Frederick Luis Aldama
is the Arts & Humanities Distinguished Professor, University Distinguished Scholar, and University Distinguished Teacher at The Ohio State University. He is the author, co-author, and editor of 36 books, including the Eisner Award and International Latino Book Award winning, Latinx Superheroes in Mainstream Comics and Tales From La Vida. He is author of the forthcoming sci-fi graphic novel, 2041 and the children’s book, With Papá. He is editor and co-editor of 9 academic press book series as well as editor of the trade-press graphic fiction and nonfiction series, Latinographix. He is creator of the first documentary on the history of Latinx comics as well as editor and curator of The Planetary Republic of Comics. He is founder and director of Latinx Space for Enrichment & Research (LASER), which won the Ohio Education Summit Award, the Columbus Council Award, and the Obama White House Hispanic Bright Spot award.
I can’t say why it’s comforting to feel his presence. He has been by my side since he was a couple years old, moving mostly silently in the room to exercise his legs and also mostly to satisfy his curiosity. There is not a fly, not a shadow, not a noise that does not attract his attention. His ears and his eyes and his hair are beautiful. His body is slim and for most of his life it has been elegant and supple. Knowing he is in the room somewhere near and as keen as I am in exploring our respectively laser chosen microscopic parcel of the universe, is rewarding in a warm, tender way. I have sat at my table for hours, days, weeks, months, years, and my writing has been always enveloped by that warmth. I have written innumerable pages, always with passion and a considerable degree of compulsion. And almost always with him by my side or nearby. To connect with such ardor, strength and effectiveness with another being has happened to me very few times in my life. I feel him and I read him and I guess him, while knowing he has his own, deep, impenetrable mind and heart. And this I respect fully even today, after so many years of experiencing this unique togetherness. He cannot know for sure I need him because his eyesight and his other senses have waned. I know his organic systems are gradually declining and heading soon to a stop, one by one and then collectively. According to some rough calculations he is about 95 years old, so his end is obviously timely: the kind and unkind experiences his small body has accumulated along his rich and long life have by now exhausted his vital energies. Now the time has come for me to acquire new habits, to learn to work in different circumstances, to expose myself to the stimulus of a differently organized working environment where BRUNO is absent, nowhere to be seen, nowhere to be felt. After a period of grief will come the realization that it’s possible to do things in new, really innovative manners. And that writing is not something one chooses or decides to do: it is a product of nature. Writers are like spiders: they spin their webs because otherwise they cannot live; they choose their words and unfold their sentences and invent their tales and drive their stories to unheard-of ends… because life can find meaning in no other way, and because the writer can not live differently. And because writing makes BRUNO present once again… again and again.
Bang. Bang. Two round silver objects smash together.
They look like the platillos my school teacher uses antes de contarnos una historia. But these sound different. They bang. They clang. They scare. They remind me that I’m not waking from a pesadilla. They make me know I have been lejos de casa for quite some time.
I jolt upright. Ya es hora de levantarme. I rub my sticky eyes. I see the Big People in Green walking up and down the row of beds.
Where’s my muñeca—the one I was told is named Dora. The Big People in Green said I should hold her tight until I could be with mamá and mi hermanito.
I remember. . .
It was black with night. Mamá shook me awake. ¡Despiértate! ¡Despiértate, mija! Sucking his thumb and holding tight his scruffy osito de peluche, my little brother Emilio was also gently shook from sleep. Mami’s eyes darted around the dark room. Her hands moved quickly, stuffing what light toys she could fit into a bag. I’d never seen her worried like this.
What about Lobito, our puppy?
What about my first day of Primaria?
It’s gonna be alright, mi pequeñita. We’re gonna meet with papá, en el norte.
With me and little Emilio on either side, we hurried across streets. No había nadie afuera. Todo estaba silencioso. We walked past our tía’s tienda over on calle Juan Aldama and crossed to calle Ignacio Allende where I was supposed to go to school in a few days. Then unas pocas cuadras más adelante I started to see Big People heading quickly to a street corner and begin gathering. I had never met any of them before. We stopped to join them. Mamá whispered something to a man. Suddenly a big truck pulled up. One of the Big People lifted me and little Emilio into the back. Mami grabbed the side to pull herself in. She wrapped us in a blanket, holding us tight to give us protection and warmth. Emilio and I were the only Little People.
Doors slammed shut.
The truck never seemed to get tired. We drove and drove, not even stopping for me and little Emilio to pee. Mamá told us to be quiet. That we’d be there soon.
Little Emilio smelled a little like the fish back home.
The truck stopped. Doors opened. Sun and wind scratched my eyes. Dust caked the inside of my mouth. Mami climbed down then reached for us, one by one.
With the other Big People, we were told to stay put allí, detrás de los arbustos y los árboles. A pocos pasos había un río enorme, el más grande que jamás había visto.
It’ll be okay. We’re going to see your papá soon.
Black of night. Again, mami grabbed us, each in one hand; bag slung over a shoulder.
We followed the Big People to the river’s edge.
Hold onto the balsa. Quick. Con mucha fuerza.
Mami pushed me and little Emilio onto the raft. She held tight to its side, stretching pinkies for ours.
Get out! Corre!
Hand in hand, we ran.
I couldn’t feel mami’s hand anymore.
I couldn’t see little Emilio anymore.
Miedo. Muchísimo miedo.
The Big People in Green with big glasses tells me to sit in a chair. I see a pistola hitched to her hip, like the one on the federales papi feared and hated so much. She explains that I will see another Big People who will help me find my mami and little Emilio.
Case Number 361 you are in violation of crossing the US/Mexico Border without legal documentation. I hereby order you to the custody of the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement until further notice.
My ears are in search for mamá’s name, Claudia. My papá’s name, José Luis.
I only see mouths move. I hear sounds but they mean nothing, or casi nada.
The Big People in Green tells me to follow her. She says she’s one of the trabajdora de caso. She’s supposed to look after me. We leave the building and I see Little People like me. Lined up. Quiet. Afraid.
We enter a big building. It’s huge. It’s freezing inside.
Before papá left he took me and little Emilio to a place this big. Wal-Mart. It had everything. But this one was different. Instead of all the clothes and toys I could ever wish for, this one had thousands of little beds in neat rows up. Little People like me were everywhere.
I look for my little Emilio.
There are no boys.
The Big People in Green showed me my bed. Encima de ella, unos calzoncillos, unos pantalones cortos, un cepillo de dientes, pasta para lavarlos.
She sternly says:
Do not touch another child
Do not misbehave
Do not sit on the floor
Do not run
Do not share your food
Do as you are told
Three older girls come up to me, each reaching for my hand. I pull it away. I do as I’m told. I remember what the Big People in Green told me.
I learn their names: Leticia, Leidy y Yoselyn. They tell me they are on bathroom duty. They tell me that we all have chores to do. That this can be mine. Así podemos estar juntas.
They show me where to empty the trash. Where the scrubber is to clean the toilets. Cómo trapear los pisos.
I do as I’m told. No touching.
We line up. Rice and beans are spooned onto my plate.
Yoselyn me dice que hoy es día especial. Hay cake and ice cream.
The Big People in Green is back. She gently hands me a doll. It’s not as soft as my muñeca back home. Su cabello es corto como el mío and she has a brown face like me.
All goes dark.
I pray. I scoot into bed. I pull the scratchy blanket over my toes, legs, and tummy.
Abrazo con cariño a esta muñeca, named Dora.