[This piece won Honorable Mention in The Diversity Story Cultural Writing Competition - High School]
BY GERARDO MITRE
As the ball rolled under my grandmother's trailer, I had no choice but to chase after it. The thought of crouching under the wet, rank-smelling dirt, its soil creeping under the crevices of my fingernails was dreadful in the mind of an 8 year old; however, as I glimpsed underneath the trailer, the thought of the ball I was chasing after and the desert ants slowly crawling up my arms left my mind completely. White, illuminating eyes stared back at me. Dark faces I did not recognize shining through a sliver of sunlight underneath the murkiness of the trailer. I turned and ran straight to my mother, scared of what I had seen. There was a serious talk between my mom and I that day. Wearily, she said, “Mijo, those are people from across the fence, they came here in search of opportunities for their sons and daughters, just like how grandma came here for me and you.” While I could not fully understand what opportunity they searched for under grandma's trailer, as I grew older I became aware of the constant struggles countless people go through to have a taste of freedom within the United States.
I grew up surrounded by my mother’s family who all cherished the traditions of the bordertown. El Paso, TX and its bordering city of Cd.Juarez, Mexico, created a seamless transition between the border, for the Mexican customs were enriched in both cities. A couple of blocks away from grandma's home, was the barbed wire fence dividing the two cities, the same one my father crossed over to meet my mother in the U.S. My father found refuge in my grandmother’s home, as many migrants did when they sought to venture into the promised land. My grandmother cared for her fellow “paisanos” who crossed the border in the most hospitable way she knew. She would let them stay in her home for two nights, then would pass them over to the farmers who seeked labor in their chili farms, returning to Mexico before the week was over. This practice was common for those in the borderland, and brought great pride amongst our family and Chicanos living in the american southwest.
Although the opportunities in the land of the free may seem plentiful, major setbacks constantly leeched on the backs of my immigrant family. Vices of my grandfather trickled down to his sons; drinking hard liquor and smoking marijuana amongst them became bad omens on them and branded them outcasts and undesirables in the eyes of society. The chances of getting a job or being accepted to a good school were slim to none once they took on the habit. The possibility of graduating to harder drugs and committing arduous crimes in order to obtain more drugs increased exponentially under the poor habits. My grandmother approved of none of it, she knew that there was no honor in lunacy, however there was no other choice but to love all her children.
My grandmother was a devoted Christian, and believed full heartedly that the words of Jesus Christ would change her children’s ways. When the time for Sunday service came, my cousins and I would hide from the church van in our last efforts not to go to church. In my little mind I could not fully comprehend why grandma spent so much time in such a place when there was no change at home. Little did I know that her prayers centered around the wellbeing of her family and that one day all her children would accept Jesus as their savior as well. It is the idea of death and resurrection that brings hope that one day we shall all reach redemption. It is through faith that she encouraged all of us that we could be better than before. To use this new found religious freedom to do right instead of wrong, to inspire instead of discourage, and to live instead of obsessing over past mistakes.
I now turn a blank page and write a new story for my family much like the immigrants who risked everything to hide underneath my grandma’s trailer. It brings me great joy to see others from all backgrounds, especially latinos, overcome adversity and break the social stigma implemented by those unwilling to accept change for the betterment of us all. I am of Chicano descent, however that does not define me, but rather shapes who I am. I come from a great history of immigrants and their willingness to work towards their aspirations runs through my very own blood. So, in honor of those before and after me, I will do the same.