The Battle.

I aspired to be like Zap. I wanted to be an American Gladiator, strong like Storm or Laser or Thunder. I wanted to wear goggles and shoot tennis balls. I wanted to run across the rotating bridge just to prove I could do it. I wanted to climb the wall too, with a rope. So in my living room, my sister and I would throw all the pillows and cushions off the couch so we could time who could get across the fastest without touching the floor. My mom would get really annoyed. “Put the pillows back on the couch.” We ignored her. She was a terrible audience member. Then we built an underpass, a tunnel-like structure. We put two chairs back to back with enough space to get through. We’d throw a blanket over the chairs and then rehearse crawling under it to check if it was safe and sturdy. Crawl. Crawl. Crawl. My sister would pop her head out on the other side. “Safe, I made it.” “Ok. Perfect.” “Ahhh! I’m so excited!” Then we laid a jump rope across the hallway to pretend we were going to climb the wall.

“Rock, paper, scissors!” “Scissors cuts paper!” “I win.” “I’m going to be Zap.” “Who are you going to be?” My sister said, “I’m going to be Laser.” “Ok. You ready?” We were dressed like American Gladiators too. We put on headbands and spandex shorts while rocking our favorite T-shirts. Maybe a turtleneck. The race began at the front doorstep and we made it super duper exciting. More exciting than American Gladiator. We pretended to run across a Volcanooooooooo!!!!!!!! We pretended to run across a Volcano with burning hot lava that could burn and melt you. “On your mark, get set go!” My sister went up first. She jumped across the pillows like a little frog. Darn it. I was hoping she’d fall in the lava and make me an automatic winner. I was watching from the door. To shake her up a bit, I yelled, “I hope you fall in the lava!” My sister went on to the tunnel. “I hope there’s an earthquake and the tunnel collapses on your head!” She got through like a honey badger. She went on to the hallway. That’s where I lost sight. I couldn’t risk following her and getting burned by the lava. It was too risky. I didn’t want to lose my turn. She claimed to have climbed the rope and finish in 4 minutes.

I thought, “Ok, All I need is 3 minutes 59 seconds to beat her.” My heart was racing. I was scared. I didn’t want to fall in the lava. I was excited. I wanted to jump fast. I wanted to crawl fast. Be fast. “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.” I didn’t know about Mohammad Ali at the time. But I knew how to be competitive. My sister started the timer, “On your mark, get set, go!” I glided across the pillows, zipped through the tunnel and scrambled across the rope. I finished like a champ. I did the Rocky grand finale. “papapa-papa-pa-papapa-pa, papapapaaaaa, paaaaapaaaaa…” Hands in the air! Jump. Jump. Left jab. Right jab. “What’s my time?” My sister started laughing hysterically, “You didn’t beat me!” I looked at her in disbelief, “What!? Crazy!?” “Noooo!!!” “Dumb.” “Liar.” Then she gave me the stopwatch, “See, look, you finished in 4 minutes 6 seconds.” “I want a rematch.” “Now.” “Anyway, you probably stopped the timer after I finished. All late, like a snail.” “You took too long to press stop.” My sister got in my face with a little sass. “No, I didn’t.” Then I retorted with “Talk to the hand ‘cause the face don’t want to hear it.’” Then she said, “I won.” Then I said, “No, you didn’t.” She said, “I won. I won. Mom, I’m the winner. You were watching right?” My mom said, “Recogen ese tiradero!” “Ahorita!, o me las friego.”

chasing squirrels2

My sister pulled my hair, leaned in on me, and whispered, “I win.” I looked at her and pushed her on the couch. She stormed up and put me in a chokehold. I elbowed her in the stomach and stepped on her toes. Then she ran to the kitchen and grabbed a pair of scissors and started chasing me around the house. “I hate you!” As I ran around without a weapon, I yelled out “I hate you too!” As the fight escalated, my mom grabbed the scissors out my sister’s hand and smacked her with a tennis racket that was sitting on the porch. “I turned around to look back at my sister, and my mom said, “You’re next.” I didn’t know what to do next. I was trapped. How was I going to avoid getting spanked. My sister went in the house and started cleaning up. I thought maybe if I start screaming in the front yard, “Child abuse! Child abuse!” My mom would get scared and back off. So I started wailing like a banshee, “Child abuse! My mom is crazy! Estás loca! Le voy a llamar a la policía!” My mom lunged at me and smacked my mouth. “Cayate! Ahorita. Vas a ver!” “Recoge ese tiradero!” She yanked my hair, “A mi no me vas a amenazar.” “Me recoges este cochinero.” We cleaned. Then we plotted our next game.

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El Lavadero.

El Lavadero era el sitio de lavar los calcetines. With this instrument, my mother stressed how we would remain Mexican at heart. I was raised in a microcosm environment mirroring the lifestyle of El Rancho. I ate Mexican quesadillas, sopes, tortas, enchiladas, pozole, pan dulce, arroz con leche, danced quebraditas, went to church, prayed and cleaned like a Mexican.

In the backyard my mom placed a lavadero made out of stone to wash clothes by hand and line dry the clothes. My mom used to say, “The washer and dryer waste too much energy.” I always thought to myself, “Then, why’d you buy it?” “I wish I could use the washer and dryer so I could watch the Saturday morning cartoons. I wonder what the Rescue Rangers are doing. I love those little squirrels. “But noooooo, I have to watch my scrunchy socks and Flintstone shirts outside on a rock with spiders and the manguera.”

The lavadero was placed in a shady part of the backyard near the lemon tree and the tangerine tree, next to the yerba buena. Washing clothes with water from the hose usually made my dainty little hands cold, so I wore gloves and one of her humdrum aprons from 1980 that she probably got at Drug Emporium. My sister did the same. She wore gloves and an apron. The difference between her and I, is that she liked to wash socks. My sister and I would take turns scrubbing the clothes while the other would rinse, wring, and hang to dry.

lavaderoOne day, while my mom was busy ignoring us, I started discussing my chores with my sister. I asked her, “Hey, do any of your friends wash their clothes in the backyard?” My sister responded, “I don’t know.” Then I said, “I asked Prieta and Flaka if they wash their clothes outside and they said they’re mom washes their clothes for them!” My sister said, “sssshhhhhh, don’t let my mom hear you. So what do we do?” I said, “I’m gonna tell her it’s not fair. My other friends don’t wash their clothes so we shouldn’t have to wash our clothes either, it’s her job.” My sister said, “She’s gonna get mad.” I said, “But, it’s not fair.” My mom walked over to us, “Are you almost done?” I said “Yes.” Then she said “No you’re not.” I stood my ground, looked her straight in the eyes, rolled my head and whipped my ponytail in the air with my hand on my hip. “Yes, I am.” She said, “No, you’re not.” I said, “Yea, I’m gonna watch Chip n’Dales Rescue Rangers.” She said, “No, I don’t think so.” I said, “I’m done. My friends at school don’t wash clothes outside so I’m not going to either.” She said, “En mi casa tú haces lo que yo te diga.” She grabbed my dainty little frigid hand, dipped it into the cold bucket of water and made me wash more socks. My sister said, “I told you.”

Entre Nopales y Remolinos.

In 1974, my mother crossed the border. She was 11 years old and accompanied by two of her older brothers. She was born and raised in El Jardin, San Luis Potosì along with her twelve siblings. As one of the youngest in her family, her role on my grandfather’s rancho was to oversee los borregos. “Bbbbbaaaaahhhhh,” dicen los borregos.

At the time, her eldest brother and my grandmother living in California awaited their arrival.  Mateo and Griselda had 5 children and generously let other paisanos live in their 3 bedroom, 1 bathroom home. When my mother arrived to Los Angeles, a total of 15 people were sharing his home. The plight of the immigrant is never easy, yet the novelty of new experiences overrides the hardship.

For my mother, the distance that separated her from her mom attracted her to go to California. She was still a child and she missed her mom. The day she left El Jardin she packed some clothes in a plastic bag, while Rogelio, one of her brothers traveling with her, loaded her backpack with bullets and tortas de jamon for the road. She recalls hopping on a bus and saying adios to los borregitos. To settle her fears, her siblings lied to her and told her, “Te vamos a engordar una puerca. Asì cuando regreses para tù Quinceñera, iremos a tener una fiesta muy grande.” She was delighted to hear them say that and left Mexico without any worries. Once she arrived to Tijuana, Mexico with her brothers, she recalls being left at an old, rasquacho motel for one night, while her brothers made arrangements with the coyote to cross the border.

In the morning, a group of people were dropped off near the border by the coyote. The coyote dropped them off in the middle of the desert, “Orale, aqui le van a correr derecho hasta que lleguen a una barda donde se van a ir por debajo. Allì alguien los va recoger por el otro lado.” Everyone nervously got down from the truck and started sprinting like Olympians. Rogelio was too fat to throw my mom on his back, so my mom jumped on Geronimo’s back and piggy backed across the milpas as fast their guaraches could take them. My mother picked up her feet and was whirled away across the border dodging patches of cactus and remolinos. There was one lady who didn’t make it. She ran in tacones and was left behind. Know one knows what happened to her.

My mother and her brothers made it across safely. When they arrived to Los Angeles everyone eagerly greeted them and welcomed them to my uncle’s home. She was enrolled in school and immediately began a new life to obtain a “green card.” She learned how to read and write in 7th grade. She loved to drink chocolate milk and eat coffee cakes at school. She liked to iron and wash dishes at my uncle’s house. She liked learning. She had a lot of love for her brother and his family who treated her like a daughter. In high school she met my dad. After a five year courtship, they got married and gave birth to me and named me Denise. Two years after, they birthed another baby girl and she became my best friend. Seven years after my birth, my parents gave birth to my youngest sister. She became my best friend, too.