Archive for ‘nuevo mexico’

June 13, 2011

tortiller@s at sunrise.

by la rebelde

One morning during the weekend of my abuelito’s funeral, over 2 years ago, Manito D and I got up super early to go to my Tía Rafaelita’s house.  It was still dark outside when we pulled up in the driveway.  Tía Rafi, of course, was already up and looking beautiful as always.  I can only hope that I will look as wonderful as she does when I turn 92.

Tía had invited us to join her, her novio, Manjo, and my older prima, Eva, for breakfast.  As the oldest of thirteen, my tía had been responsible for much of the cooking at a young age.  She is still the best cook and baker of all of them.  And over the week prior, she visited my abuelita daily, always with a cake, or a pot of pozole, or chile and beans, in hand.

That day, she’d invited us over, so that she could teach us to make tortillas.  Now, we’ve made tortillas many times before.  In fact, Manito D has become quite the tortillero extraodinaire over the years.  Tortilla-making is a favorite activity that he and mi sobrino do together, whenever Sobrino visits, which unfortunately is not very often these days.

We stood in front of the oven watching the sun rise, a soft yellow glow over the sage-brush-covered llanos from the kitchen window.  Tía pulled tin canisters and bags from the pantry and began throwing handfuls of ingredients into a giant bowl.  Her voice still sings in the way that the voices of viejitos in northern New Mexico do.  Spanglish, always.  I could barely keep up, she was moving so quickly.  Before I knew it, she had 4 comales going at once and was expertly flipping tortillas, warm and fluffy and fragrant, with an energy I’d never witnessed in person, but only imagined.

After an amazing breakfast consisting of the usual — papitas, huevos, frijoles y chile, and of course, tortillas — we sat in the living room with our cafecitos.  Manjo had been talking non-stop.  Like my abuelo, he was a WWII vet.  He told me that he had recently been declared “legally blind,” but that many people didn’t believe him.  From his shirt pocket, he pulled out a tattered letter from his doctor and handed it to me.  Sure enough, the doc said he only had less than 8 percent vision.

Not before too long, Manjo got up from his chair and said it was time to go home.  His house was just up the street from my tía’s.  I motioned to Manito D to walk with him home.  But Manjo, insisted, “no, no, it’s not far and I go home by myself all the time.”  We hugged him goodbye and Manito D sat down, as Manjo walked out the front door with his white cane outstretched ahead of his steps.  Before we knew it, he folded up his cane, shoved it in his pocket, and hopped in his truck and was roaring out of the driveway!   We laughed until our sides hurt.

A few months later, my prima Eva passed after a long battle with cancer.  And just a few weeks ago, Manjo got very ill.  He had been in the ICU at the veterans hospital for weeks.  Manito D went to see him and they’d talked for a while.  To my surprise, Manjo always asked about me, even when he wasn’t completely lucid–your sister who lives out in LA.  For some reason the viejitos always ask Manito D about me, even if they don’t always know who Manito D is.  Strange.

Early morning phone call from Manito D today.  Manjo passed away last night.  Our elders have been leaving so often lately.  And I am just so grateful to have shared these small, but joyful, moments with them over the years.  From them I have learned so much.

A Manjo y Prima Eva, I send my love to the heavens and cherish the love and warmth you gave us in this life.

[Okay, you got me — this photo is of sunset, not sunrise.  I am just not enough of an early bird to get a good photo of sunrise…or to remember my camera when I do get up early.  I still think it’s an amazing sun photo, even if it *is* taken through a bug-splattered windshield.]

August 2, 2009

all in a day.

by la rebelde

Home. I’m home for a week or so. Haven’t been home since my abuelo left us. His physical absence is everywhere. My grandma is having a hard time. I wish there was something I could do to ease the pain that brings the tears to sting her eyes. “There’s days worse than others,” she told me just minutes ago. When my grandpa became very ill, she stopped paying attention to her own body–only focused on caring for his.  Now she focuses on hers. Tomorrow we take her to have a cataract removed. The other eye will be done in a few weeks.  On the way to the casino, for her daily dose of bingo, she walks faster than I do.  And tonight we sat together in front of my computer with Manito D and youtubed her favorite mariachi songs.  I am grateful for her health.

Niños. Manito D has a way with the children. Over the last few weeks, he has been building a patio/porch from his own design. And he has been doing most of the work by himself. Well, almost by himself–the neighborhood boys from his block, about 13-14 years old, have all been coming over everyday to help out. Why? Because Manito D is “so cool!” This is what they have testified. I’d have to agree. Yesterday he helped them each make their own picnic table/bench to take home for their familias. Five minutes ago, he was up on the rooftop with two of the kids. They tap, tap, tap, nails into shingles to keep the rain and the snow out. Grandma pulled out a 5 dollar bill, “Go buy them a box of ice cream!” The patio is going to be beautiful…even more so, because it became a community project. Photos of the patio in-progress to come soon.

Writing. There’s always writing to do.  And writing I did…well, at least for a couple hours.  In between the rooftop banging, cleaning the bathroom, getting groceries and making dinner.

Sopa. This morning after I took my grandma to mass, we all had breakfast at García’s. They have a new dessert menu. Yum! We didn’t try any of the new items because, well, sopaipillas come with. I had the refried special: 1 egg, scrambled. frijolitos. papitas. chile, red. y una tortilla. I didn’t eat the sopa. My papa and I discussed how, for us, “sopa” means both breadpudding and a nickname for sopaipilla (not soup for us!) Then we couldn’t remember what other people call breadpudding. Took us at least 10 minutes before my papa asked one of the meseras, who is from México. Capirotada!

May 3, 2009


by la rebelde

“this morning

the people hanging out

by the coffee shop

laugh and languish

their carefree tourist manner void of history, of memory

neither attachment nor sentiment to time and place

no scars as enduring testaments

to the questions posed, the answers given”

–Leo Romero, “One Last Cruise: Taos Plaza”

Over the last couple months, my tío has been sending me email letters once a week, updating me on familia and sharing his writing. He’s been writing stories of his childhood and stories he remembers from the elders. It’s his latest post-retirement project. Clearly story-telling runs in the familia. But more on that later…

Last week, when an amiga shared with me the work of nuevomexicano poet, Leo Romero, I wanted to pass it along. I enjoy many of them, but this poem about Taos Plaza was especially striking to me because it tells the story of how the plaza has changed with the influx of large numbers of white hippie types and artists. Back in the day, local people—and by local people I mean, mexicano (no they don’t generally call themselves that in NM, but I do) and native people whose familias go way, WAY back on that tierra—used the plaza for everyday life, like groceries and sodas, passing time together, community events and meeting primos (if you’re from northern nuevomexico, you know that calling someone primo is not only about cousins, but is often a term of endearment and confianza). Back then, the plaza was not for perusing pastel-colored objectifying tourist-oriented artwork. And not for searching for cheap imported kitschy fake southwestern crap like teeny clear plastic boxes of “Mexican jumping beans,” tacky t-shirts and mass produced pottery, like it is today. But I digress.

I emailed the poem to mis manitos, prima and primo, like I usually do, and this time I included my tío. The next day, my tío wrote back very excitedly: Congratulations! I guess we will be planning a trip to small-midwestern-college-town to see you graduate! When I read your email, my heart leaped with joy about your accomplishments! He’d seen my “professional” signature, which says I’m a “Doctoral Candidate” and mistook it for an announcement on having completed the degree.

His email was so warm and so genuine, that I almost didn’t have the heart to write back and tell him that I’m not done, that it will be at least another year before I can even think about a graduation, that this has been a rough year and I’ve fallen so far behind with my pinche dissertation. But I did write back—within three minutes of his message—clarifying that I’m not graduating…not yet.

Then this morning my papá called to tell me that my tío had been over to visit, had informed my papá and my abuela of my news, and that abuelita “had better start packing her suitcases, because we have a graduation to attend!” Papá was worried that I’d told my tío before telling him. Primo called too, just to clarify, and asked if I was going to break the news to my tío or if I wanted him to.  Who knows what more is left of the fallout.

Even though I knew it already (well… sorta), it’s heartening to know how much my tío supports my efforts at this Ph.D. thing.  And even though we haven’t talked about it much, I know that we share the commitment toward story-telling, toward recognizing the importance of time and place in (re)creating histories and living memories.

July 17, 2008

albuquerque pajamas.

by la rebelde

I picked them out at Zodie’s. Yellow pajamas that I was only allowed to wear during summertime. Yellow pants and a button-down top with flores or something like that printed on it. The fabric had teeny holes, which made them light and airy. My grandma used to call them “Albuquerque pajamas” because Albuquerque is “so much hotter than Taos.”

They were my favorite, though, because I just hated those pastel blanket pajamas with the plastic-covered feet attached and the zipper that went from one ankle all the way up to your neck. Those were wintertime pajamas. I didn’t even care that there Strawberry Shortcake (who I loved) stitched over my heart. I must have been four years old then.

The worst thing about those pajamas was that it made me feel much too hot to go to sleep. Like summertime in the wintertime. Yick! When we’d finally outgrown all of the blanket pajamas, my mom and mi manito made a quilt of them. Even now, it looks like a hot quilt.

I was not allowed to wear the yellow pajamas in the winter—only those blanket ones. So I’d roll up my sleeves as high as I could and keep turning my pillow over to feel the cool of the fabric, unheated by my skin. My mom and my grandma rolled blankets and laid them next to the adobe walls, so we wouldn’t get a chill in case we rolled into it. The heater in the bedroom where mi papá and mi tío used to sleep, gushed hot, dry air. I always had trouble falling asleep in the wintertime. When I heard the music from the opening of M.A.S.H., I knew I was awake way past my bedtime.

But in the summertime? My yellow pajamas left my feet bare and I’d press them against the wall and feel the chill of stucco-covered earth. And I’d fall asleep quickly.

March 23, 2008

good friday.

by la rebelde

Yesterday. Good Friday. A perfect spring day. Better in northern Nuevo Mexico than anywhere else. Manito and I drove up to Taos to pick up my grandparents so we’d all be in Burque when Sobrino arrived.

The going was slow because so many people were making the annual “pilgrimage” to the Santuario de Chimayó. Families, couples, individuals, all walking along the side of the highway to pay their respects to the dark brown Cristo and the Santo Niño. Since I was a little girl, I’ve wanted to do the holy week walk. Maybe one of these years, I will. You know, once I get past my nine years of Catholic School trauma and remember to plan ahead for Lent and stuff.

The going was also slow because it was a nice Friday afternoon. And nice Friday afternoons are perfect for cruising in Española. The Santuario and lowriders seem to go together–like in this photo from the Smithsonian exhibit. It seemed like everyone who had a hot lowrider was out—and everyone who didn’t too. It took at least 30 minutes to get from one end of town to the other because even if you didn’t mean to cruise, there’s only one main drag through town so everyone has to cruise. Espa has been called the “lowrider capital of the world.”* (For all you non-believers, see here and here.) My favorite this trip was a glittery light blue ’63 Impala convertible with shiny, shiny rims. I’m no car whiz, but it was amazing!

We weren’t sure if my grandparents heard our car as we crossed over Rio Lucero at the entrance to their driveway. My grampa built that bridge with steel beams and railroad ties, just like all the rio crossings in their barrio. It makes a lot of noise when you drive across. But my grandparents are hard of hearing these days.

I hugged them hello. My grampa even tried to stand to greet me, with his big smile that spreads his wisdom lines across his face. His eyes were twinkling, the way they did when I was a child. He used to swoop me up in his arms and walk over to the entryway so I could ring the bells he liked to hang there. Recently, my Spanish instructor mentioned that she thinks I look a lot like him because our eyes sparkle in the same way when we smile. No one ever said I look like him before. When I told my gramma what my instructor had said, she replied that she agreed and I should be happy because my grampa was “very good looking when he was young—very good looking. You better believe it!” Yea—Gramma’s still reveling after all these years because she got a catch. He did too, she just doesn’t realize it.

We drove back to Burque that evening to meet my papa for torta de huevo (aka the “Lenten special” that I always thought was called “tart” de huevo). Not sandwiches, more like panqueques de huevo…with red chile of course. As I exited at Paseo del Norte going toward the mesa, the sun shone so brightly I was practically blinded. I struggled to shade my eyes, while driving directly into it during Friday evening traffic. Finally at a stop light, I looked over at my grampa who sat pensively in the passenger seat, occasionally trying to adjust the shade on the car ceiling, despite his bad arm (WWII injury). “How are you Grampa? Is the sun bothering you a lot?” “No,” he said. “I just can’t keep the sun out of your eyes.”

The truth is, he has always been and will forever be keeping the sun out my eyes.

Lowrider photo credit: Smithsononian Institution, Photo by Jeff Tinsley, Negative #: 95-3340

* I made a mistake in my original post, which stated that “Espa is the birthplace of the lowrider” and the links did not actually say this. It seems that the birthplace of the lowrider is up for debate. See here. I need to do more research, but the historia I grew up with credits Española for the lowrider. That’s my historia and I’m sticking to it! Muchas gracias to the anonymous commenter who pointed out my mistake.

November 5, 2007

home for the weekend.

by la rebelde

My gramma and I were preparing lunch this weekend during my visit home. The fun thing about cooking at Manito’s house is that he has a big kitchen and really nice cooking utensils–wedding gifts he got to keep. I love kitchen utensils! You’d think I’d cook more often…

When lunch was ready, we called the men, who were sitting in the livingroom, to the table. (The gender dynamic—or as Manito likes to say, “genderfication”—is like that in my family.) As they slowly ambled to their seats, my gramma and I chatted about the how well the vegetable peeler worked.

“I really like kitchen accessories,” I said.

“Me too,” my gramma replied.

“If I don’t get married by the time I’m 40, maybe I’ll register for gifts anyway, so I can get some nice kitchen accessories!” I joked.

Manito and Gramma chuckled.

My very devout Catholic father was silent, thinking. A few minutes later he said, “If you don’t get married by the time you’re 40, you should just become a nun.” (He wasn’t joking.)

Say what??? Forget about being a whole person or all the work I’ve put into my schooling. Apparently my father thinks I won’t be complete until I marry a man—if not the human kind, than the Godly kind. Not to mention, it was very insensitive and actually kind of mean.

I love my dad, but sometimes he says messed up things. Parents aren’t perfect, but because they’re your parents, their words seem to sting in a particular way. The trick is figuring out how to let it roll off the back. Not sure I’ve figured that out yet. Dang.

On another note, there’s nothing like the Nuevo México sky–with or without wafting smoke from the SoCal fires. If you haven’t seen it yet, you’re really missing out!

July 29, 2007


by la rebelde

It’s hot outside. And even hotter in my apartment. I’m afraid it will get even hotter in the next few weeks. The dread of heat makes me think about sleeping, because heat makes me sleepy and because it’s hard to sleep when it’s too hot.

When I was 8 years old, we moved from our small adobe (the real kind) home near Cinco Puntos into a brand-new double-wide home on wheels near the railroad tracks almost as far south on 2nd Street as the road goes in Alburquerque’s South Valley. It was so exciting because the trailer house came furnished, with furniture that matched the wallpaper and curtains that matched the carpets. My mom never cared whether anything matched—only if it was cheap–so this was a first. My parents had the trailer set on an empty lot, on a dead-end dirt road, surrounded by tumbleweeds and unfortunately, no trees. All of our neighbors lived in trailer houses too. For the first few weeks in our new place, we had no electricity or gas. Luckily, we had water. If you’ve ever lived in a trailer house, you’ll know that they don’t have very good insulation, that they trap heat inside like a big ole oven. And in the nuevo méxico sunshine, it couldn’t get any hotter. As kids, we didn’t seem to notice the heat too much. We were too busy playing outside, going to swimming lessons and doing other summertime things that need not be done in the house. It was only at night that I really remember the feeling of being too hot.

When we first moved in, we had to use flashlights at night. It forced us to go to bed earlier than usual. Even though desert nights were cool, there was not enough air circulation to bring in the outside air. Once the electricity was up and running, my brothers and I would take turns sleeping in front of the air conditioner on three dining chairs we’d pull together to stretch out on. My mom would often put a large box fan in between my brothers’ room and mine. She would shift it so that each of our rooms got the fan for a little bit–fifteen minutes toward their room, fifteen minutes toward mine. Sleeping in the heat was miserable. Three years later we moved across the Río Grande to Los Padillas. Our adobe house was surrounded by tall fruit trees and cottonwoods. We didn’t even need the fans after that. It was such a welcome relief.

There was only one other time I remember being that hot. It was the summer of 1999, between college and grad school. I stayed in an awful third-floor walk-up studio apartment in Brooklyn with my ex. I was trying to find temp work, but ended up spending most of the days in the apartment with the windows open, hoping it would cool down, the smell of pigeon crap wafting into the room from the fire escape. I never got a good night’s rest that summer because the heat made me toss and turn. That was the first summer in a long time that the electricity went out in NYC. Too many people were too hot and using up all the juice. For a week or so, I went to the law firm with my ex, spending the day in an empty office so that I could be in the air conditioning. The electricity only went out in the poor brown areas, like Washington Heights and Harlem. Of course, midtown and downtown, the financial districts, were fine. I remember being really pissed off that despite the requests of the city for folks to conserve energy, those corporate assholes kept the a.c. going full-blast. I was pissed too, because had my ex not been a law student intern, I would not have had a cool place to escape from the heat. I was pissed because there were sick people stuck in their apartments without elevator access, people who were scraping by and whose food spoiled, viejitos who were dying because the temperatures in their apartments were unhealthily high. And yet, the a.c. and every single light and computer, regardless of whether they were in use, was on in the law firm where I found refuge from the blazing heat.

It’s not even as hot in my LA apartment now as it was in the trailer or in that Brooklyn apartment. But it reminds me of how much worse it could be. Some day soon, I will have a job that will allow me to pay for an apartment with central air. Hopefully it will be in a place where sunshine abounds. I keep telling myself I’ve lived in hotter and worse conditions, in hopes that it will make me feel a little cooler. But it hasn’t worked. It does, however, remind me to conserve energy more.

July 20, 2007

future historian.

by la rebelde
I sat at the steering wheel of my papá’s car, driving north on US 285 through the small towns along the Río Grande. My grampa sat in the passenger seat, holding tightly onto the handle on the door. My 8-year-old nephew and my gramma sat in the backseat. We just passed Española and were headed toward the beginning of the canyon. It’s a familiar drive between Burque and Taos. As we passed by the Oñate Monument, my gramma pointed out the $2 million (more than that actually and in tax dollars!) bronze statue that was erected in Don Juan de Oñate’s likeness during the 1998 cuartocentenario (400 years) “celebration” of Spanish colonization of Pueblo peoples in what is now the U.S. state of nuevo méxico. That asshole really WAS a “war criminal” (as the Pueblos that protested the monument/celebration stated), not to mention ruthless, horrible jackass. Heeeell yea!

This is the statue of Don Juan de Oñate that stands in front of the Oñate monument in northern nuevo méxico. I hear the seam where they had to reattach his foot is still visible if you walk up to the statue. But I haven’t seen it and I’m trying not to go there, if I can help it.
I borrowed this photo from here. You can read more about it here and here.

Anyway, gramma brought up how a group of native people cut off Oñate’s right foot—the foot of the statue, that is. And of course, this sent my nephew into a series of questions of the “why?” variety. Too bad I didn’t have this quote from an article covering the story:

“We took the liberty of removing Oñate’s right foot on behalf of our brothers and sisters of Acoma Pueblo,” read a statement sent by the group, which later sent to news outlets a snapshot of its hostage foot. “We see no glory in celebrating Oñate’s fourth centennial, and we do not want our faces rubbed in it.”

I tried to explain how the cutting off of Oñate’s foot demands that history not be brushed aside. How it reminds us that master narratives are constantly recreated and reinforced, and that they legitimize colonization thereby reproducing it. Now the story of Oñate’s foot will be forever tied to the narrative about the monument, forcing all of us to recall the bloody, violent history of when Oñate ordered the right feet of Acoma men be cut off. I tried to explain to Sobrino how this awesome, symbolic act of resistance rewrote of the historical narrative without using the jargony words. Geez, it’s much harder than I thought!

Anyway, that night at my grandparents’ house, I asked him to bring me his book so we could read together. (His bedtime story–my brother’s trying to replace video game time with other, more constructive activities.) Out of his orange backpack, he pulled an old Reader’s Digest edition of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith, originally published in 1943, and climbed onto the couch-turned-bed next to me. It is one of mi manito’s favorite books and one of the many, many Reader’s Digest books my grandparents had collected over the last few decades. Recently, they reorganized their living-room and all the books ended up in boxes out on the porch, waiting to be donated. I think manito rescued this one from the boxes, not to mention, the elements.

I turned to the page where mi prima had left off the night before and began reading. I’ve never read the book, except for the 2 chapters I read that night. They were about this little boy, who was still breast-feeding even though he was too old to be still breast-feeding. In fact, his demand for breast milk deprived his younger sister of breast milk. So his mother painted her chichi black with scary red teeth on the nipple and scared him off the teet. Personally I found this rather amusing. But my nephew was concerned about why a mother would scare her son so much…and possibly give him a heart attack. “Well, he was pretty young, so I’m sure his heart was strong enough to take the scare,” I said. Sobrino was not buying it. And soon he changed his questions back to the Spaniards.

In fact, he wanted to know about British and French colonization too. Somehow he made a connection between this story of a mother trying to ween her son of breast-feeding and colonization. I’m still trying to figure out what that connection was, how that young mind thought to link these two stories together. “Why didn’t we just fight the Europeans away with our spears?” he asked. (By “we,” he meant native peoples—Sobrino’s mother comes from a black-native family and our Chican@ side is mestiz@ with Pueblo roots except we are defined by the state as “Hispanic” which puts us in a position of privilege in many respects, but that is another, very long post.)

Let’s just say I did not see that coming! I think I know too much to give a succinct answer to such a huge question, one that historians have been asking for a long, long time. I tried to break down the us-and-them thing. Not sure he got it. Sobrino asked why the European colonizers came here in the first place. But he wouldn’t take “world domination” as the reason. I finally had to tell him just to go to bed. It was very late. We’d talk more about it another day. Before he got under the covers, he exclaimed, “This is fun, Tía!” he said. “And interesting too!”

Ahh, the child just warms my heart. Between this day and our visit to the JANM, I’m convinced he’s a young historian in the making. Now if only he would read more, instead of playing those horrible video games!

May 28, 2007

volar como la paloma.

by la rebelde

Lola Beltrán singing “Cucurrucucu Paloma” back in the day.

That morning I sat in the driver’s seat of my abuelos’ enormous Buick LeSabre, watching my grampa direct my driving from the rear-view mirror as I backed out of the shed. After I turned the car around in their lot, grampa pointed down the drive that leads to the road, wanting me to pull up to the door, so my gramma could get in the back seat and so he could take his time getting in and buckling up. It seems like they age so much more each time I visit. That morning we were on our way to the hospital to visit my Tía B. Just days before, we heard her illness had turned for the worst and almost all mis prim@s, tías y tíos, and her comadres had gathered in northen nuevo méxico to see her.

Tía B was my gramma’s closest sister—the second of thirteen children, she was only a couple years older. My gramma is the third. “I miss you, I missed you!” Tía B had said to Gramma the last time. (Because Gramma and Grampa had been to Alburquerque the week before to celebrate Grampa’s 83rd birthday at el casino bingo with mi papá.) That morning I stood with my gramma and my older prima–her daughter–around the bed, gently rubbing Tía’s leg. She looked at me, and recognized who I was. She started to say something, but the effort hurt her too much. Prima said quietly, “She wants to talk, pero no puede.” I smiled at Tía, but I didn’t speak for fear of bursting into tears, and making my gramma cry too. Afterward, we’d gone for a walk in the park and for frito pies at the local familia joint and for groceries. It had been comforting to be in a place where everyone but the hippies and tourists is familia, or knows our familia from way back. When we got the call, my gramma immediately started calling her herman@s. “Se murió, se murió,” she said over and over, as my grampa and I sat in the living room, listening. “That’s a dirty job, calling all those people,” my grampa said. That’s what I remember most vividly about that day—the sound of Gramma’s voice and the feeling of not wanting to stop hugging her.

The last few days were spent celebrating Tía’s life—velarios, rosarios, comidas, una misa, y más. And yesterday, we all stood around the place where Tía’s ashes would be buried alongside Tío’s, “so they can hold hands” I remember someone saying. The deacon explained to the niñitos the steps that los católicos de nuevo méxico take when mourning the death of a loved one. That she was now una angelita. How we could pray to her along with la virgen. For some reason, I believed him this time (despite my strained relationship with the church over the last couple decades). And I watched mi prima, who’s around my same age, kneel by the grave, taking la tierra in both hands and holding it up to the skies before crumbling it between her fingers and sprinkling it in, trying to hold back the tears and the mocos. I can’t help but think about how I will be in her place soon.

My gramma told many cuentos this week. Here is my favorite.

When Tía first started dating my Tío, my gramma was about 15 years old and my tía was about 17. Tío lived about 5-6 miles away from my great gramma’s house. And since Gramma rode her bicicleta to work at the train station ticket booth in town after school, she would sometimes take Tía to his house first, peddling with my tía holding onto her shoulders from behind, standing on the edges of the wheel’s center—the part that doesn’t spin too. Tío would walk her home before dark, waiting a bit away from the house, and they never told my great gramma where she’d been. (Although I’m sure she must have known—they always seem to know, don’t they?)

Great gramma was very strict. And she made sure that the girls would act like “proper” young ladies. When they went to the bailes, they were not to turn down a dance with any boy who asked. And they would have to sit in a row on a bench alongside the wall. Whoever sat next to Great Gramma, would get a fierce pinch in the arm, if they misbehaved. Gramma said she learned to sit as far away from Great Gramma as possible. “I always sat at the other end of the bench because I learned.”

Shortly after my gramma and grampa were married (after my Grampa returned from WWII), they joined my Tía B and Tío P at the plaza for a baile. Grampa and Tío went to the bar, leaving my Gramma and her sister to themselves. A man asked Gramma to dance, but she said no. “My mom would have given me a good pinch if she knew!” she said. Sooner or later, the boy went up to the mic where the band was singing and announced how my gramma didn’t want to dance with him. And he had the band play “vuela la paloma” to her. Gramma said Tía B had laughed and laughed, and she wouldn’t let her live that one down. “That’s what you get for saying no,” she’d chuckled. “Well, I didn’t want to dance with him. He danced like this!” my gramma told me, demonstrating how badly he danced, grinning as she moved her arms all about. I laughed so hard when she told me the story, trying hard to imagine what Gramma and Tía were like as young mujeres, close amigas y hermanas.

Vuela como la paloma, Tía B. Mil gracias por todo. Y te quiero mucho.

May 6, 2007

porque now you live in l.a.

by la rebelde

At 8:30 this morning I was jolted awake by the ear-piercing ring of my cell phone. My dad was calling to check on my flat-tire situation, which transpired yesterday. “You need to have all four of your tires replaced,” he said definitively. “Porque now you live in LA.” I love how my dad thinks in such dramatic terms about my living in LA now. It’s like all precautions one would take in Burque are to be taken to the extreme in Los Angeles. After all, my dad should know—he lived here in 1969, a point he likes to remind me of quite often.

Yesterday I had morning coffee and a bagel with my good friend, Miss J, at a cute little coffee shop I recently learned of. When I parked the car, she pointed out that one of my tires needed some air. After she left, I headed to the gas station, where I found another tire was even lower than the one my friend pointed out. I filled them all before embarking on the hour-long drive to the library, where I would spend the afternoon listening to testimonios–oral history interviews conducted in the 1970s. Old tapes on old tape players. Let’s just say I wasn’t looking forward to it. (More on los archivos some other day. I’m admittedly avoiding writing about them because I’m in denial about lots of things dissertation-related.)

When I got back to my car, the tire—not the one J pointed out, the other one—was completely flat. Visions of shredded rubber, black streaks on grey pavement, and cars spinning out of control on the freeway flashed through my mind. I had to wait almost 2 hours for the tow guy to drive through heavy Friday afternoon traffic so he could come put the spare on for me. I watched him work. It seemed so simple, I was kicking myself! Why didn’t I pay more attention when my dad showed me how to do this a few years ago? Wait, do I even have the upper-body strength to turn the wrench? And why did I decide to drive 25 miles from my apartment on a questionable tire? Oh yeah…the lure of the pinche dissertation. Anyway, I took the streets to get home because I was afraid of driving on the freeway with a shady tire that makes my car look like it has a skeleton leg. Thank goodness my girl warned me about the tires, otherwise I could have been stranded on the 10!

So my dad called to get the car update. It’s what he does to show that he loves me. He talks about my car and helps me with the costs of repair work until I get a “real” job. He asks about school, expecting a short, yes-or-no type of answer. It’s his way of being a part of my adult life. Which leads me back to why I was on the west side in the first place and why I’m even in LA—to write my dissertation.

So at 8:30 PST this morning–which I think is early on a Saturday–my dad was just sitting down to breakfast at IHOP in burque with mi manito and my grandparents. As I answered the phone “Hi Papá,” I heard his voice some 900 miles away, “Scrambled. Sausage links. And whole grain pancakes, if you don’t mind.” “What?” I croaked through my sleep. “Heeeey! How’s your car?!” he said all jolly and awake-like. He must have been in a really good mood. I love when my dad is jolly. After talking about the car for a while, he did our familia ritual, passing the cell phone around the table so I could say hello to the folks.

“Hi grandma. How are you?” I said. “Comiendo, as usual. I’m having the Belgian waffle. Come join us!” she said…as usual. Then my grandpa took the phone. “I hear you have a flat tire!” he said. “Yes,” I smiled. “Which side is it flat on?” he asked. I was confused. “What do you mean?” “Well, it’s only flat on the bottom side, right?” he laughed. My grandparents are so cute.

I wish I could join them for breakfast. I’m due for a trip home soon, for reals. I really miss mi familia today…porque now I live in LA.