Un Dia a La Vez “One Day at a Time”

My grandmother used to sing this song of worship “Un Dia A La vez” in her sweet low soothing voice and without fail I would close my eyes, smile, and breathe deeply as it never failed to calm me. It was a mantra to live life one day at a time with the hope and perseverance that the next day would be better than the last. My abuelita was a strong, kind, and friendly woman; I have never met anyone quite like her. Seemingly meek in her quiet way but once prompted by a friendly smile, she would sidle up next to you and become your new best friend as she chatted away and rewarded your willingness to listen with the sweetest of smiles and a twinkle in her eyes.

I think back on those days whenever I feel the urge to close in on myself, whenever I want to shut everyone out and live my life in quiet contemplation. I think about how much she suffered, how hard she worked to give her family a better life, and how she never lost that sweet composition. Growing up I thought there must be something wrong with her; she never yelled, she was never upset; she didn’t raise a hand to anyone. Even when my devil of a cousin would do outrageous things that made ME, a five year old, want to smack him silly; she would sigh and sing to him while she held him, rocking him back and forth in her bosom.

Whereas I cannot aim to be as sweet of an angel as she was, I derive strength from her memory, her simplicity in living life: care for your children, smile because it will get better, and devote your life to God by giving hope to others. Her seemingly simple outlook in life is beautiful in its selflessness and I do aim to follow in her example as such.

I take solace in the fact that things have definitely gotten better. So I say to you, there is a lot of pain to be found in life; sadness, tragedy, and injustice abound; but will you live life one day at a time hoping and working to make each day better or will you lay your soul to die when you quit the hope of a better life?

I have hurt inside; we all do, in varying degrees. My pain is no stronger, stranger, or sadder than yours. It is painful to me as yours is painful to you. But the beauty in the human spirit is that I will never give up the pursuit of being a better, happier, kinder, and more helpful human being and in the process, reap the rewards of mending my broken heart and healing old wounds, even when they reopen from time to time.

I hold your hand and I tell you, It Gets Better. One Day at a Time.

Thoughts after sharing

Thoughts swirl around my mind, words trying to get themselves on paper, stories pushing out of my mind to be shared and I have abstain from releasing them.

I started this blog with the purpose that one day I would be sharing these stories, the ones that are dearest (and most painful) to my heart, with the hope that someone/anyone would read them and relate to them and not feel so alone.

It has been a  few years since I first opened my wordpress account and for the most part I ignored logging in, I wasn’t ready you see.  I wasn’t ready to give that part of me because when I share these words with you I am giving you a piece of me and I must admit, they leave me drained at times.

When I go back and read my posts, I notice that I tend to share in segments, bursts of feelings and experiences revolving around a time period but mostly a person who was a central dominating figure in my life.

But after the last two posts that I shared I have been left with a gaping wound and I try to heal.  Maybe I shared them too soon.  Maybe I got a response that made me feel defensive.  Maybe when asked for more details and I dumbly agreed to divulge a part of my life that I was unable to part with, I crumbled a bit inside.

I lost you all over again and I realized I never grieved you.

I have many drafts saved here, many stories hanging from my fingertips aching to be shared but I hold them back because I am grieving you now my dear, a light that was extinguished much too soon.

I miss you my dear.  I hope you know that now and I hope you knew then.

Rest your eyes in sweet surrender,
Drift by sorrow of life,
Where the shadows may never reach you,
Darkness was never meant for you.


This is hard to share because there’s a certain shame and stigma to going through this in a first world country, but it’s important to know that it happens, here in our country, and that it is more pervasive that we like to admit.


When I had you Bella, it was so hard to leave you. You were such a little thing, born a bit early; you weighed 5 lbs. and 8oz. When you would curl up your tiny limbs up to your chest, you could easily fit inside a shoe box. How could I leave you? I only had six weeks with you before it was time for me to go back to work and when I went back that first day I couldn’t help it; the tears kept streaming down my cheeks and it hurt so bad to be away from you. I had taken one of your undershirts with me to work so I could smell your scent while I was away but it only made my emotions come tumbling down and the sobs rise in me uncontrollably.

I didn’t have to be away from you for long.

That week I went to a doctor’s appointment and they told me, “Congratulations, you are pregnant.” The doctor didn’t see you on the floor in your car seat and when he saw my shocked face and his eyes fell upon you, he understood. He was very kind and recounted a personal story of not being able to have children with his wife and how I would see how very lucky I was to have you both down the line. What a wise man indeed. 🙂

I gave my notice at work the following day and decided to stay home with you because the health insurance would be more affordable if I didn’t work and we only had one income in the family.

But times were lean.

When Iza came smiling into the world, I couldn’t imagine a life without the two of you. My two little joys, my two angels. No love had ever felt truer, clearer, or everlasting. What startling beauty I found in your little faces.

But times were lean and nobody knows how difficult times were back then.

We lived in a tiny converted basement that was damp all of the time and made Iza chronically sick. We would make weekly visits to the emergency room during her first months of life because her asthma and symptoms were so severe. I couldn’t sleep; I was so paranoid that I would collapse in exhaustion and not hear the awful purring sound coming from her chest. I slept with you, Bella, next to me and Iza on my chest so I could help her breathing fall into my own rhythm.

It was hard. But we found beauty in everything we rested our gaze on. When I took the two of you for long walks around the city, I pointed to the flowers and taught you the name to each one, I showed you my favorite buildings downtown, and hours later when we made our way back home, you were in a peaceful sleep and I comforted myself with the fact that you knew no better.

But the walks back were torture for me. Before I climbed up the steep hill, pushing and pulling the double stroller you and Iza lay in, we would stop by at the corner grocer’s market. I would pull out my change which I had previously exactly accounted $4.25. And I would make it stretch; measuring out exactly the amount of chicken, potatoes, tortillas, and a carrot or two that I would be making the following few meals with.

The grocer would “forget” to charge me for an item or two and try to give me change back. I would object but he would plead me to accept it with his eyes, and it was easier to relent than to look into his face full of sadness for me.

Once we were at the top of the hill, I would carry you on my left hip, pick up Iza and hoist her on my right hip, lean far back to balance the two of you without waking you, and fold the stroller with my right arm and leg, and carefully walk down the steps to our home. When I would lay you on our bed, I would stand there and look at the two of you and take in your perfect features, your smooth foreheads free of worry and the aches in my bones and pain in my heart would dissipate.

When dinner was done, I would serve the two of you and make sure I rationed and set aside the following meals in the fridge. Bella, you were so independent at such a young age that you would feed yourself in your high chair at just shy of a year old. You were such a neat lovely little eater. Such a good little loving companion.

And soon our home would fill with stillness; he would sit and eat his dinner without a word. His sadness was deeper than mine; I could never touch it. I would hold his handsome face in my hand and turn it up towards me, caress the stubble on his strong jaw and run my thumb lightly on his lips. But his eyes were so full of pain and defeat that I could never reach him.

The days got leaner and soon enough our daily fried potato tacos with cheese would become boiled potatoes and tortillas, with the vegetables saved for the two of you. And that’s when we would start to go for long walks that always seemed to end at grandma’s house right around dinner time. To keep her from realizing what was going on, I would feign that I was full. While you two ate with my parents and siblings, I avoided looking at the food and chatted excitedly with everyone, trying hard to keep my mind focused elsewhere. We would say our goodbyes and most of the time they would insist we stop by the following day if we were free and a weight on my chest would be released as I secured your meals for another day.

I can’t shake that empty feeling in my stomach, that gnawing hunger that clawed at my insides. Or the shame that I wish I could unhinge from my chest and lay it to rest. The two of you never went hungry; I always made sure the two of you were never acquainted with hunger.

We are at such a better place now; the three of us, but I can’t shake it, a sense of failure permeates my thoughts when I remember what now feels like a past life.

I will always make sure that the two of you never know hunger; whether it is for nourishment, affection, or love.  I pinky promise, and we never break those.  🙂

Two Lights

We would talk for hours every day. You begged me to draw for you, to write for you and recite the stories to you at night. We were One when you let the words of your poems slowly slide down my body, caress every inch of my damaged soul, and heal me with your dancing eyes.

I would get caught up on the lovely song of your voice and slip off into our world. I would lay on my bed with my legs propped up against the wall, let my head hang off the side of the bed so the blood rushing to my face would add to the happy high that you brought to me every time your whispers blew in my ear.

I close my eyes and see your sharp features; the razor sharp lines that made up your jaw and chin, your eyes – jagged lines resting on your cheekbones, and your mouth always in a crooked smile when you saw me. Always kissing me softly and whispering what a beautiful and perfect being I was.

I hadn’t seen you in days and I missed you. You sensed it and told me, “Susana, you and I are special. This universe is full of darkness with the blind shuffling amongst each other in a fruitless journey but I have you, You are my light. We are two lights amongst the darkness and we will dance together wherever we may be, however long we may part, we will never lose each other. We are two lights shining brightly for each other.”

I smiled into the receiver, pressing the phone closer to my lips and ear so I could feel you. Your hands always on my body, feeling delectably cool to the touch and soft against my teenage skin.

“You are on an altar and you will never fall in my eyes. You are an Aztec princess, with rich beautiful brown melanin and silky skin, you are my perfect kindness. I will always love you.”

I could never respond, I could never tell you how I felt. But I willed the love outwards, hoping that you would feel the force of my loyalty to you, my admiration for you.
Your words come back to me and they make me smile as if time never lapsed, as if you haven’t been in the ground for years. But your face remains intact with the softness of youth while I have aged over a decade.

For countless nights I woke up to the lingering kiss from my dreams, searching for your lips to brush up against mine once more. Your smile, the twinkling of your eyes, the endless wonder you held me in, the unbridled love you showered me with; what are they now but ghosts of yesterday?

How could you have forgotten your promise to always light my way? How could you have chosen instead to walk in darkness like the others?

The numbness you succumbed to daily took you away from me long before you left my arms forever. You wanted so much. You wanted all of me; you lived inside my thoughts, heart, and quickened flow of blood and still that was not enough. You understood that I could not bring myself to give all of me but that did not stop the pain it caused you.

And you thought I gave up on you. You thought you weren’t good enough for me. No matter the kisses, the embraces, the boundaries I broke daily for you; you could not believe that I loved you as you uninhibitedly loved me.

You allowed it to consume you; your eyes started to lose their depth and your laughter became an echo that I was left to chase.

You left me before you were gone and I could not, did not, rise up to the challenge to bring you back. I did not fight hard enough for you. I should have pulled harder, called harder for you to push temptation away. Instead I allowed you to slip away into a living sleep.



Hate on Sight

I run at ass crack dawn every day mostly because that is the only time I can squeeze in one more activity into my busy schedule but also in an attempt to avoid the creeps that stalk about waiting to harass women at night.

As I turned the corner I heard the familiar “hey baby, looking gooood” and noticed two cholos sitting at a bus stop bench that rudely corrected my theory that losers are too lazy to be up that early.

My body went on high alert; my stomach muscles contracted and a flurry of emotions threatened to make me double over as I felt the familiar rage within me: hate on sight.  As I inhaled I could feel my nostrils flare, my chest heave; and all I could think about was how I wanted to scoop up the dregs of festering hate inside my body and spit it out, cast it out like a spiderweb of fear.

They have touched my friends, cousins, uncles, and those too close for comfort that I can’t even admit it to myself.

They promise protection, respect, and money but all they do is strip self-respect away and spread shame, fear, and resentment wherever they go. With their broken promises they have lured so many away from me and away from life.

When I was 13 my mother took us to the mall and as we had done many times before, my sister and I window shopped and balked at the prices. Up to that point, we had been well supplied with the hand me downs from our various tias so we were never in need of our own clothing. We had birthday and Christmas money so my mother took us to actually shop that day. I bought my first pair of jeans, fitted bell bottoms and a spaghetti strap shirt with a flowery blue and black pattern. I could hardly wait to put them on.

The following weekend Rosie and I went for a walk down Cesar Chavez Boulevard wearing our brand new clothing. My waist length hair was freshly curled from a perm I got for my birthday, my body shone with the Nivea lotion I had lathered on, and I could smell the intoxicating smell of new cotton clothing. It was a heady experience every time I leaned into my shoulder to smell and confirm that the scent of newness was still there.

I strode down the boulevard like I was seven feet tall with my sister, who was smiling broadly and wearing her new outfit, next to me. That is until we passed by a couple of tattooed gangsters that were in their 40’s, real loser looking veteranos.

“Hey you little slut, you dropped something.” I felt the object hit my chest and slide down my shirt into my bra and stick to the side of my chest.  My cheeks burned with a sickening mix of anger and shame.  I didn’t flinch nor say anything. I looked straight ahead and kept walking in silence. They were looking for a reason to approach me, to touch my bronzed arms, to tear me down from my high perch of pride.

I kept walking and swallowed what I felt inside.


I bit down on the edge of my tongue hard so I couldn’t unleash its wrath.  I bit down until I felt the metallic taste of blood pool inside my mouth. I curled my hands into fists and pressed my nails down tightly until a row of angry half-moon crescents appeared on my palm. Only pain took my mind away from the rage that boiled inside me.

I had to will every ounce of concentration to divert my focus from wanting to face them, look straight into their stupid smug smirks and use my fists to pummel their face and bash it in beyond recognition. I had to tense my muscles until I was sweating to keep me from clawing at their eyes, until they fell to the ground and writhed in pain as I kicked them over and over in the ribcage until I felt the familiar crack of bone against my foot.

I can still see his face, the piece of shit cholo that saw a young girl of 13 walking proud and happy, and threw a filthy penny down her chest that immersed her in a sheet of shame.

Family, protection, respect. That’s what they promise you. Family, protection, respect; that’s what they take from you.

Too many of my friends are gone, too many for a thirteen year old to know how to grieve for.

So yes, hate on sight is what they incite in me. As I feel my body double over, it is not in fear, it is to contain the cold blinding white rage. Like a rabid animal foaming in the mouth I see nothing but decomposed soulless flesh to tear apart.

Too many loves you took from me. Too many smiles, hugs, and flickers of hope. You dashed them all with a piece of metal, with a tug of your fat worthless finger.

When I fear you, I hate you. I hate that you can walk around with your head held high when you should be sniveling at the feet of a filthy dog. You deserve nothing and you take it all. Your offer empty words to lost children and you turn them into angry listless half-humans that do your bidding. You take their warm brown eyes and turn them into flat ugly stares. You destroy all sense of community, of pride for their color, family, and roots and you replace it with a constant buzz of denial. You replace it with empty wounds to fill with hate; with bodies full of tattoos that mark them for death; with daddy-less babies crying for the attention of impatient girl-mothers.

You fuck it all up even more and you take pride in it; in pushing and knocking down anyone that hopes for a better life via honest means.  You laugh at laborers and those that try to study their way out.  You bully your own.  Miserable meaningless breath of disgust, you took from me too much.

When I returned from my run and approached the bus bench they still occupied, I mentally discarded them and completely disregarded their cowardly whistles and comments.  I feared only myself as I almost welcomed an excuse to be provoked and unleash the hurt from that 13-year-old that went home and once alone, tore off her clothes and hid them away in a drawer and only then allowed herself to peel off the penny from her skin and hurl it agains the wall.

Sea Lions

The blue in the sky was reflected in the glimmering water in the ocean, the bridge towering over this natural beauty, the air crisp and chilly as I ran past.  I could feel the wind pushing against me; my limbs were growing cold and stiff in the early morning San Francisco weather.  I kept looking around me and was entranced with every small detail: the stands in the farmer’s market, the purple figs, the fiery red and sunny yellow cherry tomatoes, the dazzling flowers in a multitude of colors, and the intense faces of the runners as they flew down the boardwalk.

I wanted everything around me seared in my mind so I could recall this moment over and over and feel you close when I thought of you.

I didn’t look at you; I wanted to suspend the feeling of knowing that you were next to me without having to turn for confirmation.  I wanted to take this moment with me and recreate it in my morning runs.  So I could run swiftly and imagine you next to me without having to realize you were gone.

When we stopped at the edge of the pier and you turned and smiled at me I knew I wanted to treasure you forever in my heart.  I wanted to lock away that smile in my heart so it would warm me when it grew cold and lonely.  The crinkling around your kind eyes told me that you are the type of quality person I have always coveted and hoped for, the company I had only previously dreamed of.

You led me to your favorite attraction and I could smell and hear them before I saw them.  The playful barking of the sea lions still plays in my mind and makes me break out into a wide smile at the thought of their piling heap of bodies slipping and sliding and competing for comfort amongst each other.

You bring so much happiness into my life and I don’t question it.  I openly welcome it and hope that we are equally worthy and up to the task of carrying this through because I cannot imagine a more earthly happiness than when I am next to you, than when I am in your arms and feel your bodily heat.   Than when I look up to you and see that kind smile full of love towards me, loving me and my imperfections and all.

Thing of Beauty

Thing of beauty, you catch my eye and tantalize me with your ethereal quality; remind me that of what was lacking in my childhood, can be mine today.

You have a lulling power over me, draw me in and captivate me with your undulating waves.  The sun glimmering in the water playfully winks at me.  I look out onto the beach and see dozens of people sprawled about so casually, seemingly taking it for granted.

I inhale a sharp breath as the beauty around me is so attainable and unending that it pains me.  I feel it inside me, calling to me, daring me to step closer.

In the water I feel alone, the only one in this universe.  I feel clean and washed of earthly worries and filth.  I am buoyed out to the sea and I am careful not to struggle.  If I lay very still and relaxed I will remain above it all.  I will not plunge into the darkness beneath me.  I open my eyes and I am blinded by the sun urging me to stand, to swim, to move and live. It burns me into reaction and I dive into the waves and swim back to shore.

The beauty of it all, the sweet call of merciful sleep is a melancholy melody that I try to ignore.  The whisper of the promise of a kind farewell caresses my ear, tugging gently but urgently.

And I stand there in awe of this amazing body of water that waits for me to give into its cocoon of certain fate.

But it calls me no more.  It is but a gorgeous thing to admire but keep at a safe distance, to guard my children from it.  I only let the waves lick at my heels as I firmly grasp my children’s hands as they frolic with joy.  I am unflinching and distrustful.  I know its pull and power over me is still there, under the surface, waiting for the moment when I blink and it tries to take everything from me.

Beauty that slips between my fingers, beautiful surrender with a hideous force masked under those radiant waves.  Thing of beauty, you call to me no more.

White Huaraches

I always get so paranoid about the girls having everything they need, to the point that they probably have a bit too much.  They needed sneakers for our daily evening walks (part of our new routine) and I thought out loud with them as to where we should go to find them.
“Are we going to that store where the lady gave us mood rings?”  I must have looked confused because Bella added, “the one downtown where she always gives us stickers.”
Leave it to my girls to make a chain store feel like a neighborhood mom and pop store and to look forward to a shoe store that I dreaded as a kid, Payless.  These kids are so used to getting their shoes at locations as varied as: Nordstroms, the alleys in downtown L.A., Gilt (online), and of course Payless for the seasonal wares, that they don’t see the difference between them all.  They walked off to play with their dolls and I was left lost in my thoughts about shoes.
When I was about nine years old I used to have constant nightmares of showing up to school barefoot.  It wasn’t that we were destitute, we always had the necessary items.  The real problem was that we were taught so well to never ask for anything that my mother never noticed when I needed new shoes.  In the fourth grade I had one pair of shoes and they were these white huaraches; I ran in them, played basketball in them, and dragged my feet in them as I walked home.  They were soon obliterated to the point that they were falling apart around my feet.  In the school yard, I looked for my sister and showed her my sandals with the ripped straps.  I kept dragging my foot on the floor so no one could tell that my sandal had become completely undone.  She left me with her friend, Bertha, and ran off to find a stapler.  Seconds before the morning bell rang she stapled my sandal back in place around my foot and smiled at me triumphantly.  I smiled back and gingerly walked off to line up for class.
As soon as I walked into Ms. Aurajo’s class the strap broke again and boys being boys, i.e. mean and stupid immature, loudly started to make fun of my huaraches, taunting me about being too poor to buy a proper pair of shoes.  Ms. Aurajo walked over and looked down at my feet and without a word sent me to the nurses office with a scribbled note I couldn’t read.  I dragged my foot across the hallway so the sandal wouldn’t fall off and with each step I could feel my cheeks grow hotter and redder.
When I got to the nurses office and handed her my note, she asked me to sit down.  I was about ready to cry but she prepared a cot for me to sleep in and tucked me in and asked me to take a nap and promised I would feel better when I woke up.  I lay there confused, unsure of what to do so I kept my eyes nearly closed knowing my long eyelashes would make it seems as if I was sleeping, something I had learned to do at home when I didn’t want anyone knowing I was awake.  I studied her face and noticed that she had her eye make up done the same way as my mother, with an electric blue across her eye fold and a bright pink across her brow.  She had shoulder length jet black hair with the bangs teased up, just like my mom.  But her eyes were a lovely almond shape, just like Ms. Aurajo would kindly point out my eyes were shaped like.  She had smooth olive skin and pretty lips.
I dozed off and when I woke up, Ms. Shiro was there holding my hand in hers.  I tensed up and pulled back but the kind look in her eyes made me relax and I longed for her to hold my hand again.  “Susana, do you have any other shoes at home?”  “No, yes.  I have a pair of tenis but my mom says they are for Christmas.”  “But we’re in September.  No matter, come back tomorrow morning, I will have a pair of shoes waiting for you.”  I looked horrified and ready to bawl, what would my mom think if I came home with a pair of shoes from this pretty nurse?  I walked home with my restapled shoe and couldn’t bring myself to say anything to my sister or my mom.  The next morning I went straight to class but the nurse came by my classroom and asked me to follow her.  I kept pinching my arm to distract myself from the horrifying embarrassment I was going to cause my mom when she saw me.  Ms. Shiro took my sandals and unceremoniously dropped them into her metal trash bin and handed me a pair of patent black shoes.  They were a shiny black with a rounded toe and mary jane style strap, they were lovely.  Which made me feel all the uglier in having to walk home in them.  My sister looked down at my feet and gave me a look that said, “Oh boy, I wouldn’t want to be in your shoes when you get home.”
I was hoping to get home and somehow avoid my mom but she walked outside as we were walking in and saw my shoes immediately and soon enough she got the story out of me.  And I close my eyes to not remember what came next as I was soon in my room with silent tears rolling down my cheeks, pinching myself to distract myself from the pain on my legs and the wounded look I caused in my tired mother’s face.

La Migra

We went out to the Geffen MOCA and dinner with AM and her boys on Thursday evening.  As we settled down with our sushi and rambunctious kiddos, we started talking shop, as AM fondly refers to it.

A year had passed since I changed careers, a career that she so generously recommended me for and positioned me perfectly for.  In a year I had learned that this was the perfect vehicle for my ambition, hard worth ethic, and all around personality of a control freak. 🙂  I had just received a promotion and she wondered how I came to possess the professionalism, poise, and ability to navigate and distinguish myself while working at a high-powered law firm and coming from Boyle Heights with my highest education being at Roosevelt HS  no less (a school whose distinction includes being featured in the documentary Waiting for Superman as an educational fail factory).

As far as my work ethic, that’s easy I told her, I get it from my mother.  She taught me that you can reach whatever you want as long as you are willing to work hard enough for it.  And she certainly lead by example, always holding two jobs when we were growing up so she could achieve her dream of being a homeowner.

But as far as poise and the “intuitive knowledge required in marketing” that she kindly stated I possessed, in a way that came from my mother as well…

When I was a kid I had a neighbor who for lack of a nicer term was a bona fide pocha.  Her ancestors were of Latino descent but the Spanish, customs, and any semblance of pride or relatable qualities to them had long ago been stomped out.  She had learned a strong dislike towards anyone with an accent, anyone who ate carne asada and tortillas, anyone who spent summers in Mexico, anyone like me.

A combination of niceness, ability to forgive, and low self-esteem kept making me forgive her and be subject to her constant pranks.

My parents would not allow us to play outside of the chain link fence that surrounded the perimeter of our home so we would play with our Barbies through the holes of this wall that separated us.  Joanna would excuse herself and go off to get her Barbie Malibu car and I would keep combing the hair on my dolls.  Then a shreeking siren with a piercing pitch would fill my eyes with terror and send me sprinting to the backyard.  I would deftly pull all of the dirty linen from  the laundry bin and jump inside, pulling the musty smelling sheets on top of me.  I would lay there huddled in a fetal position immobilized with fear until it dawned on me that she had done it again.  I would break out in a cold sweat as relief and anger would hit me and spread throughout my body in a glistening sheen, the anxiety oozing out of my pores.

I would take a deep breath and walk back to my side of the fence where the cackle of Joanna’s laughter would be ringing in my ears long after it had died down.  I would pick up my toys without a word and stand up to walk away.  “You’re not mad are you?  I was just joking, you should have seen how scared you were!!! Hahahaha!”  I couldn’t utter a word or the tears welling in my eyes would come crashing down stripping me of any dignity that I had left.

My mother was smuggled into the U.S. as a child using someone else’s identity.  She remembers these poignant events in her mind as if they were yesterday.  She still laments having to cut her beautiful waist length hair up to her ears so she could match the passport’s picture of the girl she was usurping.  And when she recalls working in the factories that were the constant target of immigration raids in the 70’s, her eyes glaze over and I have to shake her to bring her back and out of her painful past.

She was 14 and worked at a curtain manufacturing factory as a seamstress’ assistant in downtown Los Angeles.  She would work two shifts, from five in the morning to nine or ten in the evening.

The terrible sound of the siren broke through the monotony of their work and the constant humming of the sowing machines and hissing of the steamer were replaced with frantic cries of “La Migra!!”

Chaos everywhere as people ran into each other, running up and down the stairs, crawling out the windows, but bodies everywhere being slammed against the wall my ICE, the immigration agents thugs that swept throughout the halls with snarling excited dogs ready to attack.

Someone pushed her into an armoire and piled curtains on top of her and she lay there immobile, waiting for the wails to die down into a whimper and the silence that followed.  Her heart thumping sounded so loud and ominous that she thought there were heavy footsteps heading towards her.  Her heart stopped and absolute silence filled her body as she heard the dog barking at the door, clawing to get in and claim its prize.  The doors were swung open and light fell on her face as she stared right into a snapping dog, the breath sour in her face.  As sudden as it was there it was gone and the ICE agent looked straight into her eyes, deep down into her soul, and he must have seen a skinny bony kid who stood at 4’11” terrified out of her mind.  She heard someone call out “All Clear?!” and she closed her eyes, ready to be yanked out with the hundred others that were detained outside.  But she was enclosed in darkness instead and thought, Am I dead?  She lay there for what seemed like hours before her bones and limbs ached so badly that she had to move before she would be unable to.

She walked out, through the eerily quiet hallways and out into the evening light where everyone went about their business as usual.  Somehow she found herself home and surrounded by her siblings and worried parents.  They had been calling around the neighborhood, fearing her in Tijuana, MX, wandering along with the other lost living ghosts that walk up and down the border.

My mother had many stories like these, and I took them on as warning to never trust the siren, to fear it, for it meant that it would break me away from my loved ones and turn me into the walking dead along the border.

When I was old enough to realize that this siren could no longer harm me (my parents eventually became U.S. residents through the Bush administration’s amnesty), I realized that the simple fact that I had been born in U.S. soil exempted me from this fear of being flicked away from this country.  By then I had learned to adapt so that I would appear to belong.  I spent hours memorizing the pages of the dictionary, practicing the sentences, trying to decipher the pronunciation, so that no one could identify me as not belonging to U.S. soil.

As I became a teenager, I learned that the more I assimilated, both in posture and confidence, the easier it was to camouflage my brown skin and blend into the background.  What AM thought was intuitive poise and the confidence to succeed was pure survival skills bourne from the need to adapt and go unnoticed.