como la flor


I fucking love this song and it is VERY VERY CHEESY. fucking deal while I dance around the living room, daaawwwg.


In 1985 I am born. In 1986 when I am 9 months old, my abuela dies of cancer that has spread through her whole body. She is not yet 45 years old. My abuelita (her mother) returns to Mexico to tend to the lives of her remaining children, several more of whom she will lose to gunshots and car accidents in coming years.

Abuelita, so in love with her first great-grandchild, sends trinkets from home as demonstration. A wooden serving tray, painstakingly adorned by hand with intricate designs and golden trim. Tiny brightly embroidered delantal in floral Pure’pecha motif. Even at 3 years old I know how precious these artifacts are, and moon over them–I run my finger jealously over the carved edge of the serving tray, catching dust before it can dull the glossy finish.

Our lives are spinning with quick-changes. When my parents fight I pray to my abuela, envisioning her spectral figure as the faerie godmother from Cinderella or God, a small dark figure in a lavender cloak.

The next time I see abuelita is after my parents have separated, she accompanies my grandfather and his new wife, already with another baby on the way. I try to imagine how that must have been for her–accompanying her son-in-law with his new wife to this country, but all I can remember is her joyous face. And her blouse, zebra print inexplicably (but beautifully) adorned with roses, a kind of garishness that somehow also succeeds as lovely. We have the same smile, the one that fills the entire face, a sun, and she is instantly familiar. Did she lift me up? Spin me in the air? Que bonita! ah! que linda chulita! she exclaims. My mother teased/praised me like this even up through my teens, and I find myself saying it to babies, too–lifting my friends’ newborn daughter and in my head abuela whispers joyfully, “que linda! ah, que bonita!” so full of life, child.

After abuelita goes back to Mexico for the last time, my contact with that part of my family fades. My mother tries (and fails) to assimilate me to her European in-laws’ continental ways, but I still love the garishness of bright ethnic costumes, even those not native to my familial origins, and flaunt bright skirts and dance moves anywhere I can. In some decaying basement I find a skirt from the Baltic region my step-family hails from, and I dub it my gypsy skirt in an effort to avoid the filth of my father’s baccalaureate households after my mother tells me that “Mexicans are dirty, RD, it’s just how they are,” and I (still learning logic) internalize her prejudice.

I am surrounded by my mother and stepfather’s cultures. Y’all is the first gender-neutral pronoun I ever use (and my favorite, even now). The other denizens of my household speak, variously: English, Estonian, French, Hungarian, and German. The child’s tongue becomes agile to foreign consonants, customs, cuisines. I love biscuits, palacsinta, schnitzel, makloubeh, pico de gallo, gyoza–a palate with a diversity of sounds and flavors.

uno.  My first crush is a beautiful mestizo girl with big dark eyes and a velvety mustache, shiny black ringlettes frame her perfect face. She tells me that my people are descended from the Aztecs (she is Maya), and that I should honor them. I start reading my family history and prying at my father’s memory, as many histories as I can find (tho they all seem to favor the Spaniards as conquering heroes), trying to uncover the legacy of colonialism in our lives. Abuelita’s origins are shrouded in mystery, he knows that she is native, but not from where. Her husband was named for an Aztec king (much to the local clergy’s dismay!), but his family were Spaniards (possibly more like Southern Italian peasants who passed as Spaniards) who lost their hacienda in the war. Her origins were deemed too unimportant to document, I could never figure out if this was because she was a woman or because she was indigenous. I suspect some mixture of both, particularly from the eye of the likely white and certainly Mormon relative who wrote our family history book.

dos. My maternal grandmother with her endearing sense of Texan multiculturalism (the majority of her grandchildren are mixed of varying shades) sends me a copy of Selena’s crossover album, Dreaming of You, and a t-shirt.  I dance around my room singing in Spanish, dreaming of ____, enveloping her brown skin in a thick fragrant leather jacket like my dad’s, leading her steps with big black boots and my hair slicked back. I want to be like the Mexican James Dean. I want to open doors for her. I want to press my lips to her peach fuzz cheek.

tres. On the rare weekends that he makes the visit, my father and I practice the simplest of Spanish together, culminating in visits to Mexican restaurants, where we consume our favorite dishes (pollo en mole, arroz con pollo, posole) and practice Spanish with the waitstaff, who are kind enough to be patient. como se dice…? muchas gracias. de nada. te llamo, papi. yo soy un poco mal. por favor. es moy humide! no tienes. sabroso. On one occasion, my father fumbles for what feels like half an hour just to remember how to ask for a spoon. As a toddler he translated between abuelita and a neighbor over the backyard fence, as an adult he struggles to remember the words for things as simple as cutlery. Assimilation what?

quatro. The Spanish-English dictionary, prized garage sale addition to my bookshelf, is displaced during one move (in a series of many) and never replaced. My father displaces himself around the same time, disappears for months, weeks, sometimes over a year. Spanish becomes an intermittent concern, then a distant memory.

cinco. The year that I leave my mother’s house my closest friend dies in my absence, and I start dreaming fervently in Spanish. My abuela, long-dead, takes walks with me and __. We go barefoot on the red sand and drink tea. Her laugh is a bright flourish, a trumpet, a joyful noise. His is a tinkle, a sad noise.

ses. When I am 15 we visit Mexico for the first time that I can remember. Mi tio takes my face in his hands, he says, “you look just like her, just like Theresa.”

siete. A boy I will later love like a brother tells me, “I love how you get an accent when you’re drunk!” and I flush rhododendron red, explain about my years of speech therapy, resolve not to get drunk anymore and check my speech more carefully for the impudence of my impediments.


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