Editor’s Note: The Beacon Bolt is honored to publish the following short story by sophomore Gabrielle Morales. Here, Gabrielle, an English major, writes from the perspective of a conversation between her and her father, offering a profoundly honest look into the dreams, struggles, and identity of a first-generation immigrant.
“It was kinda like that one story, you know? About the boy an’ girl that fall in love?”
“Oh, come on, you know! It’sa old story. Their parents don’t want them together. I think they end up dyin’ or somethin’.”
Romeo and Juliet?
“Yeah! Your grandparents fell in love just like they did! It was just like that Romeo and Juliet story; it was just like a fairytale.”
What my father said was true. Maybe it didn’t quite resemble Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, but I understand his longing to know his deceased father—to make of this loss some mythological history. You see, my paternal grandfather passed away when my father was just seven. Being the oldest, my father was forced to drop out of the third grade and support his mother and siblings. And then, when he was fourteen, he left his ranch-house in Tamazula de Gordiano, Jalisco, Mexico, to “make something of himself” by migrating to America.
And I am his Gabo—Gabrielle, born of an uneducated family and first of that line to break the chain of teen pregnancy. More importantly, I am the first to attend college. But it was not until recently that I began to wonder what my life would look like had my grandfather lived. These thoughts are futile. But I can’t help but wonder: would my own father still be illiterate? And if not, would he still have entered America under the same conditions, and would I have found reason to write this? Would my parents have met? It is through this story, my father’s story—a deeply rooted bloom of self discovery—that I hope to put these thoughts to rest.
* * *
You know what I’ve always wanted to do, Gabo? Write a book. Someday—someday soon I wanna write a book about me. I think that would be pretty cool. Don’t you? I mean, it wouldn’t be nothin’ amazing, but it would be mine. And who knows, maybe some peoples could learn from me.
I think I would start with my name. You know, my birth name is Narzizo Colazo-Morales, but people call me Pedro; I guess you could say it’s my American name. If we’re being honest here, I’ll admit I used to be embarrassed of the name Narzizo. I mean, I don’t mea
n to cuss, but where the hell did that name come from, anyway? Most people like havin’ different names; they think it’s cool, but when I was your age—oh man, I hated it. I actually called your grandma up the other day and asked her the same question. It turns out your grandpa named me after, no—not the saint or mythological character, but after a rich man he knew. I guess that was his way of wishing wealth upon me. I’m sure you can imagine how disappointed I was, ‘cause you know I ain’t rich!
Geez, that gets me to thinkin’: there’s so much I don’t know about myself. You remember that one time I needed my birth certificate for immigration? Yep, that was the day I found out I wasn’t born on November 29th but on November 16th. The same day as your brother.
Man, was he pissed to have to share his birthday!
How did that happen, you ask? Well, first of all, you should know, your dad wasn’t born with no silver spoon in his mouth. We didn’t celebrate birthdays, so knowing your birth date wasn’t a big deal, not what you make it to be. You know, if it bugs you that much, you can just celebrate both days; I’d be fine with that. Ha, no, but anyways, we didn’t own a camera, we didn’t have no health insurance, and we didn’t have no car. So, it ain’t such a wonder now, huh? Since we didn’t have nothin’ like you do, all your aunts and uncles were born at the ranch and taken to the doctor’s a week later. I know it sounds kinda stupid, but if it was up to me and not your mom, you would have been born at home. Shoot, those doctors are expensive. You’ll believe me when you’re older. You’re just a kid.
If you think my life was hard before, just think about how things got worse after your grandfather died. You know, I don’t really remember much of him. I mean, I was so young. My only memory of him includes me crying—crying for him, but that’s besides the point. After he died, your uncle Jose was already living in America, so everything kinda fell on me. I was seven years old, in the second grade, when I dropped out of school. I barely knew how to read or write, really, before I was made man of the house. I still don’t know how, but don’t tell nobody, okay? It ain’t somethin’ I’m proud of. That’s why I came to America in the first place; I wanted to make something of myself, just like everyone else, really.
* * *
I don’t think my father realizes what he has done for me, for my sisters. He doesn’t realize how courageous it was for him to strike out for the unknown. If he hadn’t crossed that border, he never would have met my mother, a six-foot-tall red-headed farmer’s daughter. To tell you the truth, I grew up hating school for the obvious reasons (aside from an uneducated upbringing), which someone who struggles with a learning disability can relate to. I don’t relish in saying I have Attention Deficit Disorder. Actually, to be blunt, I am sort of embarrassed by it.
Throughout my elementary education, I was pulled out of class for testing. Because of this, I missed out on the opportunity to go on fieldtrips and participate in other classroom activities. On a daily basis, I sat alone in a room thinking to myself, “I’m stupid.” It was not until my junior year of high school—when for the first time in my life, an educator told me I was intelligent—that I began to think otherwise. Sure, I may not come from an educated family, but without my father’s willingness to leave Mexico, I wouldn’t be writing this, and I thank him for that.
* * *
Yeah, I came here illegally. I ain’t gonna sugar coat it.
Now that I get to thinkin’ about it, I’m startin’ to realize how crazy it all was. I mean, I was fourteen years old, didn’t weight but one-hundred pounds, when I came here. You know, most people travel for school or vacation, but not me. I wasn’t on vacation. I wasn’t goin’ to school. I didn’t have no plan or real destination besides just gettin’ over the border. Heck, I didn’t even have no job. But like I said before, I wanted to make something of myself, and America is the place to go for just that.
There were five of us, myself being the youngest, and we all paid a pretty penny to get here, starting at Nuevo Laredo, Mexico. While most of my friends jumped the fence, the rest did other things—things I can’t say. As for me, I had it lucky. Since I was so little, I was able to pass off as a taxi driver’s nephew, who was also a member of the gang we paid to get us over the border. And so I came here in the passenger seat of a taxi, just as comfortable as can be. Well, for the most part. I mean, can you imagine being alone with a stranger for four hours in the middle of the night? Sometimes you just have to trust that God is gonna take care of you, even if yous is scared. I’m tellin’ you, I was real scared, and it was real quiet in that taxi. In fact, he didn’t say nothin’ to me until we stopped at the border control. I can’t remember what he said exactly, but he said somethin’ like, “If a guard looks at you, don’t say a thing, just nod your head.” So when the guard made eye contact with me, I didn’t say nothin’; I just nodded my head and pretended I knew what he was sayin’. Less than thirty seconds later, we got cleared to go, and he took me straight to an apartment in Houston where I planned to meet my friends. I still remember what he said to me as he drove away. He said, “Well, you passed the test. You’re an American.” I knew well enough that I was no American citizen, but thirty-five years later, and even without citizenship, I say I am American.
Those first few months were hard cause’ nobody would hire me. I was just a boy, and they didn’t take me seriously, but then again, who would? So the guys paid me to cook and clean the apartment at forty bucks a week; I thought I was rollin’ in the dough. Don’t get me wrong, it was nice. I mean, I had free food and rent, but you should know I wasn’t happy. I didn’t come to America to be a housewife. No, there’s nothin’ wrong with housewives, but I wanted to get out and make my own money, and in a way, it was no better than bein’ in Mexico. It’s not easy building your life from scratch, you should know.
And after four months without luck or a job, everybody thought about pitching in to send me back to Mexico. School wasn’t an option for me since I was illegal and didn’t speak a lick of English, otherwise I would have gone. Gee, can you imagine how that woulda changed my life? The problem: it’s just as hard, if not more difficult, goin’ back as it is gettin’ in. It never came to that, thankfully, because I got a temp job at a car wash. That’s where I learned to wash cars, though I only worked once or twice a week for an hour, sometimes I wouldn’t go for a week. I barely got by until one of the guys got me a landscaping job. When that work ran out, we were asked by a few other migrant workers to travel to Florida and harvest fruit, mostly oranges. So, Javier, Arturo, Tekio, Jesus, Chino, Justavo, Chema, and me piled up in a van. Yeah, we were one of those vans packed full of cholos headed to Day, Florida, just thirty miles outside of Tampa Bay.
* * *
Growing up, we rarely went on vacations, but when we did, we went to the beach, and I think I finally understand why. As a child, the ocean seemed to be a safe haven for my father; it always seemed to bring him peace.
Throughout the majority of my youth, he worked multiple jobs. For six days a week, he left at 6:00AM and got home at 9:00PM. He always kept busy, even on the weekends. He simply was not one to lounge around. If he wasn’t doing work around the house, he was working on one of his BMWs, which he took great pride in. Work was his life, and other than at the dinner table, he rarely sat down. But when we went to the beach, it was different. It seemed to change something in him. The beach, in its entirety, even with the inevitable overcast skies and frozen toes of the Oregon beach, brought a grin to my father’s face. I suppose he relaxed, and on the rare occasion that he did so, he would grab me by the waist, spin me around, and sing about his love for Cheerios. I can’t quite describe it, but even as a four-year-old, I could see a difference in him.
* * *
Now, that’s when I started makin’ some money, which I sent to your grandma, well—for a period of time—before I started playin’ poker. We spent all of our free time playing that game; it was somethin’ we all enjoyed, the money part I mean. We started out by betting at a one to twenty-five-dollar max. After awhile, it got out of control, and in the end there was, of course, no limit. Shoot, it was crazy; we would play until someone lost their entire paycheck. I got really good, I’m tellin’ ya. In fact, one time, I won two thousand and eight hundred dollars—yes, everyone’s paycheck. Oh, you can imagine how happy I was, not to mention how upset I was when I lost my own paycheck. I know, you must be thinkin’ about how hypocritical your father was, but just think, I lost an entire month’s worth of hard labor. But it was much more than a paycheck—it was what we all had worked so hard for. And so, we started gettin’ inta fights. We fought until we finally decided that havin’ a lil’ extra cash wasn’t worth it no more. From then on, I promised myself I would never play again, and I haven’t played since.
If you haven’t already dunnit, I hope you can imagine how boring things got after we stopped playing, cause’ we didn’t have nothin’ to do in our free time. Shoot, we were forty-five minutes away from the beach, but we never stepped foot on it. You know why? Cause’ we didn’t want to be seen. Remember, we was illegals, and we didn’t want to get deported. We were afraid of just goin’ to the store, so we jus’ stayed inside all weekend long.
After oranges came apples. We went to a real small town in West Virginia. It sure was different there; it was full of racist white peoples, and we were the only Mexicans in the area. Every time we went to the store, they would look at us like we were from another planet, like we was aliens—or criminals. I didn’t like it there anyway though, cause’ there was no tortillas, no Mexican food or restaurants like there is today. Of course, it didn’t make the language barrier any better, but at least Javier knew some English. Boy, am I tellin’ ya, if you think my English is bad now, just think—I couldn’t even say ‘potato chips,’ I pronounced them potato shits. Yeah, it was that bad. You know, I’ve come a long way. But before I learned English, Javier would have to write out our grocery list on a piece of paper so we could hand them to the attendant. Without him, we would have made fools out ourselves.
We didn’t stay there for very long, and from there we traveled to Idaho. For three short months we picked potatoes, and that was it for our seasonal work. Then, everybody pulled apart: Three went back to Mexico, three went back to Houston, and Tekio, my best friend, and me went to Oregon, where your uncle Jose lived. Tekio stayed with me for three years and ended up moving to Washington for work. I never heard from him after that. I never heard from any of them; who knows if they’re still alive.
By the time I moved to Oregon, I was 16, and I started out workin’ in the corn fields. I even got a picture of me in front of one of the first field I harvested. It was with that harvest money that I bought my first car, a ’72 Dodge Charger with big ass tires on the back. That car was my baby, my first real piece of the American Dream. I ended up crashing it, running over a stack of hay, on highway 97. Yeah, that was probably because I couldn’t see out the front windshield—you know, cause’ of those tires. And yeah, it was probably stupid of me to do that in the first place, but man did I look cool ridin’ that thing.
I’ve been through more than a few cars—and accidents. But that, of course, is another story. I think that’s all I’ll say for today; that’s enough.
* * *
“Wait—That’s it? But—I want to know more.”
Okay, well what else do you want to know?
“I don’t know—more. Like, your dream. Did you… Would you say you… got your dream?”
I’d like to say my dream came true, but I’m not sure it was the right dream at the beginning. Why do I say that? Well—I guess cause’ I left my family, all—all for a dream I wasn’t sure would come true. But then, I did, after all, and up making a life and family of my own.
You know what, Gabo? When I came here, I didn’t want to get married or nothin’. I wanted to go to school and get a good job, make some money. I never imagined myself getting married to a white woman or having blue and green-eyed kids. You can never imagine things like that, especially being as greedy as I was. I know, I can still be greedy at times. I mean, shoot, I’m still figuring out what I want to do with myself, and I’m 54. But there’s still more to come— more to learn about the world and myself. I don’t know much, but I do know this: You, Gabrielle, are the product of my American Dream, more than I could have ever dreamed of.