While my mom struggled to smother large pieces of aguacate into corn tortillas in the passenger seat of the truck, my dad ate the last duraznos he had taken from Abuela’s tree back at her ranch and my sister and I practiced our upcoming interrogation speech in the line at the Hidalgo International Bridge. Ever so often, a vehicle would abruptly shove itself right before us and my mom would say, “tiene prisa, tendra que ir a el bano.” Which translates in English, he’s in a hurry perhaps he needs to go to the restroom. We would laugh when the line of cars he was in would begin to move faster than items on the speedy checkout line at H-E-B. Dad would join that line and leave the poor dude behind – where the youngsters from Tamaulipas sold chicles and bags of chopped nopales and the older sun-toasted folk sold Crucifixes of a battered and bleeding Jesus who had ribs that resembled the mouth of a Saber-toothed cat’s fossil .
“American Citizen, Sir?” The Border Patrol Officer asked while my dad practically had his resident card plastered on the officer’s face. His head would then move to the passenger and not say a word to the woman on the seat who had her resident card in hand.
“Pare donte van?”
My dad would tell him that we were only visiting some family members in a small town in Tamaulipas and that we were headed to Edinburg.
The officer would peek-a-boo to the back window and ask us, “Where were you born?”
“Yes, churr,” I would reply in the ugliest accent called shame.
“He was born in McAllen, TX. Sir,” my sister would eloquently put it. “I was born in San Juan.”
Out of the two possible questions: “Where were you born” and “Are you an American Citizen” I wouldn’t ever answer them right because even though my parents would tell my sister Daniela to quiz me, I didn’t understand the foreign language my sister spoke. I didn’t know what it meant to be born in America. I didn’t know that the answer “McAllen” was relevant because it was on this side of the border. I didn’t understand why we always had to visit my Grandma, my tios and my cousins, why I couldn’t bring them to my house. Why couldn’t we all spend Christmas together? Why couldn’t Marina, Alberto and Adela come visit our grandma with us? Every time we visited grandma Cira, she would send her favorite granddaughter, Marina, flour tortillas. She and my tias would say, “dales un abrazo y un beso a los muchachos.”
My dad was a carpenter and plumber Monday through Friday. On the weekends, all of us went with him to the yardas. We mowed rich people’s lawns, vacuumed their driveways, fished out drowned cats from their pools and buried decaying tacuaches that lived in their attics. That’s how my family bonded. It was our only quality time with Dad. When we were home my parents still couldn’t educate us because they just didn’t have the resources to achieve that.
While my mom and sisters sharpened their look for church, I helped my madrina’s son, Luis, convince my madrina to let him come with us.
“Pero no es de nuestra religion,” she said. He’s a Christian.
I didn’t know what was up, if my Jesus was cooler than her Jesus or if her Jesus was angry at my Jesus or if she didn’t believe in Jesus at all. I just knew that I wanted my good pal to be as miserable as I was at my church because being with someone in a shitty place makes the place memorable and fun. Just like the summers I spent working in the fields with Apa. I hated it unless my sisters or my neighborhood friend Chino came along.
“No, Luis Miguel,” she said in a stern voice. “No vas a ir!”
Luis stomped the ground of the living room and marched to his room.
When I went home, I remember asking my dad why Catholics hated Christians. He said that he was a Catholic and he was married to Christian woman and he didn’t hate her. He said that I was probably half Catholic because I was baptized when I was only two, he said, that is why my madrina was my madrina. He added that people are just scared of people who don’t believe the same things they believe and often shelter their kids.