After I got out of the army in December 1955, I did three things of note. I attended Mississippi State University for the spring semester, then went to Ogunquit, Maine, to be an intern at the Ogunquit Playhouse for the summer and rounded things out by going to NYC that fall and trying to make it as an actor. I did not make it unfortunately. In order to keep myself afloat, I worked two jobs: tearing tickets at Radio City Music Hall and clerking at a Doubleday Bookstore.
By late November I could feel a cold winter coming and quickly decided to get off the NYC treadmill. I had the G. I. Bill so I figured since I only lacked two semesters to finish up a BA at Mississippi State, I ought to go do that. The problem was that I wanted some sort of adventure—not just monotonously taking notes in a classroom. Someone told me about an American accredited university in Mexico City called Mexico City College. I applied and after spending Christmas with my folks in Mississippi, off I went to spend the next three quarters south of the border, down Mexico way.
I loved the year round spring climate of Mexico City and the Mexican economy saw that I lived very well on my monthly G. I. Bill checks. Each class at MCC was an experience and an adventure.
Flash forward 58 years to this past week. Due to total serendipity, I encountered on the internet two brothers who also had attended MCC when I was there. They are James and Richard Wilkie. James is a professor with the History Department at UCLA and specializes in Latin American Studies. Richard is retired from the University of Massachusetts . I wrote James a letter and perhaps it might be of interest to reproduce it here.
By accident today on the internet, I ran into a long article by your brother Richard about MEXICO CITY COLLEGE. I was there at the same time as both of you but not as long. I was there only 3 quarters in 1957. Until I read the article, I had forgotten so much about MCC—things buried long ago inside my brain. The article resurrected them and the more I read, the more I felt like I was experiencing a trip back in time.
While going to school there, another student and I rented an apartment in the Polanco district of Mexico City. This area was very much like Europe and had a large international community. My roommate and I found living in Polanco (meaning Polish) was a total adventure.
I remember the incident your brother mentioned in his article about a class he was attending with only 7 people—of which three died in one weekend. I knew of those incidents and it just added to the excitement of living abroad.
I also enjoyed reading about a class your brother was taking in which they went to a Mexican penitentiary to interview Ramon Mercader, the pick ax murderer of Leon Trotsky, the Russian revolutionary. He also mentioned that Mexico City at that time was a hot bed for spies—US, Soviet and you name it. This really hit home with me.
A whole nest of Russian spies working out of England via Cuba lived right next door to our apartment in Polanco. Of course I didn’t know they were spies. They told me they were international business people. The woman was an American named Ruth and her “husband” spoke with some strange Slavic accent. We used to have happy hour together in the patio we shared. We had a great time talking and I petted their cute Pomeranian pup Chucha. One day the whole lot of them were gone. They had left in the middle of the night with just the clothes on their backs—not even bothering to take Chucha. Later I found out they were working with British spies for the Soviets, Helen and Peter Kroger out of England. Their ring had been compromised and they had to leave Mexico City in all haste as they feared they would be murdered. Chucha was left on a leash tied to our doorknob. I kept her until I left Mexico and then gave her to a nice family.
Both you and your brother look very familiar to me in that embedded photo in the article. Perhaps we took a class together. I was in the Creative Writing Program at MCC. I took Spanish from Elena Picaso de Murray, the wife of Paul Murray, one of the founders of MCC. I also remember another Spanish teacher I had there—Señora Mariscal. (Her father had been a general in the revolution.) She was a toughie but I learned a lot from her. I found that each class I took at MCC was an experience and somehow an adventure as was Mexico City itself.
Thanks so much for having collected all these memories of another time, another place. I too was a GI, having been overseas in the Korean War. I was in several films out at Chapultepec Studios (Sun Also Rises, etc.) and taught English at a private girls’ school to bring in some extra money. I lived very well and those European stores in Polanco were just the best.
I am so glad I found your brother’s article today by accident. A friend of mine had asked me if I knew anything about a new film out called KILL YOUR DARLINGS. I knew nothing so I checked it out on Google. I found that the movie is about the beat generation generators of which William Burroughs (he wrote NAKED LUNCH) figured—and to my amazement I found that he had attended Mexico City College. And there was a magic link to your brother’s article on MEXICO CITY COLLEGE. How about that for serendipity?
My very best to you both,
NOTE: Mexico City College was founded in 1940, as an English speaking junior college in Mexico City, Mexico. In 1946 the college switched to a 4 year Bachelor of Arts degree-awarding institution, then changed its name to University of the Americas in 1963 and in 1968 to Universidad de las Americas, beginning a transition to be a Spanish-speaking institution, culminating with its move to Cholula, Puebla, in 1971. At the moment, the institution no longer exists. (Wikipedia)