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Thursday, June 08, 2017

The Passport Picture


That boy in his first passport picture, he must have been around 8 or 9. He looks at me and I try to remember. What was he thinking? His parents were now gone to “el norte”. They wrote every week and sent pictures of them in Nueva York. But the boy was still back in his old home. His best friends, the ants, were now a thing of the past. He still lived in the old house with abuela. The next-door neighbors were no longer to be spoken to for they were with the dictator – Batista. The kids next door had been his best friends, but no longer. There was silence except in the middle of the night when he could hear screams coming from far away. He would wake up and ask abuela who slept in the next bed – what’s that abuela? As always she would answer in her nonchalant fashion – “it’s just men being castrated up on the hill”. Our boy knew exactly what that meant for he had learned from the many castrations of his pet pigs when the holidays drew near. The pigs screeched, squealed, and ran, but they eventually got castrated and grew fat. Would the men on the hill grow fat too? It was a time of revolution and change. Soon he and abuela would move out of the old house and stay at great grandma’s place until the day came to leave for el norte.

The boy stopped going to school at the beginning of the fourth grade. There were to be no more friends, no more daily routine. All the papers had to be filled for the trip to el norte. But is he smiling in the passport picture? What is he expecting? He didn’t know what was to come; that he was to be an immigrant in a strange land where he knew no one, and few knew him. Where he would have to find his way as the chubby boy who would never learn to speak English as his tutor had advised his parents. He has “a mental block” the tutor diagnosed. Our chubby boy had tried so much to be liked, to be part of the people around him in school, of the kids next door, of the kids around the block, but just as things were looking up the dictator came in, his father quit work, left the country, and all was on hold for the moment. With mom gone too, and screams in the night, sleeping next to abuela, could he possibly be smiling in the picture?

He was too young to ponder the past. All the changes came all too quickly. All he knew of the future was “el norte”, where everyone wore long coats, and the buildings scratched the sky. Where “arroz con moro” meant "until tomorrow".

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