Tell Me Who You’re With And I’ll Tell You Who You Are
To this day my mother still tells the story of how each Sunday in that modest church in the Valley, where so few people lived in town that everyone came to the same mass, regardless of whether we were white or brown, spoke English or Spanish, cleaned houses or owned the land, I’d leave my family in the last row of pews, all six of them in their nicest clothes, which many weeks were pretty much the same pair of jeans, buttoned down shirts, and dresses for my sisters, to join my always sharply-dressed, impeccably golden-haired classmates from elementary school at the front and center of our church.
From there I’d turn and look at my family all those pews away to the bashful hand signaling of my mother telling me to come back to her while trying even harder not to be noticed. Blatantly refusing I’d simply turn my head and look forward, glancing back only every other few seconds.
Up there I felt important – like I was a part of something bigger than myself. No golden locks on my head, no pale colorless skin on my arms with a few freckles here and there, no blue or green penetrating eyes staring out at the world, regardless of how much I may have wanted any or all of that back then. My clothes were simple, in no way fancy, not in comparison to ruffled dresses, colorful ribbons, and khaki slacks, polished shoes and matching dress socks. Everything seemed so perfectly coordinated. A far cry away from the hanging clothes in our back yard, fading away with every sunset.
I liked it…better than the view from where we were anyway.
A trip to church at our house meant rummaging through piles of blue jeans searching for a pair with no holes in them, or at the very least with a very few amount, sitting through at least ten minutes of my mother trying to tame our stubborn hair into submission, cloths full of soap and water to the face, scrubbing every last bit of sweat from the tiniest of crevices, even after we’d taken a bath. If we tried to be sneaky and walk out of the house with our favorite pair of blue jeans, inevitably with many holes in them, we were marched right back inside to change. It was never a matter of choice. It was an obligation, for families, all families, to gather in our Southern church and listen to the word of God.
Years later I was the bashful one. Feeling less significant than my Caucasian-gringo friends, the carefree child in me gone, no longer in the Valley of our beginnings, now in the slums of our new city of opportunity, my skin and accent my most embarrassing flaw, cause for anger, justification for stupidity in thought and action, parents who spoke no English, Que Desgracia! But they were mine, and I was theirs, more then, than ever before.
It wasn’t the gavachos, or the gangbangers after them, the wannabe cholillos of my youth, the dorky friends I’d skip with, or the neighbors’ kids who would get in trouble with me that ever defined me. It was me and the personal journey of self-acceptance that we all have to go through…I hope.
Dime con quien andas y te dire quien eres – me no think so!