Stand and Deliver and the legacy of Jaime Escalante

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Today I read that Jaime Escalante, the High School mathematics teacher who inspired the film, Stand and Deliver, has died, he was 79. The article said, he virtually performed a miracle in a tough neighborhood. I disagree, he worked hard and persevered at his goal; inspiring students to succeed, against the odds. The only miracle was that he may have made it look easy.

The news took me back in time; to early summer 1988, at the Malibu home of Tom Musca, Producer of the film.

The occasion was the wrap party of Stand and Deliver. Unfortunately, I never met Jaime Escalante, he left before we arrived. At the time I was working at CBS and dated a Film Editor who worked on the television series Falcon Crest. The party included a number of distinguished guests from the Latinoamerican world. These were folks from various countries–drawing on Bolivia, Colombia, Spain, Mexico, and Venezuela–and who had, as a result, come to Hollywood for their own particular reasons.

It was a delightful evening. What was most striking to me was the ambiance, the energy that moved around the table, the balcony, in front of the fireplace. Put a collection of leading actors, writers, industry professionals, artists–practically anybody, really–together in the Malibu hills and what you frequently wind up with is a bunch of egos. The conversation may be subtly boastful, and a kind of controlled or not-so-controlled narcissism that is so common in that we don’t even notice it, sort of like the air we breathe. These Latinos, by contrast, were gracious, suave, and low-key. They joked a lot, reflected on art, film and literature, and obviously enjoyed each other’s company. Their interactions were casual, I couldn’t help thinking that whereas so much ritual interaction that Americans have include a tacit agenda or subtext of promoting oneself, the interaction among this group was about respecting each other, making everybody feel valued. Dinner over, and with the party winding down, everyone shook hands and parted.

I walked out and onto the narrow street. As some of the guests strolled by, I noticed them. There was something very human about this; something real and then, a woman unexpectedly turned toward me, smiled and said, quite simply, “Buenas Noches.”

 


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