I do not know much about myself nor my background. As a young boy I was always told by my mother to, ‘follow the other kids’ and imitate what they do. She never taught me Spanish, she never celebrated any traditional holidays, and she never answered any questions I have about my identity. For my childhood, she mostly worked while I explored the world alone.
“Jonathan!” I hear my mother’s voice call from downstairs.
It was a Monday–the worst day–and school was starting in less than an hour. I got up for the typical morning ritual; I put clothes on, brush my teeth, and then mark my path downstairs for breakfast. Our apartment isn’t much; two bedrooms, a single bathroom that we both share. The walls are old and seem to be–what once was the color white–a mix of cream and a slight tint of yellow. Not much hangs on the walls but history still exists on them. For example, there’s a hole from when I visited my mom at the age of seven. However, there aren’t not many pictures or anything of sentimental value, I assume there is just no reason to have pictures when we don’t have much family to take pictures with.
My trek to the kitchen is a short one, I take a glance at our living room. Most living rooms are these nice places where families go to watch movies or spend time with each other. For us, our couch is barely intact and all of our dirty clothes and trash sits there...waiting patiently to be serviced.
I walk into the kitchen, my mother hands me a paper towel with cinnamon covered bread sitting diligently on top. Foodwise, we are okay, never too much to eat but it’s just the two of us so it’s easy to manage. I take a seat at our dining table, which I have to mention is the nicest object in this house. From the polished wood, to the smooth finish–I am in love with the color scheme to the overall design. There’s not much in this house, and there’s not much outside of it, however we do have this dining table.
I walk to school every morning because my mother has to go to work before I leave. There are those few days where my mother goes to work later and I can catch a ride with her. Yet, those days are quite rare.
Leaving my front door, I am left with my thoughts; these streets can frighten me, and walking to school routinely becomes a rollercoaster of anxiety. So many scary people are out there, and who knows what they'll try to do. I don’t want to be robbed or jumped. I fear that I may lose the most valuable items I own such as my pair of shoes.
Even with the strangers and freaks you find on these streets, I still manage every weekday to haul myself to school. I manage the journey to and from, and once my morning fears have lifted and the world seems more familiar, I may even attempt to explore. I don’t always come home after school immediately. Sometimes I ‘adventure’ out into the city that I live in and have been born into. However, the first sight of trouble that may grace me will prompt me to return home. Fortunately, my mother isn’t too worried about me going out or coming home late, so I have the option of roaming town, or maybe hanging out with a friend–though I never have a friend to hang out with, not one that I want to at least.
This time as I journey to my school. I pass through a notorious neighborhood. Across the street from me I see a man getting beaten by three other men. The man who is the victim lays helplessly on the floor as he is being bombarded with salvos of kicks. I cannot stare too long, if I do I may become the next target. I walk by as if nothing is happening. However, I still feel chills down my spine as I worry if that could one day happen to me.
My school is the local middle school, Hiram Maxim Junior High, after that guy who invented the machine gun I believe. A large population of the school is African American, so I guess I am the minority. I get along with everyone pretty well, no-one has any bias against me. I get decent grades, B’s and C’s at best and I don’t participate in any school activities. I can’t wait to get out of here and move on to bigger and better things like high school. This school is quite old, and poorly maintained. Most of the panels on the ceiling are missing and the paint is old and faded. No water fountains work, and half of the windows are brown. This school is a nightmare.
“Hey Johnny!” My classmate Dante greets me as soon as he sees me, he’s a young black boy; short hair with waves and lacking in height.
“What’s up, I just got here.” I reply back to him, giving a friendly handshake.
“Nothing much man, I came early because I thought I needed to finish homework for Mrs. Wilson,” My friend Dante explains, “but it turns out there’s a substitute for the day.” Dante says to me with relief.
“Is there really? I’m trying to do nothing in that class as well.” I ask him for confirmation out of disbelief. It is exciting to hear the news that Dante had placed upon me.
“Yeah for real, I walked by her class to see some old man sitting in there doing paperwork.” Dante confirms my question, “English second period is going to be a party man,” Dante exclaims, “well anyway, peace out homie, I’ll see you there.” Dante says his goodbyes as he moves on to what I would assume to be his homeroom class.
“Yeah see you later.” I respond just before he is too far to hear me. I then made my way to my homeroom class.
I am in my first period sitting peacefully at my desk. I look up to see some girl from the office enter the classroom and I see her walk over to the front of the room to hand the teacher a summons. The teacher then scans the classroom and lands her eyes onto me. She waves the paper in the air. I was a little confused and quite afraid, still, I rose from my seat to see what was going on.
The teacher handed me the piece of paper and signaled that I was to follow the girl from the office. My mind began to race along with my heart in fear that this trip may spell out bad news. What did not help are the eyes that suddenly peer onto me. As if a crowd of vultures stalking me as their next prey, I feel targeted.
My escort and I arrive at the office. My escort soon departs from me and I take the initiative to walk in there by myself. Opening the old wooden door, I am greeted by our principal–that stingy white man–and another kid, a girl, who I have no recollection of.
“Hello Jonathan,” The principal shines his ingenuine white smile toward me, “you are one of ten Mexican students that attend this school, and you are one of three in the seventh grade.” My principal states a rather arbitrary fact to me, I have no idea what he is referring to and I have no idea why he speaks about my ethnicity like a statistic. He then points to the unfamiliar student, “This is Rosalita, she is new here and is barely an English speaker–I assume–since she came directly from Mexico. I was wondering if you would be her guide here; show her the ways of the school and help her understand better.” My principal explains what he is requesting from me. I can’t help but feel confused as to why myself.
“Well…,” I exchange with the principle a perplexed expression, “why was I specifically chosen?” I question him.
“Well Jonathan, the other two students in your grade say that they are not willing to help Rosalita, so you are our last option.” He seems to state with reserved grief, “Plus, it’s not very comforting to have an eighth grader help a seventh grader, thus it’s best to ask you.” I am surprised that the other two would deny such an easy task. I’m not that fit for this job, as I barely know Spanish and I am not as experienced in culture, there is not much I could share in common with this Rosalita girl.
However, I give it some thought. I feel bad for her–since nobody wants to help her–so I might as well try. Maybe I can learn something new about this experience–it seems that strange occurrences are where you learn the most, at least that’s what I get out of fiction.
“Well in that case,” I speak softly, “I’ll help her out.” I hesitantly agree to this as I’m a little afraid of how much I could screw this up, though, this is a challenge for me that I must overcome, or at least will attempt to.
The principal then turns to Rosalita, “This is Jonathan Sanchez,” He speaks with a diminishing tone and points toward me, “he’s going to help you in this school,” and I can already feel my heart drop, “He’s a nice young man, and a good kid, you’ll be in good hands.” She nods yes, and I feel the pressure that is placed on me.
The principal rushes Rosalita and I out of the office, “Jonathan, give Rosalita a small tour of the campus, get her comfortable with her new surroundings.” The principle instructs my first task. I feel nervous about this opening assignment.
After we exit the office, I attempt to speak to her, “Uh, hello, my name is Jonathan,” I can already feel my sweat build, “my friends call me Johnny.” I reach out my hand, but she has a curious look on her face.
“Johnny?” she seemed to take notice of my shortened name, and then she jumped, “Johnny!” and I admit I was a bit startled. She then threw out her hand and we shook hands.
She doesn’t seem to have a thick accent. Though the way she says the ‘J’ in my name is a little strange. I cannot describe it in any kind of way other than, ‘it’s not exactly right.’ Though from that Spanish class I took last semester, the one that got shut down because there were only five kids in that class including myself, I know that the letter ‘J’ is treated completely differently between English and Spanish.
I am also a bit surprised that she knows what a handshake is–maybe that’s racist of me to think–still, she seems to be knowledgeable. It’s stupid of me to think that people don’t shake hands outside of this country–it’s probably my nerves giving me wild imaginations about Rosalita.
The principal said she barely speaks English, but she said my name just fine. She doesn’t seem to have a super deep accent, and she already knows at least a bit of what I’m saying in English. I feel like the principle was overexaggerating her disadvantages here–that isn’t out of character for him. This can’t be that difficult.
Yet even so, I have a feeling that this is going to be a long journey.
I take her down the hallway from the offices, “These walls are old and nasty, and the ceiling has a lot of missing panels.” I explain to her the condition of the school along with the terrible hazards that are ever present.
We continue down the halls before we reach the covered eating area, “This is the cafeteria,” I point out, “it’s where we eat at lunch and everything, and also where me and my friends pull the most pranks on this school.”
“Pranks?” She questions me.
“Yeah…,jokes. We like to mess around and have fun.” We move on toward a group of classes, “I am not sure what your class schedule looks like, but my first period is down this hall, and my second period is back the other way.” She has a slight look of confusion, however, we continue to some bathrooms, “Here are the bathrooms, in case you need to use it.”
“Bathroom?” I hesitate for a moment, maybe she doesn’t know what ‘bathroom’ is in English. I thought for a moment trying to remember what it was in Spanish.
“El baño,” I say with little confidence, “uh...sanitario?” I try my best to communicate to her, and she looks like she understands what I am trying to say.
Very nerve racking to pull out words that I never had to use before–thanks to that random Spanish class I took I at least knew the words. Despite that, we proceed onward.
We then finish our little tour. I have successfully shown her all the important spots of the school, in the best way I could at least. She seems to understand the place well–at least I hope so–and I was able to communicate even with Spanish words that I barely knew before. It was quite an experience, and I’m curious to how it plays out in the future. This is not as difficult as I thought, she knows more English than expected, and I think I can manage the simple translations.
For the next few weeks I am constantly with Rosalita and she has grown very comfortable towards me as her guide to the school. I have also found enjoyment in becoming a mentor figure. It’s kind of fun to answer questions she has about our school, I didn’t know that I could be so talkative before.
Rosalita points at a group of boys, “What are those guys doing?” I look where she’s pointing and I see a small group of boys who I overhear insulting each other.
I then begin to explain, “You see, when two guys either don’t like each other–or they can do this for fun–they make fun of each other,” I try to word it the best I can but I do stumble, “whoever can make fun of the other person...better...well...wins.” I then close my statement.
“But why do that?” She asks with curiosity.
“It’s just how we settle things without the use of fists.” I then reply to her question.
I never try to understand the perspective that she has. She can seem so clueless to someone like me. She isn’t used to this kind of environment it seems. She has morals that I have never seen before on this campus–where exactly does she come from?
“Why are those boys punching each other’s hands?” She points toward a group of boys playing a game known as ‘bloody knuckles.’
“They are playing a game called ‘bloody knuckles,’ you basically punch each other’s hands until one person quits.” I respond back to her, and then she gives me a look of distress.
“That’s painful, why do such a thing?” She misunderstands the concept and questions the actions of the boys here.
She tends to question other people’s actions a lot and at first, I was afraid that she was going to get on my nerves, but oddly enough, I actually enjoy listening to her moral standpoints, or at least her obligations. Every reaction she has is very different from what I have seen before. She is quiet and kept to herself, she isn’t a fan of violence or harassment, and for some reason she is still curious about the way things operate here. I’m not used to a person like this, thus it sparks my curiosity. Who is she?
We are sitting next to each other in our math class, “Johnny, could you help me with this work?” She asks me.
“Yeah sure what do you need, what work?” I respond quickly, I am always willing to help her, but I was kind of afraid of the catch that came along with it as she never asks like this.
“Can you come to my home after school to help me?” She throws a random request at me. I don’t understand why I can’t just help her here in class.
I am unsure how to respond...I mean yeah, I could go since my mother gets off of work late. However, I was afraid of being alone with a girl, what would her family think?
I take a while to consider the possibility, and I soon come to the conclusion; I had to just do it, I had to just go.
“Uh sure, how do you usually get home?” I ask with nervousness.
“I usually walk, it’s not too far from here. Walk with me.” She gives me a mandate.
“Alright.” I respond with more nervousness.
My heart is racing, I am nervous. I am about to explode. I am frightened of what is to come...would I end up beaten up on a street corner, or chased away with a broom? Will I return home tonight? All these questions race my mind, a mental Indianapolis 500. I have to hold myself together, I have to pull through.
We walk down a familiar neighborhood to me, it is one that a few of my friends used to live in. On the other side of the street you can see a line of black kids walking the same direction, and every now and then, a kid will enter a house further decreasing the size of the line. No-one really had rides in this city, most kids had single working moms, just like I do.
We arrived at Rosalita's home. The sign in front reads: ‘Casa de la Cruz,’ now I know her family’s name. It is a small home, similar to mine, but of a nicer design than my sad looking apartment. There are no cars parked in the drive-way and the house looks lonely, so I assume that we will be alone.
The more reason to be nervous.
In the home I observe many foreign things, some I can recognize, but others are completely new to me.
I’ve never experienced anything like this before.
She leads me to the kitchen, where she sits me down on the dining table, she pulls out work from her backpack and our session of tutoring begins. I am not the best tutor, but I am trying my best to explain as much as I possibly can in a way that not only she could understand better, but anyone else will be able to understand. She picks up on some things well, she struggles on others, but she pretty much has a better understanding of the subject than even I could after a first lecture.
However, as we are focused on studying, my nightmares come true.
I hear the front door open, and I feel like I have to pass out. I then see a man.
“Papa!” Rosalita exclaims as she runs up to give the man a hug–who I assume to be her father–
He quite immediately pointed towards me. I feel as if this is the final moment of my existence here on Earth. My heart sinks deeply into the confines of my flesh, and I nearly faint. He points, but she soon speaks to him in Spanish, I can only infer that she’s telling him that I’m only helping her with schoolwork, at least I hope.
He takes a look at me and asks, “¿Èl habla español?” which I know means, “Does he speak Spanish?” I must thank that random class once more.
Rosalita replies, “No.”
After a moment of him staring at me, his expression changes and he reaches out his hand toward me.
“Hello, my name is Roberto de la Crúz.” He introduces himself, I soon reach out my hand to meet with him.
“I’m Jonathan Sanchez.” I give him a nervous reply, however I try to seem as calm as I possibly can in the moment.
“You look so Hispanic, I would be a fool to mistake you.” He makes a joking statement toward my perceived looks.
Those words he speaks to me spark something I’ve never really had before: a conversation with a grown man. Teachers and strangers are so bleak, never has a man cracked a joke with me or even introduced himself to me. The only handshakes I have shared were with my peers, yet this time I shared one with a man.
I shared a handshake with a man.
“I am in fact Mexican,” I begin explaining to him, “though...I’m not familiar with any of the traditions and what nots of being a Mexican.” I conclude my issue.
“I’ve been in this country for a long time now, and more and more I see young Hispanic children drift further away from their roots.” He grabs a small towel from his back pocket to wipe the sweat on his forehead, “My daughter was telling me and my wife about a boy from school. I believe you are him, and if you like, while you help my daughter with school, I can show you some traditions and customs of being Mexican.” He gives me quite the offer.
I don’t know how to feel about such an agreement, I never really cared that I ‘drifted’ from my roots and heritage. Also, I don’t know if my mother would be happy if I went through with such an offering. She has told me how she is against following tradition and that, ‘conformity is key.’ Whatever that really is supposed to mean.
However, considering my mother’s warnings, I begin to feel curious. I keep thinking about it, I could learn a lot more about what my identity is. My curiosity is at its peak, what harm could this possibly bring? I now decide that I will accept this offer.
“I wouldn’t mind.” I give an answer, not one that’s exciting, not one that’s uninterested, but one that’s just slightly curious.
I would’ve never guessed how life can flip so much.
At school, many of the black kids were always curious about me, they never treated me unfairly. There were a few enemies I had over the years, something everyone should’ve experienced. I was always asked about my skin. As many of these kids were curious as to how different I was, they asked about the food I ate, the things I did for fun, and all the basic simple life questions. They have never seen a person like me yet in their lives.
However, I could never really answer those questions, because either I would tell them the same things they do, or I would just tell them that I am not an ordinary Mexican. I tried to explain that I am not experienced with Mexican culture.
I’ve always been slightly embarrassed of my lack of culture and identity. It’s taken a heavy toll on me that I know nothing of what I am, nor where I came from.
I leave Rosalita’s house to come home to a small empty apartment. I grab a can of soup, and I try to turn on our busted TV to no avail.
Rosalita lives the opposite way home from me, so the walk was a bit long, though I survived. I’ve survived worse walks before, I never had a ride anywhere and I can’t afford to take the bus often. So, I rely on my feet to take me to the ends of Earth.
Sitting on the couch I begin to question more about my life and the life of this new person. Where has she come from? The stories I hear about Mexico express more violence than I know from here. Are there nice neighborhoods in Mexico? Is it wrong for me not to have an answer? With every burning question I begin to feel guilt, as if what I’m thinking is ignorant. I should probably ask these questions to Rosalita’s father, however I am afraid he might think I’m a bigot for them.
My mother then unlocks the front door to interrupt my thoughts, “Hey there.” She says to me in her usual welcoming tone, although she seems surprised I am sitting in the living room spaced in though.
“Hey.” I respond back to her.
“I brought burgers for dinner, your favorite.” She lifts a bag to present to me. As she does so I take a look at her face that I’ve never taken a look at before.
My mother has deep Mexican features; tan skin, dark black hair, and deep hazel eyes. She’s of short stature, as I am myself, and even though she speaks with no accent, I can’t hear white in her. It’s an anomaly really, my own mother is an anomaly.
“Nice.” I give her my reply as I travel to my favorite feature of the house, that beautiful dining table.
She begins to unwrap the food that is emplaced within a bag, “So, how was school today?” She asks one of her many routine questions.
“It was school,” I apathetically reply, “nothing good ever comes out of that place.”
“I hated school too when I was your age, but you know my policy with you.” She relates with me, however, there is always a catch.
“‘Pass all your classes,’” I recite to her, “Yeah, don’t worry about that, I don’t ever have any issues with classes.” I express to her.
“You’re a lot smarter than when I was your age. I want to make sure you don’t drop out like I did.” She lectures, “Though, I don’t regret dropping out, since it was for you.” She says to me with a smile.
“Well I don’t plan to have a child like you did.” I say to her with a light tone in my voice. Although the subject matter of teen pregnancy may be concerning to some, my mom treats it almost like a blessing.
“You better not,” she exclaims, “I’ll kill you!” She shouts jokingly. We both share a slight chuckle.
“I don’t even know how you were able to take care of me.” I comment.
“I can’t say I did it alone, your grandmother helped out tremendously. I could not have done it without her.” She humbly explains to me, “Sometimes I wish I got the chance to spend more time with you when you were a child, but I’m glad my mom was able to take care of you.”
“I miss her,” I say solemnly but with little to no deep expression.
“I know you do.” My mother says emphatically, “I wish I could ask my mom for advice right now.”
That day began like any other. A peaceful day in April where the sun was a little shy to shine brightly and the clouds comforted the sky to make the world feel at ease. The cool breeze of spring air occasionally reminded me that Mother Nature at least cared as she caressed my young skin.
At the age of eight years old, I knew little about the darkness of the world. Though, there were still things that I knew. I had learned what sex was from a classmate in the first semester of my second grade year. I had also learned what drugs were from a P.S.A. presentation that the school did about a month prior. I knew about the dirt that surrounded me, I was not blind to it, I just felt like it could not bring me down as long as I was protected by her, my Nana.
No longer would I be protected by her for much longer.
That fateful April day proved itself to be the greatest turning point in my life. My grandmother had dropped me off from school and told me I would have to walk home since she might still be at the Doctor’s office by afternoon. It was not the first time I had to walk home from school, so it was not much of an inconvenience to me since the elementary school I attended was within the neighborhood that I lived in.
I returned to my house from school. I saw that my grandmother’s car was not in the driveway. That meant I had to use my trust house key. I walked up to the front door and struggled at first to line up the key with the top latch. However, the second lock was much smoother of an operation. I opened the door and closed it behind me, making sure to lock every lock except for the very top since that one could not be opened with a key.
The shaded interior of the house brought me great satisfaction, it felt truly like it was home. I miss that living room, that wonderful brown couch that my grandmother made an effort to keep spotless. The large box TV that my grandmother worked many years to obtain, and she worked many more years to afford the cable box that allowed me to watch all kinds of cartoons each morning.
Waiting for my grandmother was a small price to pay for seeing her. I couldn’t wait to tell her about school that day. I couldn’t wait to ask her about the doctor’s appointment. I couldn’t wait to hear her voice once more. I could not wait.
She came home, she entered the door and when I first got a glimpse of her face, I felt like there was something different about her expression. However, once she looked at me she bore a smile that reminded me that I was home.
“Hey kid.” She said to me, “I’m home.”
She came up to me and hugged me, a hug that I would never forget, and then she walked over to the dining table to place her purse down. She seemed a little distressed, a little more distressed than I have ever seen her.
“I need to make a call.” She tells me. She then worked her way up the stairs of our house and into her room. There I heard a gentle closing of the door. I didn’t know who she called, and I didn’t know what she said, but I did know that something was wrong.
The next two months my grandmother visited the doctor’s office every week. I thought it was strange, however, I began to grow accustomed to the routine. I knew that she would visit on Thursdays, so that was the day I had to walk home. Though, I still questioned why these visits were so frequent.
Second grade ended, and although I was excited to move on to the next chapter of my life, I felt like that summer had more to offer than I would’ve wanted it to. A week after school ended my mother made her usual Sunday visit to me. That time, she seemed sad.
My mother greeted me, but she immediately went to my grandmother and they had a private conversation in my grandmother’s room. I followed my mom, I wanted to know what was happening, so while they were talking I tried to listen through the door.
They were too quiet.
Not too many minutes later, my mother opened the door to find me. She looked as if she was about to weep a waterfall of emotional content. I remember that face, I remember that face all too well.
“Johnny,” my mother spoke to me, “we need to talk to you.”
I entered that sacred room, I smelled the sweet scent of my grandmother’s perfume as I did so. However, my grandmother was sitting on her bed with her head facing downward. She then looked at me and gave a little grin.
“Johnny,” she addressed me with that heavenly voice, “I’m very sick right now, and for the time being I’m going to have you live with your mother.” She told me.
Although I had nothing against my mother–some nights I even yearned for her–I did not want to leave my grandmother.
Nana, I did not want to leave you.
That day I packed my clothes and belongings. My grandmother said she was sick, but sick with what? I didn’t want to leave, I never wanted to leave. Please, I didn’t want to leave.
“Nana,” before I left with my mom, I had to ask her, “what are you sick with?”
She looked at me, she sighed, “It’s lung cancer baby.” She then put out her arms. I went in for a hug. I knew what cancer was back then, I heard my grandfather died when I was two years old from stomach cancer. So I could not help it, I weeped into her arms as she soon followed. We embraced each other for what felt like forever, and what I wished was forever.
The next year she was hospitalized permanently.
I would visit her regularly. Afterschool every Tuesday and Friday my mom and I would head down to the hospital she was at. The hospital was a long drive, therefore it wasn’t easy to see her everyday–as much as I wished it were.
The final day I was able to see her, she spoke with a weakened voice to my mother. Her heavenly voice had become devilish, however, I still loved that voice the same.
“Margaret,” she addressed my mom, “You are a beautiful woman and I could not have asked to raise another daughter.”
My mom soon held my grandmother’s hand tightly, “Mom, I can’t lose you, it still feels like yesterday when I lost dad. I can’t lose you next.” My mother wouldn’t look my grandmother in the eyes.
My grandmother reached her hand out to my mother, “It’s okay dear,” no matter how my grandmother’s voice sounds, it always brought me great comfort, and it brought my mom the same, “It will be okay.” My mom looked up into my grandmother’s eyes.
“Mom.” She said faintly.
“Take care of my boy.” My grandmother turned to me, I was sitting in one of the chairs next to the hospital window, she smiled toward me with the brightest smile I had ever seen in my life.
The Sunday following that visit, my grandmother had passed away.
Dolores Sanchez, passed away at the age of fifty-one due to lung cancer. She followed her husband, Edwardo Sanchez who passed away at the age of forty-five due to stomach cancer. She left me behind–I miss her.
For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been visiting Rosalita almost every day, she always has a struggle, and I’m always willing to help. Her father has stuck to his word, he shows me little things such as decorations around the house and what they mean or where they come from. He even has helped me broaden my Spanish vocabulary, and has allowed me to sample some traditional foods that I have never seen before. I got a new taste of many things, it wasn’t me showing Rosalita anymore, it was her father showing me.
I am with him at the moment, another day of tutoring Rosalita and then having a conversation with her father.
I initiate conversation this time around, “Mr. de la Crúz-”
He interrupts me with a light expression beaming from his face, “Please Johnny, no need to be so formal, you can call me Roberto.” He chuckles.
I would call him Roberto, however the way I pronounce my ‘R’s in a Spanish accent is quite embarrassing, so I tend to refer to him formally to avoid that embarrassment.
“How do you feel about violence?” I ask him with little hesitation. He seems taken aback from the question, however returns the light expression.
“Mijo, violence is never the answer for anything.” He says to me with a minute amount of seriousness, “It’s pointless to be so cruel to another person who shares the world with you. I never understood it.” He shakes his head in denial, “A man is someone who can overcome adversity with his wit,” he points to his head, “and a man is someone who can achieve his goals with his speech.” He points to his mouth.
Roberto has an accent, it’s very noticeable but it has little impact with his understanding of the English language, and little impact on someone’s ability to understand him.
“What brings you to this city then?” I ask with concern. The city we share is not known for peaceful and witful people, it’s violent here.
“My daughter brings me here.” He responds promptly and proudly lifts his chin, “Back in Mexico, the cartel ruled the town that my family lived in.” He then looks down at the floor and lets out a sigh, “There was a shootout, some gang rivalry, and my sister was caught in the crossfire.” His voice degrades with every word, “When my daughter was born, I knew that it was my mission to teach her the futility of violence, and it was my mission to bring her some place where she can live more peacefully than I did.” He looks toward me.
“I’m sorry to hear about all of that,” I attempt to console, “Though, this city isn’t much safer in my own opinion.” I explain to him.
“I understand this place isn’t the best place to bring her, however, this city is only temporary. I continue to work to raise more money so we can keep moving forward.” He looks at me in the eyes, his face is a screen in front of me that is trying to tell me many things. Though, I have no subtitles to fully understand.
“What was her life like before coming here?” My interest in Rosalita’s past is quite high. In front of me sits the greatest source of information for it.
“I managed to protect her quite well. I sent her and my wife to live with my parents when she was old enough to begin school. My parents were able to move to a better area after my sister’s passing, and from that point on I spent every day of my life working. I would occasionally send her money and visit her to bring her presents. However, I stayed in my home town because it was cheaper for me to live there. I needed to save all the money I could in order to afford to live here. That was when I took classes to learn English, and that was when I applied for citizenship.” Roberto presents much of his story to me. I perk my head with each sentence and open my ears wide for the waves of words to flow in.
“I assure you one thing Mr. de la Crúz,” I look him in the eye and present a grin on my face, “you completed your mission, when I met your daughter I was taken by surprise how good of a person she is.” I am able to say something genuine. I almost dawn the largest smile, and he shares the same with me.
He then places his hand on top of my head and rubs it gently as he chuckles, “You are a good kid too Johnny,” he says to me with a laugh, “I’m glad that I met you.” He lifts his hand off of my head and pats my shoulder.
A sense of relief washes over me, the words that Roberto speaks to me feel funny. I don’t know why but I could almost shed a tear. I never felt so on top of the world, I never felt so high up before. My feet feel as if they are levitating off of the ground and ascending me to some greater place. I want to hear those words again, I want to feel this feeling again.
As the time goes on and I learn more and more, I realize what I missed out on, and I become curious about what kept me from these things. Why did my mother hide this from me? Why did my mother never bother to show me these things? Why did she want me to do what everyone else was doing?
This situation in my life sparked a new curiosity and I wanted answers. Yet, I don’t think I can get an answer. My mother is a hard wall to knock over, and I would be too afraid to talk to her about this. I know I must try and talk to her eventually. I must find the courage to ask her the simple question of, ‘why?’
My mother comes home from work. This time she brought a box of pizza with her, “Vegetable and pepperoni,” she flashes the box toward me, “wash your hands and let’s dig in.”
As the pizza box is opening to reveal a delectable dish of glorious white melted cheese, thick golden brown crust, and a combination of bell peppers, grilled onions, and mushrooms on top of a layer of scattered pepperoni, I begin to forget all of my worries and focus on the delicious meal that sits before me. What a fantastic dish that I never could have imagined for today.
Though there is still something glaring on my mind, “Mom,” I start as I grab a slice of pizza to put on a paper plate, “what was my grandfather like?”
She then shines a smile, “My dad was a wonderful man. He was always so caring and kind–though he was mean when you got on his bad side.” She giggles a little as she speaks, “he did everything to help my mom and protect me and my brother and sister. He worked hard, he spent every minute he could with us, and he never gave up on any of us.” She still bears her smile, though I do not share the smile with her.
“What happened to your brother and sister?” I follow up with another question.
“I lost touch with them after our dad died,” she then looks away and her grin decreases in prowess, “My sister had resentments toward our mom since she blamed her for a lot of things. My brother ran away with some abusive woman that I never agreed he should be with.” She stares into the blank wall that sits right of her.
“What about my own father?” I ask for the first time in my life.
“He wasn’t a bad man, it was more like...we didn’t love each other.” She waves her arms around as she clocks her head back and forth, “He was a short little Asian boy back then." She looks up toward the ceiling, "We were high school friends when we got together and had sex, and afterward he found another woman who I hear he is married with and he left me pregnant with you.” She seems to have no hesitation in explaining such a complicated scenario. I can understand the situation, however, it’s strange of her to be so willing to answer.
Maybe I should have asked this question sooner in my life.
I am unsure how to feel about my father ignoring that I exist. He’s out there in this world with some other woman and two other children, and it’s like I don’t exist within his mind.
“Did he know you were pregnant?” I ask the burning question.
“He did.” My mother says hastily to me.
A flame ignites within my heart. So he knew? He knew I was going to be born, he knew I was his child–that bastard knew yet he didn’t bat an eye. He wasn’t there when I was born, he wasn’t there for anything. I don’t know that man, he was a question in my mind since I was a young boy, he doesn’t even know me, and it doesn’t seem like he ever wanted to know me either.
You really didn’t want me huh?
The thought hangs over me and brings me dread throughout my day. Although learning new information about who my father is bothers me, I failed to ask my mother about my culture last night, though, to be fair I’ve tried to bring that issue up more often than something like my father. She is so open about answering questions such as who my father is, however she never answers questions about my identity, and she always changes the subject if I attempt to ask.
I am at school in my second period class, and all I thought about was how much I wanted to talk to my mother about this issue, ‘what is my culture?’ My downcast and unfocused attitude must have been obvious because my good friend Winston, who I share many classes with, notices that I am not in a very bright mood today.
“Johnny, are you alright?” Winston asks me as I have my head down. I then pull my head up to face him.
“I’m just thinking, that’s all I’m doing.” I give my solemn reply.
“What are you thinking about?” Winston asks with concern, “Come on, I’m your best friend, you can tell me anything.” Winston assures me.
“What’s it like being white?” I ask Winston.
“Plain and boring, I don’t know much about being white, it’s the color of my skin. My family sucks and half the school looks at me funny.” Winston takes a moment to pause for a second, “Why are you curious?”
“Because I’m always curious-” I give him my honest response.
“Lindell and Sanchez!” Our teacher then interrupts us, she catches us talking during one of her boring lectures and takes personal offense to it.
“Sorry.” Winston replies to the teacher.
I simply just don’t care enough to respond to the teacher, so I continue to place my head down back where it was originally and keep it there for the rest of the class period.
‘I must tell my mother as soon as I get off of school,’ I think to myself. This day is a drag, not much is happening in all my classes, but that isn’t unusual. Today has just been worse than normal due to my desire to speak to my mother.