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. 

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”.