La Barra Lux and Proposed Histories
Skin tender-pearl and silvering where veins move blood back to the heart (mine budding within hers), she is light-skinned with protruding wrist bones, long fingers, I imagine.
In 1932, she crosses into Douglas, Arizona and leaves La Barra Lux behind, her failed restaurant, along with two dead husbands. She is a widow with three children, one of them my grandmother who is two years old. Her last husband is believed to be German but this is often contested. No photos exist of the family.
She comes for work but no one knows what she did for that whole year before she went back to Nacozari, so I make her a seamstress working in a factory. There is only one photo of her, and the dark below her eyes holds the years coiled around them like dry riverbeds (or I am projecting).
She is a little girl, then. She is squatting in the dust, the desert, without sandals, fingering the ants and letting them sting the salt off her smooth, Yaqui skin.
Es cosa bonita poder leer. It is a beautiful thing to be able to read, she says. Pero yo no, he responds, and begins complaining that everyone is on those electronic things, those pinche phones. They should be working, reading, he insists with his hands tightening into leather fists, lighter inside the creases. He is the only one wearing a sombrero in the waiting room and the woman is now tracing her thick finger along the health magazine title on her lap. The boy on the floor with a sticky bead maze howls Ma! while she shifts one thigh across the other to hover closer to my shoulder. Algunos leen, she says and looks to me, and I play American, dumb, re-reading the lines in my English Borges to avoid her hard gaze.
Imagine the silence between what you are and what you should be. A wide silence carrying you through adolescence.
Imagine you overhear the other girls in the lunch line. In a few minutes, they will scrape tater tots onto their trays, just like you, but dip them in hot sauce as gingerly as if they were etiquette-class graduates. But these girls are unassimilated, brazen dark shoulders bared like the Spanish that slicks off their teeth. They are talking about you again and today you decide to respond. You say, “entendí lo que dijiste” and they’re offended that you’ve licked your lips wet with their language.
But you’re still in the same line they’re in, not like your family is that white, your parents still unable afford a full priced lunch for you.
Imagine your friends are white-washed liked you. But they don’t speak Spanish like you. They claim last names like Martinez, Lopez, and Ramirez because no one has told them it doesn’t matter anymore; last names don’t tell family histories, not anymore. Names can’t hold the changes in your great-grandmother’s face when she became a widow, how your grandfather sold the family furniture for seventeen dollars to come to America, or when your parents lost a bakery in your name.
So during lunch you and your friends sit under a tree with other white Mexicans, Chicanos, Hispanics, whatever, until you’re the last one able to say “gabacha” and know what it means.
is sort of like when you eat in front of someone without offering them anything to eat, even if it might be the American way. I am not malcriada in that sense; even peasants have a little to share.
Avoiding the customary kiss on the cheek to a distant relative can also be misconstrued as malcriada. Avoiding the small talk that comes with greeting visitors and lacking the charm to accept intrusive probing can do the same. What they don’t know is you don’t speak because you’ve acquired a taste for English and now you have an accent and you are embarrassed. You are shy and this is unfortunate, though if you are lucky you could also just be ranchera, which is a little better because that means you are simply uncouth, like a farm hand.
If you are malcriada, then when your great Tia Anna runs her wrinkled hand along your clothed chest in a non-sexual way (to see if you are developing yet) you would say something and even push that old bat off of you, which is not what I did. I was perfectly in-line, all the other old women staring as though the heat was a visible thing that was thick enough to fog their glasses so they could pretend not to know what was going on when I stood there frozen. I did such a good job, was so bien educada, that when a similar situation presented itself later with a boy from the neighborhood, I said and did nothing, being properly trained for silence.
San Jose From the Phlebotomist’s Sky
The hot air compromises truth, so the city is a mass of tireless, trembling white fires. Scientists call it scintillation: the mad wavering of light that is actually still. They are flickering, but they are not.
At about 1,000 feet, the lights coagulate, form yellow-white drops, like plasma freshly separated from blood. Another ascent and they congeal again, this time in larger orbs, growing into dotted lines along the black coast, hugging land against sudden ocean.
Within these budding clusters, one holds you in, tight, spherical, circumscribed. In what? Halogen and vanity? Where do your lights converge? I can’t see—but that is for a different scientist, one trained to find the lights that combine and burst.
Finally they vanish into slowly-small lights. From above, you’re an atomized, vibrating fire, anxious to blend with another, and fade.
I began writing about my childhood about seven years ago. When I started, I assumed that because nothing massively tragic or wonderful happened that there was really nothing to tell. I was just writing for myself, for my need to “make sense of things” and try to discover why I was who I was. I always felt that my childhood was mundane. What I discovered as I started getting deeper into my past was that there was richness in my past, but more-so in the personal issues I had accumulated because of the unresolved tensions of my childhood. I was still battling with demons that told me my stories were not worth telling, that they were nothing grand or epically tragic. I figured, hey everyone has imperfect childhoods right? Why was anything I had to say any different?
I kept writing anyway, sometimes using it as a healing tool, and noticed that I had intertwined a lot of my cultural aloofness into my personality. I did not belong in either of the two cultures I claimed (Mexican and American) and I felt excluded, except by those that were like me…those that were in the in-between. My journey into writing about my supposedly mundane childhood really allowed the insecurities of this tension, of living in the in-between, to creep up. I recognized that I did and did not belong, and that that was OK.
I also realized I had a strong yearning for the Mexican culture I was brought up in, even though I didn’t participate in it. I recognized I wanted to know more about my ancestral history, too, but met with gridlock because of lack of stories being handed down. There wasn’t much history to tell and it made me sad to think that all those lives of my ancestors were essentially lost because there were no records, no one to tell their stories. I hope to continue my travels through my own past and those of my ancestors, fictionalizing the areas that I cannot access because of time and neglect.
Adriana Medina is a native of Southern California where she lives with her daughter and two guinea pigs, all of whom are very vocal. She received her Master’s in English and Creative Writing at Chapman University. She is an indiscriminate book hoarder, Zentangle enthusiast, and is fascinated by the intersection of poetry and visual media.