TEACHER, AUTHOR, EDUblogger "I want to (read and) write books that unblock the traffic jam in everyone's mind." ~J. Updike
They call me Blanca. That’s all. That means …well… white. They could call me, güera. That’s the slang for white girl. I’m glad they don’t, depending on who it’s coming from, that could be worse. Most of them probably don’t even know my real name. I can’t stand my real name anyways, so…está todo bien, right?
I’m sixteen and I live in Stockton, California. Everyone I know is Black, Mexican, or Asian. Me? Well, my mom is white and my pops was Mexican. So what does that make me? No se. Where I come from? Not knowing is a dangerous place for a person to even try existing in. I’m on my way to trying to fix all that tho’. Last night I completed ‘step one’ when I did my roll-in, or jump-in, however you wanna call it. That’s initiation para you gringos.
Right now, it is six a.m. on a Friday morning after a rough night with no real sleep. I have locked myself in the bathroom of our dinky apartment so that I can get ready for school in peace. Pretty soon though, Mom’ll be rapping on the bathroom door saying to hurry up and that she needs to get ready for work.
I don’t care. I should. Pero no.
Placing my palms flat on the cool, rusty edges of the bathroom sink, I lean in close to examine the stranger that stands before me in the dirty mirror.
Who are you? You look like a chola.
Her wide eyes only stare back at me.
Why you hafta’ wear so much makeup?
The charcoal-lined eyes just blink.
I lean in even closer so I can look deep into the swirling depths of those strange, sea green eyes, shot through with flecks of blue.
A DélaCruz should not have these white-girl eyes. They should be a delicious, chocolate brown like my girl, Shortie, has. Or, they could even be a buttery, golden brown color like my other homegirl, Cookie.
A DélaCruz should not be sporting this reddish brown hair either. Unless she’s dyed it that way on purpose, of course. And why the heck would I wanna do that? With two hands, I split my high ponytail and give it a harder than necessary tug to tighten and smooth it. That’ll work. I don’t have time for anything else.
Leaning forward once more, I let my fingertips gingerly brush the purple and blue bruise that paints the right side of my face. It’s real swollen; but right now, it looks way worse than it feels. The throbbing on my left side? My swollen and equally thrumming right ankle? The puffy and split bottom lip? Well now, that’s a different story. I’ll just hafta’ deal. It’s just a different kind of ache to deal with anyways. No biggie. I just gotta suck it up. That’s all.
When my homegirls dropped me off last night, and I staggered through our creaky front door, I was truly hoping to get to my room before my mom saw me. No such luck, however, because Mom was sitting curled up in the comfy armchair that faces the front door, still reading her beat-up, old Bible.
When our eyes met and she got a good look at me, the look on her face made me think she was going to pass out in shock right there. Which, I’m thinking, is exactly what I must’ve done myself. That is, after a futile attempt to brush away her outstretched hand and push past her. That pathetic effort to escape to my room is what did me in. That’s when a piercing, I-can’t-breathe pain, hit me in my side and I fell hard to my knees. Also, I’m thinking I wiped out then, because that’s really the last thing I remember.
The next thing I know, I’m struggling to just barely slit my eyes open, so that I can see something, anything, through the way-too-bright lights glaring down on the starched hospital bed I was laid out on. A barely audible moan escaped me. The emergency room of the San Joaquin County Hospital had not been on my preferred itinerary for the evening. I guess ‘cause I didn’t expect my ‘jump-in’ would be the hard part. I don’t know why, but I always thought ‘second step’ would be worse. But what do I know?
The emergency room doctor, probably a med student cause he didn’t look much older than me, told my mom that I didn’t have any broken bones but that I did have some internal bruising. With a harried and haggard look, my doc combed a hand through his long, shaggy hair and turned to go bequeath some other unfortunate person with his gigantic knowledge base.
Bequeath. Like that? I like the way it feels when I roll words like that off my tongue. I like them mostly because people always look at me a little weird when they hear me say those kinds of words. Like, I shouldn’t know big, intelligent-sounding words; because I should have some kind of limited vocabulary or something.
Just about then, my mom turned and happened to notice my half-open
eyes. They felt so heavy. I thought to close them again real quick, so I could avoid all the questions I knew were coming, but I wasn’t stealthy enough in my sluggish, pain-med-flooded state. Mom snatched up my IV- tethered hand in a Vulcan death-grip. Wow! I got enough problems without anybody finding out I’m a closet Sci-Fi geek.
“Lina honey, you’re awake!”
Her haunted green eyes seem to sparkle with both a mother’s outrage and a mother’s pain. I felt her fingers tighten even more.
“Who did this to you, baby?”
Okay, now. I’m gonna have to confess. Right then, I was feeling a world of hurt that I wouldn’t normally admit to anyone. And those pain meds only managed to make me feel all sluggish and blurry eyed. I fought real hard just to keep my eyes open and not doze back off. I gotta say, la-la land would have been far more preferable. I absolutely did not feel like talking to anyone or answering questions that I could not (or would not) answer. I gave a weak shot at pulling my hand away. It was futile. Resistance is futile.
The tip of my tongue attempted to sweep my dry and cracked lips but only managed to stick to the edge of my split bottom lip. I swallowed and struggled to form words around my thick and sticky tongue.
“Nobody, Ma.” My tongue made a clicking sound as it stuck to the roof of mouth. I tried again, “Esto es nada. I’m okay.”
“AAAAAAHHHH!” She groaned and dropped my hand. Practically a scream, really. Like she was super frustrated with me and my whole mess.
Then, to my surprise, the woman stood up and slapped her palms to the top of her curly, auburn hair. She pivoted in this slow circle with her eyes closed so tight her eyebrows seemed sewn together in this painful looking frown. Almost as if she thought, if she could just close her eyes tight enough, and then open them back up again real quick, this would all be just some kind of bad dream.
Last night-or this morning-however you wanna look at it, I saw past her anguished expression. And in that moment, it dawned on me just how young she actually looks. I guess thirty-two really is young, though, for a mom with a sixteen–year-old daughter. But hey, that’s probably because she was stupid enough to get pregnant with me when she was only about my age.
You know, if there really is a God, which I tend to doubt a lot these days, I do not see how He can let stuff like that happen. Or other stuff. Because listen, my mom was a straight ‘A’ college-bound student on the fast track to University of the Pacific. She had plans. She wanted to be a teacher. Teach high school English and creative writing. Because of me, she never got to UOP and now she’s just a paraprofessional for some kindergarten class at John Adams Elementary. Same school I went to as a little kid actually. Yeah, she’s going back to school at night now so she can finally get that teaching degree, but I think I’ll actually be out of college myself by the time she finishes. Bummer. Talk about a guilt trip, right?
She’s white, by the way. Did I already tell you that? Whiter looking than me even. As white as you can get with her milky, cream-colored skin, dusted with café con leche freckles. She is the reason I am Blanca.
Now, what part does my dad play in the mixing bowl that makes me, me? I don’t really know. I’ve never seen the guy. In fact, I’ve only seen one picture of him and that’s the one my mom has framed in the living room like it’s a holy shrine or something.
It’s really just a three by five photo. It’s of her and him at some beach. Don’t know where. This is Stockton remember? No beaches. Gotta drive to see those. It was taken when they were about my age and going out. They look just like you’d think any two, cliché teenagers in love should look. They’re facing each other arm-in-arm, not even looking at the camera. They’re all doe-eyed and smiling at each other with these naïve, completely open, this-is-me smiles. My mom is wearing these tan, pijo-preppy shorts and pink Izod polo shirt. It doesn’t seem like her style at all. I cannot even begin to imagine her sporting that look now. Really! Now, she’s more the kind of laid back, creative type of chick that wears the long, colorful gypsy skirts and peasant blouses with hand-sewn embroidery on the edges.
The boy in the picture, my father, would be considered a very guapo and hot-looking guy, even by today’s standards. And it is definitely not because of the fact that he is dressed like a cholo with his tan, baggie Chinos and that blinding white t-shirt, under an unbuttoned plaid Pendleton. And even though his hair is all slicked back with product, just like any other cholo I see every day and can’t really stand the sight of, every time I pass that picture in the living room I think, Yup. That was my pops. That’s one, good-looking hombre!
In that picture, however, they sure do not look like two people that would run in the same circles. And they weren’t really. My mom’s folks actually disowned her when they found out she was pregnant and the dad was some ‘wetback, gang banger, hoodlum.’ So much for their Democratic progressive thinking, ya? I guess all that stuff only matters if your one and only daughter isn’t in a relationship with somebody like that.
After Mom found out she was pregnant with me they gave her the boot. Yeah, that’s right. It was like, hit the road hermana and don’t let the door hit ya’ on your way out. After that, they ghosted. They ditched Stockton, moved to Santa Cruz, and never looked back. I’ve visited them maybe eight times in my whole life. Each time felt like everything about me was being weighed in the balance. And each time, every time I would fall short. Ah, well. I guess they’d rather have their beloved daughter go it alone as a single mom than acknowledge that they have a half-Mexican as a granddaughter.
Now, don’t go all sad-eye on me! Or think bad about the Pops I never met. He’s not some deadbeat dad or nothin’ like that. My mom swears that he wasn’t that kind of guy. She is always saying how he was the kind that would’ve stayed with her and maybe even married her if he had found out she was pregnant.
The reason why we’ll never know if that’s the truth or not is that he was stabbed trying to stop a fight between a guy from one of his crew and a guy from a rival gang. It happened outside a concert one night. He was only seventeen. The funeral was already done and gone, flowers wilted and trashed, before my mom found out, or even suspected, that she was pregnant with little old me.
Mom does not, and would not, even begin to understand how I’d come to be all beat up and in that emergency room last night. And she would really freak out on me if she found out that I am the one that chose it.
You see, I couldn’t tell her the names of the girls who did this, because the names of the girls who did this are my homegirls. Naw, don’t look like that now! This is just how it’s gotta be for me. Ahora listen, they may be cholas but they’re not like hard-core gang bangers or anything like that! Nah, it’s just the neighborhood we live in and the guys we have to hang out with. So….yeah, it’s just all about survival.
A little while later, after Mom’s little loca-spinning thing, I heard her mumbling something. I must have let my eyes slip closed and dozed off again, because I was once more trying to peel my eyelids open as my eyeballs screamed in protest to the harsh, glaring lights. I do not see how they can really tell a person to relax and get well when they have those killer lights piercing down, draining the life from you.
Mom had been sitting by the door in the only chair supplied to the room. She was leaning forward on her elbows, with her hands covering her face, and she was mumbling to herself.
Okay, I’ll be nice. She hadn’t lost it and gone off the deep end or whatever. She was just praying. See, she has been on this Jesus-kick for a few years now. Worse is, she keeps trying to get me to go with her to that dinky, little Bible church where she spends most of her free time. Or to get me to at least “visit” the church’s youth group.
Now listen, why would I want to hang out with a bunch of stuck-up, holier-than-thou white-girls that prolly say things like, Gag me with a pitchfork, dude! Or is that a spoon? Whatever! I don’t speak their language and I don’t want to.
You know, truth be told, I gotta say I don’t really fit in with my girls so easy either. Maybe all that’ll change now. After tonight, anyways. After second step is complete and I’m officially one of them. When the name Blanca is not spit out at me in contempt, but is a nickname that shows I am one of them.
Well, almost. Maybe then, I won’t have to be looking over my shoulder all the time. Maybe then, I at least won’t be the “target” anymore. For some crews, beat up a white girl and it’s you’re first step in before your own ‘jump-in.’ Ironic how my first step was to let them beat up the white girl. You know, when this is all over, maybe I will at least feel like I fit in somewhere.
I shake my head .
Checking out the finished product in the bathroom mirror, I realize I have no idea how to cover these damages. My hand darts out, snatching-up the clear, strawberry-flavored Bonnie Bell. I’m making a swift, command-decision here to go with just some lip-gloss today. My lip looks whacked-out enough without adding anything to it.
An unexpected sigh escapes from me relieving the knot in my chest. I didn’t realize it was there until it eased up a bit.
What’s that about?
The expected rap on the bathroom door still takes me by surprise and I jump a little, tipping over a bottle of face wash. Darn! I forgot to pop the lid back on when I was done with it. I smack the faucet handle up and watch as the creamy white satin stops its creeping, and with a swirl and a whoosh, courses down the drain. Just great.
“Geez, mom! What’s your problem? I’m almost done!”
As I holler out to her, my split lip cracks a little more and starts bleeding again.
When she answers me, I mouth her words to the stranger in the mirror, while making a snotty face and blotting my lip with a ratty, wet washcloth. Childish, I know.
“I have to get ready too. I have to be at work soon.”
She never yells back at me. That alone ticks me off!
I fling open the door more violently than necessary, causing it to slam and bounce back against the already beat-up bathroom wall. Shoving past her, I flinch from the pain in my side as my shoulder sideswipes hers. That’s when I feel her gentle hand circle my wrist.
“I can call the school for you, honey.” She says this as she tries to search for eye contact. But I keep my eyes trained on my black Converse chucks.
“You can stay home if you want. It’s only one day.”
My head stays down. I refuse to look up. I can’t look at the hurt in those eyes right now.
“I’m fine.” I try to keep my voice a low monotone. Then, I have to swallow. Best not to get emotional.
“Hey, the Youth group is meeting tonight?” Her words are a question but they have a hopeful edge to them.
Silence. What can I say? What does she want from me?
She tries again. “Pastor Mike, remember the Youth Pastor? Says he’d really love for you to visit and check it out. That you might actually have some fun and maybe even make a few new friends.”
Right, Pastor Mike. One of the reasons she still goes to that church. Of course, if I were honest with myself, I would probably have to admit that she was serious about this church-thing and this Jesus-thing way before he even came into the picture. The handsome, and very single, Mike Hernandez was a common topic with my mother.
Of course, she never said handsome. That would be admitting she had feelings for him. She claims that they’re just friends. That he knew my father back in the day. She claims that’s the only reason why they have any connection at all. But I’ve seen how they look at each other. Geez! I’m not stupid.
I snatch-whip my wrist out of her loose, circled hand.
“No.” I say with a quiet defiance. “I got friends. And I don’t have time for this drama right now.”
I start walking.
“Now leave me alone already so I don’t miss my bus.”
I don’t even offer her a token parting glance back as I exit as quickly as I can. Well, as quickly as I can manage with a sharp pain in my side and trying not to show a limp. At the door, I snatch up my over-size jean bag and throw it over my good shoulder. I let the screen door slam hard behind me and don’t look back.
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