Walking down the trail as dusk departs, the sky grows dark and the clear mountain air reveals the stars. Some of the stars no longer remain, having burned out millenia ago, yet their light continues to travel to my eyes and the eyes of those with whom I walk. It is as if that light — the lights from many stars — braid into a blur—appearing as a cluster that twirls and untwirls over space in time — flickering before our eyes — falling as seeds fall into the loam of imagination. I’m reminded of the same day’s early morning when the sun rose above trees. At a certain heat, the Cottonwoods released their seeds. Floating through air en masse, they tumbled onto roofs and climbed to roof-peaks. A pair of them interlinked and broke apart, rising with light breeze. On some common wind they drifted toward a place on earth not far from here — their rise against the law of gravity inscribed within their fall. The starlight seems akin — twirling on in shapes the stars’ last breath cast off — unraveling into —. The brightened meadow grass rustles with night-wind, and cricket-song pulses the silence. From the fertile earth, a continuum of stories unfurls as a Cottonwood sapling leafs at dusk.
“Who do you think called immigration on you?” I asked Antonio. Considering what he’d divulged in our conversation so far, his deportation seemed an intentional part of an effort to prevent my adoption from going wrong. He’d believed this all along, it seemed. There was a long pause as he considered the question.
“I don’t — I hate to say — Mary’s daddy is a real nice man — always real nice with me.” He trailed off. “Somebody knew who it was, where I was. I was working, branding cows, and I saw a car coming and they got out and asked for Antonio. They grabbed me and took me. I never knew why. I didn’t have papers but they didn’t pick anyone up unless they were called.” His voice grew quiet. We both stared across the windblown prairie. We shared something like the feeling of destiny — the feeling that what we hate or fear most is born through us.
“When I got the lawyer, he said, ‘When you get your immigration papers, we can try to adopt him but by then they’ll have signed the adoption papers and you’ll never find him — it’s too hard —.’” I couldn’t tell if he was repeating his counsel or what had occurred to him just then. He seemed to be living in the event’s interminable echo. “There’s no way I would have been able to find you. ‘When somebody is adopted,’ my lawyer said, all the records —”
“Are sealed,” I finished his sentence.
“And nobody can see,” he finished.
“You didn’t know where I was or anything about me?” I asked.
“I knew that you were in Colorado.”
“That’s it, you didn’t know my name?”
“No, I didn’t know your full name. I didn’t know anything, really. The name that the Sherriff told me you had was, Dave — Chris Dave,” he said.
“Chris David,” I replied with certainty. Mary had shown me my original birth certificate with this name which was eventually changed to the name I’m legally known by—known both by my Family and my State. There are three intermingled, strata of names that occur from the first and continue evolving: Chris David — Richard Owen — Rico…
“I knew when you were born. But after,” Antonio said, “They changed everything.”
“After that,” I responded, “They couldn’t — or wouldn’t — tell you?”
“No,” he said definitively. “Also, Chris — Dave — was Mary’s cousin — a nice guy.”
I sighed. Emptiness filled me. There was no strength for words, only exhale.
“I’m sorry,” I said.
“No, I’m sorry,” he responded.
“You didn’t do anything wrong.”
“I should’ve tried harder — I was —. Has your life been OK?” he asked.
“It has. I’ve never wanted for anything. My parents are good people and love me. They had the means to offer me an education and a happy childhood. I grew up going to the mountains with my dad — we spent a lot of time in the woods. I grew up hunting and fishing. I went to college and got a masters degree. My mom loves me as much as anyone.” I said.
“I’m glad you had the chance to go to college. I would’ve given you everything I could but probably wouldn’t have been able to afford to give you what you’ve got now. I’m glad you’ve got good parents.”
It occurred to me that he believed he wouldn’t have been able to provide me with a life like I’ve lived because he believed so fully in the impossibility, or great difficulty, of a Mexican-American attaining higher education or becoming fully accepted into American culture. It seemed that the term, Mexican- American was superceded by the term, American. The identity of the Mexican in the eyes of the American was set — is set — in his eyes. He believed, or believes, that because of his experiences, subtended as they were, and are, by a belief of permanent residence in the lower classes, that there is no upward mobility. I feel equal to all solely based on my humanity though don’t always feel it recognized. He felt and feels that Mexican-Americans were, and are, willfully oppressed — both overtly and covertly, and had, and have, a very difficult chance of ascending the ladder of the American caste system. That in fact, Chicanos are intentionally oppressed. As I sat with my birthfather, however, I felt uplifted, ascendent.
“It’s been a long, long… It’s been a lot of years,” he said, “And I had your number before when we talked last time. Was it ten years ago?”
“Yeah,” I replied, “it was right after I met Mary.”
Mary had found Antonio for me a decade and a half previous. We talked a few times but I wasn’t yet ready to meet him. The impact of our meeting required much space and emotional sifting to make sense of the new feelings. It took some time before I knew the world seen through new eyes. As years passed, each of our phone numbers, along with our places of residence, changed, and so again, Antonio and I became lost to each other.
“When you were born,” he said, “That was one of the best things.”
“I hope you feel okay about it all,” I said.
“I’m happy,” he replied, “I’ve been waiting for this for so long and I’d like to be part of your life and you can come in whenever you’re around. Everyone in my family is so happy. They all want to meet you,” he said. “You’ve got a lot of family.”
“One of the things, growing up in Fort Collins — looking Mexican, more than anything — I — you know what it’s like — probably worse for you than when I was growing up —.” I tried to breach the subject of racism.
“Even to you?” he interjected.
“Yeah,” I replied. “Racism doesn’t discriminate between different shades of brown.”
“It’s like my little daughter,” he said, “She’s in school — and everyday, she says, ‘I hate to go to school.’ There’s always someone picking on her. I tell her, ‘Don’t worry about that, be your own person. You can be whatever you want to be. You can say to anyone who says you’re dumb, ‘You’ve got good grades.’ If they want to make you feel bad, it’s probably because they’re jealous of you.’ She’s real good in school, but it’s tough for her,” he said.
“It’s got to be. With everyone treating her as less than a person because of who she is — because she’s American.”
“Yeah. And the problem with the community we’re in is that it’s small and everyone knows each other. We’re the outsiders. It’s the way it’s been and the way it’s going to be. Nothing’s ever going to change,” he said, “It’s tough.”
“Growing up,” I said, “I felt similarly but my parents were both white and I never learned Spanish. I wanted to be part of Mexican culture and know it but couldn’t because I didn’t feel a part of it. I just looked it.”
“You’re kind of in the middle,” he said, “It is what it is. If you were a real Mexican they would accept you,” he said.
“And if somebody’s a racist jerk,” I continued, “You can go back to your family and they’ll understand. And I could and did, but my parents could never fully understand how I felt because they were never discriminated against for their race. They did their best to prevent me from being discriminated against. My Mom even started a diversity council with another parent in my elementary school to stop discrimination against me and a Jewish friend. She fought for me. My parents loved me unconditionally. What discrimination I’ve experienced, though, has been nothing like what you’ve had to endure.”
“I’ve been lucky enough to love what I’ve done — I know how to do a lot of different jobs.” He adjusted himself in the seat of his truck. “I was scared to be a manager. I was doing a manager’s work and someone else was getting paid for it. A lady came in and said, ‘You need to get the position you deserve.’ And, I didn’t know how to read and write very well. But she said, ‘You can do it — you’ve been doing it all along.’ So finally, I started doing it. The people who went to college are doing the same thing as me because I know the work. Corporate doesn’t care. They want money. They don’t care if I’m Mexican, they just want money.”
Then, we stopped talking story and Antonio brought out pictures to show me. He showed me one in his early twenties. He looked exactly like I had when I’d been at school at CU, studying English literature, the humanities and hiking the mountains west of Boulder.
“What was it like for you and Mary when you were together?” I asked.
“We were hiding because I worked there. She used to come from school and run to where I was and when her mama came she’d run and hide. At night, she’d come to my trailer, or we’d sneak out to go to the dance. I think her daddy knew the whole time. I know her mama didn’t like me. She didn’t like Mexicans. Mary and I used to get along great. She was a nice girl until that time —.” His sentence evaded him for the pain that remained. “I’m really sorry for what happened—after all these years — there wasn’t a day that I didn’t think of you.”
I pulled out some photos of when I was a newborn and showed him two — each of my parents holding me, as as infant, lovingly in their arms.
“So you were a baby when they adopted you?” he asked.
“Yeah,” I replied, “Eight hours old.”
“That’s not what they told me,” he said.
“It was the doctor I had growing up,” I said.
“Yep,” he replied.
“You know, I had it in my head that someone had called immigration on you. I know that that’s what happened and it couldn’t have happened any other way — I’ve accepted that. But, I still don’t feel like it’s right. And I’ve never said anything to anybody about it but it doesn’t feel right to me that that’s how I came to be.” Still now, writing this, I wonder about a life unfolding from within injustice. What sweetness of love outweighs the bitterness of oppression? Some numinous burst of desire within night’s cloak —.
“I cannot say that it was her family because I don’t know for sure. There’s nothing I can do about it now. We lost a lot of years but I’m glad we got to know each other before something happened,” he said.
“It was hard for me,” I said. “I didn’t know who I was after meeting Mary. It was confusing and difficult to sort out. I got through all of the difficult new feelings — of trying to find a permanent sense of identity and instead found grounding in the ways in which I see — an identity more like the surface tension of a braided river.”
“That’s good,” he said.
The conversation created a quietness that permeated the air between us. As we inhaled, the silence filled our lungs. Filled and nourished by it, we exhaled the quiet back into itself. Our silences mixed and mingled in the air.
“Do you want to meet my mom?” Antonio asked.
Antonio’s mother had recently traveled from her home in Mexico. In her late eighties, she’d taken a two-day long bus-ride with one of her daughters to el Norte. I’d never dreamed that I’d meet her and now I was about to. Together, Antonio and I drove out into the dark prairie night. (to be continued…)