My prima lived in the hood. One fourth of July we decided to spend it with her family. As a child, I started recognizing differences between all the places I visited. Church was boring. The market had the 25 cent pony. Pre-school had a slide. The projects were special. In my neighborhood we played with puppies we found at the park and in her neighborhood we played with cucarachas seeping out of the apartment walls.
I was always told to play my prima’s games when I was at her house. It was the polite thing to do. So I figured, “When in Rome, do as the Romans.” Rigoberta kept her pet cucarachas in a plastic take home fish tank with a blue lid. After the passing of her goldfish, she put her new pets in it. When we played outside, Rigoberta drew a circle on the cement with chalk and put Pedro the chubby cucaracha to race against Rodolfo the skinny cucaracha. Whichever cucaracha ran out of the circle first, was the champion.
After playing with beat down worn-out cucarachas we played with one big ginormous hula-hoop. Everyone hopped in the hula-hoop at the same time. We didn’t know how to take turns and we wanted the hula-hoop at the same time. We all got in the middle at the same time and spun it around at the same time.
Bang! Bang! Bang! “Aaaaahhhhh!” “Drive by!” Everybody criss crossed each other in the hula-hoop frantically trying to get out. “Aaaaahhhhh!!!!” “I don’t want to die!!!” “Stop!” “Fall!” “Aaaahhhhh!” We fell to the floor laughing hysterically. “Oh my gosh!” “Dang!” “Touch my heart.” “Look it.” “Oh my gosh!” “It’s like my heart ran away to Pluto.” “I thought I was gonna die, but I didn’t.” “I know, me too!” “I was like, they got me.” “Cholos are crazy, huh?” “Yea, big time.” “When I get big, my boyfriend is gonna be a cholo.” “Yea, me too.”
As the sun began to set, I started wondering where we were going to watch fireworks. I asked my dad, “Dad, where are we going to watch the quetes?” My dad said, “It’s too late to go to the park so we’re just gonna stay here.” I was like, “What? But I want to go the park.” Then my dad said, “Don’t be rude. Spend time with your cousins.” I said, “Ok. Fine.” I always used to get reprimanded for making foochie faces when I didn’t like something. I always got reprimanded for voicing my opinion. That didn’t stop me. I did it anyway. I felt it was important to say whatever was on my mind, discreetly.
On this fourth of July, after the drive by, all the kids ran out of their houses to the lawn to light their own fireworks. In amazement, I thought “Wow. This is crazy.” My dad said, “Don’t even think about it.” My uncle chimed in laughing about how kids burn their fingers lighting their own fireworks. He said, “No mas, ay, que tener cuidado.”
So the sun went down and kids started lighting fireworks, running away as soon as they lit the cuete. It was like the running of the bulls in Pamplona. Adrenaline was pumping high and after watching one or two, light and dart strategies, I joined the crowd of kids. “Prendelooooo!” “Aaaahhhh, corrreeeellllleeeeee!” All the kids would scatter away from the shooting firecracker, pushing and shoving each other out of the way. Some kids tripped and stumbled as the frantic running ensued. Todos corrian casi atropellando el uno al otro para no quemarse con los cuetes. Crack! Crack! Crack! “Cooooollllll!!!” “Look it!!!”
We spent the evening running around jolting with muscle spasms due to the fear of getting hit by a firecracker. Any noise startled us, kinda like, Watson’s Baby Albert experiment. Eliciting respondent behavior is funny when you do it on purpose. We ran around throwing “Pop Pop” snappers on the ground. Then we laughed. If you grow up poor, your only remedy and outlook for survival is laughter. It soothes the soul and heals all wounds. Fear and laughter go hand in hand when you grow up living ‘hood life. Then we ended the night watching La Bamba while sipping a café con leche.