Category Archives: Culture

My Father’s Story

This is my father when he was a boy.

He was born in an area near El Paso, Texas, called Smeltertown.  It was called Smeltertown because of the smelt from the nearby mines.  I don’t think the name of the town is very appealing,  but, when I was little I would hear stories of his childhood, and I would think that Smeltertown sounded like a fascinating place.

Sometimes my dad’s childhood stories were tales of his struggles growing up, being raised by his adoptive mother, and his adoptive grandmother. My dad’s mother died when he was just months old.  His mother’s cousin, and her mother, raised him in Smeltertown. They made their living, in part, selling masa to make tortillas.  My dad worked alongside his adoptive mother and grandmother.

My dad's mother, cousin, and aunts.

My father was raised by these two strong, independent women.  They loved him and cared for him, but  were strict disciplinarians with him.  The only male presence, my father’s step-father, was largely absent.  When my dad was a teen they came to California and settled in a pretty rough neighborhood in East Los Angeles.

Dad, circa 1950, Belmont High School, Los Angeles.

He stayed out of trouble and eventually joined the army, which gave him more discipline, and offered him greater opportunity.

Dad in the Panama Canal Zone, 1953

My dad got out of the army and lived the single life, until he met and married my mom. They started their family right away, with three kids born in just over 4 years.  When my dad became a father, he had very little personal exposure to what being a father in a nuclear family looked like. Nowadays, they call that “modeling.”

Family Dinner, circa 1978.

But the lack of “modeling” has not deterred my dad. He learned a lot along the way. We have learned a lot along the way together too. Sometimes the lessons were rough. But, always, we knew he loved us and took care of us. And always, along the way, we have built new memories and created our own stories.

He took us on family vacations.

Family vacation to Vancouver, Canada, circa 1977. (Dad's not pictured because he was the photographer!)

Many times these vacations involved one of his favorite activities, fishing.

Vacation at Mammoth Lakes, California. Circa 1970.

Another Mammoth Lakes vacation.

He sang us songs.

Canciones de mi padre.

He coached my brothers in sports.

He has become a devoted grandfather.

Dad and Nico and Diego all dressed up.

When I was little people would comment how much I looked like my dad. I would cry because I thought they meant I was chubby and had a mustache.

Dad and I at my college graduation, 1986

But, now I understand that they meant we had similar features. Today, I know that my dad and I are similar in ways beyond our physical appearance, and even beyond some of our similar behaviors.  My dad and I share a similar understanding, and appreciation for each other. We have struggled. We are flawed, but we love each other. He is my father. I am his daughter. We are familia.

Happy Fathers Day, Dad.

The “J” of Spanish

Only two more days before Diego returns to school at his Spanish immersion program. During the winter break we’ve kept busy with holiday festivities, and we’ve had fun playing card games, board games and video games. We’ve also continued to practice his Spanish vocabulary whenever we can.

Diego’s Spanish has improved so much since he started the immersion program last year in kindergarten. He is so proud of himself and continues to remind us how, during a Spanish vocabulary drill on a family car ride,  he came up with the word for “pillows” before his 15 year-old sister, Olivia. Olivia,  who is in a high school Spanish II honors class, does not like to be reminded of that moment she was stumped by her 6 year-old brother.

This morning Diego tried to stump me with his own Spanish challenge.

D: “Mommy, what is the word for pencil?”

Me: Lápiz.

D: “Mommy, what is the word for paper?”

Me: Papel.

D: “How do you say “desk?’

Me: “Escritorio.”

D: “Noooo…It’s PUPITRE!!”

Me: “WHAT? Well, there are two ways to say “desk” in Spanish!”

An argument ensued, where I tried to redeem my Spanish fluency  in front of my little linguist. I lost. Diego offered some words of sympathy and encouragement.

“That’s okay Mommy. You can be the “J” of Spanish.”

What is the “J” of Spanish? I thought of all the Spanish vocabulary words which begin with “J” and could possibly mean, “Beginner,” “Novice,” “Loser.” Diego reminded me that we had been playing War with a deck of cards the other day, and he explained:

Daddy is the King. I am his Bodyguard and you are “J.”

“J?” I am only the Jack? Doesn’t a King need a Queen?

Diego tried to offer me more encouragement, “When you learn more Spanish you can be the Queen.”

Hmmp! I only hope that my Spanish will improve and I will be made Queen.  In the meantime, I may just stick to challenging Diego to games of War instead of Spanish vocab challenges.