Adios to a Complete Liberal


On February 4, 1994, I published this column in The Houston Post under the headline, “’Complete’ liberal gives Clinton piece of his mind.” I’m sharing it with you for two reasons. You’ll figure them out when you read it:

NOT EVERYBODY is lucky enough to have a daughter with access to the president of the United States. Carlos Uzeta of El Paso is and he is not above taking advantage of that access.

Uzeta, an engineer, is the father of local attorney Blanca O’Leary, a Democratic Party activist and fund-raiser who was one of the Houstonians at the $l,000-a-ticket reception for President Clinton last week. [O’Leary now lives in Colorado.]

When O’Leary — who credits her father’s activism for her enthusiasm for politics — told him she was going to see the president, he asked her to deliver a le

carlozuzeta

Carlos Uzeta with a grandchild (Photo by Amanda Enayati)

 

tter to Clinton on a subject that means a lot to her dad: immigration.

O’Leary agreed to do so. Whether or not Bill Clinton read any part of it doesn’t matter to the 63-year-old Uzeta.

What’s important is that he finally got something off his chest what had been gnawing at him for a long time.

Uzeta’s letter is a toned-down version of his original angry (O’Leary made him moderate it) but his indignation still shines through.

“It’s a completely, totally liberal view,” Uzeta explained in a phone interview. “But damn it, that’s what I am.”

In his letter, Uzeta says that as a lifelong El Paso resident, he knows what the problems are there, unlike the politicians, “who are far removed from the battlefronts and bear a tinge of either racism or indifference towards the local populace, just so long as it makes them look good in the polls.”

He was particularly critical of El Paso Border Patrol chief Silvestre Reyes, who decided to set up a blockade along the Rio Grande to keep Mexicans from illegally crossing the border.

“Now Mr, Reyes is proudly proposing to erect a metal barrier along the border,” he wrote. “I assume the federal government will fund this little pet project for Mr. Reyes with little concern for the negative impact it will have on our neighbors to the south with whom we just signed a trade agreement. It would be one of the most disgusting, degrading, insulting, and abusive actions ever taken by our country should such a ‘tortilla curtain’ materialize.”

Uzeta wrote Clinton that the alleged negative impact of immigration has become an easy issue for politicians desperate for causes.

“The Republicans have begun to ensure that immigration becomes a make-or-break stance for its candidates,” he said. “I fear that in order to counter the attack, many Democratic candidates will unwittingly succumb to the threat and join in the hysteria.”

Recalling the anti-Japanese campaigns during World War II and other anti-immigrant drives throughout the country’s history, Uzeta asked:

“Who is ignorant enough to deny that, because of public pressure, such tactics cannot be repeated and applied to me or my family who either are or ’look’ Mexican? Arrests for ‘looking’ Mexican have long been the trademark for the Border Patrol along the border regions. From there it is only a short step to property dispossession. Mr. President, ethnic cleansing is alive and well in America.”

Uzeta asked the president to, among other things, consider a conference with Mexico to explore solutions to the immigration issue, and to support funding for a comprehensive study to develop accurate statistics on the economic impact of immigrants.

That last one has got to be the most sensible proposal regarding immigration I’ve heard coming from anyone. Today we are forced to rely on studies that are, for the most part, conducted by researchers who skew the statistics to confirm their views. We don’t have an independent, unbiased way of looking at whether immigration is good or bad for this country and its economy — something we desperately need if we’re ever going to deal with the problem seriously.

But, as Uzeta explains, politicians would rather deal with cheap vote-getting remedies than with the causes of and serious solutions to the problem.

“It’s too complicated for them,” he says.

UZETA IS concerned his outspokenness might embarrass his children, especially O’Leary, but he says he’s simply fed up with the anti-immigrant talk.

“The good Lord has given me good health, and as long as I’ve got that, my tongue won’t stop wagging,” he said. For that we should all be grateful.

Long may it wag.

That tongue stopped wagging a couple of weeks ago after Uzeta suffered a massive stroke. He died Thursday night in his beloved El Paso. I got to visit with him only a few times, but each time I came away thoroughly satisfied that I had spent time with a wise and kind man who had an excellent sense of humor and who loved his family deeply. I consider myself mighty fortunate that I can count a number of his survivors as good friends. I grieve with them. Adios, amigo.

 

 

 

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The fear, the dreadful fear of children of immigrants

I RECENTLY LISTENED to a radio program about coincidences and about people who claimed they were always experiencing them. I told myself that coincidences don’t happen to me.

Last night, a couple of hours after I had watched a report on the evening news about a mother in Arizona who had been deported after having lived here 21 years, I began anew my task of going through my old papers and figuring out what to keep and what to discard. The very first piece I picked was a dot-matrix printout of something I wrote, either while at The Houston Post or at the Austin American-Statesman, about my fears as a young boy that my parents would be sent back to Mexico. I am pretty sure it was never published.

I want to share that with you, but first I want to share part of The New York Times story today about yesterday’s deportation:

“Her son, Angel, still remembers the evening of her arrest — the knock on the door, the flashlight on the darkened living room, the sight of handcuffs on his mother’s wrists.

‘I was in second grade,’ he said. ‘I never forgot that night, and I’ve lived in fear of losing my mother every night since then.’ His [sister] had stayed with protesters until long past midnight. By sunrise, she was back home, packing her mother’s suitcase — her toothpaste, her brush, her favorite pants and shirts. ‘Nobody should have to pack her mother’s bag,’ she said, her lips quivering, tears filling her eyes.”

printoutThis is what I wrote (with a bit of minor editing):

THEY CAME IN at least once a year, swooping down, unnoticed until their green vans were at the edge of the sugar beet rows on the flat fields of the North Dakota Red River Valley. The ominous figures lumbered over to where we were hoeing away.

And that’s when the fear began.

In terribly broken Spanish and boisterous manner, la migracíon asked the usual questions regarding my parents’ legal status in the country. My parents sheepishly and patiently explained the facts: yes, they had been born in Mexico but they had been in this country since 1920. And no, they had no papers; they never needed any since they never went back to Mexico.

The border patrolman made their usual grumblings about the irresponsibility of not taking care of such things, and only after they had thoroughly humiliated my parents and intimidated the rest of us did they leave – to check on other Mexicans on other farms.

I might not have feared the border patrol so much had I not always worried that neither of our parents was an American citizen and, even worse, neither had ever bothered to acquire a passport to make their presence in the United States legal. I didn’t know then why they didn’t; children never grilled adults about such matters.

I will never know if the fear would have been different had my parents been legal. Probably not, given that the INS officers didn’t treat legal workers any differently. But one thing I do know is that I was scared, very scared. I feared my parents would be shipped back to Mexico, where they had not lived for more than 30 years.

The reality was that my parents were unlikely to have been deported after having spent so many years here.

And the reality was that government officials knew all too well that my parents and us were doing the work that nobody else wanted to do. If they had sent back to Mexico all people who did not have proper documentation, who would have hoed their sugar beets and picked their tomatoes, cucumbers, potatoes and other crops, at wretched wages while living in miserable housing?

But I didn’t know that. All I knew was that men with uniforms and guns were doing what men with guns and uniforms tend to do: instill fear in people. My fear was a justified fear. When you’re young and ignorant, fears have a tendency to grow to uncontrollable proportions. The prospect of our having to fend for ourselves forever in the windblown North Dakota plains because my parents had been deported was a real and menacing presence in my young mind.

THAT IS WHAT I feel when I think of the renewed efforts to clamp down undocumented immigrants.

I think of the children who will be forced to live in fear that some official in the green uniform will come take their parents away if they don’t have the magic card. I think of the parents who will be cowed by the uniform and authoritativeness of the officers and I wonder what that will do to their lives, and those of their children.

I fear for them. I understand all the arguments that nations have a right to enforce their borders, but that doesn’t ease the fear, the fear of the dreadful fear.

 

 

 

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Houston composer’s haunting music

I DON’T WRITE much about music on this blog. However, I’m going to make an exception because I want to share my enthusiasm for the music of a young composer, a native of Colombia who lives and works in Houston.

His name is Christian Restrepo. He came to Texas to do graduate work at Sam Houston State and the University of Houston, where he got his doctorate, but he has stayed here, working as a concert pianist, teacher – and as a composer. He also plays tango music with a group at various places in town.

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Christian Restrepo

 

To describe him as energetic would be an understatement. Watching the way he bounces up enthusiastically to greet a person, the way he grasps an outstretched hand, and the way he expresses himself, orally and on the piano keyboard, brings to mind the Energizer Bunny – but with a charming personality.

I first heard Restrepo at the Alliance Française, where he was playing the piano for an art exhibit opening night reception. I learned that he recently recorded a CD of his music called “Música en Silencio.”

It’s a wonderful CD, full of beautiful, evocative sounds. Most of the 10 works are piano pieces but there is one piece for bass clarinet solo and another for piano and saxophone.

His Sonatina en Tres Movimentos starts with a movement that offers strong playful hints of Gershwin’s “American in Paris.” The last movement is a rhapsody based on Beethoven’s Für Elise. Sandwiched in between is a movement that reminds me of Chopin’s sonatas. All of them, however, quickly move to establish their independence and the result is a piece that works wonderfully as one.

Other tracks, Poema Nocturno for Alto Saxophone and Piano and Habanera Triste, in particularcome across as enchanting, mysterious pieces with heavy jazz and blues influences.

Taken as a whole, Restrepo’s CD is a beautiful production, filled with hauntingly beautiful sounds.

IF YOU’RE interested in getting this CD, you can email Restrepo directly at christianliszt@gmail.com.

 

 

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Please, God: No Daughters

 

MY MOTHER DIED of Parkinson’s disease almost 16 years ago, but several years before she died, she suffered some sort of stroke that eventually left her bedridden, unable to speak. Not long after that stroke, when she could still talk, she told my sister Dora that she believed God was punishing her.

When Dora asked her what she was being punishing for, my mother said that it was because during every one of her nine pregnancies she had begged God not give her a girl.

It wasn’t that she hated girls, or that she liked boys better, she explained. Rather, her concern was a practical one, based on reality as she saw it. Experience told her that girls are destined to live a difficult life, much more difficult than males, and the last thing she wanted was to bring into this world a child condemned from the very beginning to a life of suffering.

My mother gave birth to five girls. It was those daughters who fed her, bathed her, spoke soothingly to her, every day of the last four years of her life as she lay, helpless, in her bed. Two of those daughters were with her when she died on New Year’s Day, 1991.

I’VE THOUGHT ABOUT my mother’s words to Dora quite a bit over the last 16 years, and I’ve wondered whether she truly believed that her God had punished her for her supplications. Or was that simply her way of coming clean with her daughters?

Regardless, what a burden to carry, all those years.

But equally as intriguing – and tragic – to me is the fact that my mother felt so strongly about the fate she believed awaited her daughters that she was willing to forsake the joy of giving birth to, holding and nurturing a daughter, and guiding her into womanhood.

And she was willing to do this because she knew for a certainty that those daughters would be subjected to cruelty and abuse solely because of their sex.

My mother was right, of course. My five sisters are all strong, intelligent women and they have triumphed in life. They are not perfect and they are not famous, but each of them is a star. As they have gotten older, various health problems have slowed them down, yet they remain strong, proud and unbroken.

But each of them, as they struggled to take care of their families, has had to fight to defend herself from the vile, disgusting sexist impulses in men (and some women) – in the home, in the workplace, in their churches, in society – that conspired to keep them down, and still do. (Not to mention the obstacles placed in their paths by racism.)

TODAY, ALMOST 90 years after my mother gave birth to her first girl, I can’t help thinking of her and of my sisters, every time I am reminded of the constant battle Hillary Clinton has had to fight throughout her political life because she is not a man.

And, over the last five or six days, I’ve thought a lot about my mother and my sisters as I keep reading and hearing about the vile, degrading language used by a man who wants to be the free world’s next leader and who still has millions of supporters.

Aren’t we supposed to be past this kind of thing by now?

I think of all my nephews and nieces and friends who have brought daughters into this world, and who love them to death, and I wonder what kind of thoughts are going through their minds about what their daughters will encounter out in the world. Do they have to lie awake at night fearing that their daughters will one day (or on many days) have to deal with a Donald Trump or a Billy Bush or a Bill Cosby?

When are we going to say that we’ve done enough damage? When are we going to make our society one into which all mothers will be happy to bring a baby girl?

November 8, it seems to me, would be a good starting day.

 

 

 

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Crystal Bridges, brought to you by … whom?

THE CRYSTAL BRIDGES Museum of American Art was not part of my travel plans on this trip, but I found myself with a bit extra time on my way to Chicago that I decided to make a side trip to visit it.

To get there from Little Rock, I took some back roads through the Ozarks. Fortunately, by the time I got to the mountains, the rain had disappeared so I was able to enjoy the scenery without having to worry about wet roads.

I worried whether it was a good idea to go through that part of the state with a Clinton bumper sticker on my back window, but then I figured that the folks there had probably never seen or heard of the design, the white H with a superimposed red arrow on a blue background.

I did what I often do when I’m out riding through beautiful countryside on a beautiful day. I rolled down my windows, pulled back the moon roof and listened to the CD, “The Movies Go to the Opera” full blast. This is the record that first got me interested in opera. It features all the great favorites, among them Nessun Dorma (Turandot), O Mio Babbino Caro (Gianni Schicchi), Quando men vo (La Boheme), Une Bel Di (Madama Butterfly), and of course, The Ride of The Valkyries (Die Walkürie).

I tell you, there is no greater experience than the rush you get from listening to that music, as loud as you can stand it, as you maneuver around sharp curves and zip up and down those lush hills. Unfortunately, I was so much into the music that I missed a turn and ended up getting very lost as I got close to Fayetteville. It took me a while to get back on the right route, and by the time I got to Bentenville, where the museum is, I was exhausted.

I’M GLAD I decided to visit the museum, though. It’s a beautiful complex. Striking architecture in a beautiful green setting. Very peaceful. The art is good also, especially the works in its 20th Century galleries. I’m not that fond of older art so I didn’t spend much time in the rest of the exhibit areas, but I loved walking through them, taking in the beautiful design.

The museum is the brainchild of Alice Walton, one of the children of Sam Walton, the founder of Wal-Mart. She bought all the art and then decided to build a museum in her hometown to house all the works she had amassed. The money for the museum, of course, came from the immense Walton family fortune.

As I said, I enjoyed the museum and I am damn glad that that is there for everyone to enjoy (admission is free, courtesy of Wal-Mart, as the signs and literature tell us). But as I walked through its galleries, I couldn’t help wonder how many hundreds of thousands of Wal-Mart employees worked how many thousands of hours, earning minimum wage with no health-care and other benefits, and no union representation, so that the Waltons could amass the fortune that allows them to be so generous.

It would have nice to see some mention of these people somewhere in the museum.

 

 

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Election season predicament: desperately seeking our horse

ALMOST SIX YEARS ago, as we were approaching the mid-term elections, I spent a beautiful Saturday autumn morning watching the Howard University homecoming parade not too far from where I lived in Washington.

Among the many participants were about a dozen horse riders, in cowboy attire, bringing up the rear. Most of them were African-American, but a couple of them were white, and there was one Latino. They seemed a bit out of place – a stark contrast to the souped up cars and motorcycles that preceded them – but they were having a great time, and the kids along the parade route loved them.

As I was walking home after the parade, I noticed one of the cowboys walking on the street, talking on his cell phone. His compadres were nowhere to be seen and I assumed that he was probably on his way to join them, wherever they were.

Hardly anybody paid any attention to him, until a street person started walking next to him and yelling, at the top of his lungs, “You lost your horse! You lost your horse!”

They cowboy paid him no mind and kept on talking on the phone. How he could hear the conversation is beyond me as the street person kept screaming, “You lost your horse! You lost your horse!”

Finally, the cowboy could take it no longer. He put his cell phone on his chest, turned to the street person and said, “Yeah man, I lost my damn horse.”

That did it. That’s all the street person needed to leave him alone, turn around and head back the other way. And the cowboy returned to his phone conversation and continued on his way.

AS WE APPROACH another big November rodeo, I can’t help thinking that there is probably no better description for our national situation: We’ve lost our damn horse!

Worse, the most foolish rodeo clown that has ever existed is trying to lead the parade.

[Disclosure: I recycled this from my old blog, http://www.puckintheface.wordpress.com]

 

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The accident, and that v-shaped scar on my mother’s forehead

IN 1951, MY sister Delfina eloped and that summer went with her husband’s family to work in Ohio.

“Se la robó,” we would say about our brother-in-law Pedro: he abducted her. That’s how the running away of a young couple was described, as if the woman had nothing to do with it, as if she was an innocent victim. Much later I was to find out that the phrase originated with the Moors during their conquest of Spain, but back then, no one felt any need to analyze the words; we knew what they meant.

Fina was the first one to leave our family, and it was as if she had flung open the floodgates: within a year, my oldest sister María Luisa would also elope and move away, and then my older brother Alejandro – Jando – would quit school and go off to the Air Force. (Each one who left meant one fewer hand to help out in the fields. My sisters’ departure was especially painful, for they had practically been supporting the family for years with their work at the Del Monte cannery.)

That June, Buelita Manuela, my father’s mother, died. She had been sick for a long time, after having suffered a stroke that incapacitated her. Tía Benita, her only daughter, my mother and the other daughters-in-law took care of her during her long illness, as did my grandfather.

We didn’t see much of Buelita after she became ill. The adults must have thought we would only get in the way. My grandparents lived in a small, two-room house behind Tío Adrián’s equally small house, which was next door to our house. Before my grandmother became sick, she would have us at her place often. Most of the time it was to feed us some of her warm, hot-off-the-comal corn tortillas that she rolled up in tight, moist burritos after having sprinkled salt on them. Often she would lure us with her tortillas and then ask us to kneel down to pray with her.

That year that Fina left us we were scheduled to return to North Dakota for the summer, but when it became apparent in late April that my grandmother was near death, we stayed in Texas. Not only would it have been disrespectful to have left when she was on her deathbed, but my mother was needed to help take care of her.

We kids suspected that she was dying, even if no one bothered to clue us in as to what was going on, so we stayed out of everybody’s way. On the evening that she died, they sent all of the children to Tía Benita’s house while the adults gathered around her bed, or – in the case of the men – stood outside around a fire, smoking and talking in low voices. Although we knew Buelita was dying, most of us didn’t know how to behave, what we were supposed to do. We had not witnessed death before. So we did the only thing we knew how – we played games.

At last, after many hours, one of the tías walked in and announced simply, “Ya murió.”

We buried my grandmother a few days afterwards, in a wooden coffin that my grandfather, a carpenter, had made. She was buried at the camposanto Benito Juárez, the Mexican cemetery at the edge of town whose main entrance was spanned by a crude metal-and-wood arch with a message, a plea, which could only be read as people exited: No se olviden de nosotros – aquí estamos y aquí los esperamos (Do not forget us – here we rest and here we will wait for you).

BY THE TIME my grandmother had died and been buried, it was too late to go to North Dakota; the sugar beet work had started weeks earlier and the farmers had all the crews they needed. There was no place for us to go. For a while we thought we would have to spend the summer in Texas but then we got word that Del Monte was looking for people to work at its tomato cannery in Ogden, Utah.

Utah? Hardly anybody had heard of that state. Where was it? What was it like? Nobody could tell us. One neighbor told my mother that the state had just been invented.

Apenas lo inventaron, she said confidently.

We kept hearing horror stories about the scary mountains and their steep cliffs over which our car would have to travel in order to get to Utah. We had visions of our car going over a voladero and hurling us down a mountainside to our deaths. I worried that the car would be unable to manage the steep grades on the mountain roads and we’d end up rolling uncontrollably down to the bottom.

None of that happened, of course. The mountains were there but none was as formidable as we had imagined. Nevertheless we breathed a sigh of relief when, at the end of the third day, we crossed the Wasatch Range and entered the valley in which Ogden lay. We had made it. We were safe.

Well, almost. About 30 miles from Ogden, a drunk driver crossed the median onto our lane and rammed our car head-on. We had conquered the mountains but we were stopped cold on a flat, straight highway a few miles from our destination. Nobody was hurt, but we must have been quite a sight. There had been nine of us stuffed into that old car – five adults, one teenager and three children – and every nook and cranny had been stuffed with people, clothes, blankets and pillow, pots and pans and other belongings that we would need that summer.

Although the car was not badly damaged, its radiator had to be replaced and it needed other minor work. It would not be able to move for a few days, so while my father and one of my brothers stayed behind to supervise the repairs, the rest of us boarded a bus for the final miles, lugging our blankets, pillows and duffel bags stuffed full with clothing. That was the first time most of us had ever ridden on a bus. We were still in a state of shock over the wreck and we were nervous in anticipation of the arrival at our new home. The excitement and tension was too much for Carmen, my youngest sister who, at six, was a year older than I. Standing meekly between my mother and Luisa, my oldest sister, Carmen peed in her panties. None of us said anything as we watched the stream make its way towards the front of the bus, but we prayed that the bus driver wouldn’t notice it. The last thing we needed at that point was to be abandoned on the side of a strange road by an irate bus driver.

me,utah,1951

That’s me on the far right. I don’t know who most of the other kids are, other than Armando Solis, the tallest one. The man was the Del Monte plant manager, I think. The building in the background was one of the barracks that housed the migrant families.

When we got to the camp, a row of white barracks next to the giant plant outside Ogden, our official greeting party consisted of the Herrera triplets. The Herrera family, also from Crystal City, had arrived several weeks earlier so the seven-year-old triplets – Clotilde, Beatriz and José – apparently felt obligated to let us know from the very beginning that in this camp, they were in charge.

“Que bueno que se les murió su abuelita,” they would taunt us when the adults were not around. They also ridiculed us for having arrived on a bus, for having been in a wreck, and for whatever else they could think of. Eventually they became our friends and playmates, but those first few days, they forced us to stay inside because we could not bear their teasing.

MOST OF THE summer only the adults worked because the cannery would not employ teenagers or children, so Mariana, who was 14, took care of me, Carmen and 8-year-old Dora. It was an easy time for her because, in addition to the Herrera triplets, there were other children in the camp and we spent a lot of time playing with them outside. Unlike places where we’d worked in other states, this was a clean, well-kept camp. The apartments were large (ours had four rooms) and well-constructed, not drafty and dusty like the ones we were used to. They even had indoor plumbing – a first for us – and a regular kitchen with a gas stove and a refrigerator. There was even a small park with swings and other playground equipment.

By the end of the summer, though, the cannery was slowing down. Only my father and Jando were working there. After a while, my mother, Norberto and Mariana started joining others who would go out to pick cherries in the nearby orchards. For some reason, Luisa stayed behind to take care of us, allowing Mariana to go out. Each morning they got on the back of a truck owned by Ramón Montemayor – the crew leader, also from Crystal City – and rode to the orchards. The same truck would bring them back home in the evening.

One morning Dora insisted on going with the others to pick cherries and my mother, tired of listening to her nagging, said yes. That evening, on their way home, the driver of the truck was going a bit too fast and failed to make a curve near a softball field where a game was going on and the truck flipped over a couple of times before landing on its back. Most of the 30 or so people aboard the truck were pinned under it as its wheels spun silently above; a few were hurled into the ditch. The panicked softball players scurried to help pull people from the wreckage while they waited for the ambulances to arrive.

Back at the camp, we could hear the wailings of the ambulances as they moved back and forth between the site of the wreckage and the hospital. We all stopped what we were doing and stood at the edge of camp looking in the direction from which the sirens could be heard. They seemed to go on forever. I think we all knew by then what had happened, but, at five years of age, I don’t think I had sense enough to realize what the implications were.

I don’t remember anyone telling me that my mother and Mare (pronounced MAH-reh) and Beto had been injured and would not be coming home that night, but somebody must have. I don’t remember crying. I don’t remember complaining or even being scared, but I’m sure I must have done and been all that, and more. I was very close to my mother and I had never really been separated from her for more than a day or two – I can’t imagine remaining calm when faced with the knowledge that she would not be coming home anytime soon. Maybe I’ve chosen not to remember.

Montemayor quickly reassured everyone that the truck was insured, that all the hospital and medical bills would be taken care. We needn’t worry. We didn’t, but months later, after we’d return to Texas, we started getting bills from the hospital, and they continued to come for years. I think my mother made an effort to pay some of the debt but there was no way we could pay everything and the hospital eventually gave up trying to collect. Montemayor left the camp very soon after the accident and we never heard from his insurance company, if he had one.

Dora was the only one to come home that evening. She was unhurt. Mariana came home a few days later, missing her two front teeth. Beto was next. His broken nose was badly disfigured and his head was wrapped in bandages from the eyes up. His forehead was to remain a terribly sensitive area until he died in a Texas car accident fifteen years later. My mother, however, remained in the hospital for weeks. The impact had literally lifted most of her forehead from her skull. Some forty years later, it was the V-shaped scar stretching from one end of her forehead to the other, her recuerdo from that horrible day in 1951, that I stared at as the funeral director closed her casket.

ON THE DAY she finally came home, Luisa and Mare had bathed Dora, Carmen and me and made us put on clean clothes and our best shoes. They wanted her to find us presentable. It had been a long time – they had not allowed us kids to visit her in the hospital – and we were dying to see her. But when she walked through the door into our house, my eyes locked on the white bandage wrapped tightly around the top of her head and I went into virtual shock. Although I had the decency to stay there long enough for her to hug me and my sisters as she sobbed, “¡Mis hijos, mis hijos!” Somehow I managed to wiggle out of her embrace and quickly left the room.

I was scared of her. Of her bandages. Of this different woman. I was not sure she was the same mother who had left us that morning many weeks earlier. I did not want to be around her. I did not want to have to see her. Eventually the shock of her bandages wore off. Eventually I realized what a terrible transgression I had committed. And I often wondered what could have could have gone through her mind as she saw her own child rejecting her.

If she was hurt, I never heard about it. She was not the type of person who would keep past transgressions handy to hurl back at her children when convenient. No doubt she forgave me, even without my having to ask for forgiveness. She was very good at that.

It took me a long time to forgive myself for what I had done, however. And maybe I never did. Maybe that’s why I was staring at that scar on her lifeless forehead that final day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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