The following is a fiction submission by Metzli Lemus, a 15-year-old writer who resides in Sacramento, California.
“Ma! Where’s the shirt that I hung up to dry?”
“Mija, I threw it out. Nobody needs a shirt that’s so… Como se dice… political.”
“Ma, it literally just said ‘Latinos for Office’ How is that—?” My mom waved her hand in the air signaling to stop before I got her chancla thrown at me. Why did I think that she wouldn’t throw the shirt out? I know the rules: No politics, no yelling, no talking back and most importantly, keep everything clean before my dad gets home. I run into my room, slipping on another shirt from inside my closet. This shirt won’t break the rules, it can’t, it’s literally plain black.
My feet pound the floor as I race down the stairs. I slow down when I get to the bottom, I don’t want my socks to slide and make me hit my head. I prefer to not wear any socks around the house, but you know, god forbid I get sick for running around the house on tile, barefoot. I round the corner of the stairs and run to the dining room to grab my jacket and my purse. Once I have everything I need to survive the cruel, angry and unsafe world as my parents like to call it, I run to the family room and slide on my Chuck Taylor’s.
“Mija, where do you think you’re going?” Damn it, I forgot about the whole ask your parents before you leave anywhere even to the drive way rule. I slowly turn around and face my petite but terrifying mother.
“I am going to the library to study for a bit. Don’t worry, I won’t do anything I’m not supposed to, I just need a change of scenery.”
“Okay, pues. How are you going to—?” I have to cut her off. I know all the questions she’s going to ask me. Five sometimes six questions depending on where I’m going. I call them the five Q’s: Who am I going with? Why am I going? How am I getting there and back? When am I going to be home? How much money does it take? And on certain occasions: Who is going to watch my siblings while I’m gone? Today, I beat my Ma to all the questions, gracias a dios.
“I am going to meet up with Alexis in the library, I am going to study for my chemistry test tomorrow. I am taking the light rail into downtown to the library on Capitol Mall, sabes, the California State Library. Alexis is going to drive me back home at around nine tonight. I have my library card so, no tienes que pagar nada. And my sister and brother are at Nana’s house. So… can I go?” Looking over my mother I see how small she really is. Just over five feet, her graying hair tied up into a tight bun; not one hair out of place.
Her eyeliner is starting to fade since it’s getting late but her pink lipstick is still perfectly applied. I reach to adjust her small gold hoops and recenter her gold cross necklace that rests just above her apron that my grandma made her from Mexico. Her sleeves on her short melanin filled arms, folded slightly so they don’t get wet while she’s washing the dishes. She still has her church skirt on from this morning. Long enough to be respectful, but short enough to still make my father happy, as she always likes to say. Although, she already exchanged her church shoes for her, pantuflas.
“Ok mija, you can go, but please be careful, you know how things are out there in the cruel, angry and unsafe world. Ahora vente, te tengo que bendecir.” Taking a knee in front of her, she moves her hands in the direction of a cross in front of my face and then once more in front of my heart. She does this every time I leave the house. Her way of blessing me so she knows everything will be okay, so she knows I will always come home safe and sound.
I slowly slip out of the front door. Out of my safe haven into the world. The world that one day I would be able to make difference in. It was still daylight when I was walking on the uneven, cracked cement that we call the sidewalk. I pass chain link fences, with little kids toys strewn across the front lawn of all of the houses. Dented and paint chipped cars in their driveways. I pass a few houses with fathers sitting in the front lawn with a cold beer, watching their kids playing with tricycles and soccer balls. Music, blasting from speakers from one of the houses.
I can’t help but slightly walk to the beat of the song that’s blasting, I can faintly hear the voices of Banda MS singing their hearts out about love and murder and heartbreak and even poisonous betrayal.
I reach the light rail station and wait patiently for the train to show up. Hearing the screeching of the light rail hitting its breaks. The door stops right in front of me, I step up and into the light rail looking for a place to sit. I pass a woman with four kids all either screaming or crying so I rush by. I pass a man in full drag, a couple of teenage boys and a man and woman in business suits. I settle in the back of the light rail, next to an older woman, one who looked like she had worked for hours, not in an office job with good pay, but a housekeeping job that maybe pays minimum. I sit carefully and keep everything on the open seat next to me, keeping all of my possessions close.
“Where are you going sweetheart?” I quickly turn my head around to see the older lady turned right at me. She had a New Jersey accent which is strange here in Sacramento. “I’m going to the Capitol, I’m the organizer for the Latino protest taking place today.” I responded nice and proud. On the light rail, we aren’t all strangers, we get to know each other, we have intimate conversations traveling through the city.
“So you’re the one that was causing all of that loud noise today while I was leaving work. I heard all those people outside the hotel. We had to leave work early cause there was so much traffic, I had to get the light rail to go back home. Now I’m on my way back to the hotel to do my night shift and pick up my car.” I was barely listening to her, I was looking at her head to toe. From a glance she looked like an older woman but when I came closer, I noticed she was in her early thirties, but she had pounds and pounds of powdered foundation and her eyeliner was slightly crooked on the left side. She was wearing a maids uniform and I read the name Astrid sprawled on her name tag.
“Oh, I apologize for all the hassle.” I responded, trying not to get annoyed by her complaining about one simple situation.
“Sweetheart, it’s fine. It’s not entirely your fault. But be careful, you don’t get yourself into any trouble, you hear me?” God she sounded like Ma. I didn’t tell Ma for a reason but I guess I’m still getting the lecture I deserve, por ser pecadora.
“I know, I’m super cautious about everything when it comes to standing up to the government. I am angry, but I’m still scared out of my wits to have to talk in front of all those people and to become a target in the eyes of the people who will undoubtedly try and break up the protest, regardless of how peaceful it is.” I still didn’t mention that my parents had no clue where I was or what I was doing.
“The pigs. That’s who you’re talking about right? Ugh, those guys get in the way of everything.”
I was still barely listening to her, but now I was just thinking about what I would do if I had to call Ma from a jail cell asking her to come bail me out. She would never bail me out. I know her, she would leave me in there until they released me to learn my lesson for breaking house rule number one.
I can already hear my mom in my head and all of her excuses why my family doesn’t participate in politics.
“We don’t participate in politics because us Latinos are lucky enough to even be in this country as it is. We cannot waste our opportunity on speaking up on what is right or wrong. Leave that to the white people who can’t be deported Mija.” That is exactly what Ma says, anytime I even try to keep her updated on what is happening in the world. It doesn’t even have to be me being mad at politics, it could be me ranting about Fulanita in my math class.
The screeching of the train sounded again, signaling me to get off. I look at my phone and the time reads four in the afternoon. I’m already running late, but gracias a dios, I noticed a JUMP scooter by the light rail. Running over to it, I’m racing an older man in a suit, but I gave him my scary Latina mom look and he backed away immediately leaving the scooter for me and only me.
I was riding full speed through the streets of downtown, Sacramento. My dark brown hair flowing through the wind. For a quick second I feel like I’m flying through the streets. I stop at the light, I catch a glimpse of my reflection in one of the windows of the giants that reach up into the sky. I can see my hair wildly falling over my shoulder, long enough to touch my mid back. I look so short on this big scooter, but at least I’m taller than my Ma.
I stand out on the building because everyone who is around has lighter skin. My melanin doesn’t fit in here, I grew up loving my melanin, my Pa would always call me his “Cafecito del dia”, he said I was the color of his coffee that would brighten up his day. Snapping out of my little daydream, I kept riding my scooter, getting deeper into downtown, closer to the heart of Sacramento: the Capitol.
“What do we want?!”
“When do we want it?!”
This is amazing, I can hear the chanting from two blocks away. I really organized this. I feel so proud of myself. If only Ma could—wait… she can never see me like this. My Ma would never let me do any of this. Most girls my age would sneak out to go to parties and go to clubs. I go to political meetings, city council meetings and organize one of the biggest protests in Sacramentos history. I hate how much my Ma looks down on girls who are involved with protests or anything that includes standing up for yourself or others. I just wish she would be proud of me for all the work I am doing for the community, but she can never know about my secret life. Never.
“Get your butt over here. We need you to start giving the speeches. You ready girl?” Looking over to my mentor, Gurma had been grooming me for months on how to speak at an organized protest. Grabbing onto the blow horn, I stand up onto the main podium in front of everyone who had come and joined us. The thousands and thousands of people who were there to support me and my peers in this journey.
I can hear the people in the crowd, quiet down and turn to face me. Fully knowing there was a giant screen behind me, making me almost as tall and big as the giants in the sky. Looking at all of the people in front of me, I feel frozen, my feet and arms and hands and body are completely still, paralyzed. I can feel my heart, pounding through my chest, feeling as if my heart was trying to jump out of my chest. I tell myself to just imagine everyone in their underwear, that’s supposed to make it easier right? Crap, it doesn’t work.
“Mija, put on your big girl pants and talk. You put yourself here, don’t wuss out now.” I can hear both my Ma and Pa telling me to do it, in my head of course. They told me the same thing when I was learning to ride a bike. They told me the same thing as I was getting my ears pierced. As soon as I knew it, words started flowing out of my mouth like a true advocate.
“We need to speak loud and clear! We speak in front of the Capitol to ensure that these politicians who are supposed to represent us, can finally hear us and know how we feel! So they look like us too! So fists up! Demand what we need for our communities! My name is Ana Mendoza and I will be the one to make a difference in my community, so join me to bring up all of our people so we can take power and show the man, that his power is nothing compared to our strength as a community!”
Stepping down from the podium, I could hear the crowd clapping wildly and screaming proudly at the words I said. Not being able to feel anything in my legs and arms I grab my posters so I can rejoin all of my people. A woman taps my shoulder. As I turn, she shoves a microphone in my face, I see that she’s from Univision, the news channel that my Ma watches everyday at 5. The camera man already had my face on camera, and as I looked to my right, I saw that they already had my name written across the screen.
“Will you please tell me, Ana Mendoza, how did it feel to be able to speak your mind like that?”
“I’m sorry, I can’t speak right now. I really apologize but I need to go.” Looking at my watch, it was 5:15. My Ma was sitting in front of the TV in the living room watching the news channel that my face was just on.
Racing out of the protest, into the streets of downtown. This time, with less confidence and poise. Now I was running frantically not caring how crazy I looked. All I knew was I needed to get to the light rail in time to get home, hopefully before my mom turns on Univision. Jumping on the light rail, I was the only one on the train this time, no drag queen and no screaming kids. Not even the New Jersey woman was on the train this time. Sitting alone, my leg bouncing, my heart racing, I rode the train in silence. Quietly contemplating the punishment I would receive for being so “disrespectful” to my mother’s rules.
The screech of the light rail sounded in my ears. I’m walking right into a trap. Of all the things that could have happened to silence my voice. I never though it would be my mother to silence me when I was doing what I was born to do. Turning the corner onto my street, I see the front porch of our small and dated house. Slowly, I drag my feet through the street, not hearing any music playing to pace my steps. It was dead silent, I could feel the lump in my throat form as I got closer to the house.
Opening the door, I turn directly toward the living room where we all watch telenovelas on Fridays. My Ma always takes her place on the left hand side of the sofa in front of the TV. She’s sitting there now, except this time there isn’t a telenovela on the screen. It’s me, on the podium, in front of the capital, letting my words flow, no filter. None whatsoever.
Metzli Lemus is a 15-year-old writer from Sacramento, California.