip to the Yucatán with Paco goes well enough, but by the end of it their relationship founders.
Returning to New York City, Deborah finishes her degree and begins teaching, only to be “excessed” as each term ends. During this period she loses the last of her three closest family members to cancer; now she feels unattached to her hometown. As her final teaching assignment ends, she learns that Cancún’s first hotels are up and running. Deborah persuades a cautious friend to join her, and the two leave Brooklyn behind, driving through Mexico all the way to the brand new resort.
By their second day in Cancún, a handsome Mexican called El Diablo, his ocelot draped around his shoulders, begins teaching them the ropes. All too soon, though, a Mexico City dandy leaves Deborah dangling on the brink of deportation.
After her immigration woes are temporarily resolved, Deborah founds Escuela Xicalango, a language school that grows like a beanstalk. The staff and student body represent a wide range of ages, races and backgrounds, but all are ardent about teaching and learning English, and having one hell of a time at it.
Deborah’s professional life is more than satisfying, and she finds adventures on land and sea, but what of romance? A fiery affair with a California filmmaker who never returns for the sequel decides her: she wants to marry a Mexican man. Shortly, an attractive local man named Manolo takes her hand, and plants fragrant flowers by her door. He invites her to his island, where his many relatives are irreverent descendents of Mayans and pirates; then he invites her to marry him.
The misfortunes that befall Deborah and her new husband before their son Arturo turns two reflect the differences between their cultures. Cancún too is showing signs of stress as it triples or quadruples in size every year.
After the difficult breakup of her marriage, Deborah’s exuberant life resumes as her small son grows. But like her ex’s sailboat, much of what she loved in Cancún is going under. In 1988, for as many reasons as the sea has waves, Deborah and Arturo leave Cancún for a new life in California.
Twenty years later, during a visit to old friends and ex-in-laws, Deborah comes to understand that the entire Mayan region has endured a sea change, caused by the phenomenal growth of tourism. But the extraordinary sights, tastes and personalities that she longed to share with someone decades earlier are still there, in remote corners or under the surface. A Mango for the Teacher carries readers back to the days when a young woman could run alone on that divine beach, wondering whether Cancún would ever catch on....
- Deborah Susan Frisch, August 2011
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