We were the lucky ones. Our house—the Gashouse—didn’t have wheels, it didn’t move, it stayed in one place, and it had heat, a stove, running water, a toilet. My father had a steady job. Everyone knew we were the lucky ones—everyone knew we’d made it. In Michoacan, my father’s family (sisters, brothers, cousins) spread the word about my father’s good fortunes. There was a rumor that we were rich, that my father made so much money that my mother didn’t have to work, that I had my own car, that we lived in a mini American mansion. The rumor was somewhat true: my mother didn’t have to work, but only because my younger sister was mentally ill, and my mother had to care for her; I had my own car, yes, but I bought it with my own money, money I made after school, and during the summer, when the white kids in school went to Idaho and Montana and Disneyland.
Every year a new group of refugees would arrive in the middle of the night to ask for my rich father's generosity. They would come in June and leave in November. My rich father never said no. Although our mini-American mansion only had two rooms, a family of 6 or 7 would stay with us, disrupting whatever sense of normalcy we’d developed over the winter months. They would sleep in the living-room and, against every protest, in my room. The house was abuzz from 3:30 to 6:45 in the morning when the last guest would go off to work the tomato or the garlic fields of Southern Monterey County. The Gashouse would loose its familiar gas smell for a few hours while the women prepared the mole and roll the burritos which they stuffed in thermoses and lunch-bags.
One visitor I remember clearly because he slept in my room on a couple of extended stays. His name was Miguel, and he snored, smelled, and stuttered when he spoke. He had a clock which kept me up all night with its tick-tick-tick-tick. I was used to the mice in the stove, the snoring, the smells, but I couldn’t stand the tick-ticking of the clock.
I could never understand why my father couldn’t say no to our visitors. Perhaps he wanted them to keep thinking that he had what he hadn’t--I'm sure they didn't think this for long. Maybe he was just being kind. My mother and I resented them all. I dreamt of stuffing a shoe in Miguel’s throat every night around 1 a.m., after I had tried in vain to sleep amidst the thunderous snoring and the hammering of the clock. I ended by smashing his clock to bits and blaming my little brother, Art, who could barely pick up his bottle, much less smash a well-made American clock to bits.
Miguel was killed in a car accident one winter while driving back to Mexico. All my hate and resentment turned into despair and sadness. I wish I hadn’t broken his clock. I wish I had talked to him about his dreams, maybe I could write about them, or use them in a lecture. He did tell me once that he wanted to marry a gringa so that he could get his citizenship papers.
Something on the news about immigration reform got me thinking about the visitors today...I think it was a gringa voicing her concerns about the guys who hang around Home Depot.