Memoirs of a Wetback – Part One

I must have been six, because I no longer had to carry my desk to Profesora Sarita’s house near my barrio. My new school required all of us to wear dark navy bottoms, a white shirt, and a red scarf around our necks. At the beginning of the school day, we all lined up wearing our uniforms and sang the hymn. I don’t know what on Earth I was singing about, but I do recall singing loudly “ni se venden ni se rinden luchamos contra el yankee, enemigo de la humanidad” (not sold, or surrender, fight against the Yankee, enemy of all humanity). Even though I pride myself in remembering every single one of my teachers’ names from first grade on to my senior year in high school (and most of my college teachers), I can not not only remember any of the teachers at this particular school, I can’t even remember ever seeing their faces. It was as if their corporal vessel was comprised by a mere pair of legs, a torso, and two hands. I, however, do remember the lady whom I lied to every single day in order to eat. Because there wasn’t a cafeteria that included free or reduced lunch, the only way I was able to obtain any kind of calories throughout the school day was to lie to the lady with a food stand in the middle of the recess court. “Manana se lo traigo” I’d tell her in exchange for a bag of fruits or a corn tortilla with cheese. But then, the next day would come, and I wouldn’t have the money I promised her the day prior. She either believed I would someday bring her a huge chunk of the money I owed her, or she felt sorry for me. Whatever the reason may have been, I repeated my false monetary promise to her, and every single day, she handed me food to fill my belly.

The classroom was hot, with doors swung wide open and big squared windows letting the bright sun in. I remember seeing numbers on the chalkboard and using my pencil to jot down exactly what I saw. Despite my diligent ability to transfer numbers from the chalkboard to my paper, I did not comprehend the value of any of the numbers I copied. In all fairness, I had never written a single number on a piece of paper prior to going to that school. Nobody in my family that I could ever recall up to that point had ever sat with me and asked me to count from 1-10, or 1-100 with them. But, I could at least write because I did learn to use a pencil and draw shapes and write random lines as a form of punishment in kindergarten. If I was a good student, there was no way of knowing it because there weren’t any conferences between teachers and parents.

At home, we did not own any books. My grandmother was illiterate, so she never read to my mother as a child. My mother, despite being literate, never read to me. My father came in and out of the picture depending on the level of blood alcohol content in his bloodstream. When you are technically a single mother working a full-time low-wage job with three children over the age of five and one more on the way, reading or anything related to one-on-one time with children is probably daunting. So I learned to see my mother as a an unhappy individual who was stuck with too many children she did not have extra time for in her already busy schedule, and my father as an individual who aimed to please but always ended up disappointing.

In the evenings I’d spent my nights playing with kids in the barrio. There was no curfew, no family gathering around the table to enjoy dinner, and much to my delight, no homework time. Because we had a dilapidated television set with poor reception, we rarely sat in front of the tube. Showers were random, and if you would have given us a toothbrush with toothpaste on it, we would have thought it was meant to scrub the bathroom floors.

While my school days were a potpourri of general recollections, there was a specific experience that I will never forget. A teacher called me and asked me to go to the board. I obediently walked up to the board and nervously picked up a small piece of chalk. “Roca” was the word the unknown teacher without a face asked me to spell. I placed my head down in shame, scribbling squiggly lines pretending to write. I felt my ears turning red, my breathing becoming more methodical, and my heart beating rapidly. Even though my back was to my unknown classmates without a face, I could feel their eyes piercing every square inch of my body. If they were snickering, I couldn’t hear. I was too busy holding back hot tears of humiliation. Why did the teacher ask me to go up the board to spell that word? Did “it” know I was unable to read or write? Was it teaching me a lesson? I was so angry at myself for not knowing. I was angry for not being able to figure out which letters to write on the board. I was angry when I saw my dirty shoes over my dusty socks hiding my dirty calloused feet. I was angry I did not know what sounds belonged to letters. I felt like a rock. Dumb as a rock. And even worse, everyone in the classroom knew it. I may have stood there for a minute or so, but I felt as if the world stop spinning and every single inhabitant was mocking me, letting me know I was the dumbest six-year-old in the face of the universe.

That night, I went to sleep feeling sorry for myself. Nobody in my household knew what happened that day at school. The humiliation was so grand, letting out my pain would have consumed my insides with such force, it would have ruptured me to pieces. I cried strongly enough to soothe my pain, yet quietly enough so that the large bedroom partitioned with wooden frames to separate the sleeping quarters for six people did not interfere with anyone’s sleep. Little did I know that upon finally closing my eyes, my life would soon embark upon a life transforming journey.

This is the only picture in my possession taken while living in Nicaragua. I was either five or had just turned six. From left to right: My cousin Veronica, me - holding a doll that belonged to my neighbor friend who is pictured next to me along with her little sister- my expectant mother, and my older brother, Alvaro. One of the popular things to do in Nicaragua is to sit outside your home and socialize with your neighbors. Because my neighbor friend owned a doll, a luxury that most families could not afford, and she lived in a house with iron gates, we called her "little bourgeoisie." The smile on my face depicts how happy I was to hold that doll.

This is the only picture in my possession taken while living in Nicaragua. I was either five or had just turned six. From left to right: My cousin Veronica, me – holding a doll that belonged to my neighbor friend- who is pictured next to me, along with her little sister, my expectant mother, and my older brother, Alvaro. One of the popular things to do in Nicaragua is to sit outside your home and socialize with your neighbors. Because my neighbor friend owned a doll, a luxury that my and most family could not afford, and she lived in a house with iron gates, we called her “little bourgeoisie.” The smile on my face depicts how happy I was to hold that doll.

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2 thoughts on “Memoirs of a Wetback – Part One

  1. Pingback: Turn, Turn, Turn | Running is Democratic

  2. Pingback: Power of Positive Thinking – Running is Democratic

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