We are beginning a new page on the site, Cuentos. This section will be devoted to the art of long form writing and expression; short stories, essays and reflections. We begin the series with a piece from a former student of mine, a narrative from Noé Lopez
It is Thursday; I managed not to attend my introduction to sociology class to come to this clinic today. I wish I never did. I could be there, in class, side eyeing those comments of my white upper class peers saying white privilege doesn’t exist and so forth, but with all my heart, I wish I wasn’t here. Today, as I was sitting in the bus from my campus to this clinic, I was thinking so much about death. I have always been obsessed with the idea of death. When I was a kid in my town in Oaxaca, Mexico, I used to go to funerals. Funerals in my town were like a celebration for me. I remember I used to love going with my mom late at night to the house of the Difundo’s family. She attended because everyone in the community did. Everyone knew the difundo so everyone had to pay respects. When we arrived, my mom always made her way to the kitchen and I stayed to play with some of friends whose mothers were helping in the kitchen as well. We used to play children’s games like hide and seek. I enjoyed the dinner, which was commonly Pozole with coffee and bread. The thing I enjoyed the most was the band’s music, how can I forget that banda? Sometimes when my dad was in town from el norte he used to be in the banda playing the clarinet. The banda was composed of a few other men living in my town who played the tambora, the saxophone, and other instruments I can’t name in English. I also enjoyed the day when we buried the person who died; we used to walk in a procession from this person’s house to the church and then from the church to the cemetery. I walked along my mother who wore her black rebozo covering her hair. I always remember that look in my mother’s face. She never cried and she always looked straight a head while holding her vela and flowers. I remember the banda playing chilenas, corridos, and my favorite: Oaxaca’s anthem, “Dios Nunca Muere,” god never dies. During procession, women, especially the deceased’s relatives and friends, danced to the music and drank aguardiente. They used to mourn the deceased person with a certain type of bitter happiness. I enjoyed this. Ever since I can remember, I enjoyed that. I enjoyed the flowers, the candles, the drinking, and all the music around all that mourning. Now that my family is living in the United States, I tell my four siblings and my mother to bury me like that. I want to return to that town in the Mixtec region of Oaxaca and be buried there. I want to be buried with banda, aguardiente, and flowers. That is one of my most desired dreams. Probably because my life is like those things, my life has been hard but there is a joy to it. It is a joy I wouldn’t exchange even if I had a million dollars. My mom always tells me I am crazy for idealizing death but I think it is not any type of death; it is my people’s way of dealing with death. Even after Aztec conquest, even after the arrival of Spanish colonialism, even Mexican nationalism and today’s global capitalism; that Mixtec celebration of death has always reflected my people’s resistance. It has always reflected life.
Now, I am here in this clinic in the north side of Oxnard, California thinking about that complexity of death. Today is a bit different because I am afraid of death more than anything. Today, at this hour and second, I do not wish to be a living disease nor do I want to return to my land in a coffin. I think is too soon to return like that. I am afraid to die too soon like this. So many dreams! I am a second year at the University of California, Santa Barbara; I am looking forward to becoming an immigration lawyer. I have so many goals and dreams in this life. I mean, I am only twenty years old. I am not supposed to die so soon. My nerves tremble, my heart is beating fast it cannot stay inside my chest, my legs are moving back and forth, up and down. I look around at this waiting room and there’s only silence, a few moments ago there was baby crying and some children playing but right now I am all alone waiting for my name to be called. I still do not know what are they going to say to me. What the fuck did I do? These have been the longest six months of my life. I remember not sleeping, sometimes not eating thinking about the possibilities. I feel nasty, dirty, and this huge guilt emerges in my mind.
I look up at the clock next to a HIV prevention poster and is 3:30pm. I’ve been here since 2pm. Last week, when I came to get my blood tested, I felt nervous as well. I remember this lady who spoke in Mixteco to the nurse and her translator, came for some exams. She wore some jeans, a sweater, a bandana around her neck and a baseball hat. Her clothes were full of mud, especially her knees. She worked in the strawberry fields and she reminded me of my mother. Fuck! I remembered my mother’s angst to make a living for my four siblings and I. Growing up, in Oaxaca, I remember watching her work harvesting acres of corn. My siblings and I used to help her do some of the work like cutting the grass growing up around the milpa. I also remembered one evening while I was in second grade; she came back from work during a storm with our donkey and horse carrying costales of corn. As my older brother helped her unpacked the costales from the animals’ backs she proceeded to the kitchen to make food for us. As she was heating some coffee and making some salsa, she looked at my little brother and I doing some homework in our one-room-wooden kitchen. She putted her molcajete on the table where I was practicing my letters. She looked at me and then she told me: “Nestor, en esta vida mijo tienes dos opciones”, Nestor, son, you have two options in this life. I looked up to see her face while she was cleaning the sweat from her forehead with her arms trying to not to get chile in here eyes, she proceeded: “tienes la opción de echarle ganas a la escuela o trabajar en el campo como yo,” you have the option of doing your best in school or work in the fields like me. I was about seven years old back then, and everyday I used to see my mom come back from harvest days exhausted telling me how her back hurt como la chingada, like crazy, that always broke my heart. So then, when I was seven years I decided to attend a university. I wanted to do something different. I wanted to attend the most prestigious university in Oaxaca City and become a doctor.
Now, things have changed. I am trying to get into law school because my experience in the United States changed my mind. I came to live in Oxnard, CA when I was twelve, ever since then I saw my mother arrive home from the strawberry fields tired and dealing with her back pain and I reminded myself to stay true to that goal I set up for myself when I was seven years old. Even though I hated school in Oxnard, I wanted to attend college. But damn, I got it bad. Primarily because of racist shit my other Mexican classmates said to people from Oaxaca and indigenous descend, One time in lunchtime they told me “indio,” they also told me “oaxaquita.” I tried to brush it off and walk away but one time, in seventh grade, I got into a fight with Claudio in Oxnard’s Frank Middle School because he called me “oaxaco joto.” I lost the fight but that’s when I said fuck them, fuck them all. I said to myself: “Fuck all those madafuckers, I am going to college. I will be the best lawyer there is and I will get my mamá some papers so we can finally return to Oaxaca.” I think that is the reason people say I am really angry at society. I don’t know if that is right. All I know is that I am really tired of all the bullshit. Every society I have been part of is certainly full of it.
So yeah, that is why I don’t want to die anytime soon, because I have a goal to accomplish to my seven-year-old self. It is 3:45pm now and my name still hasn’t been called yet. I am sitting here saying, “fuck” over and over again. The guilt is spreading through my veins and is making them pump blood faster and faster. The whole idea of being HIV positive makes me so nervous. “There are solutions,” everybody tells me. They also say: “lets end the stigma surrounding HIV.” I am here thinking, it is not really the stigma I am nervous about, well kind of, but in a different way. I am nervous about the cost of the medications, I am nervous about my mother, I am nervous about not getting that degree; I am nervous about my entire town in Oaxaca, whom now reside not only there, but also in California and Oregon, to find out I am HIV positive; worst yet, I am nervous they find out I got it when I had sex with another man. I can imagine them talk shit about my family everywhere and every time.
Reputation is really important for my town. My mom says is important because it defines peoples respect towards you and the importance of your voice in the community. I say fuck that! Even my mom says we are in other times where reputation is not that important, but honestly, deep inside, I do care about it. My community is everything I have; my community is everything I claim to be mine. It is everything I belong to. I love the music, the plants, the rivers, the flowers, the mountains, the rain and the celebrations. I grew up there and I love my community. I love it even though it might not love my being.
I am different. My life is different. I can’t help it.
I try to console myself by listening to some Kendrick. Right now I am listening to this song ADHD. I can’t help but to think of all the greatest artists and writers in the world. Remember Maya Angelou and James Baldwin? Damn boy, they had it hard! I can identify with them so much. I am pretty sure If I had them both in my side they are going to be like, ”don’t worry child, everything is going to be fine.” I am really sure James Baldwin would say something different though, something like this: “you already hit the jackpot honey, and now you’re going to hit it again.” Yes, James Baldwin, I am madafucking outrageous as fuck.
I have been reflecting on the reasons that lead to this point. Yes, it was sex. It was some good sex. I hooked up with this closeted guy when his two roommates were asleep. Who does that? Me. I still remember when I met him; he tried to act all cool with his dodgers’ baseball hat and his thick eyebrows. I asked him for his number in class one day because he invited me to a party afterwards. He hanged out in latino spaces. My Chicana-Salvadorian friend Luz would call them “white washed” latinos. I wouldn’t call them that but I know for sure I don’t consider myself latino, this guy was so handsome that I didn’t care about identity politics. Anyways, I remember during that party after finals week, we started talking about music, we talked about Drake, Jcole, and Frank Ocean. After some more beer cups accompanied by more flirtatious smiles, we then headed to his place and we did it there. It was good, I mean, he even sang the song “hold on we are going home” to me while we were walking. Pathetic, I know. He was my type of guy but only for a moment because it all when downhill from there, he turned out to be the most machista guy I ever been with. He wanted me to be, in his own words, “a bitch” for him that night and he felt too ashamed to have sex with me. I felt it. There was something in his smile though, something that made me stay with him. I think it was the protection he provided and this sensation I had. You know, that sensation of being loved by someone even if is only for a moment. I mean, I was once really bad at sex but we all know it is a process, even for closeted people. Whatever, the issue here is that he liked gay sex, he enjoyed it, and he was good at it but he was way too macho to admit he liked it. He was into some real closeted drama and I was done with that. I got into a huge argument with him after the condom broke. We never talked after that night.
“Nestor?”, the nurse calls.
Finally! As I approach her, my heart is sinking. My world is becoming so little. Everything. Absolutely everything is coming to my mind at this moment. My mother. My career. My dear Oaxaca. Everything. She takes me to a room and she tells me to sit and wait for the doctor to come. She closes the door and then she leaves. I know this is bad. I remember Luz told me they usually call the doctor when its bad news. I am trying not to cry. I am not ready for this. Then the door opens and this white lady who is probably in her forties walks in. She kind of says hi to me, I don’t hear her because I am staring at the clipboard she is holding on her hands. She sits down in front of me, she looks at my eyes, and then she asks me about how many sex partners I had. She asks if I have a partner right now. Her tone is that of pity. I hate that tone. I hate pity. I replied no. She asks me, “Do your parents know you sleep with men?” I responded no. “Nestor, from now on you need all the support you can get, it would be hard for people like you. You see, HIV is not a death sentence…” I am losing it. I am fuckin’ losing it. I cannot be positive. My mother? How am I supposed to tell my mom? I don’t want her to pay for that damn medicine. After all her struggles and sacrifices for me? How am I telling people? I am not ready for this. Did I fuckin’ crossed a damn border for this? What the fuck was I thinking? I did not leave my Oaxaca for this. I did not endure all the bullshit on my way to a four-year university for this shit! I have to get a new job now. I have to work harder to sustain myself. I will never have kids! I don’t want more fuckin’ pity from this white bastards. What the fuck did you do Nestor?
More to come!
Noé Lopez is a Mixtec Graduate Student at the University of Texas at Austin. In his free time he enjoys running, dancing, and writing poetry and narratives. He also likes to sleep.
Thank you for sharing Noe! It was really nice seeing you a couple of weeks ago.
on January 13, 2015
Added to cart