The Game of Bridging Culture

Screen Shot 2015-11-02 at 4.47.12 PMBy Geri Anderson

After talking for a few minutes with Carl Owens, you’ll feel as if his head is full of ideas that spill out like water in a leaking garrafone! When you meet Arturo Ediberto Garcia Aguilar, it’s evident that he’s no stranger to overcoming obstacles and solving problems. Combine these two men, one a retiree from Georgia, the other a bilingual Mexican, and you end up with the first bridge league in the entire country, which focuses on teaching bridge to young people. It receives support from the American Contract Bridge League (ACBL).

Here’s how it happened. Carl was taking Spanish lessons from Arturo. “Come spring, he lost most of his students because they were “snowbirds” who flew back north.” Carl recalls. “Arturo had saved some of his winter income, but needed more to support his family of three.”

Arturo, Carl and Barbara Lyons Perez, a certified director of the ACBL and a longtime member of the Oaxaca Bridge Club, came up with a plan. Arturo would teach bridge to Mexican youth. He had learned bridge with Kay Burch at the Oaxaca Bridge Club (consisting of mostly extranjeros) and loved the game. During the summer, La Liga de Bridge Oaxaca, with Carl as administrator, was formed. This was created to provide outreach to the Mexican population and to offer bridge classes to youngsters. Arturo’s salary and other expenses were funded initially by donations.

Reminiscing about that first summer school, Carl and Arturo recall that they started with a class at Centro de Esperanza Infantil, an organization assisting street children, where there was space available and a community of Mexican kids. However, only two showed up for the first class, but word spread fast and by summer’s end there were 24 students in two classes. Esperanza Infantil provided a part-time teacher. When school started in the fall, the classes continued with bridge lessons given before and after school.

Requests for bridge classes came from other organizations also, such as the Instituto Luis Sarmiento (INLUSA), a private school in Colonial Reforma and La Universidad Para Adultos Mayores (UNIDAM), an organization for seniors. The diversity of folks seeking bridge lessons illustrates that this card game “bridges” age differences and socio-economic status.

By the end of August, the groups were ready for their first mini-tournament. Held in a lush event park, Las Nogales, seventeen students from INLUSA and Esperanza Infantil participated, with members of the Oaxaca Bridge Club helping with organization and supervision.

“The event was a big hit, a chance to get out of the city and compete in bridge, followed by a feast of hamburgers,” Carl recalls. “The youngsters were very proud of the certificates of participation each received. They’re always asking for another tournament.”

Because of the interest in card lessons, Arturo decided to cut back on Spanish classes and focus on teaching bridge to Mexican youth. Carl applied for and received a grant from the ACBL for $6,000. That would allow Arturo to be a full time bridge teacher.

“It’s a great game for kids,” Arturo explains, “because you have to know what the goal is, make decisions focusing on that goal, and count the whole time. Bridge is played as a two-person team competing with another two person team.” He notes that in addition to team work, problem solving and sharpening math abilities, the students learned the importance of being on time.

“Mexicans have some problems with that,” Arturo says. “However, the kids soon discovered that being late not only hurt the other players, but late comers missed some of the lecture, some key strategies and pointers.”

In the spring of 2015 participants at the Oaxaca Learning Center, a tutoring program for young adults, asked for bridge lessons, expanding the program to yet another age group.

“We expect that we’ll get enthusiasts from The Learning Center who will become bridge teachers,” predicts Arturo, illustrating his forward-thinking attitude toward the possibilities of La Liga de Bridge Oaxaca. And his enthusiasm isn’t unfounded. To date there are fifty-one participants in four locations.

Although the ACBL didn’t renew its grant in 2015, the program continues with private donations and hands-on assistance from members of the Oaxaca Bridge Club. The classes are held in space provided by schools and local organizations. In April 2015 La Liga de Bridge sponsored its first Intergenerational Games. Adult bridge players from the Oaxaca Bridge Club joined the youth. In two hours, five tables of players completed twelve hands of Chicago Style Bridge.

“This provided a chance for the kids to play with a variety of partners of all ages since Chicago play changes partners every four hands,” Carl explains. “The Oaxaca Bridge Club members played with the young bridge students, sharing tips and strategies. They’re looking forward to future inclusive games.”

Arturo’s new career affords him more than just money, he says, telling the story of a 12-year-old girl who had never played cards with her family and was doing poorly at bridge. “After a few games, she told me ‘I’m a stupid person,’ Arturo recalls. “I explained that we all learn from our mistakes, and she kept coming. After about two months of classes she got the best score of the day! Now when newcomers say they can’t do it, she tells them ‘yes you can.’ She encourages them to keep trying. She learned that mistakes aren’t bad.” Arturo’s personal motto is: If you aren’t making mistakes, you’re not trying hard enough,” while Carl’s motto is: “The best hand at bridge is the next one.”

A current edition of “Latin American Bridge News” lists seven reasons to teach your child bridge. One reason is: “You can play bridge forever and continue to improve as you age. You can’t say the same for football, baseball, tennis, hockey, volleyball, skateboarding or gymnastics. You may be able to do all those things when you’re 80, but I bet your 18-year-old self was way better. In bridge, your glory days are always ahead of you. How awesome to fall in love with something and not have to stop when you graduate high school.”

For information on La Liga de Bridge Oaxaca or ongoing bridge classes in Spanish and English contact Arturo Garcia: 044-951-139-9527 or edibertogarcia@gmail.com.

Geri Anderson, a retired journalist, has lived in Oaxaca City since 1997. She recently self-published a memoir of her life in Oaxaca, “Oh Oaxaca!” email: geriande@yahoo.com

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