Benjamin Acosta '23
You ever hear the tale of the boll weevil? I thought not. It’s not a story the people of this area would tell you. The boll weevil is the most pernicious cotton pest in the country. It gets its name from the cotton bolls on which it feeds. Legend has it that when it reached southeastern Alabama in the early 20th century, it destroyed so much of the cotton which comprised the area’s economy and people were forced to look to other means of making a living, like growing peanuts. Anybody would be furious if a little insect devastated their financial livelihood, and I reckon that the people of Alabama were. However, they soon began to see that this pest had turned out to benefit their economy. They thanked the little “Herald of Prosperity” for bringing about greater economic diversity, realizing that their over-dependence on cotton diminished opportunity for town residents. They even dedicated a monument to the insect.
Once on a small island in the Caribbean, there was a writer who reported for a local newspaper. But he had bigger dreams - American dreams. He eventually worked his way to be able to fly to the land of opportunity, where, after marrying and moving around, he became a successful journalist for the Philadelphia Inquirer. After all, he was talented, and although he was a Black immigrant, in this country talent and determination can get you far. On the other end of the world, on a different island, there lived a brilliant geneticist. He too, hearing of the opportunities in the United States, came for a little while to study crop science, and married a politician from the same home country. He quite possibly could have engineered cotton to be more weevil-resistant. He mostly worked on fruits, though.
Anyways, the geneticist’s eldest son and the journalist’s eldest daughter eventually married and had a son in the Colorado winter on a military base. They were on the base because The father was a U.S. soldier. Not the kind of soldier you think when you think soldier. The most normal soldiery thing he did was go to Kuwait during Operation Desert Storm. Missiles flew overhead, but he didn’t shoot anyone. He was a warrant officer, a specialist in cyber operations who fought with 0’s and 1’s. If there’s anything to know about people who work for the Army, it’s probably that they’re moving a lot. The government can never seem to decide where they want their soldiers to go. So when the soldier’s son was turning one, his parents were on the road to Georgia, bags packed. The family stayed there about four years. In Georgia, the boy was gifted a little brother who grew up to be a very capable, intelligent and socially adept person. The boy himself was very shy, very quiet. His mom had been a reporter, like her father before her, but she opted to stay at home to raise her children. This was the longest the boy had ever stayed in one place, but he doesn’t remember much about his life then.
After that, he moved to North Carolina. His family always went to church. The boy attended kindergarten there at a Montessori school. He already knew the colors and how to read, so the school moved him up to first grade. He was an excellent student, for he could not let go of what he was determined to achieve, regardless of the time it took.
Another thing about being in the Army is that there are a lot of perks. Foremost for the boy was free seating on military cargo flights, a program called Space A. A stands for Available. His family often arrived at the airport many hours before the flights, sometimes even the night before, constantly checking a volatile schedule. They sometimes slept in the airport only to go home the next morning, perhaps to try again. But if they were lucky, they got seats. The family ventured to Europe – England, France, Italy – the kids would read up on the history on the C-7 floor before seeing it themselves. He also got to visit the beautiful home islands of his grandparents. They once rode on an elephant in Thailand, where his aunt was from. They even got to go to Canada and Costa Rica as well. Fun times.
After North Carolina, the boy moved to Maryland, near Annapolis. His parents thought it best for him to go to school with his peers, so he repeated first grade. The reason they lived there, and not closer to where his dad worked, was because the schools were very good there. The mom cared immensely about education. When she was young, she was deprived of great educational opportunities because her school counselor told her she shouldn’t aim higher than community college, though she was one of the best students in her school. She didn’t know better then. She did now for her children. But though the boy didn’t notice, almost no one looked like him. During his time in the Old Line State, the boy studied words for hours and did very well in the spelling bees. He had some friends at his school, but a few doors over was a kid with Asperger’s who was probably the smartest person his age he had ever met. They became great friends, as they were both passionate about science. They looked through the Baltimore Science Center’s observatory telescope and listened to science songs. They also both loved Star Wars. But only for so long.
Eventually he moved to a place his mom did not want to go. There wasn’t as great an education there. However, his father had his obligations to the Army. To lighten the spirit, the mom said, “We’re on an adventure!” The boy saw it that way and never really got sad when he had to move, as he was used to it. So far, Maryland had been the main place the boy had really known. You probably know what Maryland is like. It’s fairly busy. Their new home was the antithesis of busy. The dad only saw about four or five cars driving to the base each day. The town they were moving to was called Enterprise, the City of Progress. Hmm. Enterprise. Adventure. When the boy and his family were walking through Enterprise, they came across a circular fountain. In the middle of it rose a statue of a lady, all white. Her arms stretched upwards and mounted atop a golden bowl-shaped object in her hands was something you don’t normally see on a statue, so the family wasn’t quite sure what it was. It was… a beetle! A large black beetle. It had a long snout. The scientific name is Anthonomus grandis. The people call it the boll weevil.
The closest church of the ones they always went to was two hours away, in Auburn/Tuskegee. At first the boy’s family drove almost halfway across Alabama each week, but it was so tedious they eventually started a house church. That was one of the more fun times of the boy’s life. Their neighbors came, another soldier with his wife and four children. A lady with her two daughters came, too. She and her husband owned a gun store – quite the southern stereotype. They became some of their best friends. Having dark skin, the boy’s mother had taught her kids about race and equality. The kids learned about the Confederate South and the KKK, which is partly why the mother hadn’t wanted to move there. Living there changed a few perspectives, no doubt. The lot of children played and pretended in the backyard until, sadly, another adventure.
Back to the DMV, to northern Virginia. The boy and his brother had been homeschooled in Alabama, but now they went back to school. He had started learning the piano, and now he was taking lessons and getting better, and he very much enjoys playing to this day. He dropped his former surgeon dreams for dreams of being an immunologist. Later he wanted to be an astronaut, and his love for Star Wars was ever-growing. Now he likes studying insects and brains. He also likes to tell stories. His hobbies shifted quicker than his home.
During his seventh grade year, his mother recalled a conversation she had had with the mother of his friend from Maryland. They had talked about an incredible opportunity that would enable the boy to attend any private high school. The boy’s mother had him apply for that – write, test, interview – and what do you know: the people gave him the opportunity, and he began applying for high schools. One nearby stood out – mostly white, but things were changing. Far enough that they would have to move, though. They did. It hurt, having to leave, like always, but he had grown numb. That summer, his father retired from the Army, which meant no more moving because of the military – they could stay. The school was an Episcopalian boys school with a challenging curriculum and excellent faculty, a strong brotherhood, and a beautiful campus. He still goes there now, and has not regretted it since.
Once a friend of the boy’s was moving for the first time. She expressed how much anxiety and sorrow she was experiencing, having to uproot her whole life, leave everyone and everything she knew. He told her, “Think of it like an adventure.”
You know, moving is comparable to a boll weevil. It comes and eats up everything you’ve built up over the years: relationships, a sense of place, of community. But you find new things to go to, new experiences, new friendships, new viewpoints. In the end, it sometimes works out to be less terrible a thing than you thought.
“Where are you from?”
“Well, my dad is from the Philippines, and my mom’s family is from Trinidad.”
“Ok, well where are you from?”
“Well, I live in Washington, D.C. right now.”
“How long have you lived there?”
“Then where are you from originally? Like before that?”
“Well… I’m not really from anywhere in particular, I guess.”
“What do you mean?”
He paused. “You ever hear the tale of the boll weevil?”
(Photo: Library of Congress)