40 Years Later: Making the Improbable Real
Since its appearance as a play in 1959 and then as a Broadway musical in 1965, “Man of La Mancha” has brought to a popular audience the enduring central message of Cervantes’s masterpiece. The impossible dream. Identity is a made thing. We can decide what and whom we will be. Hearts and minds can change and, even if the Earth does not move, the human spirit can soar far beyond its meager clothing of flesh, its bounded identity in time and place. We can even experience, against all rational expectations, reality altered by the power of the spirit, the conviction of the soul.
But the process is not an easy one. A quotidian dullness neutralizes heroic action; the hungry soul imagines dreams and truth to be one. In one of his first sallies, don Quijote, ablaze with the dream of his beautiful lady, stops a group of merchants on their way to market in Toledo and demands that they share his faith.
“What matters is that without seeing her (Dulcinea), you are to believe in her beauty, to confess, affirm, swear, and defend it. If not, I challenge you to combat,” don Quijote tells the startled merchants. Stupefied, the merchants ask before they are to swear for a picture of Dulcinea: “A small one will do, even if it is the size of a grain of sand.” Enraged at their insistence that a dream must assume a palpable presence before it can be acted upon, don Quijote charges the group. His nag stumbles. He falls and suffers a sound thrashing at the hands of a strong and slightly irritated young man.
A university is about an imagined future, a dreamed identity, a new life, laid hold of slowly as a student pursues his or her studies. It was a dream of new life for all South Texas that created Texas A&M International University. Long before Governor Ann Richards turned that initial spade of dirt in February 1994, Laredoans and South Texans first imagined a better way and then, like don Quijote, set about to bring it into being. The obstacles, far more formidable than the merchants don Quijote faced, were attitudinal, material, political, a cyclical pattern of exclusion that had long kept the dream of higher education for this region a seemingly impossible one.
Like don Quijote, citizens and elected officials continued to push and to press, to rage and to insist, to plot and to promise, until the dream of new life began to acquire a body. And that body, this magnificent new campus, continues to grow and develop: hope given corporeal form, no longer impossible, just enormously difficult to create.
As we celebrate our 40th year, reflections upon the creation of Texas A&M International University assert forcefully a lesson well-known to Cervantes. The larger and more improbable, the more pharaonic the dream, the greater the possibility that it may become true. The task to build this University, the zeal to see it become real, awakened in Laredo both an energy and strength beyond anything seen since colonial days. Our legislators in Austin and leaders and philanthropists in the Laredo community imagined what could not be, and it was.
When contemplating our Laredo miracle, gazing over the beauty of these marvelous and fermosas salidas, a wise man captured well the dream, its challenge, and its fruition.
“It must be,” he said, “that the first 250 years are the hardest.”
Ray M. Keck III
Professor of Spanish
Texas A&M International University