Growing up labeled as a “Dumb Kid” (Nino Tonto) was disconcerting to say the least. Think about it. How would you feel hearing that during your formative years? Imagine the relentless repetition and reinforcement that no matter what you did or what you said, you were branded by your father/mother/siblings and then those around you chiming in the refrain, “Dumb Kid?” or even worse.
Do you think it would affect your self-esteem assuming that you actually had any? Sadly, thousands of children of all ages hear comments like, “you will never amount to a hill of beans,” or “you will end up being a garbage collector.” And of course the big one, “you are a loser just like…“ (Fill in the blank)
Many people from every generation have heard similar comments that have one thread that binds them together. It is all negative. In a world of putdowns, verbal jabs, accusations, labels, etc. even at the presidential level, it happens to most of us at one time or other.
Those who have never felt the sting of the putdowns or name calling are the blessed few. I personally don’t know too many of “those” people. Some of us are barraged with it for years extending well throughout our lives until we are up in age.
No age, race, economic category, or religious or non-religious affiliation is immune to the onslaught. Take for instance, politics. We won’t even go there for now, considering the put downs going on in the upcoming 2018 mid-terms race back and forth.
As a “Nino Tonto” survivor, I can attest from my own life growing up with that tag as well as “Smart Aleck,” & “Stupid Kid,” it can get on your last nerve. My father interchanged “Dumb Kid” & “Stupid Kid” at will depending on his mood. He saved the “Smart Aleck” moniker for when I said something I believed to be cute or funny and he thought differently.
That label was hurled at me many times as well. Looking back and reflecting, I actually reveled in that moniker to be honest. It meant I got to him for some reason, and that was my payback for his verbal assaults on me.
Unfortunately, my compulsion to interject clever or funny comments in numerous conversations and situations have sometimes had the opposite affect and caused an adverse reaction to my well- intentioned humor. As a former Judge on the bench, it has gone both ways. It appears humor is in the eyes of the beholder and not the same for all. How well I know from experience then and now. Sometimes it is a hard lesson to learn a recovering “Nino Tonto.”
Sharing my own history of suffering, rejection and verbal putdowns is a healing process in itself to be shared with others. As a retired school teacher who taught fulltime in the classroom for 26 years, to include La Techla in SAISD, La Memorial in Edgewood ISD, plus other classes along the way in Harlandale ISD & NEISD, I encountered many students and teachers and faculty of all ethnic races who were coping with the same affliction of low self-esteem and rejection.
In 1982 as a reporter for KENS 5, I interviewed Cesar Chavez. What an honor!! He dropped out of school in the 8th grade. He served in the Navy and we know the rest of his story. He worked the fields and articulated the plight of the farm workers. He was NOT stupid or a “Dumb Mexican,” as some labeled him over the years.
Like many others who learned to rise above it all, overcoming the taunts and put downs, we continue to live to tell about it. Sharing our common stories, we will hopefully make it better for those who come after us and not to be subjected to the “Nino Tonto” label. It is something to ponder for sure.