restricted access 7. María’s Wedding

From: Madre and I

University of Wisconsin Press colophon
In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

213 Ireturned from Italy a transformed man, arrayed in a fake Armani sweater and a pair of pseudo-Versace slacks. Streaks of deep auburn highlighted my normally dark brown hair, a “step” zigzagged around the right temple, and thick gel stiffened the rest of it into stringy clumps. UCLA students refused to let go of their cotton T-shirts, sandals, and shorts. I stood out: polished, tanned, rested, and ready. Slickness did me good. A young man I met at the weekly gay student group meeting asked me if I was independently wealthy. I answered that I was independently poor. He thought I was hilarious, believed my line to be wit rather than truth telling. Wit could be enticing, erotic, appealing. I made him smile, and then he agreed to sleep with me, one of the first instances in which I found myself projecting an alluring image of some kind, at least in the United States. Solitude asserted itself quickly, as did the reality that I was still the help’s son. My socioeconomic status hadn’t changed, just the wardrobe. Still, in this period, illusion reigned: I managed to feign a life that Americans confuse for success. Perhaps that’s all success ever was: illusion . I just never knew how to project such a thing until Italians urged me to shine my shoes, and to buy new ones to begin with. It was 1984, the year of Orwell’s nightmare. Yet I lived more closely connected to the Orwell of Down and Out in Paris and London. I was not literally homeless. My mother would not have allowed that. She was still a force in my life. I slept on her couch and let that be my shelter. I earned minimum wage as a cashier, but I would never go hungry if she could help it. She preferred Italian slickness to grunge. She wanted me to be myself, 7 María’s Wedding but my Self was also a work in progress. The Olympics were coming to Los Angeles. Reagan had lulled us into complacency with his “Morning in America” commercials. Even my liberal mother would end up voting for him. I threw my vote away on a Libertarian candidate. It was a year of prosperity, not necessarily for me, but I was young, thin, and stylishly poor. Confidence made me dream of success, of love affairs, of something that might break the restlessness and eager anticipation of great things to come. My mother beat me to it. The big changes came from her, but so did the steps backward. I witnessed. I participated. I tried my best to learn. The immigrant life continued as it was before my trip, its limitations unaltered . It was back to basics. My mother woke me up before school and asked me about my plans. My plans? I was wearing the same pajamas I wore at fourteen. I was still in school. She worried that education had become a way of life, subverting and delaying the future. I was an ass about it. “What about your life?” I asked. “This isn’t about me,” she said, but I was making her feel the heat. I was a true atrevido, a disrespectful brat who’d been to Italy and thought he was the shit. One good slap across that Chilean low-class face of a roto (the Chilean word for “the poor” but also for someone without manners), and she could have taken care of it. But she was more respectful of me than I was of her. I was supposed to be an adult, and she was trying to talk to me like one. “You’re in your forties,” I went on. “Soon you’ll be fifty, and you’re still living like this. Carmen’s still your roommate and the two of you don’t do much except work at the same old thing. You’re Hollywood maids for life.” “I’m not a maid; I’m a household supervisor.” “Whatever you call it.” “I came to the U.S. to work, not to study,” she said. “You’ve had all the opportunities; I haven’t. It isn’t fair for you to say these things about me.” I tried to rein in my offense and attempted to answer her questions without lashing out. “And I do have plans . . .” “Such as?” “I plan to write,” I told her. She turned away with a look of disappointment , even grief. She knew what...


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