"Cry, child, for those without tears have a grief which never ends." -- Mexican saying
This memory begins with flight. A 1950s bondo-spackled Dodge surged through a driving rain, veering around the potholes and upturned tracks of the abandoned Red Line trains on Alameda. Mama was in the front seat. My father was at the wheel. My brother Rano and I sat on one end of the back seat; my sisters Pata and Cuca on the other. There was a space between the boys and girls to keep us apart.
"Amá, mira a Rano," a voice said for the tenth time from the back of the car. "He's hitting me again."
We fought all the time. My brother, especially, had it in for La Pata -- thinking of Frankenstein, he called her "Anastein." Her real name was Ana, but most of the time we went by the animal names Dad gave us at birth. I am Grillo, which means cricket. Rano stands for "rana," the frog. La Pata is the duck and Cuca is short for cucaracha: cockroach.
The car seats came apart in strands. I looked out at the passing cars which seemed like ghosts with headlights rushing past the streaks of water on the glass. I was nine years old. As the rain fell, my mother cursed in Spanish intermixed with pleas to saints and "la Santísima Madre de Dios." She argued with my father. Dad didn't curse or raise his voice. He just stated the way things were.
"I'll never go back to Mexico," he said. "I'd rather starve here. You want to stay with me, it has to be in Los Angeles. Otherwise, go."
This incited my mother to greater fits.
We were on the way to the Union train station in downtown L.A. We had our few belongings stuffed into the trunk and underneath our feet. I gently held on to one of the comic books Mama bought to keep us entertained. I had on my Sunday best