Feliz Dia de las Madres! I hope all you moms enjoy a beautiful day, or two. And for all you children, hear some nagging unsolicited advice from an ama of 31 years. If you’re able, give your momma that special attention, you’ll make her day grand. I tell you, life is but a vapor, appears for a little time. For you young amas, watch out for those stinking attitudes.
Don’t Be Too Busy
I was a busy daughter, probably since the moment I started walking and because of that my “me and mi ama” moments were few and short. I’m glad I have them though. I’m sitting here wondering, should I tell them about her ways with us? Or should I share with them the quick episodes? Maybe I’ll do both.
My Ama Celebrated Us
With 8 kids to raise, a house to keep up, mom didn’t have time for all those other things, like birthday parties or honor roll or sports banquets. Besides that, she didn’t speak English or Spanglish and she didn’t drive.
For our birthdays ama would cook our favorite dish and make sure we got our birthday wishes.
When I got to the rough rocky stage of adolescence, I wore that stinky face attitude that could appreciate nothing! And I was always right.
When I was turning thirteen, I got it in my head that I should have a birthday party because that’s what was supposed to happen for a birthday to be legit. Honestly, I’m sure I didn’t necessarily ask for a party, the plan just started coming together. How hard could it be? I explained to my ama that it was just for people my age, you know los jovenes. Que vergüenza! If my parents were home! More embarrassing were her serious hospitable ways of cooking for the whole barrio! Besides, pozole wasn’t a very cool meal for a soon to be thirteen year old. Somehow I managed to provide potato chips, not tortilla chips and salsa, no it had to be papitas in barbecue flavor. Teenagers didn’t eat much anyway right? LOL!
How do adolescents do that? How do they manage to make a parent feel stupid for doing the right thing? But they do. I’ve been on both sides of the situation.
Interpreting the facial expressions of teens
There should be a translation card for the facial language that has been used by 12 year olds and teens throughout the ages.
The rolling of the eyes: when you tell your teen to do something like be polite and greet ALL your tios and tias and be nice when they squeeze you in a hug and kiss. The indignant belittling stare: when your Ama says “Rosalba limpiaste tu cuarto?” What? Doesn’t she know she’s supposed to clean my room? The angry glare: when you hear “No puedes ir” the eyebrows knit together and you argue that you MUST go! I was one of those nasty lil 12 year olds that mastered that angry look (now i’m wishing I could tell my ama how sorry I am). There was also that blank or confused look: when pretending I didn’t hear the direct command. “Es que no oí” Lies! I’ve told you that my ama could easily be heard 😁. And finally the “I’m about to cry look”: when I was busted “Ama es que no sabia que se hico tarde!” The rule was you get home before it’s dark outside, Before I snuck the tears were piling up outside in the dark, “Pero ama, I was too busy playing, I didn’t know it was night time!”
There’s more but you get the picture, Rosalba was always innocent, a victim of circumstance. Let’s get back to my almost thirteen year old party planning shenanigans. Mira, I knew what my party needed, my ama and my big sisters would have to step aside.
The Birthday Party
I got the word out for my birthday party. I knew nothing about music but my older brothers did, so I had the record player ready. (Or maybe it was the 8-track player?) The chips y el Kool-aid were on the table, let the dancing begin. Although I was still very much a tomboy and a little kid at heart and mind, there was that awful adolescent voice stealing my kid fun with such ideas like “you’re not a little kid anymore, stop behaving like one” Hijole! I hated it, but I thought I had no choice but to get serious and practice what the older kids did, like dancing.
All of us wishing for the simple days of cake piñatas and candy. “Dale dale dale…” Shake out those dumb thoughts, what tragedy! Too old for pinatas and the wonderful dulces that gushed out when it was cracked open. No more freeze tag or escondidas, unheard of to have a thirteen year old playing hide and seek! I can only lift my hands and thank God that the adolescent rules allowed for sports organized or in the barrio.
So the big day came for my birthday party. Were there decorations? Yup, just the essential streamer. To this day I have to be schooled on the importance of presentation 😁 but like my ama I can serve you a delicious feast.
The details are fuzzy now. De veras, I’m not omitting juicy party “tea”. The boys from the barrio came, and some boys from my class room. Obnoxious boys, but the one boy I hoped would come, didn’t. I never did directly invite him, I figured he would get the word of mouth invite. I was not gonna go chasing after a dumb boy, that’s not the way my big sister Lupe rolled.
There we sat, boys munching on chips, their only available food, helping them ignore the big step of asking a girl to dance. Meanwhile we girls sat on the couch scared to death that we wouldn’t get invited to dance or worse! That one of us would be the last girl to be asked.
For a while, my ama and apa were not seen. A strange thing because my parents were strict about us staying away from boys. Pero, now I know that while things were “safe” they made themselves scarce. When I was slow dancing with a boy shorter than me, imagínate! My other nickname was Shorty! I was kinda hovering over this boy, leaning heavily on him. It probably took every ounce of strength out of him to keep himself from being crushed! Hay si, “slow dancing, swaying to the music”. All of a sudden! There was my ama in the kitchen and my apa sitting at the dining room table! Que verguenza! sheesh, all my friends saw my parents watching us, pero tambien, what relief. We didn’t have to dance anymore and, more importantly,
She brought a birthday cake. Oh what a rest it is to have an ama who thinks of her children, even when they’re thoughtless!
I do thank God so much that she never let my foolish adolescent attitudes affect her love or care of me or any of her kids. She was too busy to plan a “socially acceptable” birthday party for 8 kids and a husband every year, but she always managed to fill in the details of our life with her love and ways.
Happy Mother’s Day to all the mothers who are in the thick of the battle from changing diapers to fighting with teens, and to all the mothers whose babies have grown up and moved away, that’s where I’m at. To all the mothers whose babies are in heaven, and to all the mothers struggling with fertility. And to the mothers who have fulfilled that role for another mothers children. Feliz Dia De Las Madres, rejoice in the blessing of your inheritance momma.
Will you share with me a memory or your mother in the comments below?
Note from the editor(a.k.a. Daniella): This post is brought to you after a hard weekend full of prayer and a roller coaster of emotions. It was traumatic for my mother to write and for us to read and reread it over and over again during the editing process. If you are sensitive to topics like death, this post may be too vivid and triggering for you. As I told my mom, “The writing is good. A little too good.” I felt like I was in the hospital experiencing it all through my mothers eyes. It feels a little weird posting these stories in a blog format, but my mothers stories are finally being shared and I hope you enjoy taking this journey with us.
My Big Sister Patty
My sister Patty was older by two years, but our relationship didn’t sit on the hierarchy tier, or like my sister Marina likes to put it “the chain of command”. In case some of you don’t know it, or if it is a thing of the past, listening and respecting your older sibling is a way of life, at least it was with the Zepedas in Calipatria. However, Patty and I were peers, we shared our hearts alike, I didn’t consider her to be older, nor did she treat me like a little sister.
Since we were little girls, we shared a room and for a while a bed. More importantly we shared secrets and dreams. We coined our gibberish word “Kernitos” when our nephews came along and later definitely saw our own kids as little kernitos, so sweet and chubby.
We had our demons and insecurities to fight about but we always came together to compare notes, me echaba un ojo, we checked on one another. Oh! what a rest I had with this sister friend of mine. Middle school, boys and drama were such a pain and I was so glad to have her so close.
Middle School Love… and Heartbreak
During my season of boy craziness, I was “madly in love” with a boy since 5th grade, but he didn’t know I existed. My mind always conjured up wonderful tales on those rare occasions whenhe happened to look in my direction, I always told Patty that he had looked at me and we would plan a strategy on how to get him to keep looking my way. On that day, when he would finally notice me, I would be nonchalant, throw my hair back as if he were just like all the other boys who looked my way, insignificant.
Patty knew how much I loved my boy and it bugged her. She didn’t think I was too plain or ugly, in fact she thought he was stupid to not notice me. she thought I needed to move on. I agreed, but I didn’t know how.
One day, she said in the taboo english mode “I have to tell you something”. Bad news. I imagined it was about her. Like the great sister and loyal friend she was, she said “vamos a tirar la basura” Both of us, mi ama and I were shocked, that she was volunteering to throw out the trash. Our backyard was a short walk, enough for her to tell me her secret, she even carried the can! Hijole, it was gonna be serious. She didn’t waste time, it was always her way to put the bottom line first.
“Rosie I heard that someone else likes like him”
I mean, I shouldn’t have been surprised he was the cutest guy in our whole middle school, maybe even the world (rolling eyes), but it worried me.
I told her “He looked at me today.” We were walking back from our trash throwing and Patty put her arm around me. Maybe because I was almost taller or maybe because I could feel her pity I was uncomfortable.
“She’s going after him, I saw them talking at the park today… He’s stupid anyway. If he likes her, he’s not worth it Rosalba.” She rarely called me that. I was feeling like the stupid one, and she was trying to help take that weight off me.
The Path to Adulthood
Through the years our hearts entwined and she learned to read me like her favorite book. Our paths parted as we made life choices, but being on different roads didn’t separate us. We needed each other, and I’m thankful we continued in adulthood as when we were little girls; true friends.
We shared our lives, like sisters often do. Nothing was too sacred; boyfriends, friendships, marriage, or lifestyles. Our insecurities; too ugly, too fat, were a constant topic, you name it we talked about it! When I got married she was with me, when I had each of my kids she was with me. Patty had a different response to each one of them, amazed at how very much she could love them like her own.
A Girl For Patty
When Daniella was born, it was a time of crisis for Patty, her life was unraveling and for a moment it was difficult for her to notice my beautiful girl. When she settled down and as she picked up the pieces of her broken life, she looked at Daniella and pulled her so close. At the ripe old age of 30 she was feeling that perhaps she would never experience a child of her own.
A Married Woman
She met her husband David and was married very quietly, inviting only family to their union. I had the honor of signing her marriage certificate. Things settled down to normal. Ya sabes, that unspoken order of things that are supposed to happen as we grow up, Patty and Dave bought a house. They had some nice things they enjoyed and life was good. Then in my older years (36) I had my last baby and my little guerito stirred up desires in her that she never thought she would have, she had been quite satisfied to enjoy my kids and splurge on Daniella. Suddenly, at 38, Patty wanted a baby of her own.
That was crazy! I had dug deep into conversations with her asking if she wanted a baby, she always said no. It was probably for the best because Patty suffered from several ailments which caused a lot of pain and stiffness. Some days it was hard for her to even move.
I ached for her. I was beginning to avoid conversations about the baby and mothering. Then one day, as it was her habit when she had big news or bad news she called and said “ I have something to tell you” Oh no…. “Rosie I’m pregnant!”
Can you feel the glee in her words? It was a miracle. We had concluded in our extensive diagnostic conversations that she probably couldn’t have babies!
We were off on the pregnancy journey. She was “extra” about everything, but so far it was an easy time, going in monthly for doctor appointments and different tests. In her 4th month appointment, when she was excited to be feeling the baby soon, the doctor measured her and noticed she was smaller than she should be. When he went to check the heartbeat, he couldn’t find it. She called me. “Rosie, they can’t find the heartbeat, I’m getting an ultrasound” Neither of us considered what could have happened.
I went as soon as I could find a babysitter. What devastation, she had lost her baby weeks before and carried it for almost a month. Why hadn’t a problem been detected? She had to schedule a D&C procedure to remove the baby. Can I describe my feeling and reaction as none? Numb? She had questions and I had no answers. Why? What if?
Hospitals have too many procedures and medical needs to address one woman as her world is caving in around her. When I saw her, we spoke with our eyes. She would have a couple of days to recover and then resume her regular living. What was that supposed to be like now? Patty’s body recovered faster than her spirit, but our God was faithful and Marina was there…
Before long, Patty was pregnant again. She carried Andrew James to term and held him in her arms. (In another post, when I’m feeling inspired, perhaps I’ll share the dramatical story of her pregnancy, labor and delivery)
El Amor de Una Madre
Patty was in love, just imagine! El amor de una madre. She wanted to do all that she could for him and as he grew she turmoiled over the weight of life as a new mom. It hit her hard one day when he began crawling, then walking, that it was getting very difficult to keep up with him, she almost couldn’t.
Our Ever-present Weight loss Battle
She believed that much of her ailments would be controlled or dissipate if she would only take her excessive weight off. More importantly to her, she’d be able to enjoy all those things that little boys like to do. Weight loss was always a conversation we circled. The weight battle has always been in the forefront with the Zepedas. Through the years we had seen some victories and felt the heavy weight of defeat.
As Andrew quickly grew she was talking more and more about doing something drastic; a gastric bypass. It made total sense to her, a quick kick start to a new life. I was vehemently opposed, cutting away a portion of her stomach wasn’t going to check her habits. We were both extreme in our arguments and fought about this for a year. She was moving forward hoping I would see her side because she needed my support. How could I support something I didn’t believe in?
Patty was well into the Bariatric program, having been assessed and taken classes and controlled her eating, everything was moving forward but I wasn’t onboard. Just as she had lost weight in this program to prepare for the surgery, she could keep taking off the weight and change her habits. It was our battle to fight!
She Needed Me
For Andrews birthdays I always planned the partys with Patty’s pocket book. Her continuous pain and fatigue made things difficult and I was used to these occasions. Everything was completed in her program and she just needed to set her date. One day, I’m there in Party City getting decorations and she calls me. “Rosie I have something to tell you” Really? I stopped. “Que paso?”
“Why won’t you support me in this? I need your help, I’m tired of this pain and weight. It’s an opportunity to get better for Andrew. Rosie please” And to my constant regret, between theme choices for the party, I caved. I told my beautiful sister to go ahead with her plan. What did I need to do? I did just exactly what she needed, she just wanted to hear my words of approval. That was that.
The party went off with only a few glitches and the surgery was scheduled for August.
Life Altering Weight-loss Surgery
It is a common surgery, and it was very popular in those days. She had friends that were grossly obese and suddenly very thin and seemingly without complications. I on the other hand had known a couple of ladies who were quickly gaining their weight back, besides all the diarrhea and vomiting they experienced.
On the week of the surgery, Patty made all her arrangements. She went out and bought all the needed liquid vitamins for days ahead. Andrew would be with me and his dad. She went to a hotel to make sure she wasn’t late for the time of registration and preparation for the surgery early the next morning. It was one of those rare occasions that my blingy beautiful sister was undone. No make up, her hair in a ponytail. No dinner, just quiet solemn conversation on what to expect. The doctor had warned her that it would be difficult in the beginning with only a liquid diet.
She came out of surgery fine, but recovery was slow, she stayed longer than the 3 days. She was weak, which they said was all normal. Then she went home to recover and adjust to her new way of living. Not Marina or Lupe or I; her sisters, were able to go home with her as she recovered. She was having a difficult time and she was immensely discouraged that hardly any weight had come off after two weeks of a broth and soft food diet. Her doctor wanted to see her, but in the meantime she decided to go out for a cup of soup, consuming only the broth. In the middle of her dinner she needed to throw up, she was very weak and slowly managed to make it to the bathroom. Throwing up continued through the night, in the morning her husband drove her to E.R. She was admitted because she was dehydrated. She called and left me a message that she was in the hospital. She said she was fine just dehydrated. I gathered myself together and so did my sisters and we went up to see her. Things happened so quickly and severely it couldn’t be happening!
It was Monday, she was coherent and things seemed ok. My older sisters went home to get organized and plan a strategy to be in the hospital with her and help her. As the hours passed she was becoming incoherent. Nurses came in to explain in medical terms the problems in her blood. Low platelet count, low white blood cell count. a blood transfusion was needed. My brain wasn’t registering, and in those days, before taking care of my apa, I allowed myself to be intimidated by the professionals and their medical terminology. But what was wrong with my sister? Why was this happening? Finally! A nurse said that she had an unknown infection that had compromised her blood or what had caused it. By Tuesday night she was completely incoherent and agitated despite her little strength she pulled on tubes, she tossed and tried to turn. The hours passed as I watched my sister fight for her life. Every once in a while I would run out to get a nurse, because something beeped or she pulled a tube, by this point she had so many tubes and she was on so much medication. Ativan was the drug used to calm her down, her heart rate was dangerously high.
Rare Blood Infection
I still wouldn’t believe she was in danger of losing her life, I simply could not register this. This happened to other people. By Wednesday blood transfusions were increasing as the unknown infection had finally been revealed. TTP, a rare blood infection that prevailed over her body. I was keeping ominously calm. “Yes” I texted my friend, “She is getting dialysis, her kidneys have failed, they called it sepsis because the infection has spread to her organs. Please keep praying” I watched helplessly through the night as her blood pumped through the dialysis machines to clean it from the dangerous toxins that had invaded her. Patty had her eyes open but she wasn’t seeing me or anything physical, but she was afraid and anxious, she spoke incoherent words and mumbled. I updated my sisters. It was late Wednesday night, Marina was trying desperately to return but her own husband had gotten into an accident and needed her help also, my calm responses made her feel that we would get through this and Patty would be fine, and she would be back in the morning.
A Dark Night
When dialysis was complete, we went back to her room. During a long dark night, my sister fought for her life, her blood being attacked by this infection that permeated her body. In the early hours of Thursday, Patty loudly grunted like she was choking as she arched her body, I screamed for the nurse, she came rushing, pushing me out of the doorway. The entire hospital sounded the Code Blue alarm. Several other staff ran in filling the room with equipment and roughly giving orders. They caught her. They brought Patty back and rushed to get her into ICU. As we rushed to the ICU area and into a room, where she was going to get intubated the doctor told me I would have to step outside. No! I didn’t want to separate from her, but they couldn’t let me stay. I pleaded with them to call me back as soon as they were done.
While I waited I called my Benjamin, I called my sister Marina and I called my bestie, all those conversations and they weren’t calling me back in! I asked to go in and I was told to wait. I now know that my sister had gotten transferred around shift changes, just before 7am and all those preliminaries of the day had to be squared away. When I asked to go back with my sister again, they allowed me. I found Patty with A tube down her throat to help her breath. Monitors for her heart, drip medications going into her and my sister oblivious to what was happening. The nurse encouraged me to talk to her, it might be possible that she would hear me and calm down. You see, even though she seemed to be sleeping her heart was bursting with work effort, despite the ativan medication. Soon her husband arrived, I couldn’t tell him anything, then a friend of hers came in. I encouraged her to talk to her and let her know she was there. Marina was on her way back, a two hour drive. All we could do was stare at her, I tried to speak words, to get her to recognize me, Rosie, I was there with her. Patty had barely been in ICU a couple of hours, nurses came and went. Another nurse came in to check her heart rate and it was dangerously high again. She went to give her more medication and I stopped her. “What are you giving her now?” The nurse glanced over at me, “Oh it’s ok, it’s just medicine to calm her, it’s ativan” “Wait, she just had some, it’s too soon.” But the nurse hadn’t stopped, she was following doctors orders as she emptied the syringe into the IV tube. “It’s ok the doctor ordered it.” She went around her bed and continued her routine check up. Within minutes, I watched her blood pressure drop rapidly and the nurse saw it too. The machine went off again, and her heart had stopped. Doctors came rushing in, my brother in law and I watched as they manually pumped her heart, it was keeping her heart going. The doctor looked at me and said “We’ve been working on her for 13 minutes, she’s not responding” “Don’t stop!” I yelled “You can’t stop!” The doctor looked at Dave and they stopped. They let her go. I couldn’t believe they stopped. They stopped, she was gone. All that were in that room cleared out, the doctor was no longer addressing me, I was out of control. I ran in to help Patty. I climbed on top of her, as much as I could, put my face on her face and now my voice and prayers were being heard. “God! Like you heard Elisha, hear me! Bring my sister back. Give her life here again. God please bring her back.” I climbed on her a couple of times, so sorry to be hurting her some more, I was desperate. Maybe I had prayed wrong? Maybe I should line myself to her eye to eye, nose to nose… “Bring her back”. I groaned for my sister, how did I let this happen? I sat there, weeping. My sister Marina walked in, staring, frozen. Patty’s hair was a mess, who let that happen? She had to fix it. Patty wouldn’t appreciate people seeing her like this. As the news got out to the family they came into that little ICU room.
Three days, before her hospitalization, Patty and I had discussed death and dying. I was always the practical one in these discussions and she was always worried about the details of these things. She was feeling very emotional that night. “How should we get buried? Who would take care of our kids? Promise me that you’ll always keep Andrew close to you and your kids. Should we let our husbands take care of the details of our burial?”
Before we ended the conversation we prayed and asked God to give us his salvation and peace.
The house on 511 E. Delta street is for sale. My house! (Or my apas house.) It’s been empty for almost 2 years and looking very abandoned. When I moved my apa to our house here in San Diego, I had gotten wind of the house in Calipatria going up for sale but I was too busy taking care of him to go back and see for myself.
I thought I had disconnected from that old house when my apa remarried and the house itself was no longer mi amas house. But you know, we hang on tight to things, as if we’re gonna take them with us, into our future and or our eternity. I’ve struggled with the fact that it is no longer Don Manuels house and of course the memories came flooding in as I finally looked at the old worn house. Memories like a quilt, bits and pieces fastened together by the intricate stitches of life that is worn and faded with the passing years.
Not Your Typical Open House
I was very little when the house was built. We were living in the projects on Brown street on the East side of Calipatria when brand spanking new houses were erected on Delta street. They were different, bigger than the ones the other side of the street. Three new houses, with big backyards, well big according to my little perspective.
My ama crossed the alley and went to see the houses. No open house event, she just walked right into the 4-bedroom, 2 bathroom house. The middle house was much larger than our project home. Imagine, one bathroom had a tub and one did not. Hijole! I could play longer in the bathtub and leave the other bathroom open for someone else. A win win situation. Meanwhile, my sis says that some of the kids played in our house like it was just an old abandoned ugly house, she didn’t like it.
Ama walked through the rooms, opening doors, looking over it all with a dislike. “No me gusta” she decided and walked home, in agreement with Marina.
Our Large and Ever Growing Family
The small duplex we lived in the projects was pretty crowded, Apa, Ama, and 8 kids ranging from 6 to 20 years old. I shared a room with my sister Patty, I don’t know where everyone else was settled, but I didn’t feel tight at all. I imagine that my ama was squeezed for air.
One day, my oldest brother left home to get married. It was a lone decision between the two young lovers, no elaborate wedding plans or guests to consider. They ventured to Northern Ca. to start their life together.
The new couple was not quite prepared to face life, as young lovers usually aren’t. The weight of life pressed down on them, my brothers wife; Mary was heavy with child. He figured it was best for them to be near family as she neared birthing. They settled into a house in the next town of Brawley, Ca. but when the baby was born they came back to our house. My ama was relieved to have her son home again.
The New Mother In Law
We were all in awe when the new baby came home, all kinds of feelings. My ama was just barely finished with diapers and toddlers and suddenly she was an abuela! Isn’t it amazing how God fills your reservoir as your family grows? We can love with an overwhelming love. This new baby had captured our hearts.
During the day we kids were at school and then in afternoons we were hard at play so ama was able to adjust to mother in law status. Now that I consider it, my mother with her first daughter in law reminds me of me and my daughter in law. Quiet, shy, soft spoken daughter in laws who would have to learn quickly the ways of a loud family.
Everyone settled in as well as possible and life went on as usual for all of us kids. My sister in law Mary was recovering from her delivery and under my mothers care she was going to experience the full cuarentena! 40 days to recover, to rest, to learn her baby, and learn the Zepedas!
My ama made her atoles to increase her breastmilk. A thick hot comfort drink, made from masa flavored with canela and piloncillo. I can imagine that she was making sure Mary was eating properly, with calditos de pollo. Chicken soup was a remedy for most of the ailments we encountered. Of course it was very likely that mi ama was taking the baby every chance she got. I never practiced the cuarentena as a young mom, probably because I didn’t have my ama to watch over me and make sure I’d be still enough during those 40 days.
Ama would send us off to school and get busy taking care of Mary and the baby between housework and cooking and laundry.
(No se desesperen, I haven’t gotten distracted in my story telling, this is about how the house on Delta street became home to us.)
One day, once we were all sent off, Mary and baby were resting and ama was busy with everything, focusing on the pile of laundry. The laundry room was next to the kitchen. A small room with washer, sink and water heater. On laundry days, she would be in and out because she needed to hang the laundry out to dry. In her going in and out and leaning over the tub to do some extra washing her dress got wet. The laundry had her so busy that she didn’t pay much attention to the water heater’s struggles and noises! After checking on Mary and baby she went back to her laundry. The water heater had burst into a small fire and Ama was blocked from going through the house to get Mary and the baby. Ama used to tell us that her wet dress probably kept the flames off her! She cried out “se esta quemando la casa, llama a los bomberos” Mary had heard all commotion and went to call the fire dept. Then she turns to see her suegra walking out the back door! Imagine that sinking feeling. Mary had to remind her of the baby in the back room. Mi ama went around to the front door to get the baby out to safety. The fire spread very quickly but was contained to the front of the rooms. Thankfully nobody was hurt.
We had been delayed at school because of the news of the fire so when got home the excitement had died down, but not the curiosity. The vecinos were all around. Our home in the Projects burned along with most everything in it. Marina says the house had the strong stench of burn. It was exciting to me. This only happened in the movies and my 7 year old mind wanted to see and touch! I didn’t see anything burning, I wasn’t even near the fire. No se vale! Cheated out of a time of glorious danger and drama. So close but so far. Mary reminded me that our T.V. survived the ordeal! Partially melted but still working!
When the fire was put out, my parents didn’t know what they were going to do with us. Neighbors reached out to help and we all were distributed to different homes for the night or maybe a few nights, just until it was safe to breath in there again. I’m not sure who determined that it was safe to go back in, but my parents and older siblings did.
Three of us went with Mary, baby and my big brother Angel. Needless to point out that my sister in law didn’t get her 40 days of rest. In fact she had her newborn and 3 pesky little in laws to take care of. It was no small task because my lil brother Chicha was a travieso! There was nothing that he wouldn’t try even in their little one bedroom apartment. Having the newborn there definitely kept us fascinated. When he cried we would blow in his face and he would catch his breath. My little mind was amazed at how I was able to do that, how did I have so much power? Mary was feeling motherhood in full force!
I don’t know how many days passed, but when we returned back to the barrio, we went right past the projects on Brown street and made a right turn on to Delta street. It was that house!
The community stepped in to help by donating household items, the football team bought us a brand new fridge! We were given clothing, like a mountain of donations! As we got back on our feet. my ama was so grateful I don’t remember her complaining about the house.
It is where they raised the rest of us kids until we were married or off to boot camp or school.
As the country song says, it is the house that built me.
Spring is in the air, and with it Easter. I love Easter Time, the traditions, activities with my grandkids and most of all the sacrifice and resurrection that it represents.
I started this post thinking that I did not have too many memories from childhood connected to Easter, but I do indeed! I don’t recall a crescendo of traditions that culminated on Resurrection day and I didn’t experience the Easter baskets, egg hunts, the Easter bunny or ham dinners. Chale, not in my world. We experienced fish on Fridays and rosary on a weekday evening, mass on Easter Sunday and sometimes communion.
I wonder if Easter didn’t rank high in the SEO of my memory because of all the ridiculous frilly dresses and white buckled shoes? Of course, they had an accessory hat and sometimes a little white purse. My little girl self rolls her eyes at those visuals.
En mi Rancho, my limited world recognized the season as cuaresma. Lent was always such a sacrifice. For me, it meant no meat on Fridays! Me oyes? Every Friday for six weeks we had to say no to meat. Of course at school the cafeteria would always serve hamburgers! Hijole! That was brutal, a whole bunch of Mexican Americans who rarely enjoyed a burger, had to sacrifice their rare opportunity. Every week, I resolved to not eat meat. Every week I dreaded the temptation. My cafeteria burger, calling me, the skinny patty modestly covered in buns.
“Just eat it, all the other kids are” said the diablito on my shoulder.
“No, don’t do it. You must resist” said the angelito on the other side.
Sometimes I would give in because it seemed like all these good Catholic kids were ignoring the edict to abstain from meat. They seemed to remember the fast only after they’d bite into their hamburger. “Hay! Se me olvido!” Pausing long enough to regret their forgetfulness. Then proceeded with caution as they finished what they started. Ya ni modo. Oh well, it’s what I said a few times too, praying that my ama wouldn’t ask me anything.
Fish on Fridays
Then, I would walk home after a hard day of basketball practice. I was hangry. Fish smell is what I’d walk into. Ugh! Thank God for arroz y frijoles. Can’t go wrong with a bean burrito. Mom would either make tortas de camaron, little shrimp patties in a red chile sauce or fish soup. I have a vague memory of pescado frito also, but what isn’t vague is the strong smell of fish that invaded the house and pounced me on Friday afternoons.
During Lent season, we recited the rosary. Mi ama always interrupted our Carol Burnett show and called us to the room for rosary time. Marina usually responded first, always without any grumbling. Then ama would begin to summon us: PATRICIA! ROSALBA! MANUEL! Usually I responded after a couple of calls. My sister Patty, always held out til the threats began and my lil brother always had to get the manaso before he obeyed. In the room we had to kneel and be ready to respond according to the order of the beads. It never failed that my brother would do something to bring about a deeper need for penitence. He would have to kneel with a bean under each knee. We attempted to put on a solemn face as we watched him work hard at not putting his weight on those beans. Rolling our eyes in self righteous disapproval we repeated the prayers.
Easter Egg Hunt
On Easter Sunday we would go to the 10:30 mass, sometimes they’d have an Easter egg hunt, but I don’t recall ever participating. I do have this vivid image of the little girls in the barrio all frilly in their Easter dresses and me looking out from our kitchen window, almost as if I were hiding lest I picked up their sissy lala frilly germs!
There was not a big meal at home waiting. But, mi ama did serve Capirotada at Easter. It might be one of the traditional Easter marks of a Mexican home. The image of mom working on this very humble dessert is clear and beautiful. In my young mind it was kind of weird, but I always enjoyed it when she served it. Capirotada was what mom brought to the table as her tribute, from her own mothers traditions.
I went on a google search to see what others said about it. I asked my sister in law Sandra if she even knew what it was. I asked another sister in law; Mary, if her mom made capirotada. She knew what and how my mother made it! I was glad and mi ama would have been so happy to hear that her daughter in law cherished that memory.
Capirotada has been compared to bread pudding, but my mothers capirotada was nothing like what I’ve seen. During my hunt for capirotada on the world wide web I did learn that it is a very old tradition with original religious significance. It is definitely a peculiar combination of ingredients; piloncillo, canela, clavo. The sugar, cinnamon and cloves are boiled together to make the syrup that covers the layers of the other ingredients. Corn tortillas, bolillos, peanuts, ciruelas, cheese. Day old toasted bread, pitted prunes and a white cheese which did not have a very strong flavor. Hijole! I’m glad that this isn’t a food blog, porque pues, me sacan a patadas! I’d be booted from my own blog.
It was a sweet and salty flavor that mingled nicely. I liked it, and I was so grateful that my sister inlaw brought me home to Delta street last weekend. When she offered me some capirotada and in my heart I hugged her and loved her more.
That was my Easter experience as a little girl. When I stepped into adulthood my multicultural lifestyle converted all those traditions. Easter Sunday is a glorious celebration, where I can lift up my voice, use those inherited vocal chords that my ama left me and sing at the top of my lungs; He has risen! Just imagine my victory as I sat in our Easter Sunday service before covid and shared in the beautiful ritual of communion with my apa.
Easter As Mom
As a young mother I was peer pressured into the Easter baskets. “Rosie did you buy or make your kids Easter baskets?” Que? In a panicked state every year since I became a mother I put together baskets and chased the community egg hunts, frazzled until just very recently. Their tia Sandra introduced them to the egg coloring tradition and I happily sat out for that activity. Those dreaded frilly dresses were back with a vengeance. They mocked me as I shopped through the racks of pompous dresses that my little girl loved wearing. Now my three granddaughters are very regal in their princess dresses.
Thankfully, Easter Sunday is a celebration that I am resolute about through the year. I am so very grateful for all that Jesus has done for the world and more specifically for me and my familia. Have a wonderful beautiful Easter celebration!
Our house on 511 E. Delta St. became the go to spot for Mexican candy and other goodies. Before and after school kids would knock on the door to get their supply. It wasn’t an official store, but mi ama ran it like one. She tended it and kept our tiendita running for many years.
It all started because my 13 year old entrepreneurial self needed money.
Middle School Graduation
Middle school ended with the big show of our 8th grade graduation ceremony. Once again I was subjected to wear a dress. On graduation day our chairs had been arranged on the football field, and we were seated in alphabetical order, the Zepedas are always the last ones. Like the high school graduates, our names were going to be broadcasted on the PA system and we would walk up to get our diploma front and center for everyone to cheer. In 8th grade a person feels real grown up, since they are the oldest amongst all the kids, graduating seals the state of coolness. My big brother Arturo had decided to take me and his sister in law who also graduated out to dinner. It was a big evening for me, I had never gone out to dinner, bien muy muy at a fancy restaurant (at least I thought it was fancy). Then he was going to drive us to the graduation party and hang out. He couldn’t necessarily admit he was keeping an eye on us. As soon as I was able to get out of the big baby blue poofy dress and pull my hair back to control the hairdo, I relaxed and enjoyed my very grown up experiences.
Preparing for High School
Graduation now meant that I needed to get serious about life. High School was around the corner. What were the rules there? Suddenly I was “on my own.” At the Freshmen orientation, I was going to pick my own class schedule. So if I didn’t want math I didn’t have to have it, yet. If I wanted to play volleyball, or any sport, I would have to try out, hijole! The older girls were also trying out or returning to the team. I would get assigned a locker in the gym and on campus. I needed to be ready!
I needed money like the older kids who always seemed to have it. I wasn’t old enough to get a real job and make money. In the summer en el tiempo de la uva, I couldn’t go with mi ama and sisters to pick grapes. I had to stay home to do the cooking for my dad, with no pay of course. What could I do? I planned on making the most out of my high school years, but when school started there were going to be a lot of expenses most likely beyond my amas pocket book.
In my little town of Calipatria, there was no park across the tracks on the East side, but there were a couple of open lots. One was huge, it became our legitimate park a few years later, and I’ll boast a little to tell you that my apa was instrumental in getting us Hernandez Park in our lil ole Eastside. The other lot was private property not yet sold on our street. Our side of Delta street had only three houses on it so it was perfect for our baseball games.
The kids in the barrio would gather for a game of baseball. A few older teens, middle schoolers and little kids came to play. We’d divide ourselves up according to skill and age and we played hard. We took our games seriously, and developed our skill in these skirmishes. I was just an ok player, not at all like my sister Marina. She loved baseball. I knew I wouldn’t be missed if I was on the bench and here’s where I hatched my money making scheme. Why would I sit around when I could be making money?
I took my plan to my ama because I needed an investor. I planned to sell lemonade and cookies at the game. Pero, esperate. I knew nothing about bougie homemade baked goods. En mi casa the oven was used to store the casuelas and comal! Everyone loved cookies, and nobody knew the difference in quality. In fact, we thought that if food was packaged and straight from the store it was obviously better. It was a great plan, if only mi ama would lend me money for my business venture.
My mom always had a stash of money! Somehow bam! After her ranting about not having any money and needing some herself she would bust out with her dolares. I never accepted it when she claimed not to have any money. I knew that she didn’t have money for all the things we asked for, but she was a true business woman, era bien trucha, turning overand examining our requests. Having raised 4 children with one income in the very expensive city of San Diego, Ca. I now understand her frugality.
Learning the Business
The lemonade and cookie stand was going to cost more than just a couple of packs of cookies. She pointed out the other things I would need, but I was excited and promised to follow through. She gave me the money so I could prepare for the big day. Although things were changing for me and I was stepping into the more serious side of life I still took advantage of all the other afternoons I could play ball. Playing ball wasn’t just for the little kids, it was a serious thing and because of the hot sunny days, I knew my lemonade was going to bring me that needed money.
I was excited on my big business day. Good old fashion baseball in the empty lot before the many fear of germs or regulators. It wasn’t a snack bar, it was just me and my lemonade and cookies. The kids playing hard in field would return after each ending for lemonade. The little kids watching ran home for money to buy my sweet goods. I sold out that first day. My ama was impressed. When she asked me what I would do with my profits, I said that my plan was to spend it slowly, thinking that was the shrewd way to do it. I knew I needed money, but I hadn’t realized that money isn’t a one time need. She proposed that I invest my money into another market: Mexican candy, and keep on selling. I was convinced and ready to stock my store.
Saturday’s in Mexicali
Weekly grocery shopping was a big event for my ama, it was a day which she shared with all of us kids. On Saturdays, Apa would take the family across the border to Mexicali for the day. Mom did her shopping, the boys got their haircuts, and there were all sorts of things on the to-do list. Sometimes we would eat gusgerias, junk food, that included treats covered in chile y limon, from the carts in the streets. Coctel de camaron (I still can’t stomach shrimp), churritos with plenty of chile, and Tamarindo! A sweet and sour fruit that grows in pods. It has a large dark brown seed covered in a brown sticky pulp and that is encased in a dry easy to break light brown shell. When explained like that it does not sound tasty, but I love that tangy fruit. I always ate too much and made my tongue raw. Much of the Mexican candy I chose to sell is made from tamarindo. Perhaps my favorite treat was the mango on a stick, peppered with chile, limon y sal. My taste buds are getting excited just thinking about it.
Some Saturdays we would get comida china. Chinese food in Mexicali is delicious but different from what I’ve had in San Diego, I really wish I could describe it and do it justice. Other times we would stop at a hamburger stand in Calexico, and have a big, good old fashioned hamburger with french fries. It was a real treat for us, because we never ate hamburgers at home. Our wants were endless, and maybe here’s when mom would pull out her stash of cash.
Inventory for Dulceria Rosalba
There was a certain colonia my dad drove to for the candy. It had a whole street blocked off like a swap meet. Every kind of vendor set up shop, that’s where my mom did her shopping. Vegetables, carnes, tortillas, bolillos, quesos, aguas frescas and of course, dulces. The air was mixed with all the scents of meats, cheeses, fruits and vegetables and it would take a minute for our nostrils to adjust to the sour smell. With so many vendors vying for our business, all of a sudden our spanish would be all mangled around our tongue, but mi ama knew exactly how to handle them all.
Since it was my investment, she let me pick the candy after all, I new what would sell. We bought pulpas de tamarindo and powdered chamoy. We got paletas con saladitos, saladitos, those little salted plums are delicious in a sweet orange. I stocked up on rollitos and churritos. This was the start of our tiendita. I must say that it was quite a trial not to eat up my inventory!
In the barrio everyone loved Mexican candy and my business took off very quickly. It helped my sales that I was taking candy in my backpack to sell at school. You would think that with money coming in so quickly and steadily I would have kept my business up.
It got tedious and pretty soon mom was doing all the work. I was done with my tiendita and I told her I was shutting down. She tried to get me to continue, but I was too busy with my sports and besides I was getting too cool to be seen selling my paletas con saladito and pulpas.
Dona Chuy’s Tiendita
My mom was not ready to give up the venture. She put out a small table in our already small dining room and set up her array of assorted candy. Her inventory was much bigger and she even branched out and sold ice cream cones. Dona Chuy was now the unofficial spot for candy for the whole barrio. When kids were short on coins, she allowed them to ‘owe’ for the next time and soon she had to have her libretita to keep track of borrowers. No interest was charged, of course, she did it only to keep kids happy and her store running.
My siblings and I had an unspoken agreement with ama. Business boomed after school and when we were home we had to get up and answer the door for a customer and attend to them. Occasionally we’d get a free candy or ice cream cone.
This little business went on for years. When my mom passed away, dad kept it going. The kids in the neighborhood all knew dad (Don Manuel) because of the candy store. My own kids would always come prepared with change so they could buy candy from Tata when we went to visit. Of course he never charged them and of course they were only too glad to take the blessing.
After a long battle with dementia, my apa has now passed on. The little tiendita has been closed for many years, but it lives on in the memories of countless kids who grew up in our barrio. When my sister and I were arranging his burial and choosing his plot in Brawley, CA the young man who was pointing out plots to us said, “Wait? Are you talking about Don Manuel from Delta street in Calipatria? I used to go buy candy all the time at his house.”
Perhaps a more prominent topic is sister rivalry, but this post is about how my sisters and I have expressed love one to another.
Outward Displays of Affection
Growing up in my familia, expressing love with words or outward displays of affection was maybe a bit awkward, ok, it was very awkward. Maybe because we thought you had to be tough looking, or maybe we thought that tenderness was for sissy lalas, at least I definitely thought like this. I believe a common fear has been rejection or ridicule, too many times I let it rule my actions. It’s only now in hindsight that I can see the incredible displays of love I received.
I wish I knew what went on in my mothers mind after we outgrew the toddler mark. I wonder if I’m like her in this? Puede ser...
Hugs and Kisses
When my babies are little and chubby and mostly sweet looking, I want to hug them and kiss them often. Kiss their chubby cheeks, nibble their tiny fingers and soak in their scent. For no reason at all I’ll swoop them up and kiss them. I do this now to my grandbabies. There are plenty of times when I want to hug and love on my now adult children, but I haven’t figured how to do it without being awkward.
That’s how my ama was. I remember vividly how enthralled she was with her grandkids. My first nephew Miguel arrived when I was 6 years old. First grade, way past the apapachar stage. My ama seemed to drown him with kisses and squeezes, and that crazy baby talk we do, you know, the gibberish. “Que cosa fina!” and from there it descended to “kikirique, kernitos, amorcito…”
I did not want to be cuddled and kissed and so she didn’t do that for me anymore. She figured out how to display her love of us through her acts of kindness. Even by worrying so much for us, we felt her love. Her ways were transferred to us kids. Ingrained in us was the very real weight of taking care of one another, cuida a tu hermana was drilled into us.
Family is always there to back you up. There is a basic overall coverage of love and protection and support comes under the umbrella of apa and ama right? Then in all the details of our lives there’s the fingerprints of a sibling backing you up, one way or another. Any bully, adversary or trial I faced my big sister was there to back me up.
Just the Facts
This account will be from the archives of a 11 year old who didn’t pay too much attention to non personal facts, like exactly where we started in Brawley or how much was paid per mile, but hopefully you can picture us children walking through the heat in Imperial Valley.
Our Primary, Middle School and High School would gather into one large assembly to promote the March of Dimes. We kids were all challenged to give our strength and energy to promote the fight against birth defects. I wish I could tell you how excited I was to help others or how motivated I was by compassion. Socializing was my motivation. Coming from the small town of Calipatria any and every event was a big deal. Almost every kid would sign up to do the 20 mile walk-athon from Brawley Ca. to the Imperial Co. Fairgrounds.
I signed up with all my friends. The officials supplied us with sponsor sheets and it was our responsibility to gather sponsors that would donate according to the miles we walked. We had a few weeks to get as many sponsors as we could. It was a challenge since the town was so small. We raced to every person we knew to get sponsorship. I walked our neighborhood and crossed the tracks into town soliciting for the Walk-athon. I filled up my page, going around talking to adults and older teens, I think all that walking should have counted toward those 20 miles.
The Big Day
On the big day we were bussed into Brawley, given instructions about keeping a steady pace and staying off the road. We were especially warned about not going near the canals. Although they do not look dangerous, they are, so much so that in our area Dippy Duck was a popular hero. They explained that we’d have checkpoints every few miles.
Finally, before the starting gun set off, we were told that If we ran out of gas along the way and got too tired to keep on walking, designated trucks would be roaming the street every so often to pick up the weary walkers.
And off we went, walking, chattering and just giddy with energy. I was with my friends, on my own. My older sisters were behind me, in much more control of themselves, in a cool teenage way. They were with their group of friends walking slower, bien suave. You know 10 miles in a car is a quick drive; bam! 10-15 minutes and you’re there. Maybe that’s how we kids thought it would go, after all we’d never walked the distance before. As the morning wore on and the sun burned hotter, my little click of friends began to disperse, and before I knew it, I was walking alone. The thrill was gone. I don’t know how far my sister Patty lasted, but her person was not very tolerant of any unnecessary discomfort. The way she had figured things, The walk was supposed to be a pleasant socializing time with friends, away from the barrio and our parents.
When Pattys legs began to hurt and her bladder filled, no amount of compassion for the cause could be conjured up in her to keep her walking. The November sun beat down hard and on the first sight of the truck, she and her friends waved it down and hopped onto the back. In those days (wow! That sounds so ancient right?) it was not illegal to ride openly in the truck bed. Before the 10 miles were up, it was full of kids who leisurely waved at the kids who were trekking on. Watching the truck pass by was a pretty dismal feeling. It seemed so unfair that I alone was walking, feeling miserable, hot and tired. Where was my reward? It didn’t matter that I had chosen to keep going.
Patty and her friends were up on that truck back in comfort. My big sis Marina was still walking, alone. I don’t remember how I caught up to her, maybe she caught up to me? However it happened I was so relieved and I think she was proud of me, I hadn’t quit. We were trying to keep up a steady pace, or I should say she was keeping us moving. We got our cards marked at every checkpoint, I lingered as much as possible while avoiding the portapotty.
We made it to the fairgrounds in Imperial. I was so happy to be done. I made it all the way. But after we rested, we needed to get back on the road and go back. I do not know how we stirred ourselves to get going again or why? Maybe we were considering the children that couldn’t walk? I kind of think that Marina was, she has always had a special place in her heart for handicapped kids. She always looks out for the underdog. She would finish the walk and watch me at the same time, it’s how my ama had taught us.
There we were well into the second 10 miles, stopping along the way as I whined and I dragged my feet, like I was the only one feeling the ache in my legs. I felt like even the trucks had forgotten all of us! Where was the glory in not quitting? I didn’t want to walk anymore! Why was it so important anyway? Then she offered to carry me.
Yes, Like a typical bratty little sister, I jumped at the chance. There is a five year difference between us and I don’t know how much of a size difference there could have been between an 11 year old and a 16 year old. I wasn’t that little kindergartner she could just pick up anymore. Plus I’ve always been “big boned”. That didn’t stop her from carrying me on her back, despite her own fatigue. I jumped on her back and wrapped my legs around her. She held me up by holding my thighs. I was tired and as we moved along I leaned on her, kind of laid on her. I slid down and pulled on her neck as I hung on to her. We weren’t getting very far because every so often she was stopping to push me back up.
Blow To The Head
In one of those stops she pushed me and somehow I went flying back and landed on my back, whacking my head on the street! Hijole! I’m glad I don’t remember the pain of that! Because I was such a chillona, I’m sure I cried loudly. After checking for blood and bumps, assuring I was ok, she made me start walking again. I had no choice, we were gonna finish. I’m glad I don’t remember any more details of those last few miles because when my apa picked us up from the school we could barely move.
Such a plain story right? But I cherish it, a token of sibling love. One of the many times my sister showed me tough love and helped me to finish a task. She showed me tender love, enough to sacrifice her comfort so I could have relief. I don’t believe I’ve ever thanked my big sister for trying to carry me to the finish line.
Thank God for big sisters!
Sure we had sibling fighting, sometimes when my ama wasn’t around it got out of control. But there’s something about our sibling love that brings comfort to me. I know that I can count on my sis and bros when counting matters.
How is it that you show your sister or brother love?
Today I’m all about the melting pot, total give away with a name like Rosalba Greene right? But when I was growing up, in the California desert valley I didn’t know anything about it. In my small community, we had very little diversity.
I come from the Imperial Valley, way down at the bottom of California, right at the edge of Mexico. If you cross the line you’re in Baja. Lots of Mexicans, and Mexican-Americans to pick from in El Valle Imperial. Small towns scattered throughout the region made social interactions comfortable.
It’s what I was used to, surrounded by mi gente mostly, speaking our rapid sounding Spanish dialect. Of course with the small elite group of whites; los Patrones who controlled the economy mostly through agriculture; we mostly spoke Spanglish, the official unofficial language.
California State Route 111 or as we called it, “El Ciento Once“, was the main route that led to the important cities. and it went right through The City of Calipatria, where the tallest flagpole in America stands. It has a reputation of being bien chiquita, the warning was don’t blink or you’ll miss it! A “city” with a small population of almost 8,000.
The sembradores, piscadores, regadores and patrones drove the economy with agriculture and farming. How such a dry desert place produces such wealth in vegetable crops is incredible, although it didn’t really matter much to me then, I now realize it was our bread and butter. My Apa supported our family working as a regador, one English translation is irrigation technician. I guess it can be quite technical, once my dad was explaining how it was that he irrigated a field, or maybe it was how not to irrigate a field? Too little water will dry a crop, too much will drown the crop. Just the right measurement is needed, but when he used technical measurements he lost me.
Social and Economic divides
We sectioned off the city, not literally but within and gravitated to our comfort culture. It was like this, the East side across the tracks, where we lived. The West Side, where the town square rested, a good mile away from the tracks. Then there was the rich side where the whites lived. People of the same ethnic group with similar experiences, grouping together so naturally. This description is from almost 40 years ago, quizas ya cambio, maybe Valley folks are all mingled and mixed now.
Social life consisted of after school sports and the Friday night high school football game. Our special occasions included the perpetual quinceañeras on Saturday nights. I can only imagine what the rich white kids experienced. Horses, 4H club and other expensive hobbies. I really don’t know the kind of socializing that took place over there, my husband the Cold Blooded Englishman tells me he played tennis and went sailing (bien muy muy).
We all, Mexicans, Americans and Mexican-Americans crossed cultures and economic status on the 4th of July. We agreed that our fireworks displays were the best. Homecoming games were times of rallying together and getting that CIF championship! You know what’s crazy? All of a sudden, We were all cozy around each other, we all were one team, the Calipatria Hornets! I can hear the cheerleaders chanting “We are the Hornets, mighty mighty Hornets!” Then we all drifted back to our comfort cultures.
It’s been nice remembering my days in Calipatria. Days when I shined as a volleyball player and walked the high school grounds with such confidence. I considered myself (though perhaps nobody else did) a good point guard in basketball, of course that was on the J.V. team as a junior! (the oldest player on the team). The sports banquets were always a bit awkward, but I loved that spotlight, especially when I won a trophy. Then, as my Senior year came to an end, and I was having to consider my future, I definitely never imagined that I would be anywhere else in the world.
I came to San Diego because I was accepted into UCSD, Third College. Pero como fue possible?! (My Puerto Rican friends would say, “Que fue?”) I was just as shocked! Submitting an application had been a last minute idea suggested by my volley coach; Miss George. I didn’t expect my immediate future to change so quickly, so completely through one application. I figured I would go to IVC– our community college and ease into adult life. When the letter arrived in the mail announcing this opportunity, it was time to tell my parents about it.
Before I could settle down and enjoy my last summer as a kid, I found myself in San Diego, on campus with masses of students from all over the world! Summer Bridge was the program that helps students transition from kid school to hardball school, by the end of 4 weeks I should have crossed the bridge with experience and confidence.
There I was, with my non-English speaking ama and my apa, refusing to speak his heavily accented English. We were completely disoriented on orientation day. That whole afternoon was a blur. I can now imagine what my poor mother must have felt as she said goodbye, leaving me all alone to face adulthood, with all those different people.
One of the ice breakers we Mexican Americans use is Spanglish. Somehow it eases things up when talking to a new acquaintance to bust out your Spanglish, that is, if they speak Spanish. You can imagine what a relief it was for me to see other fellow Mexicans walking about the campus during orientation. As soon as I got close enough to one girl, I said “Estoy bien lost! Man! Ni se lo que estoy haciendo?!” She turned to look at me and said, “What?” She had no idea what I had said. I was on my own. Later, I found out that this girl was Mexican-American! Where did she leave her Spanglish?
I was shell shocked that first year of college. I shared an apartment with 3 other girls, and wow! Talk about diversity. My bedroom would become my sanctuary when I wasn’t in classes. Allison, my roommate was this super confident black American girl, who was enjoying her independence. I don’t think I ever learned much about her except that she was always spending the night with her boyfriend, was that even legal? The other two girls were my housemates. Hilary, was from Northern California. A rich white girl, always chillin’ on a high with her boyfriend. It got to the point that literally they would do days just hitting that bong, barely going to classes, yet somehow passing exams with A’s! I was awkward with them, now it wasn’t only the white and brown difference, it was their relaxation methods that weirded me out. Don’t get me wrong, Hilary was nice, but what she offered, I did not want.
Julia, my other housemate was also from Northern California. She was a hippie type, very natural, didn’t like perfumes, or make up or deodorant. She was the most approachable even spoke Spanish, but because I wasn’t in that comfort cultural zone I avoided her too. Little did I know that one day I would be related to someone a lot like her; my brother in-law Jeremy.
Life was hard and school was just too much to cope with to even realize that I had no social life. In lil’ ole Calipat high, I was accepted. Nobody was unaccepting me, if anything, all the other Freshmen were just like me, adjusting. In high school I was cool, I was fun and crazy, but college life and the big city was way out of my league. I did manage to acquire a friend, a legit Mexican-American. Her Spanish was better than mine and she was studious. Two awkward Mexicans in a multicultural sea of students. Margarita was smart and focused on why she was there, while I was wondering why I was there in the first place! Fatigue, depression and loneliness washed over me.
I survived that first year, but just barely. My grades were mediocre, It wasn’t until the end of the school year that I realized that all the free time I had between classes and labs was meant for studying, not The Guiding Light soap opera!.
Staying in San Diego
I was glad when it was over, I was done with the whole experience, midterms and finals for sure! My brain was was exhausted. I was ready for my break. I needed to catch up with my sis Patty, and my valley friends before facing the reality of adulting. But, once again, an application determined my future. I had applied and was hired for a job at the Science and Engineering Library on campus, starting immediately. In this setting I would really face the diversity of cultures and generations. (I didn’t even know that students could be old!) I had to face it, accept and maybe embrace it. We would see, but first I would catch a quick weekend at home
One short summer weekend, that turned my life upside down and inside out again! My mother fretted and she looked at my sister Patty. Otra vez! She was getting blamed. My other siblings wondered what the heck I was doing. I was a different girl, hold on, same lil Mexican-American chick, but I re-entered San Diego a whole new person from the inside. Some would say “I got religion” Maybe I did. This is what I know, I discovered true friendship.
Wow! A friend who transcended culture, age, gender, mindsets, habits. No pretending, no holding back, he loved me, just the way I was! Immediately I trusted him. No fear of backstabbing, or rejection. No worries that he’d be embarrassed of me, or that I was bothering him. He actually sought to be my friend, he wasn’t too busy. He was that friend that totally influenced every part of me and my life. Now with this new influencer in my life I was challenged to look outside my comfortable culture and accept and offer friendship outside of it. While I was open to it, it was a bit awkward. I was glad that in fact He encouraged me to mix and mingle my Mexican-American culture with his Jesus culture, and beyond! He spoke Spanglish.
I can’t wait to tell about the incredible diversity I’ve enjoyed in my relationships, starting with my marriage. Friends that I would have never chosen or been afraid to approach were arranged into my life beautifully.
Coffee is a big deal these days. It can almost lose its lustre as everyone seems to need their coffee break at their special coffee place, with their special coffee concoction. An extra shot of this or that and of course grande is not big enough anymore. I too participate in that all American tradition of imbibing coffee with my amigas o mi hija or someone I love. I think that the whole of the coffee experience is best enjoyed with a loved one.
Cafe de la Olla is not as potent as todays espresso coffees:
Somewhere in my experiences is a sweet little memory of having my first cup of coffee con mi Ama. As a conscientious American I squirm a little when I see little children taking sips of coffee from their parents cup; I mean little tots even! (My “I already raised 4 kids” know it all attitude raises it’s ugly head, do these parents not realize that coffee sips can increase their levels, of everything) I was little but not so little! And, my coffee was not expresso laced.
Canela captures your senses
One late afternoon I came home tired from a hard day of play. (These were the days before computers, and video games, when it was hard to get kids to get inside!) I thought I was getting home right smack in the middle of moms novelas, so I figured I would slide by quietly and unnoticed. (I just heard everyone catch their breath at my nerve! Or bravery? Really, it was more like foolishness. Who in their right mind messes with Novela Time?) As I opened the front door a whiff of canela captured my nostrils, mom was sitting at the kitchen table, with her cafecito. Oh Oh…
“Donde estabas? Y tu suera?”
“Jugando. We were at the park playing, I didn’t need my sweater. Se acabo la novela?”
She sat there stirring her coffee, nice and creamy with a nice blended aroma. I wanted to try it, I didn’t remember her coffee smelling this good before. I sat and stared at her until she offered me some.
“Cafe? Esta bueno?”
She told me it was her “special blend” and had me get my own coffee cup out of the cupboard. Wow! A special blend. On the stove was a small pot with boiling water and cinnamon sticks. (BTW, cinnamon sticks were essential in my amas kitchen, they brought comfort in more ways than in foods)
I poured my cinnamon water, not carefully, but messily and slowly walked over to the table with my steaming cup of cinnamon tea.
“Echale una cucharadita de cafe, no mucho”
So I stuck a teaspoon into the instant coffee; Nescafe, but just before I dumped the heaping teaspoon into the steaming tea, she calmly grabbed it and poured some coffee grounds back before letting me mix it. I stirred it and watched it. I had expected that it was gonna look creamy like hers did.
“Ama, porque esta negro?”
“Le falta la leche de clavel”
She reached back to the counter and poured some evaporated milk; Carnation brand into my cup, it was thick and creamy as it filled my cup. I was ready to sip like she had, but again she stopped me.
“Tambien le falta la azucar sino va estar amargo”
Ugh! I didn’t want bitter coffee, I wanted the sweet blended drink she was having.
Coffee time with someone you love:
Then, she really floored me and shared some Dona Maria cookies, we usually cleared out the cupboards immediately when sweets were present, an easy task when she still had 6 kids at home. This was her secret stash. As I was dipping my galleta into my cafecito she said,
“Hoy fue el fin de la novela”
No wonder! The grand finale of her novela had just closed and I could live on! I had never been in danger of the novela wrath. She was having her coffee break before starting dinner. Somehow my busy little self stopped to recognize that this was a rare moment; a break for mom and coffee with her special milk which I got to be a part of. And, it was all topped off with her recap of her novela as we sipped our coffee. I was hooked!
I started this blog by looking for the “formal dictionary” definition of my very dear practice of Spanglish. Although Mexican-Americans have similar experiences and each family has its personal touch, most assuredly Spanglish is in their mix. Some families choose to drop the whole Mexican culture and embrace American ways forgetting that it’s OK to be American with languages and traditions from their roots; it is the American way after all. Other families hold on rigidly to the language and culture of the “old country”, perhaps because it is easier to practice what they already know. A concern I’ve had is when families stick to “their own” ignoring the fact that “American” is now part of their experience. Then, there are families like ours; keeping the old, speaking in Spanish often, keeping alive some traditions and holding fast to some of the “old fashion” standards, all the while tentatively reaching out to explore what the good ole U.S.A offered.
What in America is Spanglish? It is what it sounds like, a combination of Spanish and English, dashes and pinches of retreaded words all mixed together so well it forms its own category in the language world; Spanglish. Here’s what a typical conversation with my older sister would sound like while we watched T.V. in the living room (since it’s hard for me to believe I actually have an accent, I hope you can hear us talking, see if you can follow along)
Patty: Man!Tengo hambre. Will you make me sangwich.
Me: Orita no, I don’t want to get up. Estoy bien agusto. You always make me do it.
Patty: Andale! Please. You make them so good, con jalapenos
Me: Not right now. Tengo flojera. You make us one
Patty: Pero, you make the best, andale. Hurry, there’s a commercial, you can do it, bien rapido
Me: I can’t. Se acabo el pan.
In my experience, I’ve learned that not all Mexican Americans speak Spanish, a lot depends what generation they fall under, first, second, third or more. However, I think it’s safe to say that most will speak a little Spanglish if they’ve lived in the barrio or around it. Somehow that Mexican culture mingled into their lives also.
En mi casa, our early days were only in Spanish. My dads Jefe had rented out to him a house out in the middle of nowhere, since he was the farmhand doing the irrigation and taking care of the boss’ fields it was perfect for mom to adjust to her new life. My older siblings hadn’t been immersed into English or American life so Spanish was the only language. Then, when they were immersed into American ways because of school, they repelled that immersion, preferring the comfort of Spanish at home. Three years later, and two more kids (me and my little brother, made eight kids in all), my dad decided to move us into town. We went to the projects.
Here, in very close proximity with the neighbors I heard the “foreign” language of English. By now I was even hearing English from my older siblings. An English word, then a Spanish phrase. Still I found myself shocked when my first best friend; Li’l Debbie, did not speak Spanish, she certainly looked like she should! I think she was a fourth generation Mexican-American (maybe she was just American and not hyphenated?) Li’l Debbie became my first unofficial English teacher. Playing with her and creating Spanglish along the way prepared me for kindergarten and English.
With all this 2nd language coming into our home, Mom had to officially establish an unspoken rule. En mi casa, se habla Español! While we were out in the community, we spoke in English and Spanglish, but when we got home, we spoke in Spanish, Mom didn’t know how to speak English and as we grew and our English improved, she found less and less need to embrace the English language. Instead she took a translator to her every appointment. There was one word that mom used in English. As our voices rose in the house and around the table, and she was hearing too much Spanglish, we would suddenly hear a very loud, “SHAT AP!” And we did.
Speaking in Spanish covers so much more than words. Speaking Spanish reaches out to those Mexican traditions that I am so thankful for. Embracing English along the way paved the way for my appreciation of my country and I can rock my Mexican-Americanness in Spanglish.
I usually tell people that I am bilingual, but as I’ve written this, I wonder if I qualify for trilingual, Porque, pues, you see, it’s like this, poquito Spanish and some English and a mixture that is only captured by a fellow Spanglisher.
Mexican and American – Both can exist together nicely.
What generation do you fall under? First? Second? Or Third generation? When does a hyphen get removed and a hyphenated American become just American? I think that depends on individual preferences. Honestly, I don’t always use my hyphen card, and you know what’s crazy? In other countries, (other than Mexico) I am just American! Don’t get me wrong, I know I’m American, but through the years I’ve walked in mine fields of coined terms and technical vocabulary that I’ve used very non-technically, either applied to myself or to someone in my Mexican-American path.
First-generation American, which I applied to myself, because I assumed that since I was the first of my entire immediate family to be born in the United States I should be first, especially since I’m almost the last of my siblings, I held on to this. For years I’ve said “Yes, I’m a first-generation American,” with a fixed conviction that I was. Then I read the Wikipedia definition: (my sons teacher always warned him about where his source of information was coming from) “According to the U.S Census Bureau, first generation refers to those who are foreign born, second generation refers to those with at least one foreign-born parent, and third-and-higher generation includes those with two U.S. native parents.”
So, not only am I not first, my parents were not just Mexican, they were considered immigrants! By whom? That would be the previous generations of immigrants now called just Americans. Then, as I am processing this information, something else hit me. All my older siblings were considered immigrant children! Raised in the U.S, all of them American citizens, with kids of their own that do not even speak Spanish. It hit me hard, that I was raised in a mixed home; Mexican and American.
Why is this so relevant now?
Because as I sit and describe my Mexican American-ness I realize that some things were not necessarily spoken of, but lived. Just the facts: Mexican parents with six immigrant kids and later two American born kids. A home with mostly Spanish speaking until us younger kids got older and Spanish thinking switched to English and the languages mingled; also called Spanglish. Of course, always speaking only in Spanish when speaking to our mother. We didn’t go around telling our friends or teachers about our home life, but it showed in our upbringing.
It is my experience that many hyphenated American families either incorporate both cultures or stubbornly insist on just one, thankfully our parents allowed us to exercise our American after we had established our Mexican.