Tag Archives: father and daughter

Lost in Translation

28 Jan

I was 15 and missing class for the day as I walked along my dad to an immigration one stop shop to renew his green card. By then, our relationship was distant, making for awkward conversation as we waited, mostly in silence, for his number to be called.

He had walked into my room the previous evening, looking slightly nervous, to ask me if I could take the day off school and help him with paperwork and translating questions. He didn’t mention what kind of paperwork and I didn’t ask. I simply said, “Claro que si papi!” And he walked back out, his shoulders noticeably relaxed.

The following morning we got up early and briskly walked to the bus stop. As we waited, he asked if I would miss much school work. I shook my head and we rode in silence, using the noisy backdrop of multiple conversations, music, arguments, and laughter from our fellow bus riders as noise filler.

“Numero 143!” The loudspeaker was all base and garbled sound that you had to strain to hear it, followed by multiple questions of, “Que dijo? Cual numero?!” I looked down at our number, #257…

I looked around and saw the snaking line in front of us, and even longer mess of a wait behind us. I had the large manila folder close to my chest, its contents all neatly filled out and in the appropriate order. We went through the questions: Color of Hair -, “Negro no?”, Color of Eyes -, “Cafe”, Height -…and so on. What year did you enter the US? Have you ever illegally done this, that, and other idiotic questions that were meant to trick you into losing your green card.

“Numero 257!” We hurried up to the window, my father a step behind me, and I beamed brightly at the zombie-esque employee behind the window. I pushed the paperwork toward him and he rattled off a litany of questions, each to which my father would look to me before responding in the affirmative or negative. He looked so serious, that face that I came to know every time he was in front of a figure of authority, that face that thinly masked the knots of nervous terror that threatened to snake through his pores. His yellow pallor and slight suffle from his left to right foot reflected his fear, this precarious arrangement by the US government that allowed him to be in the North side of the Mexican/US border with his family – his wife and kids that is. I was standing next to him so I did the only thing I thought to do, I reached for his hand and held it in mine and gave it a slight squeeze. To my surprise, he squeezed back and released a pent up breath. Those long heavy breathes that you release when you forget to breathe.

Thump. The stamp of approval came down on my father’s paperwork and the zombie gave me the proof of renewal as well as intructions of things to watch out for in the mail.

As we stepped away I saw hundred of people just like my dad, a yellow tint betraying their fear, their unsteady stance on slippery ice of the INS.

As we left that dimly lit and dingy building and walked out into the bright sunshine of Olympic/Soto, he cheerfully asked me if I wanted to grab a bite. “Quieres una Hamburguesa?” I didn’t. I wanted to go home and rid myself of the depressing images of hope and broken dreams that the building had left behind in my mind. I wanted to stop the awkward company of my father and lock myself up in my room to listen to music and read a book. But his smile was so rare, it seemed out of place in his usual solemn face, and I remembered how he had returned the squeeze when we held hands that I nodded my head and smiled so he could remember his five year old Chuchi that had always quickly done anything he requested.

Instead of hopping on the bus we walked to Tom’s Burgers on 4th/Soto and ordered burgers, fries, and a shake for me. I told him about how my swimming was going, about my history class, about all of the subjects that I enjoyed. That afternoon I had my father back; the one that used to help me with homework art projects, read to me and protect me when I was in pre-school.

It dawned on me then how hard and embarassing it must have been for him to ask me for help for a matter that I would never have to face since I won the lottery at birth and was born in this country.

My mother always came to me when she needed translating, documents filled out, appointments for me to attend with her, but my father… He had never asked for my help before then and I was happy that I had quickly assented, that I had agreed energetically to having lunch with him.

He told me about his adventures as a young man; stories about crossing the border, the comedy he peppered in didn’t quite hide the perils and unfortunate events that crossing illegally with a pollero invited. The fry scratched my throat as I chewed and tried to swallow the mouthful along with my sense of shame of not having wanted to prolong my stay with my dad. But the shame was nothing compared to the ache that I felt for the millions of unfortunate undocumented fathers out there whose standing on the North side of the border was even more precarious than my father’s.

President Obama will release his immigration reform plan tomorrow and I have a seed of hope hesitantly sprouting that his plan includes a major upheaval of our class system: the third class that suffers in silence and moves noiselessly from unwanted job to job without any right to vote or voice their injustice, the second class that holds green cards but are not yet citizens and do not have the right to vote, and the rest of us – US Citizens (via birth or naturalization) that are free to enjoy 100 % of our rights, as disparate in education and economic mobility opportunity as they may be, there is still a door for us that grants us 100% of the right to seek those opportunities. And with shame I acknowledge that I have often forgotten how fortunate I am for having a US birth certificate, that sacred paper that allows me to live the life I have led…

I hope that President Obama pushes his immigration plan forward and doesn’t allow for the stories of suffering undocumented millions to be lost in translation.

Reflections

6 Jan

The four of us walked along
the cool night air gently biting our cheeks
Laughter and mirth filled the air and nothing else was there

Surreal to look around and see the crystal like sharpness of this new reality
A gift, really.

The smiling, silly, quirkiness of Iza as she contorts into a hundred personalities: she makes me believe in things beyond what is here and tangible, the unattainable becomes feasible with her, she IS magic surrealism.
She’s a dream all in her own.
She makes waves of laughter; raining bubbles of giggles wherever she waltzes through.
And that is her: etheral in her magical purity – untouched by the gray all around.

The balance of her comes bounding by – her sister – so logical and angular in her gist of existence.
She’s kindness measured by well-meaning. She pulls you up and makes you see it for what it is but never unkind. She is loving and profound, deep in her perceptions, observant and uncanny, real and steady. A beauty that runs deep.

And now I see the charge I have been given. No longer a child to begrieve what may have fallen; I am now a witness to beauty that unfolds for all to see.

Hope.

They endlessly give me the desire to go on to the next horizon. To reach for that line where the sky meets the distance of the land.

__________________

I tailed my dad wherever he’d go. I was his shadow whether he cared for it or not. The best times spent were when he found himself among his native land, his native tongue, his learned ways.

The small town where the sun comes down hard, making the top of your scalp prick up and take notice; where the arid wind blows red earth onto your skin, your clothing, and sticks to your tongue.

He would sit around the kitchen table with my abuelito in the morning, the horizon an hour away, drinking a cup of the oily black cafe de olla. Eventually he would make his way to the labadores where he would find his childhood friends drinking and retelling stories I grew to memorize verbatim. After a few more refreshments their thirst for adventure grew until they were finally moved into action. This day as I crouched behind a walnut tree I heard as they prepared to go on a hunt for rabitts to test their shot.

They hastily stamped out their fire and scurried over to their horses where they mounted the remainder of their drinks, food, and the long tantalizing metal of a gun.

The desert laid before me as I walked about 30 feet behind them, keeping a slow quiet stride so they wouldn’t notice Pepe’s girl trailing them.

When they stiffened, I knew this was the spot and my muscles were so frozen that I soon began to ache in every unused muscle of my body. My father turned and looked directly at me where I lay pressed to the ground and motioned with his finger to wait and remain still. One of his friends took aim, shot, and was rewarded by the dust cloud of the wild hare kicking up its last step and laying down to later bed fed to a family. A chorus of congratulations and hearty manly laughter broke out and when I looked up, my father was there, with his hand outstretched for me to join them properly.

We spent the evening walking and following a scent/trail and when they would relax, I would run to and from them as fast as I could with their cheers giving me fuel to pump my little legs even faster. I looked out onto the furthest point where land seemed to kiss the sky and I thought if I ran fast enough I would be able to jump onto the clouds from that point. I spent the day running at full speed trying to reach the blue sky but it kept slipping away from me.

As dusk came it brought colder temperatures and a change in the group’s mood with it; everyone said their goodbyes and parted their ways, my dad and me walking hand in hand back home with a conejo and his rifle hanging over his shoulder.

________________________________________

This memory comes to me as I walk with my girls and I see some of my qualities in them; how amazing it will be to see them grow up with love, patience, encouragement, and nurturing.

How far they will go.

Hope for Happiness. But no longer just for them, for me too, for us. Hope for us all.

My Father – The Magician

28 Oct

They say that little girls idolize their father for the first five years of their life, that they see him as a prince who can do no wrong.

I remember that innocent time when I saw my father as a wise, adventurous, and mystical man.  He was a magician to me; someone who could always find an answer to my endless questions about the world and who could always foresee the future, my only regret is not having asked the questions that burned in my heart or what the outcome of our own family would be.  Shame and respect kept me from asking the right questions.

I adored my father and  placed him on a pedestal for the first few years of my life.  He was my dear Papi and I was his Pozolito, his Chuchi.  Only he could call me so, anyone else would get a red-faced snarl.

I was happiest in Villa Coronado, Chihuahua, a sleepy dusty town that witnessed my father’s birth into a young buck of seventeen before he took off for the states in a haste flavored with broken laws and unexplained trails of pursuit.

There and only there did I feel alive and connected to him.  Only there did I have the courage to speak to my father.  Only in that land of red earth that coated my mouth was I able to look up into eyes filled with kindness and mirth instead of the usual emptiness or anger, and carry on a conversation.  But I always waited in jealous agony for my prima to engage him in a folktale and only when he got going did I feel a flicker of hope and pride that this was my father, and I awkwardly blurted out my observations and thoughts on the story he’d laid out like a crisp white sheet set out to dry on a sunny afternoon.  Of course my words pour out like marbles from a glass jar, falling over each other and spreading out on the ground in random and disconnected directions.  So eager was I to show him that I understood that I ended up sounding like an idiot and when he rolled his eyes at me, the faint glow that warmed my heart from his happiness died inside me.

Mostly I preferred to remain quiet so I could warm myself in the fire that roared inside him when he played his harmonica or got going on recounting an adventure from his youth.  He would look around then and I would perk up when he looked my way and I nodded at him as if I understood his secret meaning, as if I knew all just as he did, in my six-year-old eyes.

My favorite moments that sent me soaring higher than a bald eagle against the red Chihuahua evening sky were when I had him to myself.  When he would be sitting on the white twine chair in the anteroom and I would sidle up to him so his arms would encircle me and “lock” me in.  “What is the password?” would send my little body into invisible convulsions of joy and I would guess at anything and everything that I knew would NEVER be the password so he would never let me go.  I wanted to stay there forever until the dusk turned over and the darkness brought the howling chill of night and made my Papi hold me closer as I pretended to sleep and he carried my limp body to bed.

Or when he acknowledged, seeked me out even, and I experienced his genius as a father and saw him as a clever man of life.

My Tia had a small goods store in which she carried papitas Barcel.  They had a promotion, a lottery of sorts.  You could choose which bag of chips you wanted from the hanging cardboard and when you opened the bag, you could win anything from a sticker to a toy wrist watch.  I always hung around the store with my primos and tia, letting the hours pass me by as I helped weigh and dispense half a kilo of jamon or bagged media docena de huevos in clear plastic bags.  My father rarely came by so it was a  warm delight to see his frame fill the doorway and ask me what I wanted as a treat from the store.  I looked around unsure of what I wanted.  Should I get a Carlos V chocolate?  A Mazapan?  My eyes found the bright green cellophane of the papitas Barcel and I pointed at them.  “Which toy do you want?”, my father asked as he walked over to the chips.  My eyes widened in amazement and slight disbelief.  “El reloj, papi.” (The watch)  My father confidently walked up to the shelf and pulled off a bag of potato chips and asked me, “Do you trust in me that this will be the watch?”  He looked so serious that I nodded vigorously to show my faith in him.  I opened the bag slowly as my hands had grown sweaty from the anticipation, and reached in to look for the prize.  My hand trembled as I pulled out a pink plastic wrist watch.  This plastic toy was cheaper than the town’s hooker but it filled me with awe as I looked at this wonder of a man who was my father.  With that, he smiled at me, “No que no?” and walked away.

I sat down and didn’t know whether to cry or laugh or both at the magical moment that had transpired.  When my primo made a smart ass comment about the cheap plastic around my wrist, I got up and slapped him hard on the face and ran off before anyone could react to my unexpected display of anger.  I went to sleep that night holding on tightly to that watch and dreaming of the magician who came alive in those sweltering hot summers of his homeland.

You’ll stay with me right?

9 Nov

He is on his knees, tears running down his brown leathery face – his cheeks sagging under the weight of booze and pain. I’m walking out the door with a black trash bag holding my most prized belongings: a brown teddy bear, a purple My Little Pony, and broken pieces of plastic that are my toys. I see my mother opening the door to our beat up blue station wagon and my sister already down the porch steps.

An incredible pain takes residence in my tummy, spreading up to my chest – making it hard to breathe.

“Susy, mi Pozolito, tu no me vas a dejar verdad? Me prometiste que tu te hibas a quedar conmigo.”

I look down at my scuffed shoes and step down hard on my big toe preferring physical pain to seeing my father – that big tall figure who never cries – lose all self control as he drapes his body onto my little frame.

I bite my lip and look outside into the darkness, the cold numbing my hands and legs. I wring the edge of my Scooby Doo pajama dress; the thin material wrinkles and curls into place.

“Vamonos Susana! Apurale!” My mother yells at me from the car.

They had been at it again; always the fighting, the endless yelling of abuse and cursing. I can’t remember why my mother was angry; dad had probably staggered home again from a bar or had insulted her in his alcohol induced stupor.

“Ya no puedo mas!” My mother was on the phone with her brother, asking if we could stay with them but I could tell from her face that we would be roaming the city in our car again. Cramming our belongings and bodies in the backseat to keep warm from the chilly winter air. “Carnala, yo no me puedo meter. Quedate con Yani.”

“Vayan y agarren sus cosas!” She yells at us, thrusting a trash bag to my sister and I. Her voice becoming shrill as her sanity wears thin.

We knew the routine. Instead of packing clothing and necessities, we packed what four and five year olds see as essential: our dearest toys. We ran to the room we shared with our parents and started to pack.

My father pleaded with my mom not to leave and when her tear-streaked face would not meet his he turned to my older sister to ask her; she just kept packing. He ran to me and kneeling down to look into my bewildered eyes he asks if his pozolito would stay with him. “It’s okay Papi, yo me quedo contigo,” I say, anything to keep my papi from crying.

“Vamonos!” My mother pulls me out of my tortured state and drags me to the car only to cause the pain of seeing my father’s face as I leave to sear into my brain forever. “Papi”, I whimper as the smell of old leather, burnt oil, and snot make me gasp for air.

My mother is crying hysterically in the front seat behind the wheel. Her yelps of pain becoming jagged knives that stab my stomach; like broken glass they shatter throughout the car and I want to pick them up and devour them – chew on the glass until it slices my tongue into ribbons and the blood flows out. Until the anger and confusion are drained from my body and I become a spirit hovering over everyone. Until I turn into nothing, light as air, and the voices stop screaming and crashing inside my head.

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Zack Hunter is the pseudonym of a Californian poet, author, artist, musician, and researcher. He lives on a farm and spends his free time reading and writing about whatever it is he is passionate about at the time.

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