Growing up Mexican in the bowels of Orange County, California, was lonely.
On a whim in 1977, my parents sold everything they owned in Mexico City and moved us to the United States. From the beginning we were freaks.
We were the only kids on the block whose mother would yell out in Español—YA VENGANSE A COMER! YA ESTA LA CENA! ME OYERON? My brother and I would dart home desperate to get her to stop yelling in Spanish. But the more embarrassed we were, the more she would raise her voice, pull an earlobe if we gave her an eye-rolling and then call us mocosos del demonio (boogered children of the devil).
Every Sunday, our block would be empty, with every single neighbor attending church religiously. We, the Mexicans, the presumed Catholics by birth, stayed home and watched soccer. We suspect it might have been my father’s books that did us in with a neighbor. We don’t know if it was Marx’s Das Kapital, Lawrence’s Lady Chaterley’s Lover, Nabokov’s Lolita or the seven volumes of the Havelock Ellis’ Studies in the Psychology of Sex but our neighbor (who fed the dogs while we were on vacation) stopped talking to us upon our return.
And then there was the food. I made the mistake of accompanying my father to the supermarket where he would ask the butcher to set aside his specially ordered goodies—cow brains, tongue and intestines, etc. As he picked up his brains from the counter, two friends from school walked over to say hello. Before I could place my hand on his mouth, my father told my friends exactly what he was buying, “Cow brains! We are making brains in black butter and capers. It is a delicacy in France. Have you ever tried them?”
The beauty of all this is that my parents could not have cared less. They never pitied my brother and me for feeling like such outsiders. In fact, they told us we were fortunate. They expected us to be different.
Now as a parent, I still feel like a freak. In raising our kids, my husband and I have found we are often the odd ones out. No, we won’t buy our kids an iPod Touch or iPhone, no we won’t let them play mature video games or watch YouTube alone, no, they can’t play with airguns and so on.
So I try to remember what my parents always told us. Being different is a good thing. Although it was painful at the time, I never forgot my Spanish, I read all kinds of books, and I learned to love exotic food. Luckily for my kids, they won’t have to eat cow brains. But they will hear me holler at them in Español and if they make me really mad, I will call them boogered children of the devil.