This is an excerpt from a 2002 children’s book, My Very Own Room/Mi propio cuartito, published by Children’s Book Press, San Francisco, an imprint of Lee & Low, New York.
Dear Diary, I know I should be asleep already, But I just can’t sleep. If I don’t write this all down, I’ll burst! Tonight after my brothers – Mario, Victor, Héctor, Raul and Sergio –and I all climbed into bed, I overheard Mamá and Papá whispering. They were talking about leaving our little house in Juárez, Mexico, where we’ve lived our whole lives, and moving to Los Angeles in the United States. But why? How can I sleep knowing we might leave Mexico forever? I’ll have to get to the bottom of this tomorrow.
Today at breakfast, Mamá explained everything. She said, “Papá lost his job. There’s no work here, no jobs at all. We know moving will be hard, but we want the best for all of you. Try to understand.” I thought the boys would be upset, but instead they got really excited about moving to the States.
“The big stores in El Paso sell all kinds of toys!”
“And they have escalators to ride!”
“And the air smells like popcorn, yum!”
Am I the only one who is scared of leaving our home, our beautiful country, and all the people we might never see again?
My best friend Michi and I walked to the park today. We passed Don Nacho’s corner store and the women at the tortilla shop, their hands blurring like hummingbird wings as they worked the dough over the griddle.
At the park we braided each other’s hair and promised never to forget each other. We each picked out a smooth heart-shaped stone to remind us always of our friendship, of the little park, of Don Nacho and the tortilla shop. I’ve known Michi since we were little, and I don’t think I’ll ever find a friend like her in California.
“You’re lucky your family will be together over there,” Michi said. Her sisters and father work over there. I can’t imagine leaving anyone in our family behind.
OK, Diary. here’s the plan – in two weeks we leave for my grandparents’ house in Mexicali, right across the border from Calexico, California. We’ll stay with them while Papá goes to Los Angeles to look for work. We can only take what will fit in the old car Papá borrowed – we’re selling everything else. Meanwhile, the boys build cardboard box cities and act like nothing bothers them. Mamá and Papá keep talking about all the opportunities we’ll have in California. But what if we’re not allowed to speak Spanish? What if I can’t learn English? Will I ever see Michi again? What if we never come back?
Today while we were packing, Papá pulled me aside. He said, “Amada, m’ija, I can see how worried you’ve been. Don’t be scared. Everything will be all right.”
“But how do you know? What will happen to us?” I said.
He smiled. “M’ija, I was born in Arizona, in the States. When I was six—not a big kid like you—my Papá and Mamá moved our family back to Mexico. It was a big change, but we got through it. I know you can, too. You are stronger than you think.” I hope he’s right. I still need to pack my special rock (and you, Diary!) We leave tomorrow!
Related: More ‘Viva Macondo’ entries