Bookworm at the hot dog stand
Arizona Daily Star
April 13, 2004
Ernesto Portillo Jr.

María Fernanda Durand may be one of the smallest students at her school, but her accomplishment is large.
The 6-year-old kindergartner at Drachman Primary Magnet School has one of the most voracious appetites for reading in a school with many hungry readers.
Since September, María has read more than 1,000 books.
For her efforts, Pima County Supervisor Ramón Valadez is expected to present certificates of recognition during the school's weekly Wednesday morning gathering.
Most of Drachman's students have met or surpassed their personal reading goals. Nearly every week, librarian-teacher Gloria Carrington presents at least one student with a small, shining trophy for having read 100 books. Students who read in weekly increments of 10 titles also are recognized.
Some mornings it seems as if half of Drachman's students are standing on the cafeteria stage receiving applause from pupils, teachers, staffers and parents.
But it is María who stands out, because of her parents' willingness to work long hours to succeed and because of her love of reading and desire to learn.
This is about the Durands' appreciation for education, a value that supposedly Mexican immigrants ignore.
At the gritty corner of East 36th Street and South Country Club Road, next to the Pueblo Gardens neighborhood and an industrial zone, sits a hot dog stand called El Perro Loco. It is similar to many al fresco eating spots found in Tucson's immigrant neighborhoods.
Three days after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, David and Blanca Durand opened their hot dog stand. While waves of uncertainty washed over America in the following days, the Durands saw a strong country willing to give them a chance.
In front of Henry's Market, selling hot dogs wrapped in bacon and smothered with beans and onions, they would stake a claim for their future.
"We have had to work long and hard. We cannot afford to let up," said David  Durand. "I only work for them," he said, pointing to María and her 2-year-old brother, David, while the children played inside and outside the family's parked van.
It was a non-school day for María, who spends most of her free time with her brother and parents. This is where María reads many of her books, in Spanish and in English, to her brother or to her parents, said her mother.
"She loves to read to us," Blanca Durand said.
Her mother acknowledges that the hot dog stand is not an ideal place for the children, but it will have to do.
Seven days a week, with a rare day off, the Durands serve meals to other immigrants and working-class customers. This is not the life that David, 30, and Blanca, 28, imagined for themselves while attending college in Hermosillo, Sonora.
David earned a law degree. Blanca completed her international business studies. Both were working in Mexico.
But living in a country unable to secure a good future for its young people, the Durands immigrated to Tucson, where David's mother owns a business.
The Durands arrived knowing little English but fully understanding that their dedication and their children's education were key. They're learning English, and so is María, who prefers books about the planets and animals. She reads books because there are many things to learn, María said.

In a short time, María will learn her parents' biggest lesson supported by the sale of hot dogs.
"The best legacy we can leave them is an education," they said.
° Ernesto Portillo Jr.'s column appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Reach him at 573-4242 or at He appears on "Arizona Illustrated," KUAT-TV, Channel 6, at 6:30 p.m. and midnight Fridays.

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