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Las Aventuras de Angel: Lessons From a New Culture and a New Language

Learning a second language is such a valuable skill y el español is a beautiful language. When I was a young mom, I knew I had to teach my children Spanish, it was important to me. But it was hard, because I think in English and I didn’t get much opportunity for daily Spanglish with my English speaking husband. By the time my first born was school age I had decided that the only way to teach him Spanish was to immerse him in the language, So I sent him to a Spanish immersion public school. By the end of his kinder year he was understanding Spanish and speaking it, although not fluently. I remember going to visit my apa and my little guerito was understanding his tata, I loved it! Mission accomplished…sort of, I mean he can go into Mexico and get by. Pues, language immersion was quite a different and difficult experience for my oldest brother Angel. 

Our apa took an opportunity given to him to immigrate his family and the Zepedas were immersed into the land of opportunity, los Estados Unidos. Coming from the border city of Mexicali, the language was familiar but now they would have to learn it. The culture in California was a mixture of “American” ways, the great American melting pot, un poquito de todo. The people, white, black and of various shades of brown weren’t always very accepting. Ya te imaginas, they were difficult transitions indeed!

My ama faced her culture shocks alone while the kids were at school all day, themselves facing their education in an unknown language, pero, it was what had to be done. Angel was thirteen, and that alone could be explosive. Picture those middle school challenges of your day but add a language barrier and culture shock. He faced them as well as a 13 year old could. He had always “handled his affairs” and helped Ama as much as possible, he didn’t want to burden our parents with his troubles. He faced and managed his new “language and cultural” immersion at school with hard work and pride.

 Angel was resourceful and pulled from the wealth of knowledge learned at home, at his previous school and in the streets of his colonia in Mexicali. 

His classroom beginnings were rough. Despite his age, he was placed in the younger kids classroom, chiquillos! When he was sharing this story I could hear the mortification in his tone as he said, “They put me in the younger class just because I didn’t know english yet.” He hadn’t been assessed, it had been the quick solution to new arrival immigrant kids from across the border. During math class one day, a very simple math test demonstrated his acquired knowledge but instead of using this to place Angel in a more appropriate classroom, the teacher assumed he had cheated. He separated him from the other students and made him retest. Angel, in his colorful descriptive language said, “It was a blankity blank, easy 6th grade test!” What the teacher considered hard math didn’t phase Angel as long as they weren’t word problems, those he couldn’t read yet. Angel dealt with this hurdle and proved himself beyond proficient in his math skills, but the bigger hurdle was the teacher’s mindsets. Angel’s perseverance didn’t put him in good graces with the teacher. By the ripe old age of 13, he had seen and experienced that sometimes teachers fall prey to favoritism which can skew a person’s vision.

Outside of the classroom the bullies came after him, the new kid. Thankfully, facing the ‘gangas’ in the streets had toughened his hide and prepared him for the new school. On the school bus he had to stand his ground, he didn’t understand the possible insults hurled at him, but he definitely understood the aggressive attempts to intimidate him and he wasn’t going to allow it. One day, just as he got off the bus, he was confronted simply because he wasn’t giving up his seat. It had come time to fight. He defended himself against the boys that came after him to the point that he cut one of them and drew blood. It was a fight for survival and Angel had prevailed only to face the principal who immediately assumed that he was the instigator. I wonder if he knew that it was a few boys against one?  In those days,  “corporate punishment” was allowed and the principal was ready to administer it, but Angel wasn’t going to allow this unfair treatment. My apa was summoned. He was called out from work, something he couldn’t afford, pero, his son was more important. He made it very clear to the principal that if corporal punishment was needed, he would take care of it. Our father believed that there are times when correction is needed as children are being trained up, but he also felt a need to advocate for his son and protect him.

Eventually he did learn the language. He loved reading comic strips. In Mexicali he had sold the popular Mexican magazines and here in America he discovered Archie and the gang. All their school age dramas proved educational for him. He turned the pages, at first just enjoying the images, then with time he was reading the story line.  

Along his “school days” journey he had picked up some things that he tucked into a pocket of his heart:

He knew he could count on our Apa for provision and protection y su amor.

He also reinforced his conviction that bullies must be dealt with, not avoided.

Finally, he discovered that in life you will meet all kinds of people, in all shades and sizes. Some good and some bad. There will be those that are foolishly fearful and ignorant, unwilling to recognize the potential of different people. He would not be one of those people. As an adult his truck driving experiences gave him an appreciation for diversity of people and cultures.

En Conclusion

Ya se que, these kinds of stories aren’t new, in Southern California, they’re even common experiences. Listening to my brother’s stories made me proud of him and la familia Zepeda. Hijole! I want more and more of our history in coming to America, and more of our stories of our contribution in civil rights. Living our part of the American dream has come with some cost. I’m grateful for the lessons I’ve learned from my big brother Angel and that he paved the way for our siblings and for me. 

The Mother-Daughter In-Law Dance

I’m a mother in-law “in waiting”. And as much as I don’t want it to be an anxious feeling, it is. Mi hijo, found the woman he wants to spend the rest of his life with. Heavy sigh, cómo van a cambiar las cosas. Change is good Rosie. Sabes? They’re a good looking couple. She captured his heart and they are now an engaged couple

.…Y ahora que? Well, I’ve got my ticket to board that wedding planning roller coaster ride, suddenly, time is upon us. When they give the green light for all of us to jump in and help plan, we will. Apurate hijo! Ben said, “Wow! It’s been 10 years since our last weddings” Hijole

When You Know That You Know

Once a couple” knows,” you would think that everyone would just smoothly adjust to their sweet love and choices. Usually a couple gets giddy with fairy tales happily ever after dreams and they walk into their “revelation” expecting everyone to come for the ride. Pero pues, it’s a mixture of emotions for anyone securely connected. Emotions need to be worked out and checked as the couple prepares for their destiny.

While I’m waiting for my wedding planning assignements, come with me as I walk through some days of my early engagement days, before the wedding planning: 

Comprometida! 

Ben and I got engaged and went to share the wonderful news with my parents. No wedding plans in mind, just the realization that we would always be one. “Hijole!” My apa said to my gringo fiancee, as he put our arms next to each other “ Do you see what color she is?” I had already crossed that hurdle. It was a pretty hard hurdle to jump, es que, I was nervous. I was scared to death about marrying outside of mi gente, but after 2 years of praying and my Benjamin waiting somewhat patiently, I knew that I knew that God was for a Greene/Zepeda union so I said yes, yes, yes to his proposal. My apa’s question made me nervous but Ben, the man of few words, said “Yes, I do and I like it.” My apa watched us through the years and saw the steady man his son in-law was and he was relieved that our skin color truly didn’t matter to either of us. 

In that same visit, I look back and thank God for mi ama, who didn’t ask what the plan was, who didn’t fret just then about my wedding day. Primero, she needed to see how this young man would handle a strong Latina woman. She did as was her custom, and invited him to the table for a meal and when Ben sat down to eat she served him. He enjoyed his food, and she watched as she heated las tortillas. Maybe he was alright, at least he knew not to reject her. She offered seconds, and my flaco hungrily said yes! And that was enough, my ama liked my gringo.

For most of our engagement I was alone. Esperate! Ben didn’t ask me to marry him and ignore me. Es que, he was also committed to the U.S. Navy, so my sailor went out to sea. As a newly engaged girl I was a mess! Lonely for my Benjamin and not sure what direction to go as far as getting ready for my wedding day. My maid of honor set me straight when she could no longer watch me go in circles. Thank God for maid of honors, they are your confidants, your helpers, your doers in that busy season.

Ben had already told his mother about his Mexican-American girlfriend, so very soon after we were engaged and I was sad about Ben being away, I received a letter from my future suegra. My husband takes after her, he displays little, muy poquita emoción!  Her letter calmly welcomed me into her family and she said she looked forward to meeting me! Hijole! How do you respond to that? All kinds of questions came up in my head. What would she think? Did she know, like really know that I was brown? Ben had asked me if I would write a letter to her and he also asked if I would send a picture of myself! But I hadn’t, I just couldn’t, then I got her letter. Now I had to respond. I needed to rush and get a picture taken. In those days, we had to go to the photo studio, so Colleen, my bestie, my maid of honor suggested that I wear a nice bright shirt, a pink one! She assured me that it complimented my nice coloring. Que?! Sheesh, I had it all wrong then.

I got through the very difficult first letter just in time to start my wedding planning and started a nice letter writing friendship with my suegra to be. 

En Conclusion:
As I’m remembering these days of my engagement, I think of Emerys sweet girl and pray that God will help me to be a blessing to her now, before the wedding day. Y que Dios me los bendiga as they plan, on that day and all the days of their marriage journey.

My Mothers Shoes (a poem)

Big Sister, Little momma

A shout out to all the big sisters who have to at times step into their mothers shoes. If you’ve got one of those big sisters do not neglect to thank her for stepping in to help your mother. I’m a little sister, y Gracias a Dios that I had 3 big sisters who had my back, my big sis Marina, embraced her role and kept a good eye on me when my ama had her hands full, with 8 kids to raise, imaginate they were always bien llenas! Thanks big sis!  A few years ago I wrote this simple poem in honor of my big sis Marina. Now that I’ve revisited it, I realize that it was pretty cheesy and not quite descriptive of our home life. Pero, the message remains, when your big sister puts on her mommas shoes, se agradecida

 My Mother’s Shoes

Three boys & three girls was a nice even number, 

a quiver and more!

From sun up to sun down she worked, 

raising 6 kids was no easy chore!

The work never stopped 

as the needs piled on top.

Stacks of dishes and laundry miles high, 

with a heavy sigh she washed & she dried

With a pair of preteens, and another of teens

She learned to spy, behind her head she had extra eyes

Sweeping and mopping? Impossible! 

Her two toddler girls needed to play.

She asked God for strength and help 

as he granted another day.

At night, with weary exhaustion 

Mom took off her shoes 

Morning came all too soon 

with mouths to feed and no time to lose

 She had no quiet place

Still she took a moment to rest, 

but then came another test.

Her eyelids were heavy, 

she yearned for some sleep. 

Her lids closed for a moment 

but she caught her breath

She felt the stirring within.

She new what this meant, 

she was expecting again, 

And when the new baby came, 

she felt the stirring again!

Now her brood was complete; 

God gave her eight children to raise.

At night, more weary than ever, 

She would take off her shoes

She’d whisper a prayer for patience

And the strength God renews

She was created to nurture, 

to give all that she had,

But she needed a helper 

who could nurture 

like her

When my mothers hands were too full 

and I cried with my need

My Big Sister came, she was ready to give 

and ready to watch over me

She wasn’t my mom!

I wanted my mom!  

Big Sister shushed me

It was then that I knew 

she was wearing my mommas’ shoes!

Fast forward to my own mothering experience, I only had 4 kids and they kept me busy, I can’t imagine my amas experience. Pero, gracias a Dios for Emery and Thomas’ big sister!  My daughter Daniella stepped into my shoes so easily, at least she made it seem smooth.  A little confession right here is appropriate. Bien Concha, enjoying my motherhood, boasting that my last two babies were so easy at night, they slept through the night! Pero un dia, Daniella set the record straight, hijole! When the baby woke up and I didn’t, she would pat him back to sleep while I kept sleeping. Que verguenza, what a blow to my mothering ego!

There’s much more mothering practice that she experienced through her little brothers, but confessing this was too much for me already! Today, Daniella is an amazing mother: She uses all the talent God gave her and sometimes that strong latina woman comes out in her and she manages very well. 

Sunday is mothers day, bless your ama and if you have a big sis, thank her for every time she stepped into your mothers shoes.

It’s Almost Cinco De Mayo

Most people love to see the underdog who is against all odds come out on top in his impossible circumstance. Let’s revisit this historic event as we celebrate another Cinco de Mayo!

Mexican-American Girl

A Cause to Celebrate

In general los Mexicanos, y los Mexican Americans are always down for a good fiesta. We can lay out a beautiful scene and cook a delicious spread! Verdad? Con mi familia, we usually celebrated the main events like weddings, quinces, baptismals and Navidad and yes Accion de Gracias, can’t leave out Thanksgiving! After that, other federal or famous days went unnoticed with my familia, my apa worked Monday- Saturday and sometimes on Sunday, all that to say that Cinco de Mayo did not stir up a fiesta around our house. Que si es un poco extraño, strange, because my apa loved to talk about the Mexican history, especially the Revolucion. You know, the Cinco de Mayo story is a great one and I think it should be a national holiday in Mexico, pero no lo es!

A Gringo Celebration?

Do you…

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A Wife For Emery

Hijole! My son is engaged. He turns 25 and mira lo que pasa.

The Engagement time can be intense. I think my family, as in my kids, are  looking at me and wondering how I’m doing? Pero mira, I’ve been there and done that, this time it’ll be easy peasy.

I mean, it’s not like I’m losing my son verdad? Just keep reminding yourself of that Rosalba and you’ll stay on the Gods straight and narrow. 

My first two engagement seasons were rough. Heck! Just having my kids enter adulthood at 18 rocked my world. My first born moved out at 19 and I cried…and I cried for several weeks. Daniella had to remind me that I had 3 more kids to raise, que verguenza, sorri Daniella y gracias, you were very brave and patient with your strong latina mother. Mi hija wasn’t 18 and she was being noticed as  good marriage stock! What fear entered my world during those days. Ten years as a mother-inlaw has matured me 😀 I hope, well, I’m praying for sure.

Before Mo

Almost from the time that Emery put on the adult hoodie he changed and rearranged things, without asking my permission! Atrevido! Suddenly he was Ben, que? That name; Benjamin Emery Greene was supposed to be used silently, like in signatures and applications, I thought he knew that. Then he moved out to semi independence. He went to live with his newly wed primo! Thankfully it was a wonderful experience and it strengthened the chords of friendship for all three of them.  

He enjoyed his singleness and maximized as much as he could afford to do all that his heart desired, within the boundaries of his born-again boundaries. But the desire for marriage stirred always in his heart.

2020 

After our January bible conference in 2020 mi hijo called me, he had a specific prayer request, and that was “Ma pray with me to find a wife” Obviously it wasn’t just any girl, it was one that was equally yoked and then his list of “desires in a woman” I guess some people were telling him he was being too picky. Huh? Is it possible to be too picky in choosing or finding a lifelong partner? Is it foolish to search but wait on God? And when you think you’ve found the one for you, is it silly to expect the change of heart rate just by their presence? 

So we brought our very specific petition to God, not just him and I, but the family agreed with him. While he prayed he sought with eyes wide open and God answered our prayer.

En conclusion:

God has given me so much pleasure and increase as a mother of these Greene kids. With all my heart I congratulate my Emery and welcome his Mo into our lives and hearts. Que Dios los bendiga And may His will continue first in your lives. 

Thank you to Monique Prado @embracethedetour for these beautiful photos.

My Middle Child

According to the Birth Order character trait mold, my middle child should have been one that avoided conflict, looked for the road that was smooth and avoided conflict. Hijole! My middle child broke that mold! This is my birthday shout out to my hijo!, his birthday is coming up next week, his golden birthday.

He was for five years el “baby” enjoying his papis shoulder. Everywhere we went he was seen carried by his daddy. It was a cozy time for him,  but one day, all of a sudden, he was squished into the middle position, his daddy was carrying his little brother. He would have to fight for his turn on daddy’s shoulder now. Today, I’ll brag about my middle child. He is a sweet little brother and a great big brother. He is a grateful son who honors his parents by his godly choices. 

How can I describe my son to you? I want to paint the beautiful picture of what I see, what God sees. Pero, he’s the watercolor painter, not me. 

One of the ways I love to commemorate the gift of my children on is by remembering the day they were born. Unforgettable experiences for sure. Pero, pa que me hago! I love talking about my inheritance any chance I get. Fíjense, these are just a glimpse of my roller coaster ride with this child of mine:

Emery is a tardy kid, he manages to make people wait. On the day that he was born, I pushed for two hours before he realized it was time to make his grand entry. It was more like he was prodded out. 

Emery was a quiet child, until he was not. Some of our friends wondered if he could talk, they don’t anymore. He said what needed to be said for his “rights” to be considered. His little voice would chime in with, “I don’t agree” when plans were being made. His two older siblings say that he got away with way too many things.

Emery was my one child that went to preschool, because the doctor prescribed it. His pediatrician was worried that he was much too clingy to me. He warned me that kindergarten would be a nightmare for him if I didn’t get him started in preschool. Perhaps we were both clingy because when I dropped him off, we both cried. 

Emery clung to the ‘baby’ title as long as he could. Even after Thomas, the baby, was born, he still had the ‘power’ to influence me before the verdict was pronounced, “caso cerrado!” When the case was closed and I said no, he found a loophole. When the verdict had gone in his favor, he asked for more! 

Emery makes a friend easily. Una vez, when he was a young teen, I had to intervene with a friendship and bring a healthy separation, hijole! You would think that I had condemned him to a life of banishment! He used all his “debating skills” Ya se! A real Mexicana would have squelched that right down, con la mirada! You know that look that warns you to stop while you’re ahead. Pero, Emery Greene, he’s something else. That day, he cried at the injustice of my mothering, and in secret I cried too. Pero mira, it all worked nicely, he established good healthy friendship boundaries.

Emery is confident in our love for him. He loves us, he trusts us and appreciates us. I wanted to say “Emery loves me” but it felt a little narcissistic. Es que, somehow, through the years this pushy middle child of mine has not been repelled by this strong Latina woman and he’s pulled me, su madre,  into his circle of most confidant friends.

En conclusión: 

I said to myself, I hope que todo el mundo sees, just how blessed I am! when I put on that “madre culeca” robe and tell you about my blessings, it’s because the Bible says “let the redeemed of the Lord say so!” 

Feliz cumpleaños a mi little flaco: Benjamin Emery Greene. Like my cuñada Mary says “Que te valla bien y Que Dios te bendiga y te cuide” May It go well with you, May God bless and keep you.

Almuerzo con mi Apa

Once again I’ve been stirred by my niece, Cassi Maria to write about mi apa, her Tata. Claro que si!  She didn’t have to twist my arm, it’s always a comfort to me to share these memories. Reader, do you know the cancion que dice “Rosa Maria se fue a la playa”?  When Cassandra was a wee little girl I loved singing that to her, por su puesto que I changed it to Cassi Maria, she recently told me that she believed it was my own created melody, confession is good for the soul. 

Tata and Cassi

When Cassi visited her Tata and me, she always loved to watch me prepare breakfast for him.  She said that he got ‘special treatment’. Pero, I will clarify that at the time I didn’t believe it to be special, it was simply the way he liked to eat. He loved a nice hearty breakfast, which almost always included frijolitos bien fritos and tortillas. Sometimes I added meat, otras veces just blanquillos. The eggs would either be scrambled or fried, this did not impress Cassi. Pero, when I made a torta de huevo with all the fixings her eyes would light up as she appreciated my handiwork and she was happy for her grandpa.

I would scramble a couple of eggs and pour them over a hot skillet with oil. Luego, I’d cut up the egg patty, give it a quick and gentle stir fry with slices of onion and simmer it in a roasted tomato and dry chile sauce that mi ama taught me to make. Sometimes, if Cassi came in just as I was simmering la torta de huevo,  she’d inhale the spices from the sauce; el comino, the garlic and pepper and the chiles all made her hungry for Tata’s breakfast. 

As I’m writing this, I’m picturing my apa at the table, hands laced together, patiently waiting for his almuerzo. First his orange juice with Metamucil mixed in and his pastillas. He would always count them, and say, “Tantas pastillas?” In reality, he actually took minimal medication, compared to most 90 year old people. But still, he eyed me suspiciously. While I filled his plate with the beans and eggs and served his coffee, Cassi chatted with him and watched me, then chatted with me and turned to him.  My apa was always one to appreciate a pretty face, and his eyes always lit up when he saw Cassi, almost always saying to her “que guapa” and Cassi would blush and smile. At that stage in his life, dementia did confuse him. The conversations circled in the same questions. He wondered about Cassi’s connection to him, then he’d be surprised that “Chicha” (my youngest brother) was her dad. This might be a good place to explain that cultural habit we Mexicans have of using quirky nicknames. We create funny names and stick to them, maybe it’s just my family? Here’s one version of that conversation:

Cassi: Hola Tata como estas? (Hug and kiss)

Tata: Buenos dias! Que guapa! (my apas eyes always had a teasing twinkle in them) 

Cassi: Gracias Tata, si te acuerdas de mi? (remember this generation doesn’t know much about the proper use of “usted” so in Spanglish fashion she wanted to make sure he knew who she was.)

Tata: Parece que tu eres la Senora del Chicha? 

Cassi: No Tata! Yo soy la hija del Chicha (doing everything to restrain her indignation at being called her dads wife and not daughter ☺)

Tata: Su hija! A pose deveras que ando mal! (embarrassed that he made such a blunder, he’d blame his memory loss)

Cassi: It’s okay Tata (and Cassi would quickly forgive him)

When breakfast was served, my apa always waited til we were all seated so he could pray. I can still hear his wonderful prayer resounding in my ear like a sweet melody:

Gracias te damos Señor por estos alimentos que no nos hacen falta…”

En Conclusion:

Hijole! Now I see how right Cassi was, those breakfast days with my apa were muy especial

This Easter weekend, I am reminded of the power of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, for without his sacrifice and gift of salvation I wouldn’t be able to see him again. 

Have a beautiful Easter y que Dios los Bendiga! 

How To Handle A Bully

I have three older sisters, all feisty fiery Latina’s!  Can’t say when I’ll see two of them again, so meanwhile, My sis Marina and I try to celebrate their birthday with sweet memories of them. I’ve told you about Marina and Patty, ahora, I’m celebrating Lupe, her birthday was this past week. 

Perhaps every little sister has that admiration glint in their eye for their hermana mayor, o no? My big sister was like the female version of the Godfather. De veras, just check out her name María Guadalupe Zepeda Sánchez. I Can hear my son Jonathan saying “Tía Lupe was a G” and I would agree with him. 

She was Passionate but in control (usually) Deep down inside she wanted to display outward affection but she held herself back, except of course when a fat little baby was near her and she couldn’t resist the rosy chubby cheeks, or the tiny rolls on the baby’s thighs. Only then would you hear that wonderful baby talk that my ama practiced and passed  down to us. Those catch phrases that are still heard around some Zepeda circles :D. “Que cosa tan fina!” o “Cosita fina” and of course the mumbo jumbo phrases, sweet nothings and kisses. With Lupe, after the infant stage was gone, you just had to know she loved you by her other actions.

From the heart of a little sister, I knew how to see and feel her love. Lupe allowed me into her heart and shared her life with me; the good, the bad and the ugly. Lupe loved my family. She knew how to win my angry little first born. Not having a girl of her own, she indulged mine with those girly frilles that I had no clue about. She knew just how to tantalize my finicky middle child with the right foods . She was smitten by my guerito, Thomas, always looking for ways to spoil him. And even my flaco, she enjoyed cooking for him, and he especially enjoyed her perfectly round soft tortillas and her nopalitos, we’ve never tasted a better cactus salad than my big sisters. 

One more of the ways she showed her love was in her “stand with you” position she took with family. My sister was a passionate and loyal latina. She loved her family and defended us when necessary or had us defend ourselves, but she was there for us.

My older brother just recently shared with me another story from the archives of Mexicali. The lesson he had to teach Lupe about facing the bully.

My apa hated to know we were being bullied, but I think he disliked even more the idea we were not pushing a bully back, or defending ourselves. He strongly believed that we had to send that message that we were not going to be walked on. Sometimes it just took a brave look into the eyes of the bully and other times it took more. I believe that we all learned that lesson at some point in our lives. Here’s a quick look at how Angel taught Lupe how to handle a bully.

Life was simple in those days, kids played outside in the yard or on the street, the most important thing in a little girl’s life in the colonia was play. Until it was not. Lupe was enjoying her liberty until Big Bully Girl came out. Then, she’d take from Lupe whatever she had or she’d shove, hit or hurt her. Lupe would run and hide, usually wailing to ama. Angel got wind of this “situation” He himself was now a street savvy neighborhood kid. He knew it had to change. 

One day, he happened to be home, outdoors with the kids when Big Bully Girl came out, and Lupe immediately ran to hide behind Angel. It was one of those moments: defend his little sister or teach her to defend herself. But why defend yourself when your big brother is there? In the flowery language he uses, he told me how he resolved her problem.  He told his little sister that she better quit hiding, go face that girl and show her she could not push her around. He didn’t say “tell her you’re not scared of her” What he did threaten was that if she didn’t face that girl immediately, she would have to deal with him! Lupe was more afraid of that consequence of course. When Lupe stopped hiding, Big Bully Girl was surprised when Lupe pushed back! Lesson learned, mission accomplished! Lupe never feared that bully again, in fact Angel said that he did feel sorry for the bully after that. 

Apa and 3 of his 4 girls. (That’s me in the frilly dress)

Por favor, I do realize that bullying can get way more serious than standing up to a bossy mean selfish kid. Bullying can turn ugly and dangerous. Family support is critical, but if you can’t talk to a family member there are places that will help a person in need. 

Por supuesto que, life brought on many difficulties and hurts for my big sis, many times she had no choice but to face them. When she had to fight for her rightful place she did with fierce strength, when she had to let things go, though it was a battle, though her heart ached she did so, fighting always to keep her head up. When she couldn’t defend herself, God showed himself strong.

There was a gap of 7 years between Lupe and I, but in our latter years as wives and mothers we enjoyed a wonderful friendship. She gave me a place of honor by making me her friend. In one sense I can’t wait to catch up with her in heaven one day and hear her morning greeting again. “Good morning sunshine”.

Las Aventuras de Angel 

 

“Back in my days” we were raised to respect our older siblings, I had 6 older siblings that I had to give that allegiance to. Pero, sometimes things got fuzzy, lines got crossed with my sister Patty, since we were only 2 years apart we were friends mostly, until I would tick her off for one reason or another and she’d have to check me. I didn’t mess with my big brother Angel. He grew up having to face many of the issues of the 60s and 70s. He didn’t expect others to solve things for him, and he didn’t shrink in fear. When language was an issue, when skin color was a barrier, he handled his affairs In a matter of fact way. And so it was when he saw the girl he wanted to marry. He saw studious, quiet and very petite Mary at school one day and was smitten, but that’s not anything my cool and collected big brother could ever outright admit. Y asi fue, Mary, now his wife of 50 years, said that Angel told himself “That girl, she’s gonna be my wife” And before long she was. He learned how to defend himself while maintaining his head high and obtaining his goals. 

By the time I was out of my toddler years he was an adult and I looked at him with a sense of awe in my eyes and always I hoped for his attention and his ‘like’. I’ll admit that even now, ahora de vieja! I still have that hope in me. 

In the past year and a half since our father died, Angel and Mary have had their trials. Ben and I went to visit them one weekend in Calipatria, it was a bittersweet weekend. Mary has been diagnosed with stage 4 cancer and like it always is, familia rallies together. It was a hard blow for my big brother and his family. Mary has a big family also and her siblings rallied around her, while my sis Marina and I offered the only help we could think of, our time, labor and whatever knowledge we had gained from taking care of our apa.  

Storytelling

Ben put his handyman skills to good use, but after one one project was excused for more important things. Something about my quiet husband drew my stoic older brother out of his shock. He began sharing some of his many adventures from his truck driving career with Mary. Remembering the places they drove to and the people they met along the way refreshed my brother. I was busy with my project, organizing and decluttering and so I missed a lot of these stories. Angel uses colorful language when he talks, and always has a hidden smile when he gives a punch line. It’s very enjoyable to listen to him, and it very much reminds me of when I watched and listened to my apa tell his stories. Somewhere in his story telling his memories shifted and he began talking about some of the youthful adventures he experienced while living in Mexicali. I was glad to be done with the ‘work’, I needed to hear some of these stories, I had been asking for some time for more of our family history. Mary and I sat down with Ben and Angel at the kitchen table to listen to the stories about the Zepedas before my days.

Before we could sit down though, we couldn’t be at the table without our cafecito y pan dulce. The stories came flowing out, a wealth of experiences. 

De Jalisco A Baja California

When dad decided it was time to leave Jalisco and take his wife and two small boys to El Norte, he brought them right to the border of Mexicali, Baja California. It was a three day journey by train. Upon arriving they met another family from back home. Immediately they connected and became fast friends. My father was immediately working across the border so their new friends helped my mother as she adjusted to a whole new life.

As if resettling and two busy little boys wasn’t enough on her plate, through the years, my parents were fruitful, four more kids during the Mexicali years and that wasn’t the end. Her busyness made Angel’s adventures possible. He was quite savvy in the colonia and she needed his quickness. It was a win-win situation. He explored every calle, every empty lot, looked into different businesses and stands, he studied his new location. All the while as he made his connections, he was completing the errands assigned to him. 

By the time my big brother was around 12 years old he had learned a few things about making money, no opportunity was wasted. Angel took a newspaper route, then, with that money earned, he’d  run over to the magazine stand and buy the popular magazines from the doña and resell them. When he couldn’t sell his magazine, he’d rent it for a reasonable price to a willing reader. 

On top of all his business, and son duties, he also had school to attend. He and his little brother, my other big brother, are two peas in a pod when they’re together. They went to school with the nuns, and they ran a tight ship, but even there Angel learned to manage, only occasionally did he get busted for a travesura. One he told me of wasn’t exactly his fault but his indirect contribution didn’t help his defense.

In his ‘travels’ through la colonia Loma Linda, Angel found or purchased different useful items, like purchasing upholstery needles from a shop along his path. He used these needles to make darts, a crucial tool for a blooming adolescent boy, verdad?  He inserted the needles into tender twigs from tree branches and secured them tightly with string. Then to bring the needed flight to the dart he created cardboard feathers and soon he was ready to beat any boy at a dart throwing game. 

One day, his lil brother found another use for the needles. The bicycles lined up at school felt the poke of that upholstery needed. Every tire stood flat and the trail of guilt led right to Angel. The nuns were not too happy with the Zepeda boys that day. Lesson learned, he’d have to be more careful with his supplies. With each experience Angel was learning quite a bit from the streets and my apa was getting worried, Angel was becoming notorious in the colonia

En conclusíon

These recent months have been quite difficult for Angel and Mary, but they have amazed me with how they have persevered, they know that it is God who carries them.  Mary is gracious in  her surrender to the One who gave her life in the first place. With much dignity she takes care of her “stinker” as she has always called her husband because of his notorious teasing ways. 
I have always enjoyed hearing our family stories. Talking to my brother recently felt like a secret room that was discovered. He talked about my ama’s family and about the years in Mexicali and of course a favorite of mine is love stories, and I’ve learned about him and Mary’s love story. A wealth of information that spilled from the archives of his memory and Mary’s too. I’m looking forward to more stories and I’m thanking God for my big brother Angel and my cuñada Mary.

How To Survive A Work Day In the Fields

Today I write with heartfelt appreciation for the man Cesar Chavez, who in his own struggles and experiences worked hard to help himself and other migrant workers. In another post called Migrant Workers In The Valleys I give a small glimpse of my work day picking grapes in Coachella Valley. Here are some recommendations that come from memories lodged in the recesses of my 9th grade mind.

How To Dress Appropriately For A Hot Desert Day

Summer time in the Imperial Valley brings temperatures as high as 120° Fahrenheit. From the moment the dry hot burning sun rises around 6:30 am it would penetrate our skin and our heads. Asi es, I felt like it was frying us. When we went to work in the grapevines we covered up our skin and heads, otherwise the sun would make us ill. I don’t remember ever using sunscreen. I thought that because I’m brown I wouldn’t get sunburned. Ya se Ya se. Instead, we wore layers to protect our skin from the burning sun. It felt like a double whammy, since the layers made me perspire and others (not me) would sweat. Wet, smelly sweat came through the layers of protection. Por favor, don’t forget the deodorant. The ugly odor that hit me sitting in the back of that truck was offensive! Hijole! I to wanted to keep my paño over my face, but the suffocating heat was worse during that long ride home. Finally, having long hair, my mother always told me, “haste la trenza!” I always ignored her advice to wear the plain old braid, and someone always ended up braiding my dirty hair halfway through the day. My daughter said, “braids are cool today mom.”

 Sometimes, even with our efforts to protect ourselves, the sun got to us. One day at work, late in the morning, when we were almost done for the day, a woman about my mothers age, fifty something, went down right in the middle of vines, with half a bucket of uvas. It seemed like it took the mayordomo and some of the other workers a long time to revive her. Hijole! The sun and heat knocked her out! But I never worried that my ama could be affected like that. I was a child, de veras, nothing could happen to my strong ama. Even when she’d come out from under the grapevines, face covered in dirt, and I could tell the extreme heat was burning her cheeks, I just knew she’d be ok.

Drinking The Right Amount Of Water:

Drinking water out in the hot fields was tricky. If you drank too much you could get sick, especially if it was nice and cool. Too much water would swoosh around in your belly slowing you down. Yet you shouldn’t neglect drinking it, waiting too long could also make you sick. We teenagers tended to want to be at the water jug too often. My ama seemed to know just how much we could handle and under her watchful eye we had just enough water to be useful. 

We started our days in teams of 3 or 4 people, usually families. We got paid by the boxes that were packed and approved so a picker had to work hard and fast to get grapes over to the packer. Those serious adults who had bills waiting for them and families to feed, they knew how to work. Good pickers got their flow or rhythm and tried not to waste time by stopping. Imagine an aerobic workout. Stretch up to clip the cluster of grapes, bend down to carefully, but quickly place it in the bucket. Two or three steps to the next cluster, clip, drop, one, two, three, and repeat until the bucket is full. Fill two buckets, one for each hand, then briskly walk all the way down the long grape vine row and leave your buckets of grapes to the care of the packer. Just remembering that scorching sun makes me glad my ama rotated us sisters as packers. Picking grapes was hard on the body and packing them beautifully in the box could be hard on the ego, because if the mayordomo didn’t approve it, it had to be repacked, which also meant loss of precious time since we could safely only work until 11am before the sun turned up its heat.

En conclusíon

As a little kid, I totally enjoyed life out in the desert, not much bothered me. I didn’t see life as hard, my apa and ama covered me and my siblings well. As a teen I only paid attention to the important stuff like playing sports. I was very much concerned about my ama getting my tennis shoes on time for volleyball season in the fall.

My Teenage Life: Volleyball and other sports

When I was dragged into the peaceful protest regarding the conditions of the grapevine workers, con mucha pena, I confess that I was only worried about how very tired, dirty, hot and ready to go home I felt. I didn’t care about negotiations, or break throughs, the dirt meshed with sweat and heat was not a fair opponent.

Ahora si, I can see that while I was distracted, history was being shaped and God did helped us. Thank God for men and women that are willing to stand up in the face of adversity and fight for a righteous cause as Cesar Chavez did.