Primitivo and Alfredo

By Margaret Kindermann – Kelso

In 1967 I taught seventh grade in the Kansas City School District during the day and an English class for the Naturalization Council in the evening. The evening class met at Westport High and was composed of adults from countries all over the world who wanted to become US citizens. The class had students who functioned at all different levels of English proficiency. Two brothers, Alfredo and Primitivo Garcia, were the youngest adults in the classroom. Primitivo tentatively tried to speak English now and then, but Alfredo was still at the stage where he chose to listen and observe a little while longer. They never missed a class and sat attentively in the left corner of the front row each time they came.

One cold, dark November night after class, I headed down the hall toward an exit along a side street to wait for my ride home. On the way, I passed overturned waste baskets, but I didn’t pay any attention to them. Lots of people were getting out of their classes. Some were by the exit where I was and others were waiting for the bus along the perpendicular street.

A group of teenage boys came up to me and started taunting me. “Oo-ee! Lookee here!” I just ignored them until one grabbed my purse and threw it to another one. Then that one threw it across the street. I crossed the street to pick up my purse. The youths ran over to flock around me. There was a clear ringleader who knocked me down and I screamed.

The people who had been at my exit with me all disappeared quickly and I was alone on the ground. I felt a compelling need to protect my unborn child. Hoping one of the teens had some sense of humanity, I begged them to leave me alone as I told them that I was pregnant. I was so frightened that it seemed like an eternity those ruffians were pawing me. You can’t imagine the relief I felt as Alfredo and Primitivo came running toward me from the bus stop. What had seemed like an eon to me had, in fact, been only a short time that I was down on the ground at the mercy of an uncontrolled group of hooligans.

Primitivo and Alfredo pulled the youths off me and engaged them enough that I could stand up and run back across the street to the school. It was too dark for me to see the fighting or shooting, but I heard a  pop and saw a stream of horizontal fire. I had never seen a gun go off before. I felt an eerie sense that I wasn’t really there. I must have been watching a movie or having a dream. That’s where guns are, not in real life. The gang tore off across the tennis courts and away from the school.

Then I saw the Garcia brothers crossing the street to join me. Alfredo was in the lead because Primitivo was slower. He was able to walk on his own, holding his side. I was in shock and had no idea what to do. In clear English, Alfredo took charge saying, “You call an ambulance. I will wait here with Tivo.”

Primitivo lay down on the cold cement. I took off my long, gray overcoat and placed it on him. In those days there were no cell phones, and the side entrance to the school was already locked. I ran around the corner to the main entrance by the office that still had clerks working in it. Once inside the office, I barged through a swinging, wooden gate in the counter that separated the office staff from the students and went straight for the telephone to call for an ambulance. The clerks overheard me and began talking about the gang that had apparently been in the office earlier that evening and left angry overturning wastebaskets along the way.

Reporting the shooting over the phone had cleared my head enough that I was finally struck by the enormity of the situation as I walked back out of the school to join the Garcia brothers and wait for the ambulance. The paramedics put Primitivo on a stretcher, covered him with a blanket and gave me back my coat. Alfredo got into the ambulance while the police gave me their initial interview.

The next day I went to the police station for another interview. They told me Primitivo had been taken to General Hospital, the best hospital for gunshot wounds. I visited Primitivo in the hospital where I talked with the doctors who assured me his condition was not one that was life-threatening. The prognosis was good for such a young, healthy man.

At the hospital, I met other members of the Garcia family who invited me to their home. From that day on, I visited Primitivo every day in the hospital and also went to the Garcia home several times. The Garcias lived in a modest house on the Westside. When I went there, I realized Primitivo and Alfredo had needed to take two buses to get to Westport for their English classes. My Spanish was limited and their mother spoke no English. Their younger sister, Irene, translated for us because she had learned some English in school. A few times I brought my Spanish-speaking mother with me to translate.

Based on my talks with the hospital staff, I had full confidence we just had to wait while Primitivo  healed. Then one day I went to the hospital and didn’t see any Garcias there. I queried the nurse on staff who told me Primitivo had died. Apparently, his spleen had become overloaded trying to clean the toxicity that had developed in his bloodstream.

I didn’t see the Garcias again until the funeral. I was totally unprepared to see Primitivo’s lifeless body in his coffin with his mother sitting beside him. I uncharacteristically fell at her feet and sobbed publicly. Primitivo’s mother put her hand on me and we didn’t need any language to communicate with each other.

Primitivo’s story became a high profile one in Kansas City. He and his brother did not flee or fail to get involved. Kansas City was proud to have people in its midst who were not subject to the “bystander effect.” The national press even became interested in the story. Some people in Kansas City started a Primitivo Garcia Memorial Fund. Enough money was collected to establish the Primitivo Garcia Scholarship at Westport High School. Soon, a park on the Westside was named the Primitivo Garcia Park. Later, when Kansas City established a bilingual magnet school, it was named the Primitivo Garcia School.

I assumed the person who shot Primitivo was the older ringleader. I identified that person to the police, but they assured me all the youths there had fingered someone else, a juvenile. I never attended any court hearing. Some of the perpetrators would have plead guilty and others would have been dealt with as minors in Family Court.

In 1986 my daughter Marlo graduated from Westport High School where an annual Primitivo Garcia Scholarship was given to a worthy student. I was the person who told the Primitivo Garcia story to the graduates that year. After high school, Marlo went to college in California where she stayed. Once after Marlo had already left Kansas City, I remember being interviewed on television by a reporter who was reliving Primitivo’s story many years later.

My contact with the Garcia family diminished over the years, but I remember one special time Alfredo’s brother Raul invited Marlo and me to a big family gathering at his home north of the river. It was especially rewarding for me to see Alfredo again. He was still quiet and unassuming by nature but he had learned English well over the years.

In 2001, Marlo fulfilled her childhood dream of naming a son Tivo. When I retired from teaching, I moved to California to join Marlo and Tivo there. Marlo became a teacher like her mother and grandmother before her. Tivo is now sixteen years old, old enough to be able to share Primitivo’s story with anyone who asks about his unusual name.

Even though we now live in California, Marlo and Tivo have been able to visit the Garcias in Kansas City a couple of times. In fact, we were in Kansas City during an important anniversary celebration of the Primitivo Garcia School. I still have occasional phone and email exchanges with different members of the Garcia family. Marlo and Tivo especially honor Primitivo on el Dia de los Muertos.

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