The Fifth Issue of the Cat 5 Review

The Sound of Crabcakes - Michelle Vo

(The Sound of Crabcakes by Michelle Vo)

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

Volume 3, Issue 2
Spring 2017

Gemini Wahhaj, Executive Editor

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

“From Taco Bell to a Hole in the Wall” by Dion Robinson

“Cementing the Construction Industry” by Wenceslao Guerro “Leo”

“Mirror” by Adrienne Stephens

“Rose for Kathy” by Katherine Martinez

“Aldine Soil” by Juan Rodriguez

“The Call” by LaToya Samuel

“That One Store” by Oscar Galvan

“The Ambigram Looking Glass” by Tiarra Cooper

Art by Michelle Vo

Art by Allyzah Allen D. Cabugao

Art by an Anonymous LSC-Greenspoint Center Student

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The Fifth Issue of the Cat 5 Review

Rose for Kathy by Katherine Martinez

The day I was born was one of the happiest days of my parents’ lives. The room where I was born was old and my mom said she was watching an old Mexican movie as I was being born. Right next to her was a vase with beautiful flowers that my dad had bought to give the room more life. The flowers were beautiful pink roses since I was a girl.  They told me I was a miracle baby since the doctors had told my mother she couldn’t have any children.

There was one problem. I was born with my hip dislocated. I don’t know if it was caused by the doctor or if I was like that before I was born, but I had it now and my parents knew that I would have a painful childhood. Apparently back in 1996 there weren’t many cases like mine. I was the only baby with her hip totally dislocated. My parents told me that before they took me home the research doctors made a diaper-shaped cast to put on me so that my hip could adjust. It was a dirty yellow color with Velcro straps and it was really hard and thick. My mother hated putting it on me. She thought that I was in pain while I wore it. But I was a newborn. I don’t remember feeling pain at all.

Since my mother hated the plastic diaper, she prayed about it. She went to the nearby Catholic Church to go relax and pray. In the small dark church was a huge painting of the lady of Guadalupe with fresh roses as always. My mother had taken me with her. She was carrying my holding me tight in her arms. As tears streamed down her face, she started to pray to the lady of Guadalupe. “Virgin of Guadalupe please cure my daughter. I put her in your arms. I promise that every year on the day we celebrate you here at the church that I will come and dress my little Kathy as an Indian and she will bring you roses. ”

She says that when she finished praying she looked at me and that I was fast asleep with a smile on my face. From that day she stopped putting that plastic diaper on me and taking me to the church, where she prayed to the lady of Guadalupe.

Several months passed and it was about that time to go to the hospital. We would go to the doctor every other month and on this appointment day, my parents were very nervous. They were nervous because they haven’t been using the plastic diaper. So we get there and the doctor and he stretched my legs and looked at my hips he asked if my parents have been using the diaper and they said no. The doctor was surprised because he said I was making amazing progress.

For years and years later we would go and keep getting better and better results. I was about four or five by now and I loved going to the hospital because the lobby was always filled with cool art and toys. It was my turn to go see the doctor. so the nurse guided my family and me to the room. The nurse started to ask me what I liked to do. Since I was three my mom had put me in tap dance classes so I had something to do. So my natural answer to the nurse was that I liked to dance. I told her how much I loved to wear the glittery tutus and shiny bows and that my dream was to be able to do a middle and side splits. She was very intrigued that a five year old with hip problems was saying this. As the nurse left to go get the doctor I climbed up the bed in the room and plopped myself on top. The first thing I did every time I was in the room was to look at the paper that covers the bed. It was always different: sometimes it had stories, other times it just had pictures. After analyzing the paper I looked down at my pigeon-toed feet. I would always wear black ballerina flats.

BAM! The door flew open it was the doctor and he did the usual check up he checked my heart and back and everything else. Then he told me to lie on my back he stared to move my legs stretch them and bend them. With every movement he would ask if it hurt and it didn’t. When he was don’t he said that my legs and hips were doing better than ever. That’s when I decided to ask him if I would ever be able to do a split. The doctor turned and his smiled wiped off his face and with a serious tone he said, “You will never be able to do that because of your hips.” My whole world shattered my dream was to be a ballerina and everyone knows that ballerinas do splits. I was devastated.

I ended up quitting my dance classes around the third grade due to the other ballerinas and tap dancers making fun of me being pigeon toed. I never wanted to dance again. As the years passed I didn’t do much. I just went to school. My mom would always tell me that it wasn’t to late for me to join the dance teams again. I would have said yes to going back in a heartbeat but I didn’t want to get made fun of anymore. My dad also stopped taking me to the doctors when I was 10 years old since the doctor said that I was fine. But I still had to take care of myself just in case my hip decided to act up (which it never did).

Once I got into high school I had so may options of electives and after school clubs and I was ready to join things. My freshmen year I was already on the cross-country team and the choir. That was one of the best years of my life. By sophomore year, our cross-country coach said that he was moving schools so I decided to pick another elective ­– something that would keep me active. One day after leaving choir class I saw this sign saying in bold letters “spring winter guard tryouts Friday!” I knew what I was going to replace running with and it was dancing.

That Friday I told my mom I would be getting out late because of the winter guard tryouts. That afternoon not many girls were there. Most of the girls I asked said that they were already a part of the group so it was only a hand full of us trying out. The captains warmed us up and taught us a dance that we had to dance across the floor. To be honest, I didn’t do well at all but I tried my best and made it seem like I knew what I was doing. That night I home not knowing what I got myself into. A couple of days later I got an email saying that I made the team. From that moment I knew what I was going to dedicate the next two years of my life to.

Fast forward to senior year. I was in choir, in color guard, and in fashion class. This was going to be the best year of my life and I didn’t even know it. During the football season the band and color guard would preform during halftime. The band and the guard would prepare all summer long for this show. That year it was puppet themed so the guard would dress like puppets and dance in the show. In the choreography we got for the show was a split, in fact a middle split to be specific. I was freaked out because I knew I was never going to be able to do a split. To make matters worse, I was in the very front of the field. I worked my butt off to be able to do it. I didn’t want to let my team down till one day that amazing day when I sat down to warm up and I hit my side splits and a perfect middle split. It felt so good to say that I could do it. I even wanted to go see that doctor just to prove him wrong.

After that I was having perfect runs in the shows. My parents would see every show and they would always buy me roses. Towards the end of the year I had a choir trip to Walt Disney world where I showed off my flexibility and did a split in front of Cinderella’s castle. Once I got back I had to hop on another plane to go to Ohio with the winter guard where we became world champions in the WGI championships. When I got home after all of the traveling, anxiously waiting to show my parents my gold medal, I came home to a warm hug and fresh roses.

Rose for Kathy by Katherine Martinez

The Call by LaToya Samuel

At the age of twenty four, I was pregnant with my third child. My dreams of ever being married were just that, a dream. After my children’s father decided to leave me for an old high school girlfriend, my illusions of being a wife quickly turned into me having regrets of the decisions I had made, and as each day passed I began to feel regret and depressions of the decision in which I had made over time. I began telling myself that no man would ever want to be with a woman who had three children. It hurt even more as some of my family members pierced me with the words of being a stereotypical “baby mama” who will be nothing more or anything less than uneducated and on welfare. The raging hormones of my pregnancy led me on an even more mind-spinning emotional rollercoaster. My self-esteem was tarnished, but the will to persevere and prove to everyone that doubted me gave me the strength and motivation to push that much harder. I was determined to show everyone that I am not what they think of me, and that I am educated and will be successful despite my shortcomings and minor setbacks.

My parents have always my biggest support system. They have always supported me whether I was wrong or right, as well as helped me with my children. As a result of my children’s father leaving, I was forced to move back home with my parents. At this time I was seven months pregnant with my third child, and continued to work and go to school. I owned an old blue Pontiac that began to give me problems, oil leaks, flat tires, starter failure, just to name a few.  My dad did what he could to help me with the repairs, until one day the new neighbor from across the street offered to help. He was a handsome tall muscular built man, with skin the color of smooth caramel. His head was shaved bald and his eyes marveled the November birthstone color topaz, his face was clean shaved with a well-manicured Gold-T mustache. He was dressed in a pair of navy blue cargo Dickie pants, a short sleeve grey polo shirt, and work boots. As he worked with my dad to fix my car I skimmed his hand to see if he was wearing a  wedding band or even had the discoloration on his finger where the ring had been worn…and just as I thought this good-looking, handsome man was very much taken. Unfortunately I was quickly reminded of my feelings of disappointment and regret resurfaced when I looked down at my bulging pregnant belly and the voices of my children playing in the yard. In that moment I felt all the air release itself out of that bubble of hope I had for that moment of being someone’s wife.

Several months had passed. I had given birth to my third child, and this routine of him helping with the repairs of my car by the neighbor from across the street who goes by the name of called Big Tony continued, only now he was attending our family gatherings. I noticed he and my father became unseeingly close friends and would often spend hours out in the front yard talking, but I never thought anything of it because in our neighborhood this was normal for neighbors to do. I would often hear my father tell my mother that Big Tony and his wife were having marital problems and that Big Tony really appreciated having him there to talk to.

I still did not think anything of the whole situation, until one day my dad got a phone call and it was Big Tony. He had went to Connecticut to visit a close friend and was calling to actually speak to me. Of course, I was surprised thinking to myself why is this man calling to talk to me? Our conversation was short and brief, but the whole time I am on the phone I am looking at my father and he has this sneaky little smirk on his face and he is looking down at the newspaper as if he is reading something interesting.

I hung up the phone and asked, “Daddy why is this man calling me, and shouldn’t he be calling his wife?”

My father let out a little giggle and shrugged his shoulders as if he didn’t have a clue why I got that phone call. Of course I became very irritated, but a little flattered at the same time.

I yelled at my father, saying, “Daddy this is not cool at all, he is married and I am fat in the front!”

He just continued to laugh and told me to calm down and that I would eventually come around. Then he added, “Just go out with him.”

As irritated as I was, I knew my dad’s intentions were good and he would not put me into a situation to be emotionally hurt.

After I had confirmed that Big Tony was officially divorced, we began dating.  Of course, this was the plan of my father the whole time.  Several years had passed and we had our typical relationship ups and downs. The most crucial fallout was with his mother, my soon to be mother-in-law. Big Tony had been married twice before he and I were to get married and from what I was told neither of the marriages lasted longer than one to two years. When his mother learned of our engagement, she pulled every stunt known to man to keep our marriage from happening. She went to the extremes of telling my soon-to-be husband that I was cheating on him with my kids’ father to me disrespecting her by calling her a B**** in front of the kids. She went as far as trying to physically fight me. In that moment, I was convinced this lady had problems and was insane. And because of these allegations that were later proven to be false, she and I did not have a good relationship, but we were able to remain cordial out of respect for Big Tony.

I was always taught from a young age to never disrespect my elders. I always tried to maintain peace. I did what I could as a woman, respectable young lady, fiancée at that time to gain his mother’s approval. I even went as far as to make sure that on every holiday and especially Mother’s Day I would acknowledge her importance to me by giving her roses and cards to show that I wanted to make peace with her and get to a better place so that she and I could get along, for the sake of her new grandchild. Needless to say, we went on like this for the next several years.

It was Sunday, April 9, 2006. We had a full day ahead of us. I was attending church services and Big Tony was taking the boys to their basketball tournament in Katy this particular weekend. I arrived at church and attended services as usual, when all of a sudden it seemed like time slowed down just for a second and I was ushered into the pastor’s study to take “The Call”.

As I stood in the pastor’s study not remembering at all how I got there so quickly, out of the choir stand where I had been sitting, crossing over people who were sitting in the pews next to me, to walking down the stairs, through the double doors that led down a long hallway, I stood in total shock not knowing what I was about to hear.

My mind is confused and twisted, my heart has dropped to the pits of my stomach and my knees are so weak that my legs are beginning to feel like noodles below my waist. Nervously trembling, I take the receiver off the base of the phone, push the un-hold button, and place the phone to my ear.

“Hello,” I said. It was my mother, her voice cracking with horror excitement saying, “Tony needs you, you need to get over to Ms. Barbara house. They found her dead in her bed this morning!”

I was speechless, and till this day I cannot recall the events that took place from the time I left the church to the time I got to her apartment which was maybe twenty minutes away from where our church was located.

When I arrived at the apartment, the scene was something similar to a movie. The police had not yet arrived, but the mortuary service men were there and Big Tony had made it there. It was minutes later that the police had arrived. The entire time I was confused because there was not an ambulance there. It was later told to me that because she was already deceased there was no need for an ambulance. I rushed up the stairs, and everyone except Big Tony and his younger sister Chicara were standing outside the apartment door. I rushed past everyone looking got Tony and Chicara. They were in the back bedroom where their mother lay in her bed. The most interesting thing about this whole situation is the calmness in the atmosphere of the room. As Ms. Barbara lay there her hair was combed, her clothes were neat, and as if she knew it was time. It was as if she was sleeping peacefully.

As I stood in the room with the family, the events of the past week began to play in my head. It was Thursday, and I was dropping Chicara off at home as I did every day. But this particular day Ms. Barbara was standing outside on the balcony waiting for us to pull up.  I spoke as I normally do, but this time she wanted to converse. This was not normal. She asked me where I was going and I told her I was going to the store and asked her if she needed anything. She said no and to be careful. While we were talking Chicara comes downstairs with a clear plastic gift box with a small square lavender pillow, the size of a small jewelry box and ten dollars. Chicara walks up to my truck and says, “My mama told me to give this to you.” I asked, what is this for. She simply replies, “I just wanted to buy you lunch.” I told her thank you and I appreciate it. She smiled at me and that was the last time I saw her alive.

The following week burial arrangements were being made. I was faced with a situation I thought I would not have to deal with until the death of my own parents. Big Tony is the oldest of four children, therefore majority of the decisions that were being made were to be by him. He had been close to his mother. That made this task much more difficult, leaving me to handle majority of the decisions regarding the arrangements. When it came time to pick the colors for her funeral no one knew what her favorite color was. Then it dawned on me, she always had things in her home that were lavender, and she had given me a lavender pillow. I really feel that she was making peace with me and at the same time finally giving me the approval that I had been seeking for her to accept me into their family.

The Call by LaToya Samuel

Aldine Soil by Juan Rodriguez

My name is Juan Rodriguez and I am from a street called Aldine Mail Rd. Aldine is where I was born and raised. I can still remember walking down the street to the corner store by my house just to buy takis when I was a little kid. I also remember the delicious smell of Ms. Garcia’s homemade cooking as I would pass by her house on the way to the store. After I would leave the store I would then walk to my best friend Luis’s house who lived a whole mile away. Everything to me at that time when I was a little kid was fine and I had no worries for my safety. It wasn’t until I got older that I realized how dark the place I called home “Aldine” really was.

Growing up I had three best friends whom I called my brothers. There was Luis who was the shortest and the fittest out of the group. He was also Salvadoran. Gustavo was the one more into the books. Kevin was the lady’s guy.  Lastly there was me, the football jock who cared about the books but always put football first. We all had our different backgrounds but we all stuck together and never separated.

Rodriguez1

We weren’t just friends just because, we were friends because we all had something in common. We were different from most people in Aldine. We had illnesses. You see, when I was born, my parents were told by the doctors that I wasn’t going to make it past the night. I had water in both of my lungs and was diagnosed with asthma at just one day old. By mercy I did, I did make it past the night but from then on I was always very sick. I wasn’t a normal kid. I couldn’t do what normal kids did. While everyone was at recess, I was in the classroom by myself ’cause my lungs were too bad. I remember sitting in the classroom crying ’cause I couldn’t play football with my friends. I just wanted to be normal. I was in and out the hospital and had almost died three times. It wasn’t until I was eight when my lungs got better and I was able to do more stuff. I was so happy and excited ’cause now I was on a soccer team and could actually play with my friends for once. Then one day out of nowhere my face started to twitch then my arm and from there I would make some noise with my mouth but I couldn’t stop. It was almost as if something had taken control of me. It was uncontrollable. I told my parents about it and they took me to the doctor. The doctor said that they were not sure what it was but they wanted to do some tests and friendly experiments.

A week later I was taken to my first friendly experiment. I remember as if it was just yesterday. The doctor and I were walking down the hall to a room and he had his cold hand on the back of my neck, I was nervous but wasn’t scared ’cause I remembered him saying the word “friendly”. We finally reached the room at the end of the hallway and when he opened the door it was pitch black, I couldn’t see anything. I figured he was gonna turn the light on but instead he pushed me into the room and closed the door behind me. I didn’t know what to do so I just stood there blind in the dark. Then I started to hear a loud noise like a machine starting up and then I started to get hit with these rubber balls. I tried running but I couldn’t see anything. I tried crying but I wasn’t heard. I yelled for my parents but they were nowhere to be found. I was so scared I was only eight, I didn’t know what to do. Finally they stopped and turned the lights on. The doctor came in, patted me on the back and gave me a sticker.

The next week I was tied down to a bed where I layed and couldn’t move for 15 hours in a pitch black room. The week after that, the doctor gave me questions to answer and if I got them wrong, my hands were hit with a paddle. Only things is, those questions were high school government questions but I was only eight. I was given 42 questions and I got all 42 wrong. I walked out of that room crying with both of my hands bruised and swollen. The experiments lasted about two months and I was told I had what was called Tourette syndrome. Luis, Gustavo, kevin, including me all had tourette syndrome. We all went through those experiments as well.

If that wasn’t bad enough, every day we would get bullied in school for having. Every single day we were picked on. The area we lived in made it worse because the ghetto had no remorse. Word got around Pine Wood that we had it and were called out on it every day. We would sometimes even get jumped. That’s why we decided to stick together, that is why we never separated. If we did, this street called Aldine would eat us alive.

Aldine is small in size, but it’s big in tradition. People from Aldine usually do things the same way. Whether it’s the way people drive, the way people dress, the way people interact with one another, the language that is spoken, food that is eaten, it’s all the same. However, it is very violent and conceiving in certain places.

Pine Wood area is known as the bad side of Aldine. Everyone knew this area whether you lived in Aldine or by Aldine. You see, I lived in the ghetto. You may have heard of it but unless you live in it then you don’t know anything about it. You see, it’s more than just a lifestyle, it’s in your blood. It’s who you are, not so much what you do. You can try to be different but the truth is, if you have it in your blood you will always be ghetto. Pine Wood area is the ghetto. Some people have even called it the Compton of Houston.

When I turned eight I met my childhood friends whom I called my best friends. Every day we would all get together after school and meet up at the local basketball court. The basketball court was where all the younger kids would go to meet up. I don’t think there was ever a time we actually played basketball, well no one did. That was just the chill spot. Then once we met up, we would then go to Joy’s Market which is the corner store everyone went to buy hot Cheetos and Takis. By the way if you didn’t eat hot Cheetos and Takis then you weren’t cool. Once we got our snacks we would then go to the park to play football up until about 7:00 pm. Seven o’clock meant we needed to hurry up and get our asses home. If we stayed out past seven, one of two things would happen. Either we’ll get our asses in trouble by our moms for staying out past seven or we would get our asses jumped or robbed. Usually all the bad stuff happens after seven, well, at least on my part of the street.

After seven is when the true colors of Aldine are shown. One of the biggest crimes committed on Aldine is drug trafficking. Drug dealers are on every corner of Aldine. They may be naked to the human eye but they’re there. Some of the people that you would think would never be a drug dealer because of their appearance are drug dealers. While waiting on the corner they’re usually doing something or “working” on their cars as a disguise. Then the consumer would come up to them to purchase the drugs. 90% of their customers are the homeless because it’s less risky selling to them being that they are most of the time addicts. Also since they’re addicts and they want the drug so badly, they will pay anything for it. Robbery was another big one too. If you’re out past seven, you better not have anything good on you. Me and my friends once got robbed at gunpoint for our Jordans and a few days later someone got stabbed for their bike. Homeless people don’t make it any easier either. With so many homeless people on our street you don’t know who’s the bad guy.

Every morning as my friends and I walk to school, we come across many homeless people. Most of them are young and still have a chance to change their lives around but just don’t have the drive to do so. Most of them also abuse drugs sold by the drug dealers on the corner. So even if they wanted to change their lives, they still have the dealers feeding them drugs. Homeless people like to station themselves here because they wouldn’t be noticeable here.

Aldine isn’t what you would call a high standard of living. We are not high maintenance. There’s trash everywhere down the street and many abandoned houses. Store owners who owned businesses down the street of Aldine would actually pay people who were willing to pick up any trash that was in front of the business. Trust me I know because that is what kept me and my best friends busy the whole summer. Every morning at 5 am, we started our shift. My best friends and I would always complain about how shitty the job was but truth is it was actually paying us some good money. Then once school started up again we all decided to quit.

School is important to those who want it on Aldine but most don’t. The education in Aldine has changed drastically. Now most of the kids from Aldine don’t even make it past the ninth grade. Sad, but very true. Can you blame them, though? They were brought up in life thinking that school wasn’t important and the way to go is the streets. Trust me, I know because one of the friends out of my best friends had dropped out of school in 8th grade to sell dope and was incarcerated a year later. The crazy thing is, his father is in jail for the same charge. You see, most of the kids that don’t make it past the ninth grade are the ones who lived in a family where one of the family members was in the drug business. They see that specific family member with all that jewelry and a nice car making that fast money and they want that too. So then they decide to become another statistic of Aldine, which eventually either leads up to going in prison, dying or becoming homeless.  It used to be where every kid had to go to school and when they weren’t in school, they were playing sports and were in bible study.

Once you go a little more down the street towards MacArthur high school, it starts to get better. There are bigger houses and houses that are actually fully painted. More of the nicer cars are usually seen around that area too. Even all of the big food chain companies are right there. You Jack in the Box, Dominoes, Little Caesars, McDonald’s, Burger King, and the list goes on. The kids from that area also have multiple pairs of shoes they can actually cycle through when they get tired of one specific pair. You got all the church fundraisers going on over there.

Church, believe it or not, is a big thing on Aldine. You could miss anything but when it came to church, you better have your butt there. Everyone attends church on Sunday and if you don’t you’re an outsider. I never liked church because I always had a thing against God. I always felt like he took so much from me. It wasn’t until my friend Oscar got shot right in front of his house which was two doors down from me that I realized that I need get my ass to church ’cause that could’ve been me. Plus, if you didn’t like church you still attended it for the food. The food was the bomb. Almost all of the homeless people of Aldine were there every Sunday, so a lot of food was made for everyone. You got fresh elotes with the chile on it, fajita taco, rice, frijoles rancheros and you got Mexican hot dogs which are hot dogs wrapped in bacon and topped with refried beans and your choice of toppings. They are the best!

The church would also host events every weekend for the community like soccer games, flag football, or danzas, which are ritual dances. The danzas were the people’s favorite. Most of us people from the ghetto didn’t know what they were doing but it was something special. It was something we had never seen before. It sucked us in and kept us in their zone for the fifteen minutes they were dancing. For fifteen minutes we were away from all of the negativity, the drugs, the killings, kidnappings, the list goes on. It was a moment us people in the ghetto wished we could stay in forever. Aldine is also predominantly Catholic, being that it is predominantly Hispanic.

Now Aldine has changed so much, it has gotten even worse. More robbery, more drugs, more stabbings, and even murders. I used to love to talk about where I lived, where I was raised, and now all of that has changed. It has changed dramatically. Where’s all the fun that used to be on this street? Aldine is grey and cloudy even on a sunny day. It will literally change your mood of the day by just looking at it. However I guess that’s just life. Things will keep changing and keep on moving. Life is a moving train that doesn’t stop and you have no choice but to hop on. I just wish I could have the old Aldine back again.

To make sure I wasn’t the only one that felt that way I asked my mom “what is it like to live on Aldine?” She told me “ Aldine has changed so much from how it use to be, it’s gotten worse, it’s not how it use to be. When I was a kid the whole street of Aldine was beautiful not just certain spots. You enjoyed every single block.” Then I asked the same exact question to my father and he said, “ I used to be able to walk to the corner store to get something to drink and now I don’t even feel safe doing that. I got to wonder if  my kid will make it back from football practice being that football practice is over after dark.”  Then I asked a friend who had dropped out of high school and he said, “Man, you have to watch out with Aldine cause it can suck you in if you’re not careful.” So I asked him how and he told me “drugs, the nice cars you see the drug dealers in, the stacks of money you hear about. Either you make a change for yourself or you’ll stay here for the rest of your life.”

 

Aldine Soil by Juan Rodriguez

From Taco Bell to a Hole in the Wall by Dion Robinson

It was 1973 when I had my very first paper route. I would go deliver my route papers daily after school and collect my money at the end of the week. Once the money had all been collected, my brothers along with my two running buddies, Kevin and Michael, and I would ride our bikes to the forbidden city of Dearborn, Michigan. As described in an article by the New York Times, “Dearborn, a southwestern suburb of Detroit that has 93,000 residents, is famous as the birthplace of Henry Ford and as the home of the Ford Motor Company’s headquarters” (“Racism”). In Dearborn, being black was a crime, and a bunch of Negro children on bikes was considered suspect. My crew was hard working and not there to steal, vandalize or be mischievous. We did not care what the Dearborn residents and cops thought. All we knew is there was a Taco Bell there. This is where my fetish for tacos, nachos, and burritos started and probably why I have totally fallen so deeply in love with Mexican food.

Was it the dare to be caught in Dearborn that drew us to Taco Bell? Well, partly but we were there mostly for the tacos. Actually, we lived three blocks from the Detroit/Dearborn city limits. That is right, folks, we lived in the plush area of Detroit. We were the first black family on our block with about thirty houses total. We moved in on a Saturday and the neighbors, whose driveway touched ours, moved out that following Sunday. I assumed they moved because the neighbor, an older white man, asked that we not step on his driveway again and keep our stuff off his property. That is the price we had to pay for being a middle-class family. By being so close to the city limit border, we could hit Taco Bell, which was about a mile away from the house. On Friday or Saturday, we would ride in a big group to the Bell so if the Dearborn police got after us, we could split up because they could not catch us all. That was our version of running for the border, I swore later in life that the producer from the movie ET had to have known about our great escapes. It seems they replicated it in their movie. Those children were trying to save ET; us, well we were simply satisfying a craving. We did this for years just to enjoy the wonderful taste of what I thought was Mexican food. Time passed on, and I ate Taco Bell as much as I could. It got safer for us to go into Dearborn because times had changed and racism was not so bad, but what did I know?  By the time I moved to Houston, Texas when I was 26, my Detroit neighborhood was about 75 % black. We could mingle and move around freely but Black folks still could not buy a house in Dearborn, Michigan.

When growing up, I would rather eat Mexican food than the soul food that I was raised on. Soul food is also known as my insider food, which is defined by the following: “Insider Foods: Foods that only people within [my] culture eat” (Marshall). I call that type of food discarded food. Grant writes “Slaves were forced to eat the animal parts their masters threw away. They cleaned and cooked ‘chitterlings’ and ‘ox tails.’ Same thing for pigs’ tails, pigs’ feet, chicken necks, smoked neck bones, hog jowls and gizzards” (Grant). My mother ate some of the soul food, but she upgraded our food from the discarded parts to affordable parts. We ate the good stuff: smothered pork chops, rice, liver and onions, fried chicken, pot roast, collard greens, cabbage, homemade macaroni and cheese, white potatoes, yams and cornbread. Even though I enjoyed eating the upgraded food, I still preferred to eat at Taco Bell.

It was 1987, and I was in my late 20’s living in Houston, Texas. Ahhhh, Houston, a much friendlier place. Strangers waving at you from the corner while you wait at a stop light. You didn’t have to lock the door to your home, nor did you have to lock your car door as soon as you got in or out. It was nothing like growing up in Detroit, where the motto was “kill or be killed.” You better know I was still eating Taco Bell though, every chance I got in the land of the free. Mexican pizzas with extra sour cream is now one of my favorites.

One day, a friend said to me, “Say man, you eatin that Taco Bell like it’s good. You wanna try some real Mexican food? Then let’s go to Pappasito’s.” I agreed and to Pappasito’s we went. OMG! Pappasito’s was it! They had a Mariachi Band going from table to table playing Mexican tunes while we dined. They sang the only Mexican song I knew, or the only one I thought I knew. This song called “The Frito Bandit Song.” It is from a Frito Lay commercial from my youth. It went a little something like this: “Aye, yii, yii, yiiii, I am the Frito Bandito. I like Frito’s Corn Chips. I love them I do. I want Frito’s Corn Chips. I’ll get them from you.” Those were not the original words to the original song. It is what we call a remix of the original song in this day and time. I really could only sing the hook. Oh boy, that atmosphere gave me life! With real Mexican food accompanied by a Mariachi Band, I swear I had died and gone to heaven. So, I ate chips and salsa with a cheese dip they call queso. I was tripping because Taco Bell did not have queso and chips. Now, they did have melted cheese in their Nacho bowl, but hell, I never thought people ate chips and cheese as an appetizer.

I was going through the menu, and I saw tons of stuff I never heard of: fajitas, quesadillas, Mexican rice, tortilla soup and guacamole. I must admit it took me a while to try the guacamole because it was green, and I just could not see myself eating something that was green and mushy looking. I should have not judged a book by its cover. Also, for years I just could not understand why someone would put sour cream in their mouth and think it was okay until I went to college and got talked into trying it and finding that it is not sour at all. I ordered the cheese enchilada dinner with red sauce. I was not ready for that green sauce after just seeing guacamole for the first time. The dinner also came with refried beans, rice, and mix of a little lettuce and tomatoes on the side. I had never eaten enchiladas, Mexican rice or refried beans before, but it all went together with a cold pop, soda from my days, to top it off. I spent many of my days, actually more like years, eating at Pappasito’s. Needless to say, I have practically eaten everything on the menu with the exception of fish and scallops.

Now that I have been in Houston for 30 years, where race is not as much a factor but where I did experience my first adult racist experience. 1995, Cracker Barrel, Conroe, Texas, sitting in their famous high back wooden rocking chair waiting for my table, as I played checkers with my girlfriend. We were told we had about a 45 minutes’ wait, so we waited patiently, played checkers, and watching people come and go. After an hour had passed, I went in to see how much longer when I noticed a few of the white people I watched come in while I was playing checkers eating. Totally blew my stack. Out came the manager. He managed to find us a seat and offered us free meals because of the “misunderstanding.”

Never went back to Conroe’s Cracker Barrel. Then they built a new one closer to my home off Airtex and I-45. Opening day, my girlfriend and I decided to go have breakfast. Low and behold, the manager was the same manager from Conroe. He had not forgotten me. He offered us free meals again. He is still the manager over there to this day, and every time I go he comes to my table, shake my hand and ask is everything ok. I like the guy now. I’ve been eating breakfast there for over twenty years now and the manager and I seem to be good buddies now.

Now back to my fetish. I have found that the family-owned, hole in the wall Mexican restaurants are much better. They have more of an authentic taste, not that “Tex-Mex” taste like Pappasito’s. I can appreciate a little old lady in the kitchen, putting her special spices, seasoning and secrets in a non-commercial place. Occasionally, she would come out of the kitchen to walk through the restaurant. She would come to the front door to catch a breeze, because the kitchen was too hot. Real Mexicans, with or without green cards, cooking real Mexican food seems to bring home a wholesome authentic taste, serviced with plenty of family and love. I love Mexican food so much I have learned to cook it for myself. My specialty is enchiladas, seven layer bean dip and queso with meat in it.  My friends and family call me the Blaxican, a Black Mexican. They really seem to enjoy my Mexican dishes with a side of homemade guacamole, thank you very much.

Works Cited

Grant, Tim. “Soul Food: Scraps Became Cuisine Celebrating African-American Spirit.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, PG Publishing, 23 Feb. 2006, http://www.post-gazette.com/food/2006/02/23/Soul-food-Scraps-became-cuisine-celebrating-African-American-spirit/stories/200602230275. 07 Mar. 2017.

Marshall, Margaret. “Where Does Your Food Preference Originate?” The Huffington Post, 09 Sept. 2014, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/margaret-marshall/where-does-your-food-pref_b_5789252.html.  07 Mar. 2017.

“Racism Charges Return to Dearborn.” The New York Times, 04 Jan. 1997, http://www.nytimes.com/1997/01/05/us/racism-charges-return-to-dearborn.html. 07 Mar. 2017.

From Taco Bell to a Hole in the Wall by Dion Robinson

Cementing the Construction Industry by Wenceslao Guerrero “Leo”

There is a de facto foundation upholding the construction industry with hardy bonds between the incredible workforces from all walks of life; which give the monumental infrastructure the strength to continuously expand and make the city of Houston, Texas thrive. This strong foundation was built with the devotion of hardworking individuals unifying their skills in the trade to create the precious buildings, roadways, and bridges we all rely on. There is a rhythm to how these structures are built, and it takes the right workforce and skill to maintain this delicate process.  Before you even see the safety vests and work boots on the work field, there are individuals orchestrating the tremendous task of bidding for the work, filing the right paperwork, and preparing the work field. Work laborers then take the daunting task of building the proposed project with diligent haste. The administrative personnel and laborer workforce are juxtaposing forces that come together to cement the foundation of our highly intricate infrastructure.

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(Foreman and laborer on look while an excavator demolishes a street)

Even though there is a segregation between blue and white collar workers in construction, they have a mutualistic dependency between one another. If one fails to perform their tasks, the other will severely suffer in their performance as well. There are hardworking individuals on both sides that perform a vital role within the construction industry. You will see plenty of diligent secretaries taking in inquiries and manning the phones all day. Women and men serve their role of Accounts Payable and Human Resources so that the company is financially responsible with their business and employees. Often you will walk into a construction office and be greeted by a warm smile and a “Hola!” or “Howdy!” that carries absolute southern hospitality. Spanish is very common to hear among the staff as there are a large portion of the construction community that speaks it as a primary language. Bilingualism is a very useful skill that fortifies the communication between native Spanish speakers and English speakers both in and out of the work field. There are sometimes language barriers on both sides of the construction industry, and it is common to see both sides learn useful niche phrases to communicate between each other. After many years learning from one another, you will hear of people becoming fluent in either Spanish or English through the interactions on the field.

The Spanish language and Latino cultural identity are strongly present among the construction sites. Come midday and you will see and hear the bawdy banter, often in Spanglish, over homemade traditional foods or delectable food truck tacos. Most of the men boast about their spouses cooking, while others reminisce of their significant others they have left back in their home country. It is relatively common to hear of migrants struggling to adjust and assimilate to the American culture, especially when they miss their culture and family. These struggles are common among the laborers arising sympathetic gestures like sharing food truck tacos, Mexican tortas, Salvadoran pupusas, or good ole’ sandwiches with one another to combat the woes of separation nostalgia. These small gestures form strong bonds between the crews no matter what country of origin they may come from.

Culture exchange happens regularly between the colorful cultural backgrounds of the labor force. Salvadorans, Guatemalans, Hondurans, Mexicans, Cubans, and plenty of other Hispanic nationalities intermingle on the jobsite. Recently, I sampled a small crew of twelve laborers and inquired about their country of origin. Out of the twelve laborers, eight identified as Honduran, one from Guatemala, and three from Mexico. Even though most of the workers speak Spanish, there are various idiosyncrasies that differ between their cultures. Accents, mannerisms, and phrases are interchanged between years of camaraderie within their crews. These cultural exchanges are an important empathetic phenomenon that attest cultural tolerance. Racial tensions between these Latino nationalities are softened by exchanging similar experiences, ideas, and struggles. Many of these workers have suffered the effects of civil war and social prosecution in their home countries. They communicate and empathize with each other, often regarding themselves as family. Through the usage of a common language, many of the migrant laborers network within the construction community. They tend to move together within their crews if an employer is known to mistreat or take advantage of their situation. These dynamics provide a defense mechanism against overbearing authority in some construction companies.

As I banter more with these twelve laborers the topic of the current U.S. political climate arose and an unsettling mood became palpable between these men. Many of their smirking faces changed when asked about their future in this country, and an uncomfortable silence spoke louder than their responses. All twelve agreed that the current administration is not in their favor, and amid meek remarks over what they would do if faced with deportation their demeanor over the subject felt almost taboo. Many of these men were fathers and providers for American children, and deportation would be devastating for these men and their families. The roots that tie these immigrants to American society are their American born children, the homes some built with American spouses, and the access to an income that sustained their humble lifestyle that would otherwise be impossible back in their home countries. The fear of uprooting their current lifestyle, starting from scratch once more, and the dangers of returning to a hostile country are one of the many realities many will face with this current political administration. They will not be the only victims to the upcoming persecution of unauthorized workers due to how heavily rooted these workers are to various work industries and the American status quo.

Immigrant workforce is incredibly prominent within the Texas construction industry. Roughly, sixty percent of this “domestic outsourcing” are of foreign Latino origin (Stoll 79). These skilled undocumented workers perform backbreaking labor at barely poverty-level wages, often paid cash by contractors to avoid government tax. Exploitation of these workers is commonplace and contractors are eager to make their bank accounts great again with less legal liability to the American government. This dependency of foreign labor creates a cheaper cost overhead when building multi-million dollar public projects; therefore, the cost to build these structures would inflate at the expense of the average American tax payer if we completely remove it. Regulations are evaded by both migrants and American industries and a call to revamp an antiquated immigration system is much needed. Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR) would benefit undocumented workers with a pathway to legal status, add stronger border security, and approximately thwart unauthorized migration by approximately 33 to 55 percent (Stoll 83). CIR could potentially tip the balance back between the exploitation of unauthorized workers, tax evasions, and the flow of illegal migration from poor Latin American countries. It is imperative to address this ongoing issue, and provide the proper legislation that will benefit the American economy while preventing the exploitation of unauthorized workers.

Providing fair working conditions and abiding by the Equal Employment Opportunity laws should always be a top priority for any construction firm. These clauses are there to protect individuals of discrimination, and the administration of any construction company should uphold these laws and hire a diverse workforce. I was fortunate to be mentored alongside a myriad of different types of folks from all walks of life. One of my coworkers was a young woman named Rosario Belmonte who had experienced working in the administration side of construction as office manager. I have recently asked how she felt about being female in a predominantly male dominated work environment. Belmonte stated “I do not think women get fair treatment in construction. I feel that they are seen as weak and not able to work as hard as men…” I sympathize with her, and I realize that there are still much to do about the “machista” culture within this industry. Women should to be paid equally, given the same opportunities to work the field alongside men regardless of gender stereotypes, and should be given the same respect as their male co-workers.

In a survey conducted by Texas Construction titled “Texas Women in Construction Making a Difference” in 2001, four women from various ages, job positions, and academic backgrounds were asked about their experiences in the construction industry. Three out of the four participants stated that the construction industry has become more receptive to women over the years. One women stated a need to “demand the respect they deserve, especially from other women” (Witherspoon). The consensus of these women is that the construction industry’s gender norms have shifted and progressed throughout the years. With more diversity in the workplace, women are now taking positions of greater influence within the field thus broadening and redefining how women are perceived in the construction industry. If we dissect this idea and raise the question: are women required to “act like men” for them to succeed in a “male-dominated” work environment? I believe that women in this industry bring their own merits and accomplishments that distinguish themselves among our work peers regardless of their gender. The equality of the sexes will always be questioned, challenged, and redefined; coincidentally, women in this industry will continue to inspire and transcend beyond gender stereotypes.

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(Heavy concrete blocks being removed by hand)

Women have a significant role within the construction industry on both sides of the field. Many hardworking women can be seen manning water trucks, flagging traffic, and are also skilled with manual labor. These roles are traditionally seen as “masculine work” and often male dominated. Boldly, these women take on these roles and challenge the gender norms while greatly exceling amongst their male peers. More and more women are putting on work gloves to pursue a great career path as they climb the work ladder to positions that are typically reserved for the “stereotypical roughnecks.” Having more women being empowered and encouraged to break the glass ceiling in this industry will greatly impact the way we view manual labor positions. No longer would we be associating daintiness as a default when considering females in these positions. With greater representation, women will change the face of construction for the greater good while simultaneously diversifying the field.

Here in Texas, there is a large community of minority owned construction business owners operating besides large veteran companies to further diversifying the industry. Many of those business owners are women, African Americans, Latino Americans, and Asian Americans. This government program involves “disadvantaged minorities” in participating and competing for state controlled projects. Thus, this program offers the opportunity to expand business beyond the major established construction companies to reduce monopolization. These efforts create an even playing field dynamic between established construction firms and small, family-owned disadvantaged businesses.

I am fortunate to know many of these disadvantaged business owners, and through their guiding experience I am succeeding within the construction administration field. These individuals are part of my personal growth, and have provided a foundation for me to professionally build upon. A former colleague named Patricia Wickers has been in and out of the construction industry for twenty-four years and covered business administration from the basics to business ownership. Recently, I asked her the secret to her success to which she responded, “You know, people will write you off before even giving you a chance. It will always be your job to show them different, no matter how frustrating that may be.” Mrs. Wicker’s journey in the construction industry was no easy feat. Not only did Mrs. Wickers prevail in a male dominated industry; as an African American woman, she dealt with snide racism from male peers that would underestimate her efforts. “When I was working in Dallas I had a lot of trouble with the ‘good ole boys’ sometimes.  I don’t see much of it down here (Houston), but I do have trouble sometimes understanding (Spanish) what the guys are saying.” Mrs. Wicker’s experience is a great example of cultural exchange between immigrant workforces, women, and the disadvantaged minority owned construction businesses.

My father would also know a thing or two about being underestimated. After nine years of knowing the struggles of being an entrepreneur in the construction industry he has seen his fair share of frustration. It was not an easy journey from the start, and he often recollects times where business came before the simplest necessities. The construction industry tends to be extremely competitive when it comes to niche services, and sometimes bids would fail to go through which could mean trouble when it came to paying bills. The biggest concern even to this day is the fact that getting paid could take months depending on the source of the contracts. Construction can be a very lucrative business venture, only when you know what you are doing, and how well you can stretch a dollar. I asked my father his reasons why he choose to work in construction, which is sternly responded, “My father, and his father were builders. We come from a linage of engineering Architects who built churches, farms, markets, and haciendas. It is in our blood and heritage, and I could not ignore following along their journey.”

In a way, the journey of how my father has founded his small business has always made a deep personal impact in how I view my journey. From humble beginnings in Las Vegas, N.V., he began as a laborer at a small pool construction company managed by the daughter of the owner. He conquered the language barrier early, and ascended the ranks to supervisory roles in many prestigious underground construction companies. The life long bonds he made along the way helped him network his way to Texas, where he managed to fund his small company on the many years of backbreaking dedication. His story is one of many inspiring stories of the men and women in the construction field who have sacrificed years of work for a better opportunity.

My journey is now cemented in this community, as far back as my childhood, and it continues to inspire and push me to be a stronger individual. I see the bonds between my work, my fellow co-workers, and the back-breaking effort it takes for these structures to be built. The whole construction field works together as one to take on the most difficult of projects. The sheer drive of every individual regardless of gender, creed, race, and orientation carries a strength to build better roads to a much brighter future. Every effort is taken into consideration and the foundation we provide today will set the groundwork for the future generations of American builders. When we the people begin to trust in this strong foundation; we will be able to build bridges that transcend any obstacles along the way.

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(Laborers cleaning concrete riprap from a trench)

Works Cited

Belmonte, Rosario. Personal Interview. 13 Feb. 2017

Guerrero, Wenceslao “Leo”. Construction photos. 19 Apr. 2017

Stoll, David. “Comprehensive Immigration Reform and U.S. Labor Markets: Dilemmas for Progressive Labor.”  New Labor Forum (Sage Publications Inc.), Vol. 24 Issue 1, p76-85. 1 Jan. 2015, Accessed 3 Apr. 2017. EBSCOhost, http://lscsproxy.lonestar.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&AuthType=ip,cpid&custid=s1088435&db=a9h&AN=100709985&site=ehost-live

Wickers, Patricia. Personal Interview. 12 Feb. 2017

Witherspoon, Sandy, et al. “Texas Women in Construction Making a Difference.” Texas Construction, 10th ed., vol. 9, Texas Reference Center, October 2001, EBSCOhost, lscsproxy.lonestar.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&AuthType=ip,cpid&custid=s1088435&db=tih&AN=5497060&site=ehost-live. Accessed 19 Apr. 2017.

Cementing the Construction Industry by Wenceslao Guerrero “Leo”

Mirror by Adrienne Stephens

I’ve always been afraid that I wasn’t good enough for anyone.

Ever since middle school, where I suffered most from a lack of friends, I wanted nothing more than to be surrounded by people who loved me and enjoyed my company. Of course, loneliness was just one of the “perks” for a shy, sheltered homeschooler.

All my life, I had considered my best friend to be a girl I had simply grown up with and shared a couple things in common with. It wasn’t until after she spent a week with our family that I discovered she wasn’t really good friend material. She had left her journal at my house – something that was brimming with stories she let me read. Eager to reread a specific story she had been telling me about, I couldn’t help but flip through the pages. I happened upon an entry that made me feel like I was falling into a bottomless pit of horror and lies. I realized she was the last person I would dare to call a close friend.

The only reason our friendship had existed was because she felt bad for me. These words are exactly what any twelve-year-old needs to set them on a path of believing, if they want to be accepted, they must change themselves to be like the people who won’t accept them.

Sure enough, when I hushed all of the attributes for which she seemed to secretly loathe me, our “friendship” blossomed stronger than ever. I think I was happy, but it was easy to tell that stacks and stacks of grudges were building up on my side. Eventually, we stopped talking to each other daily, and then we would go for weeks without a single word. For me, the silence was on purpose.

Middle school ended and high school began. Soon enough, I began gaining friends, though only because I had continued with the façade of mirroring them so they would accept me. It’s scary to think about, and I know it is still a trait lurking in the shadows of my character, but I am exceptionally good at taking on characteristics that other people have so that they will accept me and like me.

It took a lot of trial and error and several breaking points, but I finally realized that the people whose friendships I sought after so hard were simply not what I wanted at all. The closer you get to someone, the more you learn about them and discover that you either regret or love the relationship.

At long last, I severed the habit of peer pressure to fit in. I chose to do something for myself, having no friends to beckon in that direction: I joined a theater group. I’m so glad I did – I learned that I’m a lot worse at acting than I wanted to be, but I gained many invaluable friendships that I still have today. Yes, that was only two years ago, but it feels like ages because of that fuzzy feeling of joy one receives from such memorable things.

But the shadow continued to cling on to my personality, and I suffered more than ever before because of it. I got in my first relationship without any true idea of what anything meant. I played the role of “girlfriend” very well, but when I played the role of “myself,” no one seemed to be comfortable with it. As the months went on, I grew unhappier and unhappier, although we always seemed to “work things out.” Finally, two weeks before our year anniversary, we broke up. I was entirely shattered from head to toe, and I still regret that I ever acted so stupid for such a long time.

Right now, I’m doing my best to learn who I am and what I enjoy. When you’ve played the part that someone else wanted you to play for so long, it’s extraordinarily difficult to figure out who you are now that you’ve grown from the experience. I know I will arrive at that point someday, but for now I am simply learning who I am.

The first thing I learned after much failure through friendships is that I am not a social butterfly; I am quite an introvert. But I crave approval. It’s my drug – the substance that keeps me going without melting into the dark abyss of my fears and worries. Yet, put me in a room with people for a long time, and I’ll get tired and push everyone away from me. There is no winning unless I reject invitations for days at a time and then exert all my social energy in one outing.

At least, I am myself, and not a mirror image of what people want to see.

Mirror by Adrienne Stephens