My first “taco” was a butter and cheese slathered flour tortilla, which Charley and Chewie’s mom cooked on a flat burner plugged into a line that tapped into a telephone pole, in kitchen whose walls were covered in black charred soot and strips of cheap yellow brown and champagne pink flowered wall paper, sprinkled with char black furring strips nailed to two-by-fours polking out from between holes in the plaster. The house, as I recall had been “condemned by policia” after it had burned a few years back; and their families came there every year to live off in te woods, where everyone knew where they were, but where no officials ever went unless their was a murder, or worse.
As it happened, I was a wimpy child, and though I had frequently been invited by the bigger boys to take part in plucking and eating feathered fowls, or “eating the pig’s eyes(2),” and jowls, and entrails, or, failing that, throwing the eyeballs onto the roof “por dios,” I was always easily intimidated into the kitchen, where one or another mother labored over flat griddles and boiling pots, with immaculate aprons that matched the wall paper; or seed sacks.
Keep in mind, this was in the era of Cesar Chavez, and women still sometimes wore reused things like table clothes as clothing; and today, most Mexican’s have no idea that my friends and extended temporary families looked like this:
The house sat off in the little woods at the edge of Lake Zurich Illinois, which was surrounded by strawberry fields and apple trees in the nearby orchards, and surely they picked a host of other crops, which I was then, at four years old, just learning about by reading Richard Scarry and watching America’s first multi-cultural programming, Sesame Street.
And, as it happened years later, it was positioned between the swamp, my route to my first school, the forbidden tree fort, Sue Rendon’s house (she was the local fertility goddess) and all of which was surrounded by the territory of one “Bully Schultz”, an aptly named boy who was “from there.”
While Chewie’s families were migrant workers who came north to walk and pick, harvest and crawl on their knees through fields, and climbing the trees of every picking season, I was the lucky kid in their eyes, and a “townie” from a rich family who didn’t have to work the fields. Yup. I was lucky-my dada was a garbage man. Years later, as I picked rocks in th fields of the farmers who are “from there” I didn’t fel so lucky, but my white skin, lobster red, made me so.
Here, have a look at our rich-people’s house, where I lived for a coupe of years (most places I lived were for a couple of years):
Men were seldom seen in Chewie’s house, and when they were, they were sleeping on couches that had been dragged out of the trash-big over-stuffed couches whose arms smelled like feet-and dirt; that sour smell of foot-dirt that gets tracked in between toes that worked 14 hour days, six or seven days per week, depending on the age and marital status of the male. And the mothers and daughter’s hushed us with finger’s at their lips, invoking the potential fear of death, maybe the wrath of Dios should these men awaken due to our child’s play.
So this was where I grew up for awhile, and where I began to learn that I was lucky, and white. Where I was caught between Bully Schultz and a smelly swamp, and centered myself some Sundays at the burned out house i the woods. Yet I remember someone pointing to my lucky house one day trying to explain it, my luck-it was one of Charley’s cousin’s, from deep Mexico who was not aware of the rules. He said “you are white like the house.”
Lucky me. In that moment, probably around six years old, I had this flash of awareness-in that momet it was explained to e why my mother always admonished me to keep my sleeves rolled down. She didn’t want me to get burned by the sun, maybe. Or maybe not.
(1)I have never know what white people are, other than a reaction formation between racists of other stripes who brutalize the lower classes of “white culture” with this memetic, in order to gain social advantage. There is a LOT of money to be made exploiting race in America-but WHO is exploiting and cashing in on that? I just have never found it in me to do so. UNTIL NOW!!! As I watch the money roll in to this (free) blog!!!!!
(2) there were always jokes about the pigs eyes. No one that I know actually eats them now, or did then.