Growing up in Mexico was the best thing that could ever happen to me. It was a place where the people were poor but happy, community oriented, ruled by simplicity, and any other stereotype you wish to impose on the third world. While it's easy to be condescending towards these places, the value that I learned there was loyalty. There were no convalescent homes, few childcare centers. Mexican raise their young and keep their old. I don't know what money, education and status are for if we miss these connections.
Like any typical Mexican neighborhood, we played in the street. We didn't have many things so we made do. We played a game of hide and seek in which the timer was a soda can filled with little pebbles. There was of course a fascinating version of a snake game in which we all twirled around and the last person hung on for dear life, almost quite literally. There was several times where we were sent up against sidewalks, fences, rocks. My action figures were hard plastic wresting figurines and their ring was a board with four nails and some rubber bands. Imagination, creativity were born out of necessity.
We played soccer on the dirt streets. Well my brother played soccer. He was so much better than I would ever be that I felt inadequate and chose not to play most of the time. (Here is time for one of those cheesy psychological asides: I'm not sure what it is about big brothers but mine intimidated me. None of my older cousins did and few adults held such sway over me. He was so full of life, bigger than life really. He liked motorcycles and all the neighborhood kids gravitated towards him. Yet he always seemed angry to me. Angry at my mom, angry at my grandfather angry at I don't know what. Even all the pictures of him as a middle school aged kid don't show him ever smiling. I was kind of scared of him but at the same time mesmerized. I wanted to be just like him but so afraid to try.)
Things like being sanitary were insignificant. We all drank from the same soda can, ate things from the floor, played in the dirt. Mexican germs must not be as strong because somehow we all survived.
However, I was really sick once then. I remember it vaguely because everyone was stressed out and I was worried for them. Apparently I had a strong pulmonary infection and my mother was rather worried about my survival. They were up for a few nights while I had strong fever. The medicine they prescribed to me then was effective and inconsequential except for one thing: it stained my teeth a very ugly brown. (This is the first psychological scar that I concede. It was never a problem in Mexico since many of us shared the attribute. Once I got to America kids were so mean, they told me I had crap teeth or that I should brush me teeth—Ironically, it first inspired me to brush my teeth vigorously but once I realized that this wasn't fixing anything I essentially did not brush my teeth at all…I have had dental health problems my whole life.— I tried so hard to get rid of this throughout my entire life. As a teenager, my aunt tried a home recipe of muriatic acid, a poison, to get the stains off. It worked for a while but I think it took much of the enamel off my teeth and they became restained. I tried some dental work in Mexico that was supposed to be replaced every year but it wasn't and the stains returned. Finally, about a year ago, I paid several thousand dollars to have most of my upper front teeth replaced with veneers, just to smile pretty. Just to feel better. And now, every once in a while I get a complement on my smile and think that I just got complemented for being a liar.)
Anyway, I was always a good kid. Conformity was the path of least resistance and I had no real temptations. I was naïve to the evils around me. There were gangs in the neighborhood and violence (a murder occurred about a block from my grandfather's house) and I was impervious. There were other things that should be harder memories but I can't recall them. My mother was a single mom really struggling and I was being taken care of by my aunt who even wanted to adopt me. My grandfather was an alcoholic who struggled with his temper. My uncle Lalo was also an alcoholic and threw a dart at me. Yet out of some suppression or the fact that the echoes of happiness drown out the problems, these memories will not be evoked. I only remember my great-grandfather Benedito and my grandfather Medardo telling these great stories, my great grandmother and grandmother cooking these great meals. I remember my friends coming over to play and always laughing because well what else was there to life?
Most of my childhood friends are still in Mexico. Many of them are in the same neighborhood, almost all their families still are. The girls are popping out children, Hugo is a taxi driver, Julio a police officer, Francisco an electrical engineer. Most of them have not had the "opportunities" I've had. They are still poor in Mexico. I'm not sure which one of us got the better end of the deal.