When we were your age… Pt.1
I look at my grandparents; my father’s parents, and the color of their brown sun-drenched skin, their faded tattoos of a rebellious life before my time, their tired and humble eyes, their loving hands, toughened by years of hard work in the fields. I look at them; whether in photographs or memories and I try to understand their struggle. It’s hard to imagine them ever being a child or a teenager for that matter, but I know they’ve lived; experiences and all. I also know it was a more difficult time growing up for them; especially with the racism they faced at the time. It was during the 50’s and times weren’t that great so I was told.
The only work available for Mexican Americans was picking, be it some kind of fruit or cotton. And that’s what they did. They survived and continued living in the U.S. during such uneducated attempts as Operation Wetback when President Eisenhower tried removing illegal immigrants from California and Arizona. I say uneducated because it is my opinion that government officials must’ve missed the lesson on who the real citizens of the Southwest were and still are. They made it through WWII when Mexican Americans were sent off to fight for a country that didn’t give a damn about them; even denying them medical attention or denying them funeral services because of race. When they were young they struggled with the substandard education and segregation, often forced to speak only English or be ridiculed and labeled as stupid or slow.
They were a product of the Southwest; dreamers looking for a better life to give their children. They came from Texas and Arizona and didn’t meet till my grandfather traveled to Arizona. They married and continued living in Arizona until children came. It was when they began having kids that they decided to move, looking for work and the American Dream. So they packed their bags and headed for California. They picked fruit or cotton in Fresno and later moved further south. In later years my grandfather retired from his final job working for the waste removal company in Southern California. Throughout their lives they instilled the meaning of hard work and earning a paycheck while having respect for one’s self as well as others in all of their children, and eventually their grandchildren. These are lessons that have been rooted into my own way of thinking and will continue to be passed down from generation to generation.
My grandparents were very loving never denying us hugs and attention, always providing what they could when we needed. They were always smiling, whether grandma slaved away in the cocina cooking for her husband, her six hungry boys and three growing girls or while grandpa kept his yard up in the hot summer sun. Of the two, grandpa was the strict one. “Don’t play with that!, Get away from there! Stop messing with those dogs!” He never failed to mention how lazy his boys or his grandkids were and how hard he and grandma worked when they were our age. Stories were repeated of how they didn’t have shoes and went to school barefoot, or slept on dirt floors because they didn’t have a floor or bed, and tales of walking 5 miles to school in the snow, or working in the fields in the dark hours of morning before they went to school, were a constant lesson on respect and gratitude. And then there were stories of La Llorona(The Weeping Woman) to scare us into behaving when we acted like bad chamacos. We never believed in their stories growing up, but the older I get, the more I have no choice but to admit that some of those tales might have been spot on. When I think of those old familiar stories I find myself laughing through the repetitiveness of passing down our own stories of woe to our children, nieces and nephews.
The one thing I always remember was the love and kindness they displayed to each other; perfection in my eyes. They never argued in front of their children, and never in front of us. Their marriage was the definition of how I wanted to be with my husband some day. The subtle silent flirtation they thought no one saw, or the way my grandfather looked at my grandmother was proof that love existed. I was sure it wasn’t a perfect marriage but I believed it was pretty close. However, I found out many years later, it wasn’t that way in the beginning. When they were young, my grandparents had a fight one evening. My grandfather said some nasty thing or other to my grandmother who counter attacked with “Chinga tu Madre!” words which would never spew from her mouth again. They continued their fight when out of nowhere he hit her. She wasn’t going to take any crap from him so she in turn fought back, ripping his suit up before running off. That was the first and last time he ever laid a hand on her. After that, she never failed to mention her words of wisdom to the women in our family; you never let a man hit you. Ever. My grandparents stayed strong till the very end; taking care of each other, taking care of us, giving and never asking for much in return. I’ll never be able to say Thank you to them, for their lessons and love. I can only hope they know that we all feel that way.