I’m gathering clues to make sense of the what, why, when, and the what now of my past to manifest into artwork. It’s important to me that I seek the truth in order to display it properly. No, it’s really about reconciliation and healing, which is harder to find than facts alone. That concept took me a long time to discover and longer still to value. The truth of the past is only the beginning, so I like to start there. Going beyond that truth is the real work. Then, the fear, shame, and anger can get sussed out, but I’m unprepared. If I had known that there would be a test, I would have paid better attention. I would have written it down. I would have practiced it in the mirror. The fact is that we only remember so much, even at the best of times, and what we remember is most likely a distorted version of events, if not one-sided.
Going beyond that truth is the real work.
I worry that all their faces are slipping away. I might forget their voices. What did they say? What did I say? Without answers, it’s been hard to know how to feel. I’ve been a bad witness, and I frustrate myself during interrogation because I can’t quite recall this or that. However, the memories I feel close to are made brighter when I share them with old accomplices or those at the scene, namely my little brother, whom we will call Bubba. Now that we both are adults, we often indulge in reminiscing, but I wanted to set aside time and specifically ask about something lighthearted about our childhood. I wanted to ensure what I remember was real and brighten the memory for both of us. So I call him up.
But first, let me set the scene; it’s the early 1990s at the Rigsby apartments on San Antonio’s Eastside. Today these apartments, which were renovated years after the 1990s, are called Oak Meadow Villa, which sounds like a bottle of cheap wine. This type of branding tries to be historical and generic simultaneously. I drive by the area from time to time and think how no name change or coat of paint could ever erase the place’s true nature. I know what you were, a Section 8 collection of uncared-for buildings full of crime and hungry families.
Mom raised us the best she could. She was white and looked nothing like her three brown babies. We were often thought to be adopted or, as a joke, stolen, but what person who was barely hanging on would adopt or steal a trio of brown babies? She stretched the support of her disability check and food stamps until it broke; then, the next one would come, and we could have fresh fruit again. Mom would show her love by laying out Hill Country Fare snack cakes and Kool-Aid on the table for our afterschool snack. I remember her smile while she watched us eat. I knew that even the off-brand snacks cost something. Our dad (stepdad) was Black and met my mom when we were toddlers. He started as Mr. B, then Santa, until finally, he was our dad. He taught us to ride our bikes and always be kind to one another. I remember him wishing us “Buenas noches, niños” at night and “¡Cállate la boca!” when necessary. He would make such a performance of it, and we loved it. Since we were the only Mexican kids in an all-Black neighborhood, speaking bits of Spanish was his way of reminding us of our roots. Mom had grown up in Iowa Falls and had no frame of reference to fill in the cultural gap. I also imagine she didn’t want much to do with our estranged and violent birth father. It was hard to be around so much uncertainty, but we were luckier than most.