Happy Fathers Day to fathers everywhere! This fathers day post is coming from the view and experience of a daughter and the observation of a wife and mother.
When I was a brand new mother and I didn’t have the care and help of my own mother, hijole, I felt pretty abandoned. Mi ama wasn’t going to watch to make sure I was eating plenty of atole blanco to produce the needed milk for my big boy. She wasn’t gonna be there to help my healing process, she had been a strong believer in “la cuarentena” 40 days of my ama’s watchful eye, not for me. My apa had moved on after mom, I didn’t think I could count on him. When I was little, he provided for my needs and well I was a big girl now.
Pero! Gracias a Dios, somehow God put it in his heart to come to the hospital and see us. Oh how my heart exploded with emotions when I saw my apa. I was so anxious for him to meet his grandson, I was anxious about how he saw my gringo husband as a father and I was anxious for him to approve of me in this; motherhood. So much was happening in those days, the visit was so quick, he held his little gringo grandson and loved him and then he was gone. I don’t remember if I thanked him properly, I’ll have to do it when I see him again.
As a daughter, I’m grateful for my apas provision, it was no small task to take care of todo el bonche! But he did it! And I’m grateful for all the little things, he didn’t realize he did.
His playful pinches when we watched la tele. His display of the “conejos” in his strong arms as he flexed his muscles. He was the strongest apa in the world! His willingness to share his little watermelons from his small huerta. His quick response to attend to our school needs when he got a call. His admonitions to stay focused on what mattered in life. Todas estas cosas, all of these details made my heart appreciate him.
Now, let me indulge and talk about the father I’ve looked at for over 3 decades, my Cold Blooded Englishman, el amor de mi vida. My steady Ben when the waters were rough, my steady flaco when the waters were shallow. This is what I’ve seen almost always, even when I didn’t want to see it. One of the tricks to his patience may be that he’s a man of few words. He holds his tongue and words don’t cut. He’s patient with his family, even when it doesn’t look like it. He’s pretty handy, siempre digo, “Ben can fix anything” and so he helps us when we call, and others too. He’s consistent and that makes for a stable home. Perhaps the most telling observation is how much his kids respect him and honor him because they love and appreciate him back.
Fathers are critical in families. If you’ve got a father, grandfather, tio, father figure, that has invested in your life, go ahead and give them that deserved appreciation. If you haven’t had a ‘father’ invest in you, pues, you can, the most important Father is our Abba Father in heaven, he is more than willing to be your Apa.
Learning a second language is such a valuable skill y el español is a beautiful language. When I was a young mom, I knew I had to teach my children Spanish, it was important to me. But it was hard, because I think in English and I didn’t get much opportunity for daily Spanglish with my English speaking husband. By the time my first born was school age I had decided that the only way to teach him Spanish was to immerse him in the language, So I sent him to a Spanish immersion public school. By the end of his kinder year he was understanding Spanish and speaking it, although not fluently. I remember going to visit my apa and my little guerito was understanding his tata, I loved it! Mission accomplished…sort of, I mean he can go into Mexico and get by. Pues, language immersion was quite a different and difficult experience for my oldest brother Angel.
Our apa took an opportunity given to him to immigrate his family and the Zepedas were immersed into the land of opportunity, los Estados Unidos. Coming from the border city of Mexicali, the language was familiar but now they would have to learn it. The culture in California was a mixture of “American” ways, the great American melting pot, un poquito de todo. The people, white, black and of various shades of brown weren’t always very accepting. Ya te imaginas, they were difficult transitions indeed!
My ama faced her culture shocks alone while the kids were at school all day, themselves facing their education in an unknown language, pero, it was what had to be done. Angel was thirteen, and that alone could be explosive. Picture those middle school challenges of your day but add a language barrier and culture shock. He faced them as well as a 13 year old could. He had always “handled his affairs” and helped Ama as much as possible, he didn’t want to burden our parents with his troubles. He faced and managed his new “language and cultural” immersion at school with hard work and pride.
Angel was resourceful and pulled from the wealth of knowledge learned at home, at his previous school and in the streets of his colonia in Mexicali.
His classroom beginnings were rough. Despite his age, he was placed in the younger kids classroom, chiquillos! When he was sharing this story I could hear the mortification in his tone as he said, “They put me in the younger class just because I didn’t know english yet.” He hadn’t been assessed, it had been the quick solution to new arrival immigrant kids from across the border. During math class one day, a very simple math test demonstrated his acquired knowledge but instead of using this to place Angel in a more appropriate classroom, the teacher assumed he had cheated. He separated him from the other students and made him retest. Angel, in his colorful descriptive language said, “It was a blankity blank, easy 6th grade test!” What the teacher considered hard math didn’t phase Angel as long as they weren’t word problems, those he couldn’t read yet. Angel dealt with this hurdle and proved himself beyond proficient in his math skills, but the bigger hurdle was the teacher’s mindsets. Angel’s perseverance didn’t put him in good graces with the teacher. By the ripe old age of 13, he had seen and experienced that sometimes teachers fall prey to favoritism which can skew a person’s vision.
Outside of the classroom the bullies came after him, the new kid. Thankfully, facing the ‘gangas’ in the streets had toughened his hide and prepared him for the new school. On the school bus he had to stand his ground, he didn’t understand the possible insults hurled at him, but he definitely understood the aggressive attempts to intimidate him and he wasn’t going to allow it. One day, just as he got off the bus, he was confronted simply because he wasn’t giving up his seat. It had come time to fight. He defended himself against the boys that came after him to the point that he cut one of them and drew blood. It was a fight for survival and Angel had prevailed only to face the principal who immediately assumed that he was the instigator. I wonder if he knew that it was a few boys against one? In those days, “corporate punishment” was allowed and the principal was ready to administer it, but Angel wasn’t going to allow this unfair treatment. My apa was summoned. He was called out from work, something he couldn’t afford, pero, his son was more important. He made it very clear to the principal that if corporal punishment was needed, he would take care of it. Our father believed that there are times when correction is needed as children are being trained up, but he also felt a need to advocate for his son and protect him.
Eventually he did learn the language. He loved reading comic strips. In Mexicali he had sold the popular Mexican magazines and here in America he discovered Archie and the gang. All their school age dramas proved educational for him. He turned the pages, at first just enjoying the images, then with time he was reading the story line.
Along his “school days” journey he had picked up some things that he tucked into a pocket of his heart:
He knew he could count on our Apa for provision and protection y su amor.
He also reinforced his conviction that bullies must be dealt with, not avoided.
Finally, he discovered that in life you will meet all kinds of people, in all shades and sizes. Some good and some bad. There will be those that are foolishly fearful and ignorant, unwilling to recognize the potential of different people. He would not be one of those people. As an adult his truck driving experiences gave him an appreciation for diversity of people and cultures.
Ya se que, these kinds of stories aren’t new, in Southern California, they’re even common experiences. Listening to my brother’s stories made me proud of him and la familia Zepeda. Hijole! I want more and more of our history in coming to America, and more of our stories of our contribution in civil rights. Living our part of the American dream has come with some cost. I’m grateful for the lessons I’ve learned from my big brother Angel and that he paved the way for our siblings and for me.
“Back in my days” we were raised to respect our older siblings, I had 6 older siblings that I had to give that allegiance to. Pero, sometimes things got fuzzy, lines got crossed with my sister Patty, since we were only 2 years apart we were friends mostly, until I would tick her off for one reason or another and she’d have to check me. I didn’t mess with my big brother Angel. He grew up having to face many of the issues of the 60s and 70s. He didn’t expect others to solve things for him, and he didn’t shrink in fear. When language was an issue, when skin color was a barrier, he handled his affairs In a matter of fact way. And so it was when he saw the girl he wanted to marry. He saw studious, quiet and very petite Mary at school one day and was smitten, but that’s not anything my cool and collected big brother could ever outright admit. Y asi fue, Mary, now his wife of 50 years, said that Angel told himself “That girl, she’s gonna be my wife” And before long she was. He learned how to defend himself while maintaining his head high and obtaining his goals.
By the time I was out of my toddler years he was an adult and I looked at him with a sense of awe in my eyes and always I hoped for his attention and his ‘like’. I’ll admit that even now, ahora de vieja! I still have that hope in me.
In the past year and a half since our father died, Angel and Mary have had their trials. Ben and I went to visit them one weekend in Calipatria, it was a bittersweet weekend. Mary has been diagnosed with stage 4 cancer and like it always is, familia rallies together. It was a hard blow for my big brother and his family. Mary has a big family also and her siblings rallied around her, while my sis Marina and I offered the only help we could think of, our time, labor and whatever knowledge we had gained from taking care of our apa.
Ben put his handyman skills to good use, but after one one project was excused for more important things. Something about my quiet husband drew my stoic older brother out of his shock. He began sharing some of his many adventures from his truck driving career with Mary. Remembering the places they drove to and the people they met along the way refreshed my brother. I was busy with my project, organizing and decluttering and so I missed a lot of these stories. Angel uses colorful language when he talks, and always has a hidden smile when he gives a punch line. It’s very enjoyable to listen to him, and it very much reminds me of when I watched and listened to my apa tell his stories. Somewhere in his story telling his memories shifted and he began talking about some of the youthful adventures he experienced while living in Mexicali. I was glad to be done with the ‘work’, I needed to hear some of these stories, I had been asking for some time for more of our family history. Mary and I sat down with Ben and Angel at the kitchen table to listen to the stories about the Zepedas before my days.
Before we could sit down though, we couldn’t be at the table without our cafecito y pan dulce. The stories came flowing out, a wealth of experiences.
De Jalisco A Baja California
When dad decided it was time to leave Jalisco and take his wife and two small boys to El Norte, he brought them right to the border of Mexicali, Baja California. It was a three day journey by train. Upon arriving they met another family from back home. Immediately they connected and became fast friends. My father was immediately working across the border so their new friends helped my mother as she adjusted to a whole new life.
As if resettling and two busy little boys wasn’t enough on her plate, through the years, my parents were fruitful, four more kids during the Mexicali years and that wasn’t the end. Her busyness made Angel’s adventures possible. He was quite savvy in the colonia and she needed his quickness. It was a win-win situation. He explored every calle, every empty lot, looked into different businesses and stands, he studied his new location. All the while as he made his connections, he was completing the errands assigned to him.
By the time my big brother was around 12 years old he had learned a few things about making money, no opportunity was wasted. Angel took a newspaper route, then, with that money earned, he’d run over to the magazine stand and buy the popular magazines from the doña and resell them. When he couldn’t sell his magazine, he’d rent it for a reasonable price to a willing reader.
On top of all his business, and son duties, he also had school to attend. He and his little brother, my other big brother, are two peas in a pod when they’re together. They went to school with the nuns, and they ran a tight ship, but even there Angel learned to manage, only occasionally did he get busted for a travesura. One he told me of wasn’t exactly his fault but his indirect contribution didn’t help his defense.
In his ‘travels’ through la colonia Loma Linda, Angel found or purchased different useful items, like purchasing upholstery needles from a shop along his path. He used these needles to make darts, a crucial tool for a blooming adolescent boy, verdad? He inserted the needles into tender twigs from tree branches and secured them tightly with string. Then to bring the needed flight to the dart he created cardboard feathers and soon he was ready to beat any boy at a dart throwing game.
One day, his lil brother found another use for the needles. The bicycles lined up at school felt the poke of that upholstery needed. Every tire stood flat and the trail of guilt led right to Angel. The nuns were not too happy with the Zepeda boys that day. Lesson learned, he’d have to be more careful with his supplies. With each experience Angel was learning quite a bit from the streets and my apa was getting worried, Angel was becoming notorious in the colonia.
These recent months have been quite difficult for Angel and Mary, but they have amazed me with how they have persevered, they know that it is God who carries them. Mary is gracious in her surrender to the One who gave her life in the first place. With much dignity she takes care of her “stinker” as she has always called her husband because of his notorious teasing ways. I have always enjoyed hearing our family stories. Talking to my brother recently felt like a secret room that was discovered. He talked about my ama’s family and about the years in Mexicali and of course a favorite of mine is love stories, and I’ve learned about him and Mary’s love story. A wealth of information that spilled from the archives of his memory and Mary’s too. I’m looking forward to more stories and I’m thanking God for my big brother Angel and my cuñada Mary.
Today I write with heartfelt appreciation for the man Cesar Chavez, who in his own struggles and experiences worked hard to help himself and other migrant workers. In another post called Migrant Workers In The Valleys I give a small glimpse of my work day picking grapes in Coachella Valley. Here are some recommendations that come from memories lodged in the recesses of my 9th grade mind.
How To Dress Appropriately For A Hot Desert Day
Summer time in the Imperial Valley brings temperatures as high as 120° Fahrenheit. From the moment the dry hot burning sun rises around 6:30 am it would penetrate our skin and our heads. Asi es, I felt like it was frying us. When we went to work in the grapevines we covered up our skin and heads, otherwise the sun would make us ill. I don’t remember ever using sunscreen. I thought that because I’m brown I wouldn’t get sunburned. Ya se Ya se. Instead, we wore layers to protect our skin from the burning sun. It felt like a double whammy, since the layers made me perspire and others (not me) would sweat. Wet, smelly sweat came through the layers of protection. Por favor, don’t forget the deodorant. The ugly odor that hit me sitting in the back of that truck was offensive! Hijole! I to wanted to keep my paño over my face, but the suffocating heat was worse during that long ride home. Finally, having long hair, my mother always told me, “haste la trenza!” I always ignored her advice to wear the plain old braid, and someone always ended up braiding my dirty hair halfway through the day. My daughter said, “braids are cool today mom.”
Sometimes, even with our efforts to protect ourselves, the sun got to us. One day at work, late in the morning, when we were almost done for the day, a woman about my mothers age, fifty something, went down right in the middle of vines, with half a bucket of uvas. It seemed like it took the mayordomo and some of the other workers a long time to revive her. Hijole! The sun and heat knocked her out! But I never worried that my ama could be affected like that. I was a child, de veras, nothing could happen to my strong ama. Even when she’d come out from under the grapevines, face covered in dirt, and I could tell the extreme heat was burning her cheeks, I just knew she’d be ok.
Drinking The Right Amount Of Water:
Drinking water out in the hot fields was tricky. If you drank too much you could get sick, especially if it was nice and cool. Too much water would swoosh around in your belly slowing you down. Yet you shouldn’t neglect drinking it, waiting too long could also make you sick. We teenagers tended to want to be at the water jug too often. My ama seemed to know just how much we could handle and under her watchful eye we had just enough water to be useful.
We started our days in teams of 3 or 4 people, usually families. We got paid by the boxes that were packed and approved so a picker had to work hard and fast to get grapes over to the packer. Those serious adults who had bills waiting for them and families to feed, they knew how to work. Good pickers got their flow or rhythm and tried not to waste time by stopping. Imagine an aerobic workout. Stretch up to clip the cluster of grapes, bend down to carefully, but quickly place it in the bucket. Two or three steps to the next cluster, clip, drop, one, two, three, and repeat until the bucket is full. Fill two buckets, one for each hand, then briskly walk all the way down the long grape vine row and leave your buckets of grapes to the care of the packer. Just remembering that scorching sun makes me glad my ama rotated us sisters as packers. Picking grapes was hard on the body and packing them beautifully in the box could be hard on the ego, because if the mayordomo didn’t approve it, it had to be repacked, which also meant loss of precious time since we could safely only work until 11am before the sun turned up its heat.
As a little kid, I totally enjoyed life out in the desert, not much bothered me. I didn’t see life as hard, my apa and ama covered me and my siblings well. As a teen I only paid attention to the important stuff like playing sports. I was very much concerned about my ama getting my tennis shoes on time for volleyball season in the fall.
When I was dragged into the peaceful protest regarding the conditions of the grapevine workers, con mucha pena, I confess that I was only worried about how very tired, dirty, hot and ready to go home I felt. I didn’t care about negotiations, or break throughs, the dirt meshed with sweat and heat was not a fair opponent.
Ahora si, I can see that while I was distracted, history was being shaped and God did helped us. Thank God for men and women that are willing to stand up in the face of adversity and fight for a righteous cause as Cesar Chavez did.
I’ve been having alot of conversations with my cuñada Maria. She’s married to my oldest brother Angél. We’ve been talking about everything from childhood, to cooking, to travesuras, those daring exploits my lil brother Hector did and scared my ama half to death. We’ve also talked about our experiences in Mexicali. Quizas, I’m also thinking of Mexicali since I’ll be visiting the border city of Calexico, Ca. soon.
Chinese Food InMexicali
Mexicali, in Baja California Mexico was the last stop just before my apa brought his family to California in the U.S. My parents lived there for a few years and they grew accustomed to it. When dad brought his family to live in America, they still crossed the border into Mexico almost every weekend to do some of their business and socializing. My ama preferred to do her shopping there. She was able to converse and haggle about prices, while we hit the street vendors and looked over the goodies they sold. My apa enjoyed the cocteles de camarón, I loved the mango on a stick with chile y limon, and we all loved the candy, but my ama loved la comida China.
Asi es, Mexicali has a large Chinese population, which probably grew larger when the railroads were completed and the irrigation system project established. My mother looked forward to our Saturdays in Mexicali, but sitting down to eat Chinese food with her family was an especially wonderful treat for her, not to mention that we loved it too. The chop suey, the red carnitas, the egg patties and the fortune cookies still linger in my memory. Pero, once in a while when we had to hurry to get to the linea to cross the border we did stop for a delicious hamburguesa in Calexico, Ca. These hamburgers were traditionally American, embellished just perfectly, with tomate, lechuga and pickles, then topped with a jalapeno chile to make them a great Spanglish burger served with fat papas fritas that we covered in catsup! It was another favorite.
The Vendors En La Linea
Ok, back to my memory. One Saturday we had to get back home quickly. There was no time for treats that day. The line moved along slowly. We avoided eye contact with the kids and moms asking for money, we didn’t know what to do about them, but we loved the vendors who displayed their artesenias, there was always something new in their beautiful crafted work, but our ama was rarely impressed. We were not supposed to look at them either because if we stared too long the vendor would come running to our window. We loved it and did it on purpose, without fail it just got us scolded.
Our family was mixed as far as immigration. Dad, mom and my older siblings had to show their resident alien cards, green cards, but my lil brother and I just had to say “American born” and the officer would ask us where we were born and a few questions in English and let us through. Easy peasy! Except for one day. That particular day, the officer asked to see our birth certificates. My mother emptied her purse and didn’t find the documents. Dad tried to explain the certificates were at home and simply apologized for the mistake. Nope! Not acceptable. A secundaria, to secondary where a full investigation would take place. First we had to get out of the car for the vehicle inspection. The officer talked to my father and through an interpreter to my mother. No amount of explanations, apologies or other proof of residency changed the verdict. The bottom line was that he would have to prove that their last two kids were American born. So dad left us there at the border and he took the rest of my siblings home. Our family separated to find the needed documents. I was always a big chicken when I felt tension, my lil brother was busy looking at everything and my ama wasn’t too happy about the whole deal. Those couple of hours were pretty long, I never wanted to be stuck in secundaria again!
Imaginate my flashback! Boy does history repeat itself! Thirty years later, we had our two youngest boys; with us at the international border, this time in Tijuana, Mexico. Emery was about 7 and Thomas was about 2 years old. Hijole! We had rushed out of the house, I barely remembered to grab my “birth certificate” wallet and we went to Mexico. It was a late night as we returned home, the line was not horrific, we inched through it in just about an hour and half. By the time we reached the officer it was late. The boys were knocked out and I wasn’t ready with the documents, strike 1! Then I couldn’t find the birth certificates, I had accidentally grabbed the pouch that carried their immunizations. Strike 2! I explained, my husband explained, he peered in at the boys, they were knocked out, he could not stir them awake, strike 3! Off to secondary. Before they had us get out of the vehicle I tried shaking the boys awake, then the officer tried again. This time, Emery, the oldest of the two groaned, the officer asked “what’s your name? But Emery just moaned. Oh no! I snapped “Emery, wake up!” He asked again. This time Emery whined and said “I don’t know” Oh my gosh! He was delirious, y ahora?! Meanwhile Thomas just moaned. Ben was frantically calling friends so they could go to the house and get the birth certificates. Then, the officer asked, do you have a family picture? You all would think, Of course every mother has a family picture in her wallet, verdad? Bad mother! Bad mother! SMH is how the officer looked at me. Then the heavens opened up and Ben found a family picture in his paint splattered wallet. There we were the happy Greene’s. By this time almost another hour had passed and they hadn’t gotten us out of our vehicle yet so the officer scolded us about our carelessness and explained that many children are stolen and drugged to get them across the border, he had to be sure that they were truly ours, by now Emery was waking up and answering questions. What a scary moment. What an ugly reality of that kind of danger.
The Things I Learned in Secundaria
I can only finish this post with a reminder of a few things I find important:
Don’t leave home and go into another country without your documents!
Be ready to show them when you’re asked.
Carry a family photo. 😀
And be grateful to the God of the universe! He always makes a legitimate way to help his children.
Miriam Webster defines volcano with these words “a vent in the crust of the earth or another planet or a moon from which usually molten or hot rock and steam issue” and “something of explosively violent potential” Doesn’t that sound like the Middle School experience? Verdad que si? Just ask any 6th, 7th or 8th grader, they’ll tell you how hard it is, IF you can get them out of their sullen state. My middle school initiation was perhaps the worst ever!A 6th grader is supposed to be the top dog in elementary school. You know, the ones everyone looks up to. I was ready for my time to shine in that place.
Leaders of the Middle School
Back in the ancient days of the 70s, in my little town of Calipatria, the classroom announcements for the new school year was a huge deal. It was both an exciting and nerve racking time, I mean our happiness rested on who was gonna be our teacher and if my current best friend would sit in the desk next to us.
The hot scorching desert sun could not stop us from that mile-long walk across the tracks. We rushed past the gas station, the grocery store, the laundromat, the Bank of America, the Circle K, park and library. Our sun scorched skin simply soaked in more sun. We had to know what our future held. This was an exciting time for me and my sister Patty, she was gonna be in 8th grade, imaginate! Even though I would barely see her around I was so proud of her, 8th grade, wow! Y pues, I was sorta following in her steps, 6th grade, a big kid in the elementary level, I needed this promotion.
Z is for Last in Line
Zepedas were ALWAYS at the bottom of the list. Last in line, y porque? Totally not fair! But it was so. My eyes automatically went to the bottom of the lists for our names. Pattys homeroom teacher was Mr. Carter. Hijole! That’s the one she didn’t want, she said he was mean. I wondered what a homeroom was?
Imaginate my dismay when I did not see my name in either 6th grade classes. Maybe I flunked? Que verguenza to do 5th grade again? No que muy Honor Roll student, what would my friends say about me? And my apa, oh no…
Then, I saw a whole new class was posted, my name, Rosalba Zepeda was found at the bottom of that list. A hybrid class with both 6 and 7th graders. Que? A mixed class? Porque? Mrs. Lara was gonna be my new teacher. She was kinda different because she had married Mr. Lara and he was Mexican-American. She was white! I had never seen that! I didn’t even know that was allowed. Mrs. Lara was new to our school and a new wife and new to a mixed classroom. Was the school experimenting with us? Was there no place for people with Z names or new teachers who dared step out of the box?
The walk home was long and hot, I was burning up. My friends didn’t know what to think, they all had their names on the 6th grade roster. Patty was too angry about her homeroom teacher to feel bad for me because I was gonna be in that weird hybrid class.
My Middle School Hybrid Class
When September rolled around, I was tense. My classroom was out in a bungalow separate from the middle schoolers and also separate from the elementary kids. I felt like we were deserted, I wonder if Mrs. Lara felt the same? Was my class a 6th grade class or a 7th grade class? I had decided I was going to take my ‘big kid’ roll anyway, those 7th graders weren’t going to boss me around. I entered the class room looking confident, but feeling nervous. I picked my desk in front of the class. I didn’t want to test the 7th grade cool kids, besides I still had an honor roll reputation to uphold. It was going to be a long year. Here’s are the things that are bookmarked in my memory for that mixed year:
I sat on my desktop and broke it!! Asi es, right in the front row for all to see, just before Mrs. Lara had called the class to quiet down, I was confidently sitting on my desktop table when all of a sudden, crack! I went down a notch. I managed to jump off as everyone laughed but the humiliation almost killed me. Mrs. Lara didn’t laugh.
During recess, I made a stand to keep my victory in the game of Caracol and paid dearly for it. The 7th grader leader decided I wasn’t worth her acquaintance so everyone else followed her lead. I was marked as the target the entire hybrid 6th grade year. When girls decide to be mean, hijole! Cuidate!. Needless to say, it was a lonely year. Mrs. Lara saw the separation, and was on my side.
This bookmark will probably be red flagged. It happened like this. One day during PE our class got to participate in a softball game with the mighty 8th graders. That meant I was gonna be with Patty! Yes! Those rare moments in school when you get to be close to one of your big sisters and feel real safe and secure. Softball wasn’t Patty’s strength, but some of her other peers, like the catcher was a superstar. Patty was feeling her disdain every time she went to the plate. Her class was losing. She was sick and tired of the “trash talk” She walked to plate and positioned herself to bat. The catcher cried out “She’s no batter” She gripped that bat, ready to kill that ball. Strike! And she tensed, poised. “Strike Two!” the catcher taunted as she swung and missed. Her lips thinned and began to get dark purple. That was always a sign to me that I had gone past the point of no return and she was gonna kick my butt! To top it off my enemies laughed and taunted her and me. I held my breath. The catcher pricked her one last time “she’s no batter, strike three!” Patty didn’t even look at the ball being pitched, she swung and struck out. Without missing a beat, she threw her bat down. She turned around and confronted the catcher, throwing her to the ground making her face her taunting words, the volcano had exploded, the pressure of 8th spewed out. We all ran to the plate and surrounded the girls, the chatter and provoking challenges “Don’t let her get away with that” were smothered as the teachers put a quick end to the fight. Mr. Carter easily lifted both girls and walked them to the principal’s office. Somehow some pressure had been lifted off me. I looked at my arch enemy and dared her with my eyes to mess with me again. It would be a giant I would eventually have to face in middle school, pero, for the moment, I felt invincible, that was my big sister, I dared anyone to mess with her.
Those experiences shape us as adults. It’s not “just” puberty. We experience that humiliation that helps keep our heads from getting too big later in life. We learn how to empathize and notice when someone isn’t being treated fairly or when someone feels left out because we’ve been there before. And when we look that bully in the eye and make a stand, we learn that we can over come anything.
Middle School is not an easy time, I’m sure everyone has their stories of fear and rejection. If you’ve got a child in middle school, remember those days and use them to help your kid make it and maybe even thrive.
Halloween always creeps up on me and it has always been a sticky tricky day for me. When I was a little girl in Imperial Valley, I had to do what I could to make it fun. Then as an adult I tried to ignore the day as much as possible, like my ama tried. Imposible! kids don’t let you ignore it. One of the biggest candy hoarding days of the year, parents need to recognize, verdad que si?
As a little girl, it was the one holiday that I rallied for as far as dressing up. Don’t get me wrong, I was not trying to be a princess or any silly girly character. But the unwritten and unspoken rule was that to trick or treat you had to be in costume. I would start working on my mom and sisters a few days ahead. I needed three things to make my day a success. Primero, I needed permission and a chaperone or partner to go out and knock on doors for candy. Luego, I needed money for the yearly carnival and finally, I needed a costume. Halloween was up to me, my ama didn’t highlight the day in any way shape or form. She kind of dreaded the day, because all the kids in the barrio knew she had her tiendita, and they expected some great candy from her store. Halloween almost always meant bankruptcy for her negocio.
The week before Halloween the kids were talking about what they were gonna dress up as, or what costumes their mom had bought them. I was always embarrassed that I wasn’t getting a cool costume so every year I said I wasn’t dressing up. Every year I said it was dumb and every year I didn’t mean it. Y cada ano I’d give into the pull of trick or treating.
Now that I think about it, my ama always enjoyed my silly chicanadas that I called costumes. I would jimmy rig a costume mostly out of my apas clothes and get into my sister’s makeup. Que one year a baby, another year a hobo, a fat man, a farmer. Basically the same idea always with a different name.
12 Year Old Transition
In small towns I think growing up and getting to that serious behavior that a 12 year old should have, takes a little longer. I was not serious about growing up and morphing into a teenager. I didn’t care much about being cool, I couldn’t start thinking of makeup, gracias a Dios! Wearing Makeup was taboo for us younger girls.Silly boys weren’t noticing me yet. Pero, I was real serious about getting lots of candy.
One particular year, I had secured permission and a partner to trick or treat, my sister Patty was gonna keep an eye on me. I always had to work extra hard on begging and pleading with Patty. She hated taking care of me, she was already in that cool teenage age and walking clear across town to trick or treat was not cool! I promised to give her a lot of candy and quien sabe what else I promised, but in the end I prevailed upon her.
All I had left to create was my costume for my night of fun and candy. I had the same old options so I think I decided on a combo costume of an old fat hobo man, muy original verdad? Being giddy with excitement I decided to go extra on the fat and stuffed my pants and shirt, bien exagerada, I could barely move.I was ready, with my big bag on hand, we left. The getting to the carnival part is a fuzzy memory, I’m guessing that somebody gave us a ride there because I can’t imagine Patty agreeing to all that work. Anyway, we were at the carnival for a short time since my pocket book was very light. It didn’t matter to me anyway, I was anxious to trick or treat a lot of kids already all over town, I didn’t want to miss out.
To maximize on trick or treating candy you have to have a lot of energy and a good plan. Patty wasn’t interested in the plan I had mapped out in my head. She gave me one option. Leaving the school grounds and walking past the middle school and the elementary school, all connected, then turning left would land me on the West side. Going further, past the Circle K then turning right going several blocks further got me to the Rich side of town. Guess what Patty was pushing for? She was getting crabby and I was getting anxious, especially since I was pretty slow with my fat man costume. The padding kept creeping down my leg, almost tripping me. I kept having to re-stuff myself and hold on to my backside to keep the pillow from falling out.
But God had mercy on me and we got to several houses that gave lots of candy before she headed us toward home. I milked it as much as I could knocking on doors as we made our way home. I was whiny and grunting and she was so mad that I had tricked her into doing this, we were both pretty tired by the time we reached the railroad tracks. Suddenly our senses were very alert and we had to put off our tired feelings, and watch out for danger, of the El Cucuy kind. We were on Mainstreet, it was way too dark to take the shortcut. Huge semi trucks occasionally passed by and we so appreciated the bright lights those trucks flashed, we stayed dangerously close to the pavement, hugging it. I, the “fat man” was behind Patty and every time I heard crackling, or scraping sounds, I was sure El Cucuy was behind me, I couldn’t turn around, it would be my demise, so I quietly whined, hating my sissy lala emotions. I’m not the hugging type, but that night I was ready to pounce on my sister for support. Talk about a Halloween nightmare on Mainstreet, hijole! Crossing the tracks and walking that long dark road just before we saw the houses of the barrio was maybe a 10 minute walk but my stuffing and the darkness made it the longest walk ever. Suddenly, I could appreciate why my ama banned us from being out at night. Halloween was one of the few exempted days and I wondered why that day was ok? We walked fast as I was trying to keep my belly intact.
It wasn’t too late in the night, but those railroad tracks and the empty lots made it the perfect scene in a scary movie, I had imagined it all in those few minutes. Such relief flooded us when we entered the safety of our barrio. Kids were still out and about and Patty loosened up. I took advantage and knocked on a couple more doors in my hood. All was well that Halloween. Pero que susto!
We got home exhausted. I tossed my hefty candy bag onto the table, happy with my loot. Oh how sweet home was. I plopped myself down on the chair in the dining room, I was coming undone. So as I was pulling the stuffing out of me my ama was laughing at the image I created.
Ama: Como te fue?
Me: Ama, fue el día más feliz de mi vida!
My mother let out a gleeful carcajada.. Her way of laughing started from the bottom of her belly and rolled out past her mouth. I loved to make her laugh, it was always so contagious. She had quite a laugh out loud moment.
Counting all my worldly experiences of all my 12 years of living, I had declared, this had been the happiest day of my entire existence. I had already forgotten the pain in the butt it had been to walk. El Cucuy didn’t come for me, the tracks and all my fears were forgotten.
I was pretty proud of myself whenever she told the story of my “happiest day of my life”. I’m so happy to have that treasure in my vault. The contagious laughter has carried on through her grandson Jonathan, everytime he has that LOL gut roaring laughter I remember my feisty ama.
This will be another post on birthdays, inspired by a birthday celebration this week. That first day of your new year should be highlighted with hopeful wishes and if possible splashed with happy events. I’ve got quite a few birthday celebrations and shout outs for October on my calendar and of course, mi cumpleanos is this month too. I always love the happy birthdays I receive all day long. My dear friend’s daughter will be 15. Wow! Los años vuelvan, they pass so fast you miss the details. That whole birth story is a miracle in itself! Pero, I’ll leave it for another post. I do remember when she called to tell me she was in labor. After an agonizing attempt at labor, she had to have a C-section, then her little girl was placed into her arms. Before we knew it, we were talking about her fifteenth birthday! Quince anos! hijole. Of course, quince, triggers images of quinceañera traditions.
For those readers who do not know what a quinceanera is, I’ll give you the Rosie understanding. Basically, it’s fiesta that embarks a 15 year old latina to womanhood; a rite of passage. It was predominantly a Mexican tradition that spread across Latin America. Although it is very likely that mesoamerica culture influenced these rites, the arrival of the Spaniards brought in the Catholic tradition. This milestone unites family far and wide and for the 15 year old chica who hasn’t experienced much grownup socializing, she is presented to society and will lead the way on her big day. In my case, as I flashback to my big day, I was dragging my feet.
A Quinceañera looks a lot like a wedding day celebration, when Ben saw my quince album he was shocked to see me looking like a bride. It dawned on me that it is the precursor to a young woman’s wedding day. Creanme! It truly does provide that intense level of stress in preparations.
How far a family takes a Quince will depend probably on the pocketbook and the Joneses.
Here’s a minimal list (don’t read that as one word, because Quinceañeras are probably not for minimalists) of some of the traditions seen in a Quinceañeras.
A gown for la quinceañera. (I couldn’t, wouldn’t wear a gown, that was my sisters and mothers first battle. My heart was in the volleyball, basketball courts and in the baseball field, there was no place for a dress in my life, much less a gown! My dress had to be simple, easy to walk in, easy breath in. If it was possible to be comfortable in a dress, I had to have that dress! It wasn’t like I was getting married anytime soon, acuerdense, in my book, marriage was for the blind)
A Tiara and bouquet and all the nice accessories. (Thankfully I was only required to wear a flower in my hair. I did have to hold on to a bouquet, it was so awkward staring into my bouquet during pictures trying to look soft, serene and grown up.)
You need a church for the mass. This is the formal or serious portion of the rite of passage. A ceremony that would involve prayers of gratitude and commitment to living a moral life. (In my small town there was only one catholic church, so there was no searching needed just booking a date, this might have been the least stressful portion of preparing)
You must obtain a hall for the fiesta following the mass for the rest of the celebration.
A court traditionally requires 14 damas and their chambelanes, this could be equivalent to bridesmaids and groomsmen in a wedding. The court is dressed elegantly to accent the quinceañera in her procession. (Do you know how difficult it is to find friends to fill these positions? Thank God, I wore my hair short in those days because I would have pulled it all out just choosing a style of dress, forget about the color. Then, after all that drama, the parents decided to pull their kid out, the expense on their formal dresses was too much. I ran around asking good friends, then friends, then acquaintances. It got so desperate that I was ready to ask strangers to help me. Honestly, in the end, ya ni se, I don’t know how many kids actually accompanied me that day)
You need a valtz, this is one of those Spanglish words that evolve from simple mispronunciation. The word is waltz. (Things I remember about the valtz is just trying to coordinate practices, not easy when everyone plays sports and practices after school. Then the other thing is the dread of dancing, last time I had participated in a formal choreographed dance was my 4th grade square dance!)
A Madrina y Padrino are called upon. These godparents are chosen from the close friends or family that are invested in your family. They help with the hardwork and with some costs. (In my case, my big brother and his wife were the designated godparents. It’s tricky because, how weird is it to call your own brother and sister-inlaw nino o nina? How about addressing them by usted, when they had been tu all my life.)
The dinner: These meals can get really elaborate. Proper place settings with the charger, then the plate and each side has salad and dinner fork, knife and spoon, topped with a nice linen napkin. (For the Zepedas, bring on the birria,with no stiff formalities, just good meat con arroz y frijoles and of course tortillas)
You must have cake. Like everything else in this celebration, Cakes for Quinceneras are wonderful. (By the end of mi Quincenera I was ready to have my piece of cake and eat it.)
You must be a grateful quincenera! Asi es, everybody is working hard for your special day (putting on a gratitude attitude would have been a huge blessing for my ama)
My limited list is based on my experience. When I look at my photo album, I realize it was a simple 1980s presentation. Pero, not so easy to do for my hardworking parents. I wish I would have had a better attitude about my quinceanera. My older sisters were into it, happy to help our ama while I was a sulky 14 year old, niña chiquiada! I was a spoiled little girl, not willing to wear that beautiful big gown, they had dreamed of wearing. Hijole! Thank God they got to wear their beautiful big white wedding gowns.
I started this post by boasting about how much I love my birthday celebrations and mostly I have enjoyed all the attention. I do regret not being more grateful for all the investment and effort my parents gave to my birthday party at 15 years old. Here’s a resolution. I’ll keep my eyes and heart on Jesus and when I get to heaven and see my parents and sisters I’ll tell them thank you and I might even hug them 😊 (I’m one of those rare Latinas that is awkward about hugging). Meanwhile I’ll ask my sis who is here and tangible, to accept my love and gratitude. She always celebrates my birthdays and now after 40 years I can see clearly and appreciate the labor of love.
What memory stands out in your quinceañera? Or what new traditions exist for today’s quinceañera?
Fathers Day is tomorrow, it has been creeping up and almost catching me unawares.
As I’m sitting here pondering my dad and the dads I know, I’m leaning toward writing about a dad and his girl/s. I wish you could see my son with his 3 girly girls. He’s a tough daddy, a busy guy, but not too busy to take his little ladies on a date. I’ve got a kind hearted nephew who patiently chases after his tough tiny little dynamite Rosalie with her little sister in his arms. I’m not sure what amazes me more, his consistent patience or her endless energy.
Watching my Benjamin and the one little princess who quietly tamed the males in her home and her hardnose mama has been intriguing and sometimes frustrating, afterall I’m the queen of my home…Verdad que si?
Hats off to Dads
I’m so grateful for fathers who put their hands to the plow. Providing, praying, playing, platicando and just plain participating in the lives of their children
From what I can tell, dads have an interesting dilemma in their hands. They’ve got to be generous, gentle, protective and they’ve got to be tougher, smarter and faster than anyone else’s dad, hands down! For the record, my apa was.
The Value of Words
My dad wasn’t a man of too many words. He said what he needed to say and rarely did he repeat himself. He didn’t pull out useless degrading words to accuse us with, but on the other hand, words of endearment for us were not heard from him. That was my norm, it was ok, until I became my Benjamins. I didn’t realize how much I truly did yearn for words of endearment and words of approval, quizás un poco exagerada with my need for them.
As an adult, words are my commodity. Bad words and name calling are worthless, so I don’t carry them in my vault, except maybe to call myself a mensa, not good, I’m sure God doesn’t want to hear me calling myself a dummy. Good words of appreciation are valuable to me and I make sure I use them generously as needed. Now, words of endearment are like costly jewels, I do have a wealth of them in my heart and my mind, but it costs me a lot to hand them out. Esperate, it’s not because I don’t want to, I’m just afraid they’ll get thrown or lost in a bin of multitudes of words. I didn’t realize how much I truly did yearn for words of endearment and words of approval, yet it’s when I don’t get them from my loves that I realize I need them, me entiendes? My Benjamin shows me everyday that he loves me by his actions. His willingness to care for me and our kids, his patience to help, ves? But when he looks at me and tells me, “I love you Rosie” Hijole! That cold blooded Englishman steals my heart again and again.
Learning to Appreciate
I’m very thankful for my apa. In his old age and in my “mature” years, I’ve been able to look past the days of trouble and appreciate the earthly father God gave me.
For too long I saw his terrible shortcomings and focused on things that I didn’t get from my apa. Now that my apa is gone, now that I’m not too busy taking care of him, I can look back and see what he did give me and I appreciate him.
I know now that I would have loved to hear these words from my apa “Si hija, te aprecio mucho” It was a bit awkward to even write it. Pero, I’ve also learned that his part in my life demonstrated his love and care and I’ve chosen to embrace the love he offered and put it on like a comfortable mantle.
Now I can look back into my experiences with him and see his love for me. Mira, I’ll show you 🙂
Middle School rite of passage
Middle school was a hard season, hay si! Picture every middle schooler in America feeling my extreme pain right now. Let me fill you in, I was desperately and hopelessly in love with a boy who didn’t even know I existed since 5th grade. 3 años! Then, ALL my friends we’re all grown up, they were real teens, I hated when one of my friends said “Oh my god! I’m gonna die, I started my period today” and another said, “Oh I know, I was so bloated last week, all I wanted to eat was limon and chile” I would roll my eyes, so jealous for those terrible pains. Ya se, ya se, there had to be something wrong with me. I was probably the only 13 year old and eighth grade girl in the whole world that didn’t have a period. It was so humiliating when the girls would look at me and ask me with their eyes if it had come and immediately their eyes would pity me. Sometimes we would discuss the whole matter, describing their first cycle, telling me what to expect and what to do. I didn’t want to hear it.
And so it was that I suffered like this well into the school year. Now that I think of it, my poor ama! 4 feisty lil latinas to raise. Patty & I gave up watching for the possible symptoms.
One morning as I dressed for school I fed my moodiness thoughts about how terrible life was treating me. My red polyester dress pants matched my red angry mood. Argh! And that day, the pants were quite apretaditos. I wanted a reason to skip school, but no, what if today would be the day the love of my life noticed me? I walked to school lost in my touchy thoughts. It turned out to be another long hot unnoticed day.
After lunch, we were back in our homeroom classroom. I could hear my dad saying “Para acabarla de amolar”! And to make matters worse, we were having a test. Hot sweaty, sticky, pero I finished my test and got up to turn it in. When I walked back, my friend whispered that I had sat in something, my pants were wet. I turned around and rushed to the teacher for permission to go to the bathroom. I was ready to die! Why in the world hadn’t I noticed? What did I sit in? Ya saben right? My long awaited visitor showed up. Wow! How could I even welcome her with this mess in my hands? I couldn’t go back to the class, I needed to get home? But how? Everyone would know.
I rushed to the nurses office and told her my terrible dilemma. No catching her breath in an “Oh my” She asked how I felt and started trying to figure out how to get a hold of my apa.Que?! Oh no. He worked for the city, he was busy. They just needed to find my big sis Marina. She would take care of this. Worst case scenario was that since I was feeling fine I could walk home alone, she could lend me a sweater from the lost and found to wrap around my waist. I sat there feeling quite miserable, knowing dad wasn’t gonna come, then he walked in. My apa looked at the nurse and thanked her and didn’t ask her any questions. He looked angry, but then again we Zepedas always look angry. I tried not to look at him, I just got up and walked out with him and hopped into his truck. I was worried he would see my stained pants. We had a 5 minute drive to the house, the longest drive de mi vida! He finally asked “Que paso?” and looked over at me. This very brown girl turned dark pink with humiliation! I didn’t know how to tell him, by this point in my life I was a liar and never had any problem making things up. But the dark pink face told another story. “Se mojo el pantalon” Like my pants walked over to a puddle and got wet all on their own. He knew, and he didn’t look angry anymore. That was it. He dropped me off at home and had to get back to work, his break was short. I was relieved, he knew and accepted my story. I was happy, I was an official girl teen, pimples and feminine napkins and everything else!
My ama was surprised, then worried to see me. The “not talking about your period or any femine issues” taboo talk is probably for another conversation, even now I can hear her say “de esas cosas no se hablan”. Somehow like we “women” do, we communicated with our eyes and she provided what I needed for this very important passage.
I never forgot this moment with my apa, but only these days have I been able to grasp the covering of love my apa gave me that school day, in this small detail, which was HUMUNGOUS for me, with very few words he participated in this growing up passage of my life.
The Gift of Healing
Sabes, he has given me, given us, my siblings too, some more invaluable words and a view of what his heart was experiencing as he transitioned into the very difficult tercera edad.
Very slowly I’ve been gleaning still through his belongings and his paperwork and to my delight I discovered some of his journal pages. Refreshing, like our San Diego breeze.
His life turned upside down at 80, otra vez, I’ll have to tell you in a different conversation about his 80th year. It seems that he tried to cope with the difficulties through journaling. He wrote on his 81 birthday “This year was very hard for me because of the things that happened to my body…Thank God that he helped me so much. Also, I’m very grateful with all my children who all gave me their support and help”
Can you feel what this dramatic latina felt when she read those words of approval and appreciation she longed for? I am shouting on the mountain tops, telling the whole world, my apa wrote, bien clarito, about his appreciation for us.
My apa has given me a valuable gift of words this fathers day, written in his own script.
Feliz Dia de los Padres!!
Happy fathers day to all fathers and men who step in the gap to fill those fatherly needs. A personal hats off to daddys who give a part of themselves to their little girls, press on, don’t let their dramatics intimidate you, hopefully and thankfully we grow up to appreciate our apas.
Today marks 32 years that me and my siblings have walked this earth without our ama. Que dramatica! Everytime a memorial day comes out of the closet I think I must be sad and well, and I am. That’s when I have to choose not to be a chillona and I must make a conscious choice to turn my sadness into something better. I’m gonna text my sis in a while and remember with her our ama.
I miss her, she is a feisty latina woman! She had to be, with 4 strapping boys that had plans of their own and 4 feisty latina daughters! If her command and tone didn’t get the job done, she pulled out her secret weapon: “Vas a ver! Cuando venga tu Padre” Yikes! We never wanted my apa to get involved. Just writing this makes me sit up straight.
In her house the rule was “Aqui van hablar espanol” and we did… our version, el Spanglish.
She wanted us well versed in spanish for when we went to visit la familia en Guadalajara. Ama wanted to prove that we were indeed Mexicanos to the bone. In our opinion, we were the best spanish speakers in the barrio, but when we were in the colonias of Guadalajara…and the primos laughed at our spanish, we showed them. We loosened our tongue into english mode, accent and all, they didn’t know any better. Hay si, muy muy is what they judged us with. We weren’t trying to seem songrones, stuck up, acting like we were better. But hey! Who wants to be laughed at? For our ama we stayed in spanish mode as needed and I’m glad I did, because today I’m muybilingue, by my own assessment of course.
My ama worried that we’d lose our spanish and Mexican but because of her we didn’t even here in America. She was happy to know that even with my gringo I wouldn’t take off my Mexican.
Hijole! I do regret not appreciating her enough. But, I am comforted to know that as long as I “stay saved” Christianese for stay connected to Jesus, allowing him to cover me over my Mexican American Heritage I’ll see her again and I’ll talk to her in spanish and maybe in Gods heavenly language.