My parents, Raul and Alicia, were the hardest working parents any kids could ask for. They worked hard to not only pay the bills, but also ensure my brother and I had the best that life could afford us. This included summer vacations, band camps and weekly allowances. When my memory and I travel back over the years, I am taken to past “viajes” to Mexico like Galeana and Linares, Nuevo Leon, Aguas Calientes, San Luis, Potosi, Monterrey, Mexico City, Puerto Vallarta, Matehuala, Piedras Niegras . . . and also to visit Tio Seme y Diane y los primos in Georgia, the Astrodome in Houston, Wonderworld in New Braunfels, the swimming pigs in San Marcos, the State Capitol & watching “Cornbread, Earl and Me” at the Paramount Movie Theater in Austin. You are probably asking, en serio? Seriously? Really? “Cornbread, Earl and Me”? Yup . . . you see, it was hot that summer on that trip . . . real hot. My Dad had dragged us around downtown Austin looking for record stores and jazz albums most of the early afternoon. We were hot, thirsty and tired. We needed to sit down, get cooled off and maybe grab a snack por un ratito. Mom and Dad thought it was a good idea to catch a movie matinee and chill for a bit. Every trip to the movies with my parents turned into a front row seat at the United Nations. You see my Dad was monolingual, Spanish speaking only. He refused to learn English. He didn’t have to learn English. Why should he, he would ask. He worked in Mexico and was a Mexicano hasta sus meras cachas. So, my Mom was given the arduous wifely duty of translating everything from English to Spanish for my father, no matter where we were, including the movies, like the time before this when she had to translate the entire length of “The Entertainer” for my Dad at the Majestic Theater on Elizabeth Street in our hometown of Brownsville. Every movie we watched with them, regardless of whether it was at the movie theater or at home over the t.v. required us to listen hard and over my Dad’s constant and ongoing, “que dijo? . . . . que dice? . . . que dijo?” and my Mom’s immediate translation of what was said.
My Mom didn’t mind her role so much because if you ask her, she had been translating for the people she loved all her life, first for her parents and siblings, then for friends who she went to school with, and now the love of her life, my Dad. Mom was born in 1932 and went through the WW II experience as a child. She grew up as Patriotic as they come and to this day self-identifies as an American, not a Mexican-American, but an American, because if you ask her, she was born in the United States and is an American by birthright and there ain’t nothin’ Mexican about her. She believed strongly that to succeed in America and attain the American Dream you had to get educated and speak English perfectly, without an accent or any dialect that gave you away as having any Mexican in you, but to survive in South Texas, you also needed to know how to speak Spanish, but in her world, only well enough to get by. So, as you can imagine, my brother and I grew up in a very . . . como se dice . . . culturally bipolar home.
So back to our summer trips . . . one of those trips was to San Antonio and The Alamo and the Riverwalk, and all places San Antonio. It was another scorching, humid summer and we were walking everywhere it seemed. We were staying at the Palacio Del Rio and my Mom had planned that we would all walk over to The Alamo to get a history lesson and see for ourselves what the big deal was all about . . . this Alamo place. We engaged in the likely tourist activities . . . bought raspas just outside the Alamo to cool down, took pictures with Dad’s Polaroid in front of the Alamo, walked the sacred grounds of the Alamo . . . shopped a bit in the gift shop . . . then walked over to the barracks area. The long, narrow building where the miniature soldiers are encased in glass, the red coated soldiers of Santa Ana’s Army and the defenders of the Alamo, all strategically placed and displayed to tell the story of the Battle of the Alamo. Then it started . . . the voice over the speakers . . . it was the voice of a man narrating to visitors how the Battle came to be and how the Battle was fought . . . you get the idea. And then the rest started, my Dad . . . looking at my Mom asking, “que dijo? . . . . que dice? . . . que dijo?” and my Mom’s immediate translation of what was said. My brother and I could sense something was happening, not quite right with Dad. He seemed to be getting upset, his Mexicano temper was kickin’ up . . . He started challenging my Mom and asking, “Pero como? Los gringos no ganaron esta batalla!!” Ganaron los Mexicanos!!!!” . . . and then . . . “Hijos de la chingada! Aqui nadie les va llenar la cabeza de mis hijos de pinches mentiras! . . . VAMONOS!” My Mom’s response was, “Pero los ninos Raul . . . “ and my Dad grabbed each of us by the hand and walked us out and explained to us that we were being lied to, he instructed us never to step foot into The Alamo again because the pinches gringos eran una bola de pendejos y mentirosos. His children would not be lied to. So, we left and he treated us to ice cream at the Joske’s Soda Fountain, bought us a few souvenirs and then we headed back to the hotel.
That evening we had dinner with Dad’s compadre off Nogalitos and the next day took the 4 hour drive back to El Valle, the borderlands . . . where many things were and are still not always as they appear to be, but gringos think twice before they lie.