One time I saw a cat try to cross a four lane highway. He wasn’t a full fledged cat, yet. His body was still small and fluffy, but he had those long legs and huge paws that said he would be a huge cat once he was finished growing. The last thing I saw before the tire of a car in front of me smashed into him was his too-long teenage kitty legs stretched as far as they would go, like a teeny leopard streaking across a jungle of concrete.
I wondered what on earth would make a cat take the chance of crossing over four lanes of highway–was it something wonderful? Something that might feed his belly for a couple of days? Or was it something that made it too terrifying to stay where he was?
My father and I are sitting in a tiny smoke filled restaurant. It’s early morning, before school. There are men in factory blue uniforms all around us, several of them greet my father as we walk in and find a table. For a while, my father is busy chatting with the other men. But eventually he turns to me.
I feel his gaze on my face. I don’t know what to do or say. My sweaty hands twist together under the table.
Then I feel his head turn away from me. Back toward his friends.
He doesn’t know what to do or say either. He picks up a menu and opens it.
I don’t know what is worse, his attention or the lack of it.
I try to ignore the twisting in my stomach.
It is my birthday.
I didn’t want to watch Battle Star Galactica. But I finally did, and I couldn’t stop watching. I’m not finished with the series yet, but I’m watching at least three shows a day, if not more. I always knew that one of the main characters on the show, Admiral Adama, was played by Chicano actor, Edward James Olmos–but I never really understood what that meant until I started watching the series. What it meant to see this little Chicano commanding an entire fleet of ships, giving orders, daring people to not obeyz. What it means to see a Chicano defy the first rule of science fiction–that there is no place in space for Chicanos. Not unless there’s a plantation somewhere that needs workers to harvest food for the heros.
And who can think of Edward James Olmos as anything BUT Chicano? The ulimate pachuco? He was one of the first actors to openly claim the deeply politicized “Chicano” rather than the more ambivalent “Mexican-American” or the assimilated “Spanish.”
The proud thrust of the head, the deep lean in the stance, the defiant care given to each article of clothing–the sneer, the confidence, the control–Admiral Adama learned everything he knows from El Pachuco. A born leader. Meant for more than endless picking in fields that don’t belong to us. Admiral Adama is as scary as he is admired. People don’t stand up to him or question him, they know better. But they also speak of him with a sense of awe. They trust his control.
But then Lieutenant Adama shows up. The son of El Pachuco hurts to look at. Only barely able to meet his father’s eyes. More comfortable addressing his father with “sir” than the more vulnerable “dad.” And angry. So angry he ran away and only came back because there was no place else to run to. Only world-wide apocalypse could force the son to face his father again.
The son is not simply “everything the father is not.” It’s more complicated than that.
The son is the crack in the fierce arrogance of El Pachuco.
The son does not trust the father. Or his control.
The son knows better.
And so is afraid.
I wanted to be my Dad when I was a kid.
Talking with a friend the other day, I remembered sitting in my childhood living room, watching the MTV official release of the Billy Joel video, Uptown Girl. Remember that video? Where Christie Brinkley is in a flowing white dress and Billie Joel is in workers blues? Watching that video as a child, I understood for the first time that my dad was important. Somebody that people made videos about. Somebody that people admired. Somebody the girl wanted.
I wanted to be that man. I wanted to be my dad.
Everything that he was, I was not.
He was brave, I was not, he was smart, I was not, he was a good worker, I was not, he was desirable, I was not. Everything he was, I was not.
I wanted to be my dad.
Not a mistake.
The place where one lives permanently, esp. as a member of a family or household.
esp. as a member of a family or household.
esp. as a member of a family
I’m the son nobody wanted. I’m the son my chicano dad didn’t want. I’m the son that my Chicano dad never learned to want, once he got to know me better. That’s what’s supposed to happen, right? The unwanted pregnancy turns into a wanted kid?
I had a Chicana friend who had a Dad like mine. She wound up the coddled baby of the family. The apple of the eye, the protected princess, the one who got that cherished name. m’ija. m’ijita when the love was overwhelming.
I couldn’t talk to her for months after I found out that she confronted her father and the way he treated her. And wound up in his lap, their tears mixing, their love reaching to each other and finally touching, the start of a new world. How do you talk to somebody through clawing jealousy? How do you keep misplaced anger from burning down the wrong thing?
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned I’m not alone. There are lots of father’s that never wanted their children. Lots of men that never will want the children they create. Will Smith in the Fresh Prince of Bel Air loses it in front of his uncle. Why didn’t that bastard want me?
Why didn’t he want me?
I have learned that this is question that can never be answered. That even if I could ask it of the man who lived in the same house with me for 17 years, the answer will be imperfect. Men answer “I don’t know” to hard questions. To escape the vulnerability, to escape the fear.
El Pachuco doesn’t care if he is loved. He doesn’t need to love. That’s what makes him so fierce. Desirable. What we all want to be. That’s what makes us love him and trust him.
But El Pachuco is afraid. He is more comfortable running than he is with staying. He often doesn’t need to run because he was never there to begin with. He doesn’t need to be loved–not because he is brave, but because he is afraid. Unused to the work of love, unused to the work of home. Unused to being vulnerable to another person.
So if he stayed, he sits, a stranger in his house. All around him too afraid to speak, to afraid to be noticed, by the man in the chair with beer and the always on TV. By the man who now uses work to keep his family from getting too close.
Your father has worked all day! If you bother him, you’re going to be whipped!
A home is a human right. A home is the definition of family.
esp. as a member of a family or household
Who are you if you never let yourself have a family?
Who are you if you share a house with somebody who never wanted a family?
Who never wanted you?
i try to imagine that letter. you know–the one that all the therapists say to write to people who you have things to say to, but can’t say them. i try to imagine it, but it’s too preposterous for even my imagination to talk to my father. what do i say to a person who doesn’t want to talk?
i am learning more and more the story of my femmé self. but the part of me that i counted on for so long–the part of me that is tuff and kept me alive and fought even when i didnt think i could fight anymore–i don’t know who that macha is, who that son is. what story the macha son needs to tell.
it’s been harder for me to come to terms with the son, harder than it ever was for the daughter. i never hated the daughter. the daughter, i did not value–and so the journey was learning to value her. when you go on that journey with other latinas who love through sharing what they’ve learned on their own journeys–this is almost a fun journey.
the son–i actively hated. the son–i punched, kicked, beat, and even stabbed. it was the son who cut. not the daughter. the father was everything the son was not. neither one of us had the skills or resources to notice or point out that the father was broken. or that the son was trying to break himself to be like him.
the son is all the mistakes the father has never made.
I crumple up the paper. i don’t try the letter writing again.
I thought becoming a mother might change how I felt about my father. That it would plant a seed of sympathy and understanding that I could grow over time. Indeed, I can tell you the stories of being Pachuco tuff with my kids. Ordering them to stop crying.
But the truth is, parenting just reaffirmed that I was the coward. The mistake. I was not prepared to do what it would take to make those kids shut up, cuz God only knows you can’t just tell them to be quiet and expect them to listen. You need to actually do something to make them stop. But I didnt have the heart to hit them, or even just to scare them.
But boy did I know how to run. One day I pull the car off to the side of the road, tears blinding me, gagging me as they loosen mucus in my nose and throat.
W* and I were fighting. The kids were angry at us for fighting and kept yelling at us to stop. I wanted to stop, tried to force my mouth into quiet. But I couldn’t. I kept yelling and yelling, until leaving was the only thing left to do. I slammed the door with extra emphasis as I left. Fuck them.
But then the tears came, and I had to pull off to the side of the road. I knew the choice in front of me. I could leave. I could keep driving and never ever come back. Then it would all be over–the fighting, the mistakes, the fear.
Or I could go back.
I know what choice El Pachuco would make. And I knew that I couldn’t make that same choice. I can’t leave my family. I can’t leave my home.
I take a deep breath, dry my tears and turn the car around, towards home. W*s arms wrap around me when I get there, and we apologize. We talk to the kids together. It isn’t until later that it finally occurs to me that it’s not cowardice that keeps me there, it’s love.
But, I argue with myself, the son–he is the coward. The father’s mistake.
The other day a white *F*eminist said that she “could care less” about minority representation on film. Another white *F*eminist said she doesn’t include characters of color in her work because “she doesn’t know any people of color.”
You have to write what you know, they argue.
There is a scene in Battlestar Galactica.
El Pachuco wants to stay in a dangerous situation in the hopes of finding the girl that he loves like a daughter. He fights to stay in that situation, trying to buy time. He uses the power of El Pachuco bully others into staying when they all want to leave. He fights for the girl he loves like a daughter. But who isn’t his daughter.
Eventually, El Pachuco realizes–-it’s time to go. He is potentially sacrificing the lives of his entire fleet for one person. It’s time to go–and face the devastating loss of the girl he loves like a daughter. But who isn’t his daughter.
The cowardly son asks El Pachuco that terrifying question–the one that tears at the throats of all of us with El Pachuco for fathers. Would you have done all this if she had been me? Or: Do love me, too? Do you love me as much as you love this girl–who isn’t even your daughter?
Are you brave enough love?
Are you brave enough to love me?
Edward James Olmos knows not to be outraged that this son would ask this father such a question. Olmos knows he is a Chicano, and he accepts his responsibility as an actor to his community. He knows that we need stories too–that we need more than just Chicanos in space. Edward James Olmos knows what it means for El Pachuco to pull his son (m’ijito) into his arms and whisper fiercely, if it was you? I never would’ve left.
El Pachuco has finally stopped running.
El Pachuco is finally a dad.
El Pachuco finally is brave enough to love.
Because we need stories too.
our land is the freeways, the highways, the backroads nobody knows about but us.
gloria anzaldua defined us as movers, and border crossers–but she was careful to point out that the goal is to get back home. even if it’s not the home we left. if we have to build it ourselves.
because what are we, without a home?
what would happen if we stopped using all the roads slicing through our communities to run? and used them to come back home?
even if it’s not the home we left?
how can stories help us to build the home that is our human right?
our human right.
because we’re not mistakes.
I am sitting in my car, waiting to pick up kids from school. I’ve been traveling all day, up and down I-75, back and forth over I-94, across M-13 to finally wind up in a line of cars filled with parents waiting for the school bell to release their children
My butt hurts from the hours of sitting. My hair is whipped into a rats nest from the open windows on freeways. The radio blares as I flip through the pictures on my i-pod. I find the one I am looking for. Of me. The sun is over my shoulder, my face is in the shadow. My eyelashes stand out against my cheeks. I see my son’s eyes in mine. My eyes that are my father’s.
It is just family in this moment. Just us.
We are together. Our human right.
El Pachuco has finally stopped running.
El Pachuco is finally a mami.
El Pachuco finally is brave enough to love.
I would never leave.
It is our story.