Sunday, January 8, 2012

What chilaquiles taught me about life & love.

All I really wanted as a kid was a third grade summer just like every other kid's third grade summer. To wake up late, sit in front of the television watching morning cartoons while Cheerio milk drool collected on my lap, and then run out the door to throw stuff at things ... or things at stuff, depending on the weather.

Granted, many of my summer days were like this. Many, but not most.

I would get about as far as wiping the milk drool off my face and start to make my lightning-fast bolt out the door, when my mom would inevitably call out my name.

"LUCIAAA, ven!"

My ama is the only person I know who's shout can cause anything to defy all laws of physics. With just one call, both of my feet would be suspended in a mid-air running position with my frizzy, braided pig-tails jutting out at each side of my head like giant antennae. My brothers would continue on their way to play marbles or G.I. Joe, or whatever game they conjured up that day and I would turn around and make my slow walk back into the house, kicking invisible rocks along the way.

In my little fat-kid head, I thought that the tasks my mom had me complete were a completely normal part of every little girl's summer chores. It wasn't until I went back to school and talked about them and received the wide-eyed "you had to do WHAT?" response that I realized they weren't.

There were days that I had to go out onto the back patio with my ama and assemble a hand-cranked grinder and secure it to the edge of a table for whatever meal it was she would be making. After a while I became an expert in learning to assemble the culinary contraption, always being careful not to hold on to the blades because, as my mom once said "I don't want finger chicharones in my tortillas." The grinder had a vice-like bottom which would attach to the edge of anything hard and steady, with two cylindrical blades covered by a metal tulip-shaped cup. The arm was attached to the end of the cylinders so that each turn would rotate both cylinders and crush anything that fell in between.

We would usually grind maize for tortillas, gorditas or any other doughy dish. My ama would slowly pour in the maiz as I turned the handle over, and over ... and over again. Every so often switching which of my chubby arms I would use. I'd eventually start getting so tired, my posture would begin to suffer, shoulders slowly making their way to the floor. To which my mom would shout out "parate bien!" and just like that, they'd shoot back up and even reach for the sky.

Once the grinding was over, my mom would take the fresh masa into the kitchen and I'd watch her slap together perfectly rounded tortillas or gorditas (My job during the gordita making was to scrape the middle of the cooked masa round so that the beans and/or meat could rest perfectly in the middle. It was my favorite thing to do and I'd get nerdily excited about doing it.)

Sometimes, though, it wasn't just tortillas we'd have for dinner. Sometimes my ama wanted to make mole. Chicken mole. Mole, made with chickens. And the task at hand for me was not to help her with the masa, but to help her with the chicken.

Now, you'd think this would be as easy as walking to the market and asking the butcher for a whole chicken or two. But no, not in my third grade summer reality.

At one point in our suburban history, my family - like many families along the dusty streets of Pacoima, had some small farm animals in their yard. Mainly chickens, at one point we had a goat, but that was a dark point in my childhood memory... let's not talk about that now...

I digress. So, on the days that my ama would say she wanted to make chicken mole, I knew what fate would be bestowed on me and Chickey, Charlie, Chompiras, Chuck and Chuy (names I had at one point given my chicken friends). My wild brain would imagine myself opening the coop and setting them all free, waving at them frantically as they flew over the orange trees. But no, those stupid chickens didn't want to learn how to fly. So instead I'd follow my mom out with a pot of water that I'd set on the fire and watch as she chose one, chased it around a bit and then with one, swift and fatal movement, swing the poor bastard over her head by it's neck until it fell limp.

She'd dunk the now defunct Chompiras in the boiling water a few times, yank at a few of the feathers saying "fijate, fijate como lo hago" and then hand him to me. I'd sit outside in my little kid chair, with my little kid overalls and my little kid braids, doing not so little kid chores like yanking out feathers from chicken carcases. When I was done she'd finish the job cleaning him up, draining his blood and removing all unneeded organs. She'd cook Chompiras with some garlic and salt and then cover him with the spicy reddish brown mole.

While saddened that my chicken friend was gone, I never let one of his fat little legs go to waste. My ama makes some awesome mole.

During my third grade summer, I thought that my ama was just being a parental tyrant and making me do chores because I was there. Little did I know that those things she had me do would play into my adult life. During my third grade summer I probably could have learned to double dutch, but I learned to be patient instead. I learned that, while there may be short-cuts in life, doing the steady and dedicated work to get what you want and more so what you need adds much more flavor to your end product.

I woke up today nauseous from an over-indulgent night out with with a friend. Laying in my bed, staring at the ceiling I also began to feel a pain grow in my belly and reach up into my chest. I knew this wasn't because of Johnny's Gin & Tonics, but because of a recent decision I forced myself to make, one that I knew would cause me a great deal of pain for the time, but would also, in the end, bring a great deal of clarity and strength for those involved.

Immediately I thought about driving to my parent's house, laying my head on my ama's shoulder and asking her to make me some of her delicious chilaquiles to help me overcome the pain. And then I realized that my mom's shoulder wouldn't always be there. That one day I would walk through her door, and her smells would no longer be filling her house. Where would I be then? Laying in my cold bed with an endless heartache?

I had to recreate my third grade summer, understand what she did, how she did it and why she did it. It was this way that I could keep her shoulder close to me whenever I needed it.  

I called her up and asked if she would teach me exactly how she made her chilaquiles. Happily, she agreed and told me to pick up a few things on my way. She stood by me, instructing me what to do, how to do it, and just how much of what to add (which was always just a "pinch" or a "bunch" or "tu alli tanteale"). It wasn't a long process, but it was a process nonetheless. Adding, taking away, "tanteandole," - waiting, being patient...

"Hechale mas aciete."
"Quitale aciete"
"Falta sal"
"Menea la olla o se te queman"
"Esperate... todavia le falta... un poquito mas.... y ya."

I was nerdily excited when my ama said I had done a good job and that my pan of chilaquiles was ready to be shoved into my mouth. I turned to the living room and told my dad "I know how to make chilaquiles like my ama!!" To which he stoically replied "are you sure?"

I wasn't. I'd have to try again.

Funny what chilaquiles can teach you about life and love.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Sonavabitch, No Lo Vas A Creer....

Note: I have many more stories about my parents to come, but today I'm dedicating this entry to my big brother. Happy Birthday, Maurilio! 

The older I get, the more I appreciate a nice, cold beer after a long day at the office. Sometimes I like to pour myself a glass of wine, or two. When it’s a particularly difficult day, I find myself wanting to appreciate a nice bottle of tequila.

I don’t want to make myself out to be a miserable, fumbling alcoholic, not in the least. I’m fully functioning and quite content… most of the time.

One thing I remember from my childhood (and I’ve written about this before here) is how my dad would enjoy a beer in a similar fashion. When my dad started tapering off his after-work beer, my brother, Maurilio, took over the torch with gusto.

While I was still living at my parent’s house, I would remember seeing my oldest brother walk in the front door, nod at nothing in particular, glide through the living room then make his way gliding through the kitchen saying hello to whoever was around. In a matter of seconds his glass, which was already in his hand before he walked in the door, reached the tequila bottle sitting somewhere in the den.

If it wasn’t tequila it was rum or bourbon with a splash of coke. Sometimes Vodka and anything else.

Then sometimes someone would ask “how was work, Maurilio?”

Now, let me pause here and give you some background information. My brother has what most would consider a pretty unassuming job. He works for the county, keeping the waterways flowing and working, getting to know Los Angeles from the underground sometimes.

However, my brother is not an unassuming man.

So let’s go back to ask Maurilio how his day went.

“How was work, Maurilio,” someone would probably ask.

To which he would reply first by taking a swing, shaking his head and saying something like: “**No lo vas a creer… I heard a noise and said ‘whathafakisthat?!’ so I reached into the tunnel and felt a branch. I pulled on it and the mathafaker, no se quieria salir! So I grabbed it with both hands and que crees?  A big mathafaken snake in the wash! I had it right there by the cola and it was all moving and going hsss! Hsss!....”

At this point, Maurilio would put down his glass and mimic the perturbed snake’s movements, jumping into the air, moving his body side to side, laughing and hissing through his grin.

Then, someone would probably ask “What did you do?!”

To which he would reply “I tried to grab it by the boca, pero no se dejaba!”

Then everyone in the kitchen would shake their heads and say “Ay, Maurlio!” (This is the proposed title of the sitcom I plan on piloting.) (Insert laugh track.)

These are those types of once-in-a-lifetime stories that you save for your bar or party gatherings when people have run out of things to say and you really need a big laugh, right?

Ah, you would think. This is, I remind you, Maurilio we’re talking about.

Fast forward to oh, two days after his snake story. Maurilio enters my parent’s living room (Roar of applause!) Glides through the livingroom, nods, glides through the kitchen, reaches the bottle of what-have you and leans, nonchalantly, against the sliding den door.

“How was work, Maurilio?”

**No lo vas a creer…  I was driving over the wash and I saw these patos. I thought they were patos, but they were people! Just like there in the was (Here Maurilio begins to mimic bobbing movements with his upper body) and I said ‘whathafak are these mensos doing?....”

“Ay, Maurilio!”

I’ve got to confess, though, not ALL of my brother’s stories are this exciting after you dissect them. But, my brother’s whirlwind passion for everything and anything (whether he loves it or hates it) makes any one of his stories vibrant.

His additions of “watthefak?!” and “sonovabitch” to most any sentence are pretty supportive clauses to his physical interpretations of stories.

Reciprocially, his interest in what you have to say (whether he loves it or hates it) also makes you feel like your story is as vibrant as one of his great Maurilio adventures.

“Lucia, what do you think of graffttii…” he might ask me.

“I think some of it is art…” I might (boldly) reply.

“WHAT?! COMO? NO! NO LO PUEDO CREER!? How do you think that’s  art? Those pinches cholos all with their stupid pants like this (mimics someone running down the street, holding up their sagging pants and waving an invisible spray can in the air)… how is that art?”

“Well, Maurilio…”

At which point he’d run to grab a beer, a chair and sit with his chin in his hands to listen wide-eyed to what I was about to say.

My brother turns 50 today. He’s in Mexico, celebrating with our family down there. I was compelled to send my nephew a Facebook message that read “Please take care of my big brother, make sure he doesn’t get lost.”

Still, I have a feeling that when he comes back and we ask “How was your trip, Maurilio?” He’ll respond with “No lo puedes creer…”

I’m inviting my family to go ahead and wish Maurilio a happy birthday by sharing their favorite “Ay, Maurilio” story in the comments below!

**These stories are as close to or resembling stories I've heard him say. My fits of laughter during his stories may have distorted my memory a bit. 

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Songs the rain makes

Papa Pedro

This rain makes me extremely nostalgic; it reminds me of the mornings I'd wake up, throw a blanket over my shoulder and lazily stagger to the sofa. That San Marcos blanket over my shoulder feeling heavy like a sack of potatoes, yet feeling as if I was surrounding myself in a cloud.

My mom would be in the kitchen making tortillas and warming up a pot of beans. The sound of her hand slapping together the delicious corn dough made me sink further into my blanket and smile with enthusiasm. I knew that I'd soon be enjoying those warm tortillas with some hearty beans and queso fresco.

Her humming syncing perfectly with the slapping and clanking of the tortilla press and the droplets hitting the window just above my warm San Marcos burrow.

Unfortunately I have yet to capture my mom's beautiful humming and songs, but I wanted to share this quickie memory with you all.

These are my grandfathers favorite songs, which he sung to his son (my father) and the rest of his children, possibly on rainy days like today. The songs in the videos are sung by my tio Everardo.

El Testamento

El Solterito

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Love in the time of Cheese and Machetes

I like cheese. 

I love cheese. There are two mini rounds of Queso Ranchero in my fridge and I feel almost embarrassed to peel back that wrapper and crumble some onto my beans. I open my fridge and flirt a little with it; give it a wink, giggle, say "hi... cheese." I feel so clumsy reaching for it, trying to decide if I want to unwrap it or not, like an awkward teenage boy fumbling for words to compliment the shiny, shiny hair of the girl who sits in front of him in Geometry class.

"Hello. Uhm. Hello... hi.... pretty. hair."

I want to devour those mini rounds of cheese, but if I do, they lose their beautiful roundness, wholeness... like the full moon. Sigh.

I'm not sure if my love for cheese stems from my memories of my ama and apa coming home from their trip to the motherland. The two happy travelers walking through our front door and opening one of their large suitcases to reveal layers and layers of hard, smelly, waxy rounds of cheese in shades of ivory, yellow and white; that fermented smell finally reassuring us that they were home, safe and sound.

Or, if my admiration of the milky byproduct is just innate, carnal passion that flows through my veins. I am, after all, the scion that arises when machetes and cheese meet in the hills of Santa Monica.

The hills of Santa Monica were lush and fertile in 1959. We are, of course, speaking of Santa Monica, Zacatecas, Mexico ... 1959 AD. The Torres' were well known in and around these hills. It was Don Pedro, Doña Maria and their large and impressive family who owned some land, some farm animals and who's daughter, Guadalupe, made excellent cheese. People would take the small risks to travel to Santa Monica from surrounding communities to buy or barter with Guadalupe for her rich, delicious, home-made cheese. One of these being Doña Mercedes Flores who had some very attractive daughters, according to the local boys.

I imagine that if they were to be described by young men in the language of our society today, they would be described with simple statements like:


perhaps even:


But in 1959, they were beautiful, bronzed, mestiza princess'.

Doña Mercedes and one of her daughters were preparing for a trip to Santa Monica to repay Guadalupe for some rounds of cheese she had so kindly credited to the Flores family. Doña Mercedes, wanting to extinguish opportunity for trouble that might arise, pleaded with her younger daughter, Luisa, to accompany her on the trip.

Luisa was a trouble maker, you see. A young woman who decided to walk out of the third grade because she couldn't be bothered to learn vowels when there were clouds to chase. A dare-devil who marveled at the idea of possibly, just possibly, running under and through large delivery trucks with the speed of light.

No, Luisa could not stay, Doña Mercedes thought. Even though she was already a young woman of 18, who knows what kind of trouble she would get herself into, she had to go.

But Luisa couldn't be bothered. The thought of traveling to Santa Monica bored her, deeply. Doña Mercedes finally convinced her to go on the trip and Luisa reluctantly prepared herself for the trip, thinking to herself that she could possibly catch herself one of them rich ranchers that lived along the way... just for funsies.

Upon arrival, Luisa immediately caught the eye of Doña Maria, who gushed over her beauty like a hybrid of awe-struck fans and big bad wolf:

What big beautiful eyes she has!

What gorgeous dark hair she has!

Mercedes, what a small little waist she has!

Mercedes, what a beautiful daughter you have!

Luisa graciously accepted the compliments and wondered where those rich ranchers were hiding, as she didn't see them along the way.

Somewhere on the other side of Santa Monica, Don Pedro's diligent sons were out in the pisca, the fields, working as hard as their father taught them since the age of five. Andres, one of the youngest, had recently come home from studying in a seminary; a path he was discovering thanks to his much respected uncle Bibiano.

It came time to return home and so Andres led himself and his brother, Jesus, back through the lush hills of Santa Monica. Andres had to swing furiously at the branches and weeds in order to clear a path that would safely guide them home. Taking his arms-length machete, he raised it over his head and swung right, then left, then right again. Jesus, following just behind, and stepped on the fallen branches, like a king would follow rose petals thrown in his path.

Left, right, left, right, left..

Sweat beading on his forehead, neck and arms with every swing and every step.

Oh those conspiring bits of perspiration!

In one heavy, sweaty swing, Andres lost his grip on the heavy machete which went flying behind him and into poor, unsuspecting Jesus' face.

Oh of all the holy's that my father learned in the seminary...

They quickly rushed home, where Doña Mercedes and her daughters were still socializing with Guadalupe and Doña Maria. Amidst all the chaos, Luisa's eyes fell on Andres.

Fine ringlets of hair peacefully resting, creating a deep bronze heaven atop of his head. He was tall, sturdy with big hands and milky-way eyes. While Doña Maria was examining Jesus' now bloody face and nose, Luisa inched closer, and closer, and a little more closer to Andres.

Like a curious Alice standing underneath the giant glass table, trying to determine just how much taller this statue of a man was. Andres, too worried about the damage he had done to his brother's face, paid no attention to the silly girl. Luisa quickly reviewed stealthy plans in her head...

Stomp on his foot. Apologize profusely.
Nudge him in the ribs. Apologize profusely.
Faint. No, fainting was silly.

Before she could devise a plan to get this man to look in her direction, Mercedes announced to her daughters that it was time to head home.

There was not one, long, dreamy, sparkly eye contact made between Luisa and Andres. So a bit sullen and lovelorn, Luisa returned home. She had completely forgotten about those rich ranchers she was supposed to catch. It hadn’t mattered to her anymore, she had preoccupied her mind with conspiring ways in which to gain the attention and admiration of this statuesque man.

Perhaps Doña Mercedes would need to buy more cheese from Guadalupe. A lot more cheese. And perhaps Luisa should go with her on these trips to buy more cheese.

Oh, but just as Luisa was a daring girl, Andres was a clever man.

He had dealt with many a beast before, enough to know that you don't stare the wild ones in the eyes lest you frighten them away. A woman like Luisa would need to be very slyly wrangled.

The next day, Luisa heard a peculiar bird out her window. One with ringlets of deep bronze and milky-way galaxies for eyes. It was sitting on top of a dark horse that neighed and stomped at the ground. Luisa caught on to this bird's song right away; she knew that if she were to return its call directly, it would gallop away on the horse it rode in on. Nor would she run out to him, spinning about and giggling like a wild trompo. These were things that silly love-sick girls did, and being such a silly girl was not her style.  

She instead decided that something on the roof's patio needed tending to. Something very important.

She wasn't exactly sure what, but never was she so eager to tend to chores on that roof that provided an unobstructed view onto the road in front of her house.

The bird acknowledged this action with a hum and a whistle and rode off. Luisa would see this bird a few days later, riding in on his dark horse, while she was in the river with the other women of the town washing sheets and dresses. 'Here he comes,' she'd sigh 'that tall man on his dark horse with his gun strapped to his belt.'

The fact that Andres always carried a gun when he rode was definitely a big sell for my mother in this courting.

For precisely one year, Andres and Luisa would secretly exchange their loving, star-filled glances as this courting needed to be kept hidden from their families; they were young and still had many responsibilities in the home to tend to. As such, many of their encounters were simple “coincidences.” Andres would gallop to the rushing river on the days she happened to be there, knee deep in crisp water scrubbing her skirts against the large stones. They would see each other at local community festivities and celebrations and have smiling conversations under the paper flowers and fireworks. At times they would meet under the cover of  the sweet shade cast by the trees, sharing funny stories and reciting their dreams like poetry.

They were wed on December 28, 1960 in a small church, with a small ceremony with large amounts of love.

My parents celebrated their 50th anniversary approximately one month ago. She now looking very much like a mestiza queen and he with his bronze hair now turned a shining platinum heaven atop his head, still sharing long sparkly glances. He, still finding ways to work with her wild ways and she, still conjuring up plans to rile up his serious ways.

They shared the day with us, a few dozen mis-matched silly boys and girls, lovers of food and wine, the offspring they created in the time of cheese and machetes.

Friday, September 24, 2010


This morning as I staggered off the train and down the street to the office, still drunk from lack of sleep and the bright-light, screeching slot machine that is my brain, all I could think about was a piece of fruit. Any piece of fruit: apple, banana, pear… spots, no spots, bruised, shriveled. I was hungry, and my ama wasn’t around to predict that I would regret running out the door without a morning bite.

While living under my parent’s roof, my ama always made it a point to shove some piece of fruit into the bottom of my bag. In high school, I remember finding shriveled oranges wrestling in the brown slime that I assume used to be a banana at the bottom of my backpack. When I began making a long-haul commute to and from campus, she graduated to sneaking in breakfast burritos and bolillos into my book bag. It should be noted that I’m fully talented in the art of procrastination and as such would typically run out of my bedroom in the mornings with one shoe on my foot and the other in my hand; yanking at book bag straps and fumbling with door knobs. This big-time college Chicana was way too busy to “throw something in my gut,” as my ama would always say. My replies to that always sounding like drunken troll drivel.

Baaarrghgrhhhh… running late!

Gaahhpfstthh… Gonna miss the bus!

Oooossggghhhh….  No hambre, hungry no!

Meeeeeghgghhhh…. Noqweiisk fdseirr!!

In her typical loving manner, my ama would simply call me a mensa and, in an indirect way, tell me that it would be my fault were I to suffer and die of starvation should I be stranded somewhere in the winding wilderness of Westwood. 

That should I be sitting in the interrogation rooms of PoliSci discussion courses with a stomach so hungry it would eat itself inside out, the pain would be mine and mine alone to bear.

She would not think twice nor feel guilty were I to find myself penniless in front of the menacing vending machine, teasingly showing off the shining jewel of a wrapper surrounding its one last granola bar.

These scenarios she was able to vividly illustrate with her minimal eloquence every morning as she uttered:

‘ingate pues.

But my momma was a master of predicting the perils of hunger I was sure to face that day and so, she would get up earlier than I, rally the banana commandos and burrito generals and prepare them for the battle I would face later that day. Many a time I would find myself in some labyrinth of Plexiglas windows, counseling offices, financial aid centers with its never ending retractable ropes and ink-less pens, fighting my stomach from eating itself inside out. 

I’d reach into my bag for something, anything, that would help me feel some sort of warm humanity among frigid bureaucracies. My hand would come in contact with some object that felt nothing like a bag of skittles or half-eaten granola bar. 

At the end of my careful excavation I'd find myself holding, nay, cradling a platinum breakfast burrito; its diamond beads of condensation running through the trenches of foil folds, desperately trying to reach my trembling hands as if to say:





This morning, as I sadly found a void in my bag where there once was a piece of fruit, I reflected… 

Dang. Mommaknow.

My father had the same realization some 60 years ago, standing in the dark wilderness soaking wet and battling a blaze.

My late great-uncle, Tio Bibi, was a compassionate and giving man. So giving he dedicated his eternal life to spreading the love of God as a priest in various Mexican towns. As a young man, my father often accompanied my uncle on his trips to visit families, churches, orphanages or on other tasks.

Some 60 years ago, my father joined my uncle on one of these trips, this time to a nunnery in San Martin to dutifully deliver blankets to the sisters and their community. My father and my uncle packed their horses with over-night provisions as the trip they were going to make would take a good part of two days over and two days back. Being the experienced travelers they were, they packed their blankets (along with those they were delivering), some food, matches, mangas de ule (popularized in the United States under the alias: ponchos), machetes and other survival gear.

My late grandmother, Maria, in all of her intimidating pettiness, urged my father to take his church shoes along with him. They were, after all, going to visit a community of God and would most likely attend mass upon their arrival. It was inconceivable for my Ma'ma Maria that my father would walk into any house of God in his dusty huaraches. After much debate and insistence on my father’s behalf that his cargo was heavy enough, he let out his drunken troll drivel of agreement:

Grraarrrruuuhhhh si. Esta bien.

She very delicately wrapped his Sunday shoes in a towel, guarded them with a morral and added to his cargo.

The latter part of their first day of traveling was invaded by a rolling storm, putting a quick stop to the rest of their journey for the day. The soaked travelers decided to ease their troubled horses and camp in the cerro for the night.

They spotted a large lazy log with a dried underbelly and quickly sentenced it to death by camp-fire. Using  still-green oak leaves and soaking matches, both my father and uncle tried their hands at the impossible task of creating the foundation for a blaze.

They emerged victorious, with a few match-head casualties and dragged the tip of the forsaken log over the small flame. My father and uncle made their way to the tail end of the log; a tactic that would allow them to absorb the warm electricity being channeled by the burning tip of the log at the other end.

My father gave his trusty huaraches the same treatment so that their tired soles would dry off. The travelers then huddled under their mangas de ule and, in slumber, waited for the next part of their journey marked with warm sun kisses to wake and greet them.

In his slumber, my father felt himself become intensely warmer and warmer. Intending to find the sun caressing his face, he opened his eyes and discovered that the condemned log had cried revenge, swallowed the camp-fire flame and dragged it through its decrepit, dry underbelly . It had, through some sort of mystical, wild tree flatulatory process, begun spitting the flame onto my father and my uncle. Their mangas de ule quickly growing weaker and hotter as it attempted to protect its inhabitants.

My father and uncle sprung up from their earthen beds and stood back to watch the malicious log cackle and hiss; using its newly acquired torch limbs to paw at the weary travelers. My father then realized that in his escape, he neglected to reach out and grab his trusted companions. Somewhere in the cackle and hiss of the log, he realized, were the sad cries of his huaraches.

Looking down at his naked feet, he struggled to think just how he would continue to make the rest of the journey with nothing protecting his vulnerable soles. Surely the community in San Martin would think he was one of my uncle’s rescued orphans, seeking refuge, salvation and shoes.

Lost in his mourning for his rubber-soled huaraches, my father began fumbling through the cargo mounted on his horse and found himself grasping a humble little morral. Reaching for its cradled contents inside, his trembling fingers were greeting with a smooth, comforting feeling of leather.

Slipping on his Sunday shoes, my father incredulously said to himself;

Dang. Mommaknow.

Friday, September 3, 2010

The High Life

In the 1970’s, my dad managed to make his way through the great state of Zacatecas, through the schizophrenic mountainous desert regions of northern Mexico and eventually found himself in the suburban pit of Los Angeles known as the San Fernando Valley. His wife (my Ama) and his eight kids staying behind, anxiously waiting to be called on up into el norte like dirty-kneed third graders in a kickball line. He worked various jobs that, apparently, many middle-class Americans are hungry for today; as a bus-boy, a dish-washer, fruit-picker, weed-yanker. At some point in his American transition, he came across a man named Roy.

I’m very certain he had a last name to accompany that, however I don’t recall it, nor is it anything that would elevate his status of respect in my father’s mind like the Klark Kents or Bruce Waynes of the world. To me, to most of us, he was Roy.

Roy took my father under his wing and provided him with the best survival tools a migrant like my father could have in this dog town: a job and a grain of knowledge.

Eventually my father was able to bring my mother, brothers and sisters over the border in various, precarious ways; a couple of them crossing with my mother, a few of them with practical strangers. My sister Ana becoming a stranger to herself as her long thick hair was butchered turning her into a little Mexican Joan of Arc, entering the American battlefront as a transgender little soldier.

Roy moved my father and my family into an overwhelming property in Canoga Park for which he was the caretaker; the owner of said property having passed away and leaving her heirs at a loss for what to do with it. Even though the home was massive and we were allowed to stay in the mainstay, our parents strictly prohibited us from staying there. We were the groundskeepers and so would stay in the workers quarters; this was one of our first lessons in humility. The hills of the property were covered with rows of Orange trees, vast green lawns which my father carefully took care of and little garden oasis.’ It was a small paradise for such a humble family.

After a few years, the heirs decided to tear down this paradise of ours and turn them into town-homes.


My parents found a decently priced home in Pacoima, then still a growing family community, loaded us up into the Ford and moved us to the other side of the valley. My father had been working with Roy as a groundskeeper for many years and so my father continued on this career path as a gardener and landscaper.

He would wake up before the lazy sun itself would open its eye and head out to cut the lawns of attorneys, business men, rich women with rich husbands, shop owners and the woman with the cats.

Man, she had a lot of cats.

As a little girl, this is what I knew and loved. My father’s career wasn’t glamorous, it wasn’t easy, to many – probably not respected. To me and my brothers and sisters, it was our American dream.

He would return from work and continue his duties around the house, keeping his own home in order, paying the bills, patting his children on his head. My father isn’t a relatively tall man, but in our eyes, he towered the trees that lined the street. His Tejana sitting on top of his head like a golden-straw crown, skin as tough as leather, moustache to be feared.

Even the sweat on his forehead glistened like itty-bitty diamonds.

I had one self-imposed chore getting home from school: wait for my apa to come home.

I had to make sure to sit in the front yard, in the living room or anywhere in earshot of his truck with the clank-clank of rakes strapped to the side as it came down the street; ears perking up like any child hearing the bells of an ice cream truck.

I knew that getting home from a long, hot day of work, my father only really wanted two things: his slippers and his Miller High Life.

It’s what let him know his work day was done, that he could relax and not have to worry about anymore “yes Ms., no Mister., cut grass? No blower? Trash today?” Arriving to this marked the finish line, he was at HIS home, with HIS family.

I was a fat little kid and I would still manage to run like a jack rabbit to get his slippers ready, jump up and grab his cold Miller High Life out of the fridge and wait for him at the door. I’d stand and watch as he sat on the bench outside and dust himself off, place his hat on the bench and start at the duty of yanking at the miniature ropes that were his laces. It would be an extra joy for me when he would let me help him untie his heavy, grass-stained work boots. 

My father’s feet would slip into the faux-fur lined slippers, which I always imagined felt like stepping on bouncy clouds, take the beer from my hand and sit in the front yard to take in what was his, smiling at us with his silver-capped teeth. 

Brilliant small stars of his internal universe.

Sometimes he would let me sit on his lap or lean my head on his shoulder and I would breathe in his smell. It wasn’t cologne, or the smell of his shaving lotion, nor the crisp fabric softener my mother used. It wasn’t even Irish Spring or Lava for that matter. It was the musky smell of skin, sweat, leather. 

It was the smell of earth and sun, of my family’s history.

My father is now long retired, strictly ordered to cease all labor-intensive activities by his doctors and his family; though if it were really up to him, he’d still be out climbing and trimming someone’s palm tree (and I probably would still be sitting on the couch waiting for the sound of clanking rakes.) While he rarely ever drinks his Miller High Life, he still sits in his front yard, wearing his slippers, taking in what is his. He feeds his Koi fish in his Koi pond, yanks at dead leaves in the garden, complains about the kids leaving their scooters in the middle of the street, tells us stories from Zacatecas, tears through religious books and jigsaw puzzles and talks about Roy, who passed away some time ago, fondly and with much respect, a man who was able to help my father build this high life that we can now drink in. 

Friday, August 20, 2010

La Gordita del Perro

Hello. My name is Lucia TuVenEstaEsLaGorditadelPerro Torres. I'm the youngest of 11 siblings, raised in a low-monetary income home with a high-love income family. My parents are migrants from Zacatecas, Mexico. Like the migrant ancestors before them, they traveled through their natural territories to find sustenance and survival for their tribe. We ended up settling in Pacoima, a low income suburb in the east San Fernando Valley that is still slowly giving birth to its own cultural history. My parents brought with them their family, their love, their stories and their traditions. 

When I was a kid, snacking on rolled up tortillas and playing with Barbie dolls, I was given what I thought was the most horrid, daunting and traumatic of all nicknames a kid could ever have. When my parents had company, they'd call us all over and present us in the order they could remember... Maurilio, the oldest... Ana, the middle... Salvador, one of the youngest... and me... La Gordita del Perro.  

So I'd sigh, shuffle over and shake hands. Angry little thoughts racing through my head "what the hell ama? Why the hell would you call me that?!"

Now, I've met many people with those "ironic" nicknames ... a 6 foot "Shorty," a "Fea" with ridiculous symmetry and the "gordo" that wrapped his belt around his waist twice. 
Me though, this little brown-faced kid.... was a really, really fat kid. My mom would snip slits in my sleeves so that my chorizo arms could squeeze through. On Sundays I'd be dressed in ruffles and lace and rolled to church, braids swirling like little propellers... tututututut...

So when my mom would say "esta es la Gordita del Perro." I'd bow my head in shame, and take it. Damn. Was it so bad that I was a really fat kid? One that only a dog could love? Images of me in my denim jumper and bare feet sitting outside by the family mutt while everyone ate their mole in a warm kitchen crept into my dreams. 

Dang mom, that's cold. 

At some point, I became so frustrated by this introduction that I stormed my chunky butt into the kitchen where my mom was making dinner and said "Why do you call me that!? Why do you call me fat in front of everybody?! I know I'm fat!" My mom lovingly called me a tonta and proceeded to explain. 

Gorditas del perro meant, of course, last of the batch. The last gordita, as in the delicious little cake we would stuff into our mouths on our road trips to the motherland, that a family would lovingly feed the dog who sat ever so patiently waiting for one to fall to the floor. I was the grand finale.


So she laughed at me, called me tonta again and told me to take out the trash. I passed our hairy little dog, Sheena (yes, as in Sheena Easton... more on this to come, I promise) and smiled knowing that I would never have to sit outside with her while the family ate mole. 

Mom doesn't call me "Gordita del Perro" anymore, but "tonta" seems to be an irreplaceable noun in her vocabulary.