Here’s what I know. Soy India y orgullosa de serlo. Soy India pata rajada y orgullosa de lo que soy. I had heard bad words growing up and could hurl insults right back sharp as a whip. When a toad of a girl and her fat brother called me and my sister pochas, I didn’t know the meaning but I could tell it was bad by the way they reveled in satisfaction. To go tell my parents, that would go against the code. During the daylight hours there were only a few things you better be doing in the house if you weren’t in school. I didn’t like any of the choices– cleaning, cooking, taking care of babies or more cleaning. The worst of the options if you really wanted to be inside when the grown ups were in there cooking or talking was to sit silently. If I was desperate to hear the gossip I would pledge that I would be quiet before I could even be let past the screen door. Well, it wasn’t really a door, just the aluminum frame and we climbed though the bottom square. The top part still had glass but with each transaction it came closer to the same fate as it’s screened panel that used to occupy the bottom square of the screen door. We still used the screen for important things like panning for gold. I had learned about the gold miners in Mrs. King’s class last year and told my dad that people could find gold in the dirt. It was just laying there waiting to be discovered. I’m sure he was trying to play down his excitement at the possibility that could change our lives. I took his silence and nodding smile as approval to move forward with my new mission. I enlisted my brothers and sister along with cousins that were camping out around our house for the next month while their parents worked.
If needed as many of the kids looking for gold as possible so the payback for calling us pochas would have to wait. I also wanted to know what is was first so I could decide how long I had to torture them. That was the way. You took it and you threw it back—harder if possible. Enemies and alliances were fragile unless you were related. Even if they were the cousin that bullied you the most, they would jump to your defense if too many were jumping on you at one time. Then it became their fight too. I once had a babysitter that used to put boxing gloves on us so we could learn to fight. By the time the great gold hunt was abandoned I had another insult I needed to figure out how to investigate–India pata rajada. I could always just ask the toad girl and her warty brother but then they would say we were dumb too.
After convincing my Tio Raul to tell us what it meant, I didn’t understand. My Tio Raul was always nice to us and he was my uncle and not related at all to the toads. I didn’t have any reason to doubt him but the two things shouldn’t even go together. Pocha meant I was not Mexican enough and India pata rajada was a reminder to me that I was tied to the land of my father even though I didn’t speak the language. I could understand Spanish but stopped trying to speak it when the toads and the bug eyed rooster kids made fun of me. India pata rajada-– that meant I was an Indian with cut feet from not wearing shoes—it implied I was a savage. This Indio was not the Native American I learned about in school. The proud people that fished and hunted in the same lands I walked on. These were the Indians that still inhabit parts of Mexico and speak dialects that sound like the songs of birds long lost. Perhaps I earned this name because I was the toastiest of my family and actually did run wild a lot outside without shoes. I didn’t care. I asked my dad what it meant and he said not to ask him that question again. I thought if it was important, he would have told me.
My mother’s family is from Mexico too. It’s different than my father’s family. The connection to Mexico for her family is many generations past. She might have clobbered the person who called me names so I didn’t dare mention it to her. She was dynamite in a tiny package and her temper well known from Washington to the rancho in Mexico. I had never been to Mexico. Even though I didn’t speak Spanish in front of others, I was fluent. It was in my best interest if I wanted to hear
the newest gossip from our family when they arrived. The cycle of the seasons was my timer. The apples brought my family back to us. I could say some words in Spanish just fine but gave up trying because the effort was sure to set off ripples of laughter. I gave up and would beg my cousins, who spoke both English and Spanish, to tell me of their travels. They knew of places I had never been to like Wyoming and Mexico. They worked along side their parents all year long and I wished I could too. If I had a job that paid money I could stop the gold digging mission that had failed to produce any gold in the last two years.
I am fluent in Spanish now and since I am Mexican American, some are surprised that I didn’t speak it as a child. My father wanted to learn English so he must have figured he would be forced to learn if his children couldn’t speak his native tongue. It worked.
At the end of the apples, the pisca, my Tios and cousins would tell me to go with them to Mexico so I could meet my grandmother and the large part of my family I still have not met in person. My dad would always jokingly say yes but we were not even allowed to spend the night at friends houses so I knew there wasn’t a chance I could really go. Last year was the first time I saw the double doors that lead to the center of my grandmother’s house in Mexico. It was with my father. We used the street view on Google Maps. He showed me the streets he walked as a child and told me how his mother took him breakfast each morning from the house he built just down the street. He was in awe that there it was, on the screen. The streets he walked as a child. The place where they held the velorio for my grandfather when he died. The small rancho he hailed from, important enough for the internet.