Forbes and Fifth

3 Pieces

A Portrait of Mama and Papa

At 32, Mama would have to stretch $20 to last for a week in the city of sinful heatwaves and superfluous neon lights across the never-ending black strip of entertainment and intoxication.

At 30, on some days, Papa would leave at 7 a.m., returning with a $100 check, wondering how the amount would last two weeks for his two daughters and wife.

(Two girls groggily wake  up to place their clammy hands on their parents cheeks.)

Mama became a businesswomen-stay-at-home mom, stocking up on Pampers, Ziploc bags, Fabuloso®, necessities consumed by the ethnic enclave of Boricuas, Guatemalans, and Mexicanas in the apartment complex.

Her business resided in her youngest's stroller basket on the way to drop her eldest at first grade, expanding her clientele through the parents of her daughter's friends, making a hundred dollars stretch to multiple hundreds.

(The daughters made friends through talk of Disney TV shows and babbles of strung-together-constant-vowels bursts.)

Papa became a salesman of pirated DVDs-not advised for anyone, much less for an inmigrante. From seeing his wife’s efforts, he contributed by making a profit off movies his roofing co-workers raved about--black and white films from Mexico’s Golden Age of cinema,  Iñárritu’s “Amores Perros,” and Disney’s animated films for their children.

His side hustle placed him under the shade. His day job placed him under the scorching sun, darkening his light olive complexion by three shades, the temperature above 15 feet increasing from the sun ray's reflection off tar-colored shingles.

(The imagination of worlds, creation of words, and finding rolly-pollies were priority to the little ones. In the afternoons, the Franklin’s and worry were unknown. With Gerber’s Strawberry Apple flavored Puffs scattered across the high chair of the infant, and the 6-year-old playing “hot tortilla” with her teething sister’s bursts of contagious chuckles echoing across the living room, Mama and Papa watched their girls who did not know of currency.) 


Bilingual Baby

To have two languages in your mind, 

is to live in two worlds 

To sit in front of a speech therapist, having them eradicate your stutter and practicing the “-gh” in tough

To no longer taking naps in the day because of my native-English speaking friends inviting me to play where I submerged myself in the hard consonants and non-visual pronunciations

To speaking strictly English at school, slowly ingesting the world of continuous assessment and grammar corrections and earning a gold star as my reward when excelling at spelling tests

To being a kindergartener, using my $1 that Mama gave to exchange into quarters to buy stickers during lunch, leaving my greasy, American cheese pizza to gaze over the bookfair

To watching baby Looney Tunes at 7 a.m. with Mama as bowls of Cheerios lay in our laps, understanding the toddlers through their expressions like Tom and Jerry

To have Mama look at me with an astonished countenance 14 years later saying that I sounded like a parrot, speaking Arabic


To have Mama ask, “Que dice?” when my friend came running up the concrete stairs, breathlessly asking if I wanted to play

To spending my four quarters on SkippyJon Jones to later practice reading the sentences with Mama after my bath and translating the sentences for her

To practicing rolling my rrrrrr’s in carro with Mama at the dining table and seeing her berry-stained lips curve into a smile as my reward

To watch El Chavo del Ocho on Sunday mornings eating toasted oil-drizzled tortilla triangles dressed in slightly-piquant tomato salsa and queso fresco

To joyfully asking Mama what words meant in Spanish, sitting stomach down with my arms supporting my chin, distantly listening to Papa singing along to his beloved Argentinian rock ballads in the kitchen. To hours later, hearing Mama’s fairytales flow into my ears before resting my eyes, leaving my brain to process my newly learned words


To have Wernicke's area in the temporal lobe of the left hemisphere, interpreting the meaning of


then shifting

to Broca’s area in the frontal lobe where the words are verbalized


Two Years into Teenagehood

Poofy, exaggerated, frilly dresses were what I swore I’d never have and I didn’t. 

Long-sleeves, dance practice bruises, Angela Davis essays, and an overloaded backpack was what I experienced two years into teenagehood. 

Fully fluent in Ingles y Español, yet fully capable of being forgetful in both. 

My birthday wishes went beyond a new car: attending my father's naturalization Oath ceremony; 

mastering the art of not staining my jeans of menstrual blood; accepting the hundreds of thin, dark hairs that covered my limbs; hoping I could provide more for my family, rather than performing pirouettes in front of technologically obsessed teens with popcorn butter staining their black mirrors in the gym, while my parents spend hours with bent backs repairing wooden fence posts and scrubbing day-old milk stains on marble countertops to support their children's wishes.


None of my wishes came true.

Volume 18, Spring 2021