photo by Ric Francis
One look at our extended family and the average American would be totally confused. What the heck are y’all?
Let’s see, my Mama, Esmerelda, is Mexican. Part indigenous, part Spanish colonial, come from around Vera Cruz. My Papi, Roberto, all he know is his people are from near Cancun. We never thought too much about what we was til we made it to Texas — at home we say it Tay-hass. And then it gets complicated.
My older brother, he snuck up cross the border, moved on to New York. He wouldn’t never tell us exactly how he got to the Bronx, decided to move to Spanish Harlem and hooked up with a Puerto Rican woman. They had a passel of children. I’m talking seven or eight of them. So you know I got nephews and nieces all over the place.
My sister, the girl four years older than me, has long black hair, fair skinned and is so pretty, they was always hiring her as an extra in Hollywood movies. Ole, that girl could dance. Although after a while didn’t hear much from her. Maybe a card at Christmas time and for Mama birthday. But we would see her in the movies all the time, although most times she had a non-speaking role.
See, what happened was, Papi moved us to New Orleans after Katrina when there was all kinds of work rebuilding the city. For a good six, seven, even ten or twelve years after that we could always find work. Made enough money to save some, send some home, and even make a house note on a double in the Seventh Ward.
All the lil ones be speaking English in school and Spanish at home. They don’t be confused, just jump back and forth, like playing hop scotch.
Liela, the pretty one out in Hollywood, she don’t have no children. But all the rest of us do.
Ok, so my twin brother, he married an afro-woman, name of Rosemary, but she go by Peaches. Sweet smile, with deep, deep, deepest dimples you ever seen. Their baby is so cute.
Now, my youngest brother he live way out in the East part of New Orleans and go with this Vietnamese girl he hooked up with in high school. She say, on a romantic tip, it be easier for her to be with Black people than for Black people to be with Vietnamese. She pregnant, of course, I wonder what they children going to look like.
Now here is where some people find us mixed up, complex, and something like a United Nations. I got an uncle who married a woman who part Italian and part Negro. They met in public school and both say they don’t care what they people say, they love each other.
I know it seem like we all mixed up but we all just men and womens trying to find love whilst we do what we got to do to live our lives.
When Mama was sick, almost on her death bed, Liela, she come home to see her before Mama move on. Papi, he was so sad, most like when his dog, Teddy, died. They had been together ten years. Well, when Mama caught that cancer, less than a year after Teddy died, there wasn’t nothing that anybody could do to cheer Papi up. He not even smile when they served him lemon meringue pie.
I would have long talks with Liela, wanted to know all about Hollywood and being in movies, and everything. I would be telling her about who was who. I believe at one time we count up to forty-some cousins. I ask her how come she ain’t never had no children. She got real quiet. Most time she talk about anything. About everything. Even much told me about different men she been with and how they treat her, what they do romantically, and all, some of it really intimate. So, I figured there had to be a reason she never got pregnant or nothing.
I told her I wouldn’t be asking except she was so open about life when she talk with me. She got real quiet at my question about not having no children. She told me she was pregnant once but got it taken care of.
She saw I didn’t get it at first. “I had an abortion.”
I had so many questions but had the good sense to know that if she wanted me to know more, she would have said more. She make good money dancing and being in movies, but when she went in to thinking about the baby she gave up, she just get quiet.
“I figure we got enough babies in our family.” The next day Leila went back to the west coast and Mama passed away four months after that. Papi, he hung on for two more years, but he kind of wasted away after Mama left us. Liela came for Mama funeral but was gone a couple of days later, which is when I decided I would name my baby Liela Rose if she was a girl and Roberto if he was a boy, even though Leila didn’t never come here when Papi passed on two years after Mama.
When my school assignment was to write about my family, I kept it on the down low because my Teach-For-America young teacher would never have understood everything about us.