Man is Mortal

Picture credit: Glassdoor

My dad started feeling sick about two months prior to his E.R visit. He had a lot of joint pain, he felt sleepy, weak, and tired. He had fallen about 3 times randomly at home because of how weak he was feeling. To be quite frank, I thought it was his age. He had just turned 60.

On May 24th, 2022, I asked him to drive me to my job. I noticed that he looked bloated, abnormally bloated. I asked him about that. His response, “I don’t know, I do feel a lump on my stomach though.” I got frustrated because my dad has never been the type to take care of himself. He’s stubborn and refuses to get medical attention unless it’s truly “necessary.” 

“What if it’s a hernia? Are you just going to wait until it explodes there? You need to get it checked out. Today you have my car, go see the doctor” I told him frantically. I think he realized how concerned I was. About an hour or two later he called me and said he was in the emergency room. I told him I was glad he had gone to get it checked out.

Little did I know, he would spend the next three days in the hospital. 

On his second day there, I called and asked what the doctor had told him. He’s like, “Oh the doctor says that my liver and pancreas are inflamed. Once it goes down I’ll be able to go home.” I asked him what had caused the inflammation? “They’re working on figuring that out,” he said. 

When I visited my dad on May 26th, 2022 in the hospital. I didn’t want to face the music but I knew that whatever my dad had he wouldn’t tell me. He’s a prideful man. So after checking in at the front desk, I walked the labyrinth-like hallways of the hospital.

Once in the room, I hugged him. He looked so sad, depressed even. I asked again what the doctor had said. He answered. “I might leave tonight.” I saw a stack of paperwork by the table where they’ve been serving his meals. I sat by his bedside and grabbed the paperwork. 

“Just leave those there. We can look at them later” he said nervously. 

“I just want to see what’s going on. What did they give you for lunch?” I asked as I turned over the first page. 

I saw it at first glance but I squinted my eyes to make sure I read it right.

Medical Condition: Cirrhosis 

I guess my dad’s long-time alcohol abuse had finally taken a toll on his body. I wasn’t surprised. I felt defeated. 

The sentiment was evident as I noticed my dad’s eyes tear up as he answered my question.

“Nada más comí gelatina.” 

He turned his face the other way so I wouldn’t see him cry. 

It was the first time that my dad, the man who although has been an alcoholic, has always been there for me. The strict yet funny man, the indestructible man, and most importantly, my hero, was crumbling and I couldn’t do shit about it.

Rough & Tough

Picture credit: Schola

I have never been diagnosed with depression or any other mental disorder. I’ve never brought up anything of that matter to anyone’s attention. Perhaps it was because it has always been a taboo subject. In my case, we were never told not to speak of such things but it was almost like an unspoken rule. You don’t talk about things that make you seem weak. As stupid as that sounds but that is how I grew up. This is my story. 

I was born weighing 11 lbs 8 oz. I was a big baby. My parents were so proud of that; however, as I grew older it became evident that I was a “bigger” kid as well. I learned how to become “rough and tough” when I attended Wallace R. Davis Elementary School in Santa Ana. Kids were so mean and I knew that once those kids began to see that I was different from them, body-wise at least, they would try to make me feel inferior to them. Soon enough, around fourth grade, the boys in my class made fun of me. They would yell across the playground during recess time, “You’re fat! Get out of here!” or I would walk past them and I’d hear “Ew!” or “Is it an Earthquake? No it’s just Claudia!” and they’d laugh. I didn’t think it was funny at all. My weight has always been one of my biggest insecurities and my biggest concerns. It was so difficult to try and be like them, thin and worry-free. 

It wasn’t until the comments were made in groups that it started to mess with me. I began to shut down, socially. I didn’t want to speak or hang out with anybody. I didn’t want people looking at me. In my mind, everyone thought that I was just this ugly fat kid. After a few months of that, I wanted that to change. Why did I have to be sad all the time?

So one day I decided that I wouldn’t take shit from anybody anymore. I kept up my grades, that’s for sure, I’ve always taken pride in my academics. However, I started changing my attitude toward people, I looked the part. I used my size to my advantage. I became intimidating. I became rough and tough and it worked. 

When boys tried to say something negative about me, I would quickly respond and match their energy. If they started insulting me, I would do it back. If they cut me in line, I would do it back. I wouldn’t consider myself a bully though. I never intentionally sought out weaker kids to make fun of them or anything. Generally, I would only react in situations where I was being made fun of first.

I became popular in school for standing up for myself and I was proud of that. That persona carried on throughout junior high and high school. I was pretty popular for a big girl and I think that people tripped out on that. 

Now in retrospect, I think that might’ve backfired. Adulthood is already difficult. As kids, we feel like we’ll never get here, and then boom! We’re here. I didn’t think that learning to be intimidating, bold, and outspoken would eventually damage future relationships. Romantically, it’s difficult to acknowledge when my partner genuinely compliments me and it’s also difficult to admit when I’m wrong. My attitude changes as soon as I’m told I’m wrong.

 It’s true. 

I don’t take constructive criticism as well as I should because I automatically think people are negatively attacking me, even if it’s not related to my body image. Nonetheless, it reminds me of when I was criticized as a child. Although I have realized this issue in the last couple of months, it is still difficult to change that. I am actively working on taking constructive criticism as exactly that, constructive criticism but that doesn’t and will not take the rough and tough from me. 

The Shock

Picture credit: Our Economy

In a snap of a finger, both my mom and I were in Mexico. It seemed surreal. On our way there, I asked my mom if she was nervous. She said that she was and that it had been about 20 years since she last saw her mother.

The ride from the airport to the ‘rancho’ was about two hours. At first, the surrounding area was city-like. But as we continued to drive further away from the airport it became a scenic route, more rural. I could see the vivid green mountains full of trees and plants, miles and miles of avocado trees strategically placed in rows on those same mountains. We drove past a few lakes, and fields of beautiful golden corn stalks. I had never seen so much greenery in my life. When I put the window down, the scent of pine trees was captivating. I guess fresh air is not part of that infamous American dream. 

As we entered the rancho. The van began to shake. I looked out the window and noticed that the streets were not paved. It was just dirt and rocks, the same ones that made the van shake so much. Some of the houses that we drove by were made out of wood, others were made of concrete. Although the houses varied in size as well, one thing that they did have in common was the bright colors that they were painted in; bright green, teal, purple, and yellow. Most of the houses had beautiful flowers in their gardens. Orange, red, green, and blue flower pots adorned the entrances to their homes. Multi-colored roses bloomed in this rich farm soil. I saw red and pink geraniums blooming in the flower pots. What struck me the most were the burgundy bougainvillea flowers that draped over the entrance gates to each house. 

Once at my grandma’s house, I noticed that she too had those colorful flowers; however, her house did need some paint. My mom and I hurried out of the van. We walked in before getting the luggage out and my mom called out my grandma’s name. I’ll never forget the look on her face when she saw my mom walk through the front gate of her house. 

She walked out of her improvised wooden kitchen. She was making tortillas by hand and came out holding one in her hand. I remember that on top of her pants and shirt she had a red apron and a black beanie. She heard my mom yell out, “Ama, Maria!”

My grandma yelled out “Que paso?” before stepping out of that kitchen. When she saw my mom and me standing in the middle of her front lawn she stood there with an empty stare. One hand holding the raw tortilla that she was about to place on the comal and the other next to her side as tears ran down her face. By this point, both my grandma and my mom were crying. My mom approached her. They hugged for what seemed like forever. I guess that for them, it was.

Mom’s Home

Friday, January 9, 2009. A day that I will never forget. 

[I was 15 years old, a freshman in high school at that time and we had recently moved to Anaheim.] Three months prior to this day, my mom had received a phone call from her hometown in Mexico. My uncle Cesario had passed away. He fell into a ditch in the middle of the night while trying to go home. It had rained heavily that day; he drowned. 

I had never seen my mom so sad and depressed. She cried every single day. I hated seeing my mom so sad, she no longer smiled when she got home from work in the evenings. She no longer walked into my room to ask how school went. But I understood. My mother had lost the brother who raised her two boys in Mexico when she decided to come to the U.S in hopes of a better life. It had been years since she last saw him.

A week after my uncle Cesario passed away. My mom was notified that my grandma who also lived in Mexico, had esophageal and stomach cancer. She was 81. She refused chemo. After my uncle Cesario’s passing, there was no one living with her that could take care of her during this time. After this call, both my mom and dad were more quiet, distant from each other and from me.

Then one day, in the first week of January, I came back from school and my mom sat down with me and said, “Claudia, my mom is really sick and there is no one with her to take care of her or keep her company. My mom and Cesario basically raised my kids when I decided to come here. I think it’s time for me to take care of her.” Her eyes watered and she looked away. I knew what that meant. My mom was going back to her hometown and it was not a round trip. She was still undocumented which meant she could not return to the U.S if she chose to leave. 

That same night, after I told my mom that I understood her decision (but was confused as hell) both of my parents walked into my room and my mom announced that after thinking things through she decided that it would be best if I went along with her. “For how long?” I asked. My mom said, “Let’s try for a year. I’ll enroll you in high school over there. If you like it, you can stay longer. If not, you can come back to your dad.” In retrospect, I didn’t agree to it because I thought it was a great idea or that it would work. I agreed to it because I knew what leaving a kid behind and in another country represented for my mom. She had already done that in the past. She left her two sons in another country to be raised by her family. I saw her cry on her son’s birthdays when she called them every year. She had unbearable pain that only she knew of. She carried that weight on her shoulders. Who was I to add on to that pain?

So, about a week later, on January 9th, 2009. I had officially dropped out of high school and my mom and I were in my uncle’s pickup truck on a two-hour ride to T.J. Soon enough, we were on a three-and-a-half-hour flight from Tijuana to Morelia, Michoacan. The capital of my mom’s home state. We got picked up by one of my cousins in a van and drove about three more hours to get to my mom’s ‘rancho.’ The sign in the entrance read Paramuen, my mom was finally home.

Born & Raised

Picture credit: OC Stock Photos

My parents met in the states after they immigrated from Mexico. My mom is from a ‘rancho’ called Paramuen in the state of Michoacán, the Western side of Mexico. My dad is from Culiacán, the capital city of Sinaloa, the Northern side of Mexico. I was born in Santa Ana, California and I have fond memories of the place where I grew up. I think the best memory I have is the family bond that we all had in the apartment complex where we lived. In S.A, this apartment building was known as “El Pentagono,” the “Pentagon.” I’m not quite sure why, I mean it wasn’t shaped like a pentagon precisely but it definitely stuck.

I remember that our apartment complex was right underneath the water tower that now reads “Downtown Orange County- Santa Ana.” “El Pentagono” consisted of eight units total. Four on the top and four on the bottom and there was a huge palm tree before driving into the parking lot of the apartments. Everyone that lived in that apartment complex was Mexican. So I began to read, write, and speak fluent Spanish at a young age. We were all one big family. When someone cooked a traditional Mexican dish, those that most Mexicans don’t cook on a daily basis, they would share it with everyone. Pozole, or posole as some write it (pork stew), menudo (beef tripe stew), albondigas (meatball soup), caldo de res (beef soup), and tamales were some of the things we shared in those apartments. On the weekends, I remember all the men gathering underneath the palm tree having a few beers and chatting it up. They would listen to banda and corridos too. The women would sit on a bench that was placed in the middle of the communal patio. They would play loteria, toma-todo, or poker while the children played soccer, tag, rode bikes, roller skated, flew kites made out of plastic bags and strings (hence, my love for kite flying), or played an improvised game of tetherball with a soccer ball in a plastic bag tied around a stop sign. It was also at this location where all the women (moms) taught all their kids how to play their card games as well. We had so much fun! At times we would bet money too. I know it seems like something that probably should not be taught to a 7-year-old child but those are memories that I will always cherish. When my parents and our neighbors got paid they would all pitch in and we would have carne asadas. Each woman would make a dish like rice, beans, salsa, guacamole, marinate the meat and the men would be on grill duty.

I think we all reminisce about our childhood at some point in our lives. For me, when I think about the place where I grew up, there is always something that grounds me and humbles me. My family was not well off. My parents worked hard to put a roof over our heads and food on our table. We lived paycheck to paycheck but we had all we needed. I was happy and carefree and best of all my family was together. It felt like I was part of a loving family unit. The family unit that I never thought would disintegrate so soon. But I’ll save that story for another time.

Let’s Talk Halftime 2022

Picture credit: Consequence Sound

I’m definitely not into sports whatsoever but I was excited to watch the halftime show because I grew up on hip-hop, as many people my age did. It was dope! My boyfriend and I watched it and rapped along at El Torito while having some chorizo and steak tacos and a few drinks! Watching all the artitsts that I grew up listening to on the screen was mesmerizing. The day after the Super Bowl there were two things that I noticed were emphasized by media outlets and social media as well– Mary J. Blige being a part of the show “because she didn’t fit in with all the rappers” and 50 Cent being “fat.”

First of all, 50 Cent released “In Da Club,” the song that he performed during the halftime

show, 19 years ago! He was 27 years old at that time. Although he is 46 years old now, he is a healthy and muscular looking man. So fat-shaming 50 is definitely not valid. In the other hand, Mary J. Blige was critiqued for not fitting in with the rest of the rappers that were in attendance (Dre, Snoop, Kendrick, Eminem and 50). However, I think they’re missing the big picture. Mary J. Blige has been in the music game for over 30 years, overcame drug addiction AND is a woman of color. That in itself is powerful. As a society we have to really think about what the 2022 halftime show really represents not only to hip-hop fanatics and the black community but to minorities in general.