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fl fl fl El Dolorgullo Pera has what she calls la epilexia—and can’t afford pills to control it—and last week she had three attacks. So early this morning, when she caught me standing in the Fred Meyer checkout line—me with three grocery carts of donated bakery goods—she got an idea. She wondered if I would write a note in English to her shift supervisor so she wouldn’t have to work the grill. She’d mop floors, unload trucks, work anywhere that she wouldn’t get burned if a seizure hit. After I wrote the note, she tucked it in her billfold, tucked her billfold in her purse, and, while I gave her a ride to work, mimicked how the boss had steepled his fingers. Bring a note, of course. But no, I don’t think you’d get burned on our grill. Probably slide right off, but sure, bring a note. Pera wasn’t exaggerating, by the way. They talk like that here. El dolorgullo is what I call the resulting mix of pain and pride. Seeing humiliation endured in that intensely Mexican way, you feel pain tip over into pride, and it makes you remember your upbringing. Pera and I pulled out of the parking lot and merged into traffic. Another day of hard, oblique, Columbia Basin sunlight. Pera studied the ventilator, then adjusted it. A mexicana immigrant— she gave a sigh—goes through changes understood by no one else but another immigrant mexicana. Learning to drive and cash paychecks, to register your kid in school. You read labels in English, you pay phone bills, and you navigate freeways. You work dishwashers and answering machines. And it makes you into a different person. Not entirely, of course, but somehow you don’t fit where you used to when you visit where you grew up. The seizures were about the same, she responded when I asked. Siguen tumbándome y yo me sigo levantando del suelo. She got laid off at the potato shed. But Pera is equal parts fearless and heartfelt. Pera is about thirty, with a potbelly and a moon-shaped face. 2 the permit that never expires And as to a work permit—bueno, she likes to say—el que nunca vence, the one that never expires. Waiting in the Fred Meyer checkout line, with my donated bakery goods, I had been making small talk about the weather (hot) and the Mariners (a joke) with two young women named Jody and Sherry Sue. They wore Levi’s and boots and had ponytails. They spoke with a twang that recalled their grandparents, Dust Bowlers and the like, from Missouri, Kansas, and South Dakota. Their grandparents formed a north-route counterpart to the Okies Steinbeck made famous and, like those Okies, found work in fields and packing sheds. Answering to German and Celtic surnames, driven by a suicidal pride, half-convinced that poverty was independence, their grandparents were people afraid of nothing but a vague shame they couldn’t get rid of. Sherry Sue and Jody carried toddlers in their shopping carts, and cases of discount soda pop, and copies of TV Guide. Each was born thirty-some years ago in this valley, and except for quick vacations in Vegas or Yellowstone, neither ever left it. I know aunts and uncles of theirs. My kids went to schools that theirs will go to. The small talk bubbled. At least until Pera eased into line. Buenos días, don, she purred. Pera, ¿qué ondas? Oiga, le iba pedir un favor, she grinned. She was worried about something. At the other end of the belt, Sherry Sue and Jody were scrutinizing their cash register receipts, looking at the floor, shooting their cuffs, and sniffing, certain that your author and Pera had begun talking about them. Without a syllable of goodbye, they marched to the parking lot, backs rigid, not even looking at each other, betrayed. That was when Pera wondered, would I write a letter in English to her boss? fl fl fl fl fl Overall, the more it feels the effects of what I call im/migration, the more this town reminds me of where I grew up on the Mississippi River. No one ever forgot what the earth’s primary feature thereabouts was. The gasping humidity, the limestone bluffs half a mile high, the deadfish smell that hung over Front Street, especially the spring floods that got you out of school to lay...

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