Armed with a Burning Patience

My family had been farmers in the rough terrain of southern Mexico for centuries. My mother, the oldest of 12, began working in her teens to provide for her siblings. My father, one of five children, lost his father at age 3. Neither of my parents completed primary school. My father was 20 when he married my mom, who was 18. They had my sister a year later. Two years after that, I was born.

Jan. 10, 1990. It's unusually cold tonight in the small, arid town of San Miguel, Oaxaca. There’s no soap to wash me, so to keep the ants away, I'm laid to rest on my mother's stomach as we sleep together for the first time. Only my grandmother is present to aid in the delivery.

Spring 1992. My mother and father leave, planning to work for one year in New York and then return to Mexico.

Spring 1993. There's been a change of plans; after a year of separation, our father has returned to take my sister and me across the border and to our new home in New York. The three of us, along with an aunt, cross somewhere in Arizona. I'm glad our family is together again. Amazingly, my mother will soon have another child, and we will be five.

Fall 1994. With much anticipation, I've begun school. Although my thoughts, wishes, and entire vocabulary are in Spanish, I'm not too worried about my ignorance of the English language.

1995 to 1996. I'm now fluent in English, after many frustrating (and sometimes tear-filled) nights of homework completed with the help of my mother and a Spanish-English dictionary. Somewhere around this time, I begin to dream entirely in English.

Spring 1999. After an exam and an interview, I've been accepted into a nearby magnet school, where I'll be entering the 5th grade next fall. My father accompanies me through the entire admissions process, although he had to work the night shift beforehand and had no sleep.

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Sojourners Magazine January 2011
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