It’s the mid 60s and even if the kids don’t know it, the wave has reached a watermark and will roll back in a few years. My dad was Mexican. My mom was American. They met through work, married in San Diego and moved to Los Angeles with three kids on tow. I was the last one, the late one to the party. They almost called me “Benjamin”. I dodged a bullet there. God bless the 70s.
A childhood in the 80s in a suburban house in San Fernando Valley was, well, pretty much the best childhood I could’ve asked for. School days consisted of your usual school rituals and misspent afternoons playing Atari 2600 if you were cool or a cheap knock off, like an Intellivision, if you were a lamestain.
I don’t think I was the most popular kid in my street, but I sure had a lot of friends and we embarked in many adventures (and trouble). My three older brothers usually took turns taking care of us, assuring their consciences that none of us would get in permanent trouble, like some of the other kids, whose destinies awaited in juvie, if they were lucky.
Movie afternoons were the best and we had wonderful times with Back to the Future, Ghostbusters, Flight of the Navigator, D.ar.y.l. and The Boy who could fly. That last one always makes me think of growing up in San Fernando Valley. I always thought I was going to meet my own Milly Michaelson. I never did.
Television was good to me. Saturday Morning cartoons with the geekier of my brothers is one of my fondest memoires. ALF and MASK were my 2 fave shows of all time. As much as I loved Transformers and GI Joe, it was the other two that marked me.
I was an underachiever at school. My grades weren’t that good, but then again, I didn’t put that much effort. I wanted to tap on the creative vein of my head, but that didn’t worked that well either. However, I was good at drawing and skateboarding, so I usually spent my afternoons painting my skateboards and then ruining the designs with a few ill-advised grinds, frontsides that ended in a few scars and lame ollies. I guess being goofy-footed didn’t help.
Summer holidays were a never ending laugh riot. We usually packed my dad’s pick up truk with junk food, friends and tapes, usually Don Henley, Journey, Night Ranger and 707. My brothers’ friends would join, in cars of their own. Citations, Grand Marquis, Dodge Wagons and Oldsmobiles were their usual choice. Summer was eternal and Christmas was joy (presents). We never went to Disneyland (couldn’t afford it), but my dad’s boss gave us passes for Knott’s Berry Farm.
1987 happened and my dad’s love of America was marred. I never understood what really happened, I just know it was bad. It was a bad time, but the family stuck together. In summer of 88, my dad announced his intentions to go back to Mexico City. My brothers went into a warpath, but my mother calmed them. It was my dad’s decision and we were to obey. I didn’t quite understood the gravity of this decision, I was only 11 and thought I could make the same friends everywhere in the world.
Besides…another city to live in! The adventures that would await for me! The move was long, arduous and strange. First, my father and my 3 brothers moved. They were older and their college started earlier than my school year. I took a plane in late summer of 89 with my mother. The neighborhood made a bittersweet goodbye party for us. All of my friends cried, but I didn’t. Why? I still don’t know.
We ended up in a two floor house in the northwest part of Mexico City. The exterior was unpainted brickwalls, with a couple of bay windows and a tilted roof. My mother sighed, resigning over the fact that life in Mexico City wouldn’t be as glamorous as the one we had in California. The school prospects didn’t look good and they both agreed on Catholic School. It was called Our Lady of Perpetual Sorrow. I never had to use a uniform back in Los Angeles, why did I have to wear that horrible gray and crimson thing? I hate uniforms and the color crimson still leads me into fits of loathing.
I went out and played by myself those first weeks in August. No other kids were in the same street and a rash of kidnappings meant that my new friends would be a collection of GI Joe figurines that expanded with time and a Magnavox TV set with a nifty remote control. I tried to make friends in school and I managed to work my family-inherited charm to get a few, but they all lived far from me. Dad spent 12 hours at work, mom wouldn’t drive in a chaos like Mexico City (even if Los Angeles felt worse). School was hard sometimes and stuff happened. Stuff that I didn’t know what supposed to happen to kids.
Handwritten letters and the odd long distance call to Los Angeles were my way of keeping in touch with my friends, but in time, I ran out of new things to say and the calls were prohibitive costly. More so because my 3 brothers had friends (specially girls) that they wanted to keep in touch with. Dad’s job was good, apparently it was a very good pay, much better than the one in the USA (or so we were told). He also wanted to be nearer to his mother, as her health was waxing and waning. Dad’s family was strange, but then again, I grew up surrounded by American families, so the Mexican traditions were strange, but it mattered not, I got accustomed.
We spent all the time in Mexico City, with holidays consisting of seeing the different cities and tourist beaches that Mexico had to offer. Some where pleasant, some weren’t. I never had a fight with my dad until that holiday we spent in Acapulco. I still refuse to go back to the place; the wounds were deep cuts.
Late October in 1990 and mom is packing up. She’s fed up after a year and a half and she’s going back to the USA. Two of my brothers want to leave with her. My oldest brother wants to stay here (possibly because of a new girlfriend and a job with an Uncle). Dad feels torn asunder but doesn’t put much of fight; he doesn’t want the situation to turn uglier. It does.
It would take me 5 years to go back to Los Angeles to visit my family. It was probably because of the Earthquake, thank God everyone I knew was ok. Welcome, 1994. By then, mom had remarried and both of my brothers, Cliff and Saul, had moved out. Cliff worked for IBM in Silicon Valley, Saul joined a NASCAR technical team. Summer of 1994, back in LA and 17. My friends were now “acquaintances” and those long lost pacts of blood and treehouse club reunions were now long gone. Still, they still treated me to a great summer, driving back and forth between The Galleria and Venice Beach, the place were I shared my first kiss. Her name was Becky. I don’t know her surname. We never met again.
Two days before I had to fly back to Mexico, my old friend Matt was in a serious car crash in the San Diego freeway. When I left LAX, he was in a coma. When I arrived to Mexico City, he was already gone. Don’t drink and drive. Learnt the hard way.
I mourned a friend from a far. Neither my mother nor my father could afford the plane ticket, but we arranged to deliver a bouquet to Matt’s family. A tragedy that reunited, albeit momentarily, my parents. That same year my dad re-married and when I was 18, I chose to go back to the USA, but not to California. I wanted a new start. After a long season of talks and debates, my parents (all four of them! Four!) agreed to let me go to Louisville, Kentucky, and get a college degree there.
I guess it’s time to say the rest is history. Really, it had all just started when I met this girl Chloe at Waffle House. But that’s another story.
Words: Sam J. Valdés López.