The Fourth Issue of the Cat 5 Review


(Photo by Youssef Martinez)

The Cat 5 Review is a publication of literature and the arts composed by students at Lone Star College–North Harris.

Volume 3, Issue 1
Fall 2016

Gemini Wahhaj, Executive Editor

Gary Connors, Art Editor
Steve Rydarowski, Poetry Editor
Norma Drepaul, Editor
Mark Barnes, Editor
D.W. Puller, Editor

“Winter” by Youssef Martinez

“The Fall of Rosebud, Texas” by Emerye Jackson
“Cuba” by Aryanna Martinez
“Our Power” by Evelin Arrendondo
“My Brother and I” by Charles D. Biggurs II
“Being Different” by Margaret Buhrer
“My Job” by Eric Dimas
“Escape to Shamrocks” by Alyssa Orozco

“Taco Trucks of Houston: Taking a Bite out of Social Justice” by Youssef Martinez
“Not a Lost People: The Indigenous People of Mexico” by Evelin Arrendondo
“The Fishermen of Bonacca” by Doris Dugall

“The Ndamukong’s Family Mungaka Language Practices” by Fritz Doh Ndamukong
“America’s Sweetheart” by Leticia Vasquez

The Fourth Issue of the Cat 5 Review

Winter by Youssef Martinez

Wearing heavy coats

Stops shivers from the cold, though

Winter howls within.


Silence in all the land

‘Til a leaf strikes the ground in Fall,

Winter listening, hears its call.


Lovely glowing moon’s light beams,

Upon our worn and rusted death-machines,

Cluttering the face of earth.


First gleam of dawn lunged,

Bravely at the night-sky, and won,

Vanquished darkness

for a while.

Winter by Youssef Martinez

The Fall of Rosebud, Texas by Emerye Jackson

My family and I are from a very small town located in Central Texas called Rosebud. Visiting Rosebud is like traveling back in time. The dirt roads that were once covered with sophisticated wagons, the rundown buildings that were once housed by the most respected people in town, the rotting old steeple that once gave shelter to all of god’s children, and the rust stained barn across the pasture that once provided a sense of adventure in the eyes of a child. My mom was 17 years old when she had me. Every day after school she would have to come home and take care of a kid instead of hanging out with friends or focusing on her studies. Life became hard for her; she couldn’t go to the University she had been planning to go to her whole life. She was stuck working part time at a grocery store in order to support me even though deep down she knew she couldn’t even support herself. Because my mom was so young and couldn’t afford our own place, we had to live with my grandparents for a few years. Once my mom found a job we had to leave. I was three years old at the time. It took me a while to fully understand why we left. Mom always said that there was nothing there for us, that if we had stayed we’d just be stuck in time forever, that we’d never have another chance to escape again. Why she hated it I have no idea.

I guess her leaving had a lot to do with the way people treated her. She was always seen as a small town girl who could never leave. My mom was born and raised in Rosebud, Texas. She knew everyone and went to the same school my grandparents went to when they were children. My grandparents were very religious people and wouldn’t allow music or dancing in their home. Growing up in a home like this was very difficult for my mom because she felt as if she couldn’t be like the other kids her age. The kids at her school used to tease her because she never heard of NSYNC or only heard one song from New Kids on the Block. It was tough being a kid in that type of household. She felt that if she would have stayed there she would never be given the chance to live her own life and follow her dreams. By the time she was twenty-one she decided it was time for us to leave and we packed up and moved to the city. Although the town was quiet and followed its traditions, there was a sense of peace and serenity. We may not have been the wealthiest of people but we did appreciate what we had. We worked hard for what we owned and that’s what made us happy, the idea of providing for our families the only way we knew how.

Living in a town like Rosebud, everybody knew everybody. It was almost impossible to see a new face. You were either distant cousins or attended Pleasant Grove Primary School during your youth. Every time we would go to the local corner store or visit the old Mexican restaurant near the outskirts of town, my grandparents would stop and talk to people I have never seen or heard of in my life and it would end up being someone they went to school with almost 60 years ago. To this day, every time I visit Rosebud I am still running into people I haven’t seen in over sixteen years. I may not remember them, but it is hard for people to forget one of the youngest former residents in town.

Even though we all knew one another and got along quite nicely, we still appreciated our privacy. The residents seemed to keep to themselves most of the time. The only way we really kept in touch with the town’s news was either from the nosey neighbor across the pasture or the daily newspaper we’d find at the local corner store. Everyone had their own responsibilities and their main focus was maintaining the farm and making sure the crops were ready for harvesting and the livestock were being raised correctly. Although our time by ourselves gave us the opportunity to work efficiently, mostly tending to our luscious corn fields or producing golden hay for our livestock, it also made us appreciate the time we were able to spend together.

On Sundays after church we would go and visit the ranch home of an old neighbor of ours and have pink lemonades while we played in the back with her dogs. My papa would be in the shed with Uncle Charlie fixing that same old tractor that seemed to never work while my Annie would be in the kitchen cooking some old recipe her mother made when she was a kid. Although it wasn’t our house we still felt at home. There was never a moment of feeling out of place because you were always welcomed in with open arms.


(The old church where the town would meet up for service.)

When I was younger the town would always throw little festivals each season. They would decorate Main Street according to whatever holiday was coming up and have fruit stands and little shops where you can buy memorabilia on every corner. It was beautiful, especially when Christmas came. Each lamp post would be wrapped from top to bottom in Christmas lights. There would be mechanical Santas in the window displays that would wave and shout “Ho Ho Ho Merry Christmas” every time you’d walk past it. And finally my favorite display of all, the giant Christmas tree planted in the middle of Main Square. You could see the lights from miles away. It was a time where families would come together and just enjoy the life they were given. Those are some of the memories I cherish the most. But that’s all they will ever be. Memories.


(The Mainstreet of Rosebud 2015)

This is where most of the events and festivals were held.

As the years went by the kids grew up and they either went off to college or moved to the city. While the adults stayed and just kept getting older. They stopped having season festivals because there were no kids to throw them for. No more pink lemonades in the old neighbor’s backyard due to her greedy children selling the lot to the city after she passed away. Now the fields that were once covered in fresh corn or the perfectly aligned rows of home grown tomatoes are dried out and barren. Main Square, that was once the main attraction, is now considered a ghost town. Forever stuck in time.

Those who stumble across the small town of Rosebud may think of it as an old country community that holds many stories and memories of the once thriving metropolis, within the graves, while others just see nothing but a way of life that no longer exists. What they don’t know is Rosebud was once a lively and assiduous community.


(The Mainstreet of Rosebud in 1901)

If you ask any of the older residents they would tell you about how booming the city was many years back. My grandmother would talk about how there were dress shops and ice cream parlors on every street. Gas stations and restaurants on every corner. It was a beautiful city filled with busy streets and charming vintage vehicles being sold in the old lot. It was a place where people could enjoy their way of life. To distract them from their worries.

Even though the town itself was a main attraction, the people were the ones you would come to see. Everyone was so kind to one another. If you needed a cup of sugar, or a quarter of gas, the neighbors were willing to give you anything with no strings attached, because they cared about your well-being. It being such a small community everyone knew each other because there were only three schools within the town. The town’s children would get together and play in the town’s old playground. Usually the kids you played with in the sand box were the people you’d invite to your wedding or introduce your grandchildren to.

The people of Rosebud loved one another. It was rare to see an unfriendly face. But it wasn’t always like that. After speaking with my grandmother who has live in Rosebud for 74 years, she explained that the Rosebud I know and love wasn’t always as “harmonious as it is now.” Back then during the time of segregation, “the whites would live on one side of the train tracks, where their land was located, while the colored people lived on the opposite side of the tracks, near the town.” Loretta Jones, an African American resident, described a time when her mother was present. “During that time the blacks would have their own shops, restaurants, schools, and churches, whereas the whites would have their own shops and churches.” Nowadays the town mostly consists of African American, or Hispanic families. Even though “the separation at the tracks still remains, everyone gets along and will help anyone in need.”


A house that belonged to one of the most prestigious family is now a squatter home for homeless African Americans.

My grandmother describes her childhood as, “We didn’t have much fun growing up. We had to work at such a young age it never felt like a real childhood. There were some times where the kids would come together and play in the potato gil and didn’t care that there were snakes all through out the bottom of the hay. We didn’t have much money so we had to make our own fun, shuck corn, feed the hogs and chickens, cook, climb trees, whatever we could get our hands on.”  It was difficult for children to feel like kids because they had to grow up faster and make sure the work was done before it was time to play.

As time passed the once beautiful and vibrant city became nothing but a ghost. When the owners of land began to pass on and the hospitals closed down many people lost their jobs. As explained by Johnny Little, a Rosebud resident of 74 years: “Once the industry left, the town couldn’t afford to replenish the old shops.” They couldn’t afford hiring new clerks to watch over those shops. Once the kids began to grow up and move to the city where jobs were plentiful, the town was no longer the same.


An old farmhouse that has perished over time after the death of the farm head.

Despite the hardships the town has experienced there are a few people that remain there and refuse to leave their home. These people mostly consist of the old and retired, whose children have long been gone. I spoke with my grandmother about what she would miss the most about the town and she replied, “I would miss the memories; My parents lived here, my children grew up here, our animals are buried here. I’ve never lived anywhere else so I feel like I wouldn’t fit in anywhere other than here.” Although there may not be any new opportunities for this society, in the end that doesn’t really matter to the people of Rosebud. This was their home for many years. “Their family was born and raised here and they will respect that forever. No amount of jobs or luxuries could change their loyalty to their town.”

Since the job industry left the town many people began to lose their jobs. They ended up having to choose either to sell their plots of land or retire in order to live off of their pension and unemployment money provided by the government. Usually after the death of someone in charge of the household all of his or her belongings and inheritance goes to whoever is declared the next in charge. “After the job industry left, people had to hold on to their money in order to pay for bills and taxes.” Because there were no longer an easy form of financial support for the citizens of Rosebud the city began to fall apart and is no longer considered a flourishing town, it is now considered a ghetto. Of course there are some who are well off due to their ability to maintain a job or they saved enough during their lifetime to live in peace until their death, as for others they will now be labeled as the lower class citizens of Rosebud Texas.

In “Jobs, innovation leave some small towns behind”, Cooke justifies the effect economic decline has on the majority of rural areas in the United States. Due to the decrease of trade and industry involvement, innovation has begun to slow down and the creation of new businesses have been put to an end. Because of the increasing population in urban areas, there are more job openings available. As people begin to move to the more populated areas the need for workers in smaller towns grows. The reduction in workers in smaller businesses lead to inefficiency and they begin to lose business. If more and more people begin to leave smaller towns there are less amount of customers which can lead to an economic down fall. Cooke then explains how political representation could be a major contribution to the lack of innovation in smaller towns. Since larger cities have become more populated the need for a political representative to help maintain the innovation process along with the financial aspect of the society is highly recommended. As for smaller communities that do not have a stable income or financial support the need for innovation is not the main priority when that money can go to someplace with more to offer.

In “Rural America Struggles as Young People Chase Jobs in Cities”, Shah explains how each year the population in rural counties decrease due to the aging and younger citizens beginning to travel elsewhere for work. According the William Frey, a demographer at the Brooking Institution, half of the shrinking counties rely on farming, manufacturing, or mining. These particular jobs can be physically stressful for the older civilians and are not catching the interests in the younger generation of civilians. It is seen that younger people are moving to more populated areas for a more urban life including more available options for jobs. It is statistically proven that the decline in population can lead to a reduced tax base, an increase in taxes on land and makes providing services more difficult. Natural decline such as death is also a contribution to the decrease in population. Usually when death is present younger people tend to move to the cities to start a new life and people begin to retire. As explained in this article, the search for jobs and the decline in the working population are what ultimately leads to economic decline.

Prior to researching other communities that have experienced a similar economic downfall as Rosebud I have discovered a pattern in the cause of the sudden decline of the job industry. One of the biggest contributions to the lack of job innovation is the younger generation of residents. Bigger cities provide a wider range of opportunities which catches the attention of younger individuals. As they grow old enough to start a life of their own they decide to branch out and move to the city where there are more job offerings, in hopes to obtain an urban lifestyle. Because of the decreasing population, the need for workers in smaller towns increases. As a result, there are not anymore available workers and the production of goods become inefficient which decreases sales and income. This is what leads to the mass unemployment rates in smaller towns. After a deep analysis and in-depth research on the subject at hand I have realized the reason the Rosebud I knew and grew to love changed so drastically over the years. As more and more children grow up and leave the nest, the more the town falls into economic depression.

Works Cited

Cooke, Ken Esten. “Jobs, Innovation Leave Some Small Towns behind.” Fredericksburg

Standard. N.p., 24 June 2016. Web. 21 Nov. 2016.

Shah, Neil. “Rural America Struggles as Young People Chase Jobs in Cities.” WSJ., 27 Mar. 2014. Web. 21 Nov. 2016.


The Fall of Rosebud, Texas by Emerye Jackson

Cuba by Aryanna Martinez

Many people see Cuba as a communist country where an evil dictator had control over everything. However, that was not always the case. Life on the island was very different from the perspective of a native Cuban. My grandmother described a very distinctive Cuba where the people had many more opportunities. The people we not under complete control, they had their freedom to do the things that they wanted to. In the beginning life was easy, there were many jobs available and they had plenty of resources. This is a story of my grandmother’s community and what Cuba was like during the start of Fidel Castro’s reign.

My grandmother, Maria, was born March 13, 1948 in Oriente, a rather large province on the east side of Cuba.  She lived in a house built by her grandfather made from concrete and rebar with the purpose of withstanding hurricane force winds since Cuba is a tropical island where hurricanes and tropical storms frequent. Her favorite thing about that house was the many different fruit trees in the back yard like the mangos and oranges. That house was always full, not only was home to her grandparents, her mother, her two brothers, and herself, but frequently visited by her 18 cousins. One of her fondest memories of living in that house was sitting on her grandfather’s lap, cigar in his mouth, listening to the baseball game on the radio.

Growing up in the 50’s life was simple. Fathers went to work while the mothers raised the children and life in Cuba was not that much different. My great grandfather like to move around a lot, he preferred to see other places, and other women. He moved to Venezuela leaving Maria and her mother behind. She passed the time outside of school by hanging out at the town center. It had a large gazebo where girls sat on one side and the boys on the other. They mostly talked to each other about the opposite group. Another activity my grandmother remembered fondly was roller skating at the park with her friends. That was where she met a boy named Henry, he was a 13-year-old kid who drove a taxi cab for his father’s company. “Everyone thought Henry was cool, back then if you had a car you were really cool you know.”

Before the Castro regime, Cuba was a bustling island where many tourists vacationed and spent money. Cuba’s hotels and casinos were full with famous people like Frank Sinatra and even Ernest Hemingway (Geiling 1). Hotel deals made this secluded country into a bustling island for Americans for around $50. In 2006, tourist brought in more than $2.4 billion dollars in revenue saving Cuba from economic ruin (Geiling 1). The country appears old fashioned with gangsters in lobbies and old cars parked along the street. However, on the other side of the island there was a revolution forming within the lower class. People were unhappy with the way things were going, the number of brothels and gangsters were unsettling. Violence erupted throughout the city, bombs exploding and dead bodies left on the streets (Geiling 1). During these troubling times, Castro was a beacon of hope to those who felt they needed someone like him. Many people supported him and the things he believed in and they let him into their lives. Numerous middle and lower class citizens voted for Castro, they believed he could change the way Cuba functioned. The country was scared and ready for change.

In 1959 Fidel Castro ended his revolution by taking over. One of his various promises was to provide homes and jobs to the native Cubans if they return. Maria’s father took that offer and returned home to his family. He was given a luxurious apartment along the coast of Havana Cuba where he found a job as a chef although never disclosed. Her mother worked from home as a seamstress where she made clothes and tailored outfits for many residents. Her mother’s usual customers consisted of neighbors and close friends or those who heard about her from others. Due to the fact that her parents both worked long hours, Maria was expected to do all of the household chores. She always made dinner and she would have to make sure the house was clean and the dishes were done. Her mother provided her with money so she could shop for groceries and pay any bills.  Life was going well for her parents, they had jobs and a nice place to live along the coast. The house was not very big but it was clean. My father remembered spending the night frequently. He recalled the house, “they had plastic covers on the couch and table cloths on every table. The porch windows were always open and I could feel breeze from the beach.” The view was beautiful; Maria could see the children playing on the beach and sometimes dolphins in the distance.

One day my grandmother’s refrigerator broke down and because they could not acquire a new one, they were forced to get it repaired. In those days, there was no such thing as Angies list, it was all word of mouth. Therefore, her father reached out to a friend to help him find someone to repair it. When the repair man, Manuel, finally showed up, my grandmother caught his attention right away. She told me, “he thought I was so beautiful, he told me I was his and I said no you’re not that interesting.” It took some time and a few annoying dates, but eventually he swept her off her feet. She was young, only 21 and Manuel was divorced with two kids, this caused a problem with her mother. Maria had the same thought, “here was this weird guy who fixed a/c units and refrigerators knocking at my door every day.” Eventually she went on a date with him and would have married him.
One of their favorite things to do together was go out to eat at some of the restaurants nearby. “My favorite place was this small café in Havana where they served como se dice papas, potato soup.” My grandmother told me. She described the café as this small building along the coast, the walls were a pale blue shade with photos on the wall of some baseball players. “I remember the smell, it was very good, it was like you were at home but not you know?” The people who worked there were some of the friendliest and they always talked to my grandparents as if they were family. The owner was a nice old gentleman who never failed to greet them when they arrived and he would seat everyone personally. “He would say hello and ask if we wanted to sit in the same seat,” it was their thing. Another one of their favorite pastimes was going to the movies. My grandmother loved to be able to get out of the house and spend time with my grandfather. She fondly remembered the time she spent at the beach, sun tanning and swimming. The water was as blue as the sky and the way the warm sand squished between her toes, “your grandpa would splash me a lot, he got water in my hair I was so mad.”


In February of 1969, Manuel asked Maria if she would marry him. He presented her with a ring: it was a small gold band with a little diamond in the center. My grandfather was very respectful and old fashion, he asked Maria’s parents if he could have their blessing. It was common for men to ask the parents for the woman’s hand in marriage. The majority of the country were catholic and they believed in traditional values. Since my grandfather was married once before, he was considered an adulterer, which was heavily ostracized throughout the country. At first, Maria’s parents were weary; they were afraid that because he was a foreigner from Spain that he would want to move back to his home country. He reassured them that he loved Cuba and the people and he promised he would not leave. When they finally gave him their blessing he was excited. “We got married on September 27, 1996.” After they were married, they decided to live with Maria’s parents. My grandfather worked at his a/c business while Maria worked alongside her mother as a seamstress.

My great uncle lived in Cuba with my grandparents. He grew up with Maria and would always visit their grandparent’s house. “I loved that house, the best place was in the back with the fruit trees.” He was a very family oriented man, he would always call or visit my grandmother and promised to stick with them when they left. Growing up he would hang out at the park with his friends, “they were crazy chicos, they would skate down the street after cars.” He loved Cuba growing up, there were plenty of things to do and he remembered playing at the beach and,” picking up chicks.” Tio had to take over the role as man of the house after my great grandfather left to Venezuela. He wanted to make sure things were ok, he was always a family man.

In April of 1971 my father was born. My grandmother worked hard to raise him while Manuel worked. During this time, Fidel Castro turned the tides, he no longer believed in equal opportunity for all. His hatred for America was so strong, his only alliance was the Soviet Union. Castro would borrow money from them and never pay it back. He wanted everything for himself. “Eventually my mother had to make our own cloths and we couldn’t get shoes anymore.” Life in Cuba was growing more difficult over time. Some of their favorite restaurants were forced to close and the country wasn’t making enough money. Everything was rationed because outside resources were limited; they only had what was still available on the island. “It wasn’t easy m’ija, papa was struggling to make money and your father was getting bigger.” After my tio was born, things became more difficult.

My father’s memory of Cuba differs from my grandmother’s. He was born into the Castro regime; therefore, he had no experience of the outside world so for him life there was normal. “I remember going to these wooden shacks that kind of reminded me of those old military bases or boot camp. For those of age it was mandatory for you to go there and pick sugarcane and tomatoes.” He recalled going there with his half-brother. He would build his own toys, “we would draw racetracks on the ground and flick bottle caps to race.” My father recalled playing with marbles with his friends where they would try to break each other’s marbles. He even played with a spoked wheel and stick as if it was the 1920’s. Many children made their own toys. There was one toy store available to my father and thousands of kids nearby. Children had to wait in line with a number until it was their turn. Once my father’s number was called, all that was left was a few marbles and chalk, “there was only one bike for the thousands of kids in our city.” One of the harder things he had to deal with was his shoes. His father had to cut holes at the tops of his shoes because he was growing and they could not afford to get a new pair.

Life headed in a new direction because of one fateful mistake my grandfather made. He misplaced his citizenship paperwork that stated he was a Cuban citizen. He went to the courthouse and asked for replacements. “They said there was a problem, that he wasn’t Cuban, he told me he said ‘whaaat? Oh well.’ Then he got his papers from Spain.” As a result, they were forced to leave because he was a Spanish citizen. My grandparents packed one suitcase with some clothes and they all boarded the plane to Spain alongside Manuel’s brother and his family. My father was only eight years old at the time while my tio four. “I don’t remember much, just that we only left with some clothes and $7 in our pockets” my father recalled. Maria had a difficult time leaving her mother behind, she was scared. She was moving to another country where she did not know anyone while leaving everything she knew behind. She missed Cuba but she knew life would be better for her and her children if they left.


My father and his family left on the king of Spain’s plane where they were allowed safe passage to Spain. He was only 8 at the time and he was unsure with what the future might look like. My father lived in Spain for a few years with his family. They lived with Manuel’s brother in Madrid. My grandmother stayed home with the kids to make sure they would stay out of trouble while my grandfather worked. She recalled a time she had left to get groceries and upon her returned, my father was walking on the ledge of the apartment building from the neighbor’s place back to his. She thought, “I was so mad, he could have fallen and died, he was born again that day.” I still did not know what that meant but in a way, it made sense.

Eventually they moved to Miami Florida where they lived for another year. They went on a lot of family vacations; America was a different place with different opportunities. Life was difficult for them, my grandfather had to start his business all over again in a new county while my grandmother went to work for the first time. In Cuba, it was common for women to stay home and take care of the children. She worked as a cleaner for many schools and private homes. It was something she was good at and several Cuban women did these jobs. My father loved Disney World the most. “Your tio was scared on every ride but overall it’s a memory I will never forget.” A job was available in Houston for my grandfather allowing them to move and raise their kids here. My grandmother still works to this day while my uncle took over his father’s business where he turned it into the American Dream.

There are always multiple sides to each story. Cuba was not always a communist country where resources were low and people were behind the times. It was a place many called home and where their lives began. I never had the chance to ask my grandfather his side to the story, but I know his would have been wilder. Cuba is a place where people like my grandmother will always call home, a place where she will remember as peaceful and beautiful.


Cuba by Aryanna Martinez

Our Power by Evelin Arredondo

Deep in the center of Mexico lies the vibrant city of Guanajuato where the people invite you in with a warm smile and a lively welcoming. Beyond Salamanca, Mexico lies the Cuatro de Altamira rancho. You can tell on the drive into the ranch that the people don’t have much and many make a living off of agriculture, but despite the humble surroundings there’s a spirit in the air that makes you feel so free. Kids run up the Cerro to reach La tiendita de Maria that rests at the peak of the enormous hill in order to buy candy and fried chips with salsa and spices. You hear the horses’ hooves clack on the dirt road and you can’t help but to turn around and face the men coming back from La Sequia. Exhaustion decorates their bodies and their sombreros help shield their faces from the setting sun. The cattle are rounded back onto the fields with the help of El Capitan- our trusty dog. Uncle Sol opens the green gates for the cattle and horses while the working men make their way into the adobe kitchen. My abuelita gives them hearty servings of chicken flautas with fresh queso, salsa roja and of course, a cold glass bottle of Coca-Cola.

As my father’s navy blue truck pulls up to the entrance of our ranch, all of our family members stop dead in their tracks and stare at the unfamiliar vehicle. Their expressions change from concerned to joyful once they recognize the faces of the people who only come around once a year. We are bombarded by hugs before our feet can even touch the gravely ground. My cousins and aunts bury me in questions about life in the United States and we get so caught up in the frenzy we fail to realize the moon has come to relieve the sun. After my family and I get settled we meet up with all of our family so we can walk together to the common land to greet old friends and make our visit known. The women and children are walking barefoot because the ground has transformed into a cool sheet of ice thanks to the starry veil in the sky. We spot our old friends and the atmosphere becomes alive. Everyone is laughing at the jokes being made, singing along to the mariachi, and making plans to make our visit memorable. The clock reads midnight and the children are reminded of the legend of the Weeping Woman and they bolt in fear to the safety of their homes while the women and men follow behind resisting the rocky road back to reality.

My family and I stepped inside our home and all the memories from the last visit hit us like a ton of bricks. My dad remembered the gigantic scorpion my brother found by the back door and how my mom squashed it with her foot like it was no big deal. My eyes were getting heavy and my body screamed for rest, so dragged my feet all the way to my room. I looked around and noticed how everything was the same way I left it during my last visit. The dusty books on the shelf, my old diaries, and my favorite homemade doll made me feel nostalgic. After  struggling to open the rusty window, I made myself comfortable in my bed and let the calming whisper of the wind nurse me to sleep.

The sound of the rooster crowing awakened me the next morning. I slowly tried to pry my eyes open and after a little struggle my electric blue walls were revealed to me. I knew my dad was still sleeping by the excruciatingly loud snores coming from the room adjacent to mine. As I giggled at the loud snores, I heard my mother’s powerful voice calling us outside to eat. I sprung out of bed and slipped on my colorful huaraches. Once I stepped foot outside I saw colorful long skirts and flowy white tops accessorized with clunky rifles hanging off the backs of my grandmother, my aunt, and my mother. I always felt a compelling wave of confidence whenever I witnessed something like this because I would be reminded of the fact that I come from a long line of strong mujeres. The aroma of our breakfast was appetizing and the clay dishes complimented the sight of the food beautifully. We all ate our breakfast in good company, but it was disrupted by the sound of the bell letting us know that it was time for the men to go to work.  They sat in silence trying to gather enough mental and physical strength to go back to the fields, but once they did they proudly lined up in front of my grandmother in order to receive her blessings before hopping on their horses and disappearing until sundown.

I watched my grandmother make her way towards the orchid tree and I followed behind her because that meant it was time for her to braid my hair. Abuelita took a seat on the rounded boulder while I sat on the floor and quietly endured the tugging and pulling of my hair. Once she was done braiding my hair she took my hand and lead me to her house and instructed me to open the doors to her closet. I got excited because as a curious 7 year old I loved surprises- especially the ones for me. Tears formed in my eyes when I saw the stunning traditional dress in front of me. The vibrant colors and the beautiful embroidery along the neckline and hem made me emotional because I was aware of the amount of time and patience my abuelita had invested into the making of the dress. I didn’t take off the dress the whole day; I loved the way it flowed when gusts of wind hit me or the way the sun seemed to make the colors shine from a mile away.

I was sitting on the highest branch of this old, enormous tree by the stream reading a book of scary legends when my cousin, Emily, yelled at me to follow her back home since it was getting closer to sun down. We raced each other to her house because her mom had just come back from the city and she brought back sweets and my favorite chips. I was munching away on the couch, watching TV when Emily’s mom and my mom walked in with my grandma. Abuelita tried to hide her pained expression so she wouldn’t worry her grandkids but I had a feeling something was very wrong. They laid down my abuelita on the bed and I heard our mothers trying to reason with her, but grandma refused to be taken to a hospital. So, they grabbed their belongings and left to a neighboring ranch to buy the herbs and oils necessary to make the medicine my grandmother requested. When I walked in her room and took in the sight of her, I finally noticed how frail she had become but you could still see the same resilience she carried all her life in her eyes. She grabbed my hand with her trembling one and weakly spoke. She said that our familia and our traditions were our power. She talked to me about the importance of being strong and confident in who I am. Minutes later her eyes closed forever. Sometimes being strong means deciding to finally make a truce with this life and move on to the next world.

That devastating night when my familia made their way to common land I stayed behind. I walked towards the Orchid tree and sat down on the same boulder my grandmother sat on earlier that day when she was braiding my hair. As I looked down at my dress I thought about what she told me before dying and I thought about how angry I was that she refused medical help. After much thought, my brain told my body to stand and my legs stubbornly complied. On the way to the common land I felt the refreshingly cold soil in between my toes and each step turned stronger than the last.  I fixed my posture and held my head high; I felt empowered for some unknown reason. When I reached the gathering I walked up to my father and wrapped my arms around his shoulders. He wasn’t crying but you could tell he was on the verge of tears. That was the only time up to this day that I’ve witnessed my father cry.

Over the years, as I’ve assimilated to the American way of life and made mistakes along the way, I have gained more insight on what my abuelita told me years ago. Her words hold the utmost gravity and they resonate with my being every single time I think about them. My culture and the support I receive from my family is abundant. When I feel the weight of the world on my shoulders I know I have my people to lean on. The women are fearless and strong-willed and the men are protective and reassuring. Even though I grew up with nothing I never felt like I was poor and I’m sure that’s because of the love and security my community provided. Just like all those years ago when I would rush home in fear of the Weeping Woman, I now run in fear of my hardships and take refuge in my memories and my family.

Our Power by Evelin Arredondo

My Brother and I by Charles D. Biggurs II

When I grew up it was only my mom, my brother and I. We didn’t really have much but we had what counted such as food, clothes and somewhat of a car that worked just as much as my mom could afford for it to work, and a place to stay. We lived in Acers Homes. It wasn’t the best place to live, but it was what we called home. I also had a sister who was unappreciative; no matter how hard my mom worked she didn’t care because it she wasn’t allowed to do what she wanted to do. My sister was fifteen going on twenty-one, so one day my sister told my mom that she wanted to go and stay with my grandmother and my mother granted that to her and now she had to take care of two houses. My mother struggled with buying school clothes and food for two so she would tell my brother and me that we would have to wear some of our old clothes for the first few weeks of school until she got paid again. That went on for a while.

Before we knew it, we were packing up moving in with my grandmother. My mother explained to my brother and me that money was very tight. So that she could take care of us better that’s why we are moving, but he didn’t really understand because he was five years old at the time, and I did because I was four years older than him. My grandmother lived right down the street from us. It was kind of hard at first, because the house was only 3 bedrooms, and 1 and a half baths.  One could say that it was crowed, but to my brother and me it was great. We got to play with our cousins, and friends that we would only see at school or on the weekends. We stayed there for about four years and we thought it was the best thing on earth until one evening, I heard my mom and grandmother talking and my mom needed a new car, because the old one was not running so well, but the boys also needed school clothes. Here we are with a no good father right down the street from us at his mom’s house and we couldn’t get one dollar for a popsicle. That made my blood boil.

I figured the only way for me to help my mom was to cut grass to help with school clothes, and I did but that wasn’t enough.  One of my best friends suggested that we get us some weed, with the money from cutting grass and make more money that way, because the guys at the end of the street were doing it and they were making a lot of money. I was only 14 and I thought about it but didn’t do it right away until one Friday evening my friend showed me the money that he made and it was like 150 dollars just in a couple of days. My eyes almost popped out of my head when I saw it. He said all we had to do was stay outside, in front of his house and it would sell itself.

That’s when life for me changed. The money was okay, but I needed more to help my mother with my brother and me. One Saturday, the acquaintance from the street told my friend and me, we could make more money and a lot faster. I asked how. He said selling crack. I didn’t know much about it but my best friend did because of one of his relatives. So my friend said let’s put the money we have together and make more money. So we did. We each put 100 dollars in from our weed profit and the guy from the street gave us a 200 dollar slab. He showed us how to cut it up, and he told us how much money we should make from it so we were all in at that point. My friend and I stayed outside almost all night that Saturday and we couldn’t believe our eyes, how fast it was moving. It seemed like there was a car to come by every two minutes and we loved it.

When we counted our money we made 400 dollars, so I took my half and my friend took his and we went home. As soon as I got home I showed my brother the money and he asked where you got that, so I told him from down that street with my friend sell drugs. I quickly told him don’t tell mama and he said okay. He asked me what I was going to do with the money. I said help mama with school clothes so she don’t have to worry about not being able to afford to get us any clothes right away.

My friend and I continued to hustle, and we made a lot more money once we understood what we were doing. Until a Thursday afternoon the cops jumped out on the corner and arrested my best friend, as well as some of the other guys from the street. I was sick and scared at the same time. My mama came in my room and told me, “You know the police took your friend to jail today for selling drugs.” I said, yes Ma’am, and she asked me was I okay, I told her yes. My brother came running in the room saying, man, I thought that was you that they picked up. I said, no because I wasn’t planning on going out until it was nightfall. He said, man, you need to stop. But by then it was too late the money was helping a lot. We got clothes when we needed them, and my mom thought that I was cutting a lot of yards, which I still did before I went out to hustle, all the while going to school and doing what I am supposed to do. My friend came home the next day and said man that’s it for me and you need to stop to, and I looked at my friend and told him I wasn’t, and that I was going to do it until the wheels feel off. He said alright and continued to be my friend.

As time went on I graduated high school and was still helping my mother, just because that’s what I was supposed to do. And giving my brother whatever he wanted until he finished school. I continued hustling we didn’t struggle like we did early on in my life. My friend is no longer my friend, but my brother just like my real brother: if they ever call for anything I am there.

My Brother and I by Charles D. Biggurs II

Being Different by Margaret Buhrer

As a woman, I have experienced both positive and negative influences of cultural standards of physical beauty throughout my life. A majority of the negative was experienced in my childhood and teens, during which I had the positive guidance of my mother to help me develop and maintain my self-esteem. It was not until later in life that I became a part of a positive community of female voices who have influenced my confidence in speaking out about negative rhetoric regarding women’s physicality in public. My upbringing in a family with the strong female voice of my mother, as well as my experiences in life as a woman have shaped my influence and experience in the public sphere.

My mother was the main voice that guided me through the experiences of “being different” during my childhood and teens. To be more specific, “being different” in that my physical appearance did not align with societal standards, even when that society was an elementary school classroom. My memory of the first day of school was walking in to a room of kids I have never met with my mom looking on, and having another 5-year-old grab my stomach with both hands and squeeze saying “you’re fat,” setting the tone for my entire grade school social experience. I know now that this little girl probably had very different voices in her life, making the picking apart of a fellow classmate normal to her. My mother would act as a voice of reason and teaching in these situations, explaining the concept of someone being mean or bullying, and the beginnings of developing the beauty standards I learned from my family.

When I was 24 years old I joined the Houston Roller Derby recreational league, Machete Betties, where I became a part of the most positive community of women I have ever experienced in my life. Bullying is the fastest way to get yourself kicked out, and the way you look is not what matters. It’s how effectively you play the sport. Different body types have different benefits to the sport. Being petite, tall, short, heavy set, muscular, having a big booty, all help you have a different edge during gameplay, and this is taught during every practice in one form or another. Within this sport, there is a constant struggle to explain to outsiders that have a vague understanding of roller derby that it is no longer the same sport as it was in the 40’s, 50’s and 80’s. The players strive to be taken seriously as most leagues would like to see it as an Olympic sport in the near future. I’m typically asked if I “wrestle” with other players, or if I elbow anyone in the face. It’s always either hypersexualized or extra violent. It’s frustrating when I see someone’s disappointment when I explain, no, there are specific rules against beating the crap out of each other, it’s a serious sport, and the theatrics of the 1940’s are reserved to a league in Austin, TXRD, where “sexy pillow fights” are penalties. While the skaters for the four teams of TXRD are incredibly athletic and talented skaters, they are not a part of the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association, and still play with the theatrics and sexualization the sport is trying to stray way from.

When I first began skating with Houston Roller Derby in 2011, Suzy Hotrod of Gotham Girls Roller Derby in New York City was the first derby girl to be in the ESPN Body Issue. This reinforced my changing view on what was beautiful, and that was to be strong and capable of doing what I loved well. Her appearance in this issue helped to change preconceived notions about the level of athleticism needed to play the sport. Getting to meet her in Austin at a championship game is still one of my fondest memories, and it was exciting to see that I was not the only one lining up for a picture. I attribute the influence of this body positive environment in a sport run by females to my confidence in almost every aspect of my daily life.

I am not impervious to the negative influence of the media and others around me, nor am I innocent of contributing to this negativity. I feel that the more I analyze and educate myself about the experiences of other young girls and women in my community, I can use my voice as necessary to help quell the oppressive and detrimental beauty standards that exist today. I hope to use my level of confidence gained from my experience to guide my son to be a similar voice in the communities he becomes a part of. Perhaps that influence can spread and create a new standard.

Being Different by Margaret Buhrer