The flames of my candles light up your face in the photo I have of you that hangs above my ofrenda. Your photo, surrounded by cempasúchil petals, is one I hold close to my heart. Do you remember that one Easter? The time stamp on the photo is April 2000—one year after my birth. Dad was pushing you in your wheelchair around the time I was taking my first steps. Wanting to be near you, I hobbled over, planting my face on your leg. You are beaming with pure joy, the kind that only a great-grandmother can have for the next generation. You’re wrapped in a multicolored wool blanket to keep warm in the Oregon spring. You traveled across borders and changed states for family. I desperately yearn to know more about you.
That wool blanket held you for a year longer and provided you comfort when the days got shorter and your dreams lingered. We still have the blanket, and every time I grab it, I think of you. I miss you, and I know Dad misses you. He cries when we speak about you. I think he found solace in you; he connected with you, an outsider in a land that seems to hate you for who you are and spits on the very bones that break and bend to put food on tables in the land of the free. Dad says that when you were plucked from California, parts of your spirit were left behind, and that in Oregon, he and Grandma—your daughter—were the only ones who could speak in Spanish to you. The language slowly wilted as assimilation engulfed minds. Even the Spanglish feels foreign at times. Surviving in Oregon was everyone’s priority, and remembering traditions was second. I don’t blame anyone. Survival is what we have been doing for generations.
Your photo hangs above my ofrenda because it’s the only photo I have of you and me. I believe it commemorates one of the times you were truly happy in Oregon. Even though I was too young to know you deeply, everyone said we were best friends. I believe it. The two of us, in that photo we’re in our own world, swimming in a common language through our spirits. I love you.
A decade ago, when my family drove down from Oregon to Ventura County to visit our California family, we spent a lot of time in Santa Paula. We went to Limoneira—the citrus ranch where you and Tata worked and raised Grandma and her siblings. I watched Grandma and Dad both reminisce about the quaint white two-bedroom house that you all lived in years ago. Grandma shared the details: “That’s where we lived—my mom, dad, my siblings. My tía’s house was across from us, and we would bounce back and forth from her house to ours.”
The warm air surrounded us as we wiped away the sweat dripping into our eyebrows and eyelashes. Half the time I couldn’t tell whether Grandma was sweating or wiping tears away.
Everyone was invested in old stories and taking photos when I started to daydream about you, Nana. I heard a rustle in the bushes to my left and became entranced with the orchard of limones that swayed in the breeze. My feet began to dance over the earth as I got lost in the rows of bright limones that lined the 1,744-acre ranch. My ankles started moving in the same way that Grandma danced folklórico, the dried leaves twirling with me. My patas knew the way.
Facing away from the house my family grew up in, I could faintly hear my Grandma and Dad. “Yeah! I remember running through that patch of grass to the other house con mis primos. Wow. I’m surprised I remember that,” Dad said.
“I know m’ijo, your nana would sit and watch you all while we would be out. She would just sit and love y’all while you guys did God knows what,” Grandma said back.
Their faint laughs made their way to my ears, and I smiled, touching the roots of the límon trees, sifting my brown hands through the soil that many brown hands caress every day. It is the same soil that gives the Limoneira corporation its $33 billion dollars in net worth. The same rich soil that gives the nation abundant squeezes of sweet and sour juicy citrus drips that dance on the tip of its tongue.
I needed to walk among these trees to process the emotions and memories that were being shared back at the little white house. I needed to talk to you.
Damn, so this is where Tata found work after crossing? And you just up and left everything, Nana? Damn, I bet that’s so fucking hard.
Wind rushed past my ears and shook the leaves as a límon fell and rolled toward me.
I know. I shouldn’t have cussed. Lo siento, Nana. Te extraño mucho. I’ll be with you again one day but for now I’ll take this límon, because it reminds me of you.