Valentina (left) had dessert with her mother Marisella (right). Photo by Scott Ball.
Valentina (left) shares dessert with her mother Marisela (right) at Luby's. Photo by Scott Ball.

I have a fairly sizable fear of my credit score. I will not apply for the quick JCPenney card with the instant 20% off, even though I am a sucker for discounts. I’ll be rejected and my secret will be exposed: personal finance loser! The salesperson will tilt her head, lift the corner of her lip and raise one eyebrow while my daughter stands beside me in disgust.

[Cue the fog and Santana music. Start dream sequence.]

My make-believe nightmare grows: I am at H-E-B with a weeks’ worth of groceries. There are several impulse buys in my cart: a 12-pack of the new Piñata Protest beer, a Virgen de Guadalupe 14-day candle (those really chubby ones), Agave nectar, refrigerated dog food for Guera-Perra (RIP), a muffin sheet for the muffins I will never bake. There is a long ass line behind me, worse than the day before Thanksgiving, two baskets per family. I did not phone in to check about my account balance. My card is declined.

The people behind me are fidgeting, smacking gum, hitting their own nalgas with People Magazines, and code-switching from “hurry up” to “apúrate!”

“I can cover this in cash,” I say as I dump a bazillion pennies from my satchel. I count the pennies one by one as the folks in line are about to riot.

[End dream sequence.]

I use my cracked debit card for most purchases, paying in cash on-demand only at an ice house. I typically use my bank’s automated telephone system to check my balance every day. I could do a better job at managing my daily expenses, but I don’t. I go out too often, hanging out at local coffee spots that have sprung up over the last few years, feeling all Dallas at Rosella and all Austin at Halcyon. The only place I feel all San Antonio is at an ice house.

I spend too much money on going out to eat, because I also have a fear of cooking. I find discount deals, though, like Wednesdays (after four o’clock) and Saturdays (all-day) kids-eat-free at Luby’s.

The entrance to Luby's near downtown San Antonio. Photo by Scott Ball.
The entrance to Luby’s near downtown San Antonio. Photo by Scott Ball. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Valentina, my 10-year old, and I can eat two healthy meals for less than $10, sacrificing the sweet tea. The downtown Luby’s is our preferred location. The recipes may be the same, but locations each have their own particular identity. We used to make the trip to the Westside Las Palmas location years ago, back when they had the lunch-time keyboard player/lounge singer. Eating your square-shaped fried fish while a viejito sings “My Way” with a Spanish accent is puro Westside. ¡Qué lástima! he is no longer there.

Although I am on a budget, Valentina and I have rich conversations over the Luby’s LuAnn Platter.

“I want to be rich, mama. I’m gonna be rich,” Valentina exclaimed in full voice one Wednesday afternoon at the downtown Luby’s. “Just like Donald Trump.”

“WHAT THE FU…” I stopped myself before I said a really nasty word in full voice at our window-seat booth. I composed myself and tried to act motherly. It was hard.

Marisa reacts to Valentina's Trump approval. Photo by Scott Ball.
Marisela reacts to Valentina’s Trump aspirations. Photo by Scott Ball.

“He’s rich, but he’s a pendejo,” I told her as I put an enchilada bite on a saltine cracker. “He thinks he deserves to be President because he’s rich. He’s a macho with fake hair, which means he cannot accept himself for who he is: a hustler who is not nice.”

“Mama, you have fake hair. You color it.”

“We’re having a teaching moment here about Trump, not me,” I said, diverting the subject.

“Okay, okay…” said my 10-year-old rascal.

Almost 11 years ago, on the day my daughter was born, I was living in the Southside with her father just off Quintana Road. I worked at the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center at the time, one of two full-time jobs I have had in San Antonio since I moved here in 2002 from Dallas. I have spent just as much time as a “freelancer,” i.e. underemployed.

I remember her birthday distinctly: It was Dieciséis de Septiembre 2004. I was watching “The Apprentice” as my daughter was preparing for life. Did I curse her to have a fascination with the Trump by seeing his show while she was in utero? The mysteries of life elude me.

“Let’s consider other role models. Who else do you admire?”

“Rich people.”

Geez, I thought. My counting pennies during graduate school has really done a number on her. How did I let this happen?

“Okay,” I delay as I’m trying to come up with a smart response. I take another bite of my enchiladas. “How do you intend to get rich? Some people inherit their money. I hate to lay down some realness, but you will not get rich by inheritance. Me and your father … we are not rich.”

Her father is a freelancer, too.

“You can marry someone rich,” Valentina advised me. “You’ve been holding out.”

“This is about you, not me,” I said not wanting to talk about my love life of course. “How are you gonna get rich? What’s your plan? And it better include graduate school in your 20’s, not in your 40’s like me.”

“I like to look up how much houses cost,” Valentina said. “And I like to design them.”

She had been looking up houses on ever since we lost the house we used to live in. Now, she does a fantastic job doing apartment searches for hours on end. With all the development in San Antonio’s urban core, the searches keep her busy. Too bad all these new apartments are usually out of our budget.

“I can buy a bunch of property like Trum…”

“Don’t even say his name,” I snarled. “He’s the new He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. Get it?”

“I get it.”

“What else do you like?”

“I like to act and do videos.”

Valentina has been raised in the theater. I breast-fed her at the Guadalupe Theater while directing “Posada Mágica” by Octavio Solis. She was the understudy for a gender-bending Baby Jesus and made a couple of stage appearances at the age of three months.

“I can be a good host,” she said. “Who’s the one who had her own TV show?  She also acts and has a magazine.”

“Oprah Winfrey?”

“Ya, she’s rich. Not a pendeja, right?”

“She’s cool.”

We settle on a new role model as I eat my daughter’s red jello. It comes free with her kids plate, but she never eats it. Valentina’s taste is more expensive; she likes the four-dollar strawberry shortcake. Sometimes, we splurge.

Valentina gives her mother a confused look. Photo by Scott Ball.
Valentina gives her mother a confused look. Photo by Scott Ball.

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Marisela Barrera

Marisela Barrera is a Chicana creating Tex-Mex stories on stage and in print. She has a BFA in acting from Southern Methodist University and MA/MFA degrees from in creative writing, literature, and social...