Not Only From Bread Does Man Live

On growing up bilingual, bicultural

Marching!  Huaraches instead of tennis shoes.  All white pants and a long-sleeved button down collar shirt of the same color.  A simple red bandana, wrapped around the neck, slightly twisted into a single knot.  No belt.  No socks.  Just a cream colored hat, not exactly vaquero style – a child’s hat made of straw – sitting at the top of my head.  Boys dressed just like me, little girls wearing small A-line skirts in different shades of red, most of them in deep vibrant reds, evocative of passions and emotions too profound for any of us to comprehend.  In waves of movement, all at the same time, we were marching, chanting the few words we did know of the Himno Nacional.

Mexicanos al grito de querra!…something, something, something…

Past the arroyos of drinkable water, the concrete-paved cancha of so many bailes, my grandfather’s house, my grandmother’s, those of mis tios y mis tias, past the tanque de agua, the remolino of early morning corn churning, all in unison, singing all the way, families at their doorsteps, watching us, singing along, celebrating the independence of a country foreign to us.  The dirt roads full of rocks, sandy and dusty, much more inconvenient than the sidewalks and manicured lawns we were used to.  We’d only arrived a few weeks earlier, enrolled in a school where attendance was optional even for kids as young as ourselves.  If we didn’t want to go we just didn’t go.  Choosing instead to roam up small hills, down trails of dirt, running from one side of the rancho to the other, carefree, and free, truly for the first time.

En el otro lado we had rules.  If we didn’t follow them we were paddled, written up, sent home on suspension, punished more at home, then sent back for more learning.

For the marching though everyone went to school.   It was an obligation, a privilege almost, for everyone to gaze upon us, their little soldiers.  A reason for pride in a place where so little was ever easy.  Lyrics surpassed us, escaped us, especially my brothers and I, the chicanillos, more americanos than anything else, a novelty really for the rest of the kids who marveled at any of our utterances in another language.  We were anchor babies, born to parents of illegal status, naturalized only by default of our birthplace, foreigners to our family in Mexico, burdens, outcasts, novelties…but we were unaware and in our ignorance reveled in the dualism of our existence, blissful at how lucky we were to experience true freedom for a few months every summer, afterwards always heading home to the luxuries of running water and electricity.  MexicanosAmericanos, even if only by default.

Those years were magical – way more important than I ever realized.