There were two Americas, and I loved them both. One entered my life during seventh grade social studies, right before the other started dating my father. Can you imagine? Two hynas with a name like that, strutting into my heart all back-to-back, kicking down doors to rooms inside my body I hadn’t realized existed. That kind of shit, the ridiculousness of it, will have you doing a double take on the connections between people in your life—especially if you’re a twelve-year-old virgin whose idea of love extends as far as your divorced papi’s revolving door of gabacha women.
That first America had an accent. The mark was over the letter “e,” which she made a point of asserting whenever someone mispronounced her shit, even clapping back at the culeros in our school who tried to make a joke or slur of it. I, along with most everyone else, orbited América as she moved from class to lunch to recess, watching her with the judgmental fascination that always accompanies new kids. What we learned from those initial days was that homegirl could trash talk your mama and bullseye an insecurity before anybody in your sorry-ass crew had time to get a laugh in. That skill allowed her to survive the boyish side of bullying, but barred her from the cliques fortified by chiquitas in our grade, which meant América sat on her own little island. She didn’t seem to mind, unlike me. In those days it felt like I was constantly paddling from one shipwreck to another.
But I didn’t start loving América until the day we had to give that presentation on an assignment called “Who Am I?”, the first major one in our US Citizenship unit. Through this question we were supposed to report to the class how our family history informed our understanding of what it meant to be a citizen in this country. But nobody took it seriously. Most of the class scribbled down their reports thirty minutes beforehand, another five didn’t bother to show up—a common practice at our school, passed down from one chamaco to another like a sacred tradition.
Even I, one of the few kids who gave a damn about passing seventh grade, half-assed this one, just ’cus I didn’t know where to start with myself, how to talk about where I came from or what my family was. All I knew was that I had a moreno father and a gabacha mother who’d been broken up for half my life and neither of them had time in their schedules to tell me una mierda about the depth or direction our bloodlines stretched within this country. Moms’s side remained out in Orange County suburbia, a place as familiar to me as Pluto, while Pops’s tree was all splintered around Albuquerque, drowning in the flood of your typical Burqueño desmadre: booze, pills, unemployment, no money in the bank, no food in the fridge, diabetes, babymami and babypapi drama, felons, felony victims, no other options but to commit a felony.