“Aren’t you Mexican...” the blond boy said disdainfully with a smirk on his face.
With my heartbeat accelerating, and sweat nearly hitting my eye, I weakly replied “Yeah... why?”
It was a windy, cloudless afternoon. No other noise besides the noise from the palm tree leaves dancing along with the wind could be heard. We were facing each other on top of the slides of the apartments’ play area. This was the first time I truly felt intimidated by someone who had asked about my ethnicity. I was ten-years old then, and my family was living in apartments where the majority of the people were white.
“You are fat too. Don’t you feel disgusted about how you look? Well of course your parents work at McDonalds...” he said, shooting a fixed stare on me.
Why was this boy being so rude? Up to that point, I had never exchanged words with him, nor had I given him motives for his disrespect. Before the boy could shoot another insult, I quickly slid down the slide, seeking refuge for myself underneath the playground. Suddenly, I felt something slippery crawling down my left cheek. It wasn't sweat. It wasn't rain. The boy had spat on my face.
Without a second thought, I sprinted as fast as I could back to my apartment. My parents were having a good laugh, but when my father saw me he asked, “What’s wrong with you?” In shock and, in a river of tears, I described the incident. My parents consoled me; they told me I was brilliant, that my siblings and I were the purpose of their life, and that I was forgiving. Forgiving that boy wouldn't be easy; however, resenting him would be pointless.
That night I reflected why the boys ice cold words stabbed deep into my pride. He was wise to choose such words in order to hurt my feelings. That year our family was going through economic difficulties. My parents managed to find employment at McDonalds, where they worked ten hours a day in order to provide us with at least a degree of financial stability. Since their shift started at 4:00 a.m. we had to wake up at 3:00 a.m. in order for my siblings and I to be
dropped off at my aunt Lulu's apartment because we needed adult supervision.
Lulu usually greeted us at the front porch of her apartment. When we arrived, it was still dawn, and the moonlight outlined her tired, aged face. When she welcomed us in, we would stumbled through her gloomy apartment into her bedroom, where we went back to sleep for two additional hours before my cousin, Gustavo, woke us up for school. We hated having to wake up at 3 a.m. simply to be dropped off at Lulu's apartment. On the way to school, Gustavo, who would safely walk us to school, would often hear complaints.
“Not fair, I don't want to wake up so early" Candy, my older sister, would remind Gustavo every morning.
“Please don't complain again. You have no idea the sacrifices that your parents are making in order to provide you with everything you need," he would respond irritated.
"Still,” Candy replied, “it isn't fair that we have to wake up so early.”
Although I agreed with my sister, I usually didn't gave my opinion in these types of discussions. However, it wasn’t until the night of the spit for me to understand what Gustavo truly meant. I realized that my parents most likely encountered stereotypes at their jobs, or people who were prejudice that wouldn't hesitate to remind them of their inferior position as foreigners.
The next morning, before we meet with our aunt Lulu, I asked my parents if they encountered stereotypes at their jobs. My mother took my hand, “Nomas algunas veces mijo,” only sometimes sweetheart she replied with a smile. “That's why your only obligation is to bring home excellent grades, so that you don't have to work like us ever in your life,” my father said patting my shoulder. Regardless of these unpleasant encounters, my mother was taking English courses and my father had become a fluent English speaker; nothing held them back from their American Dream. Now it was my turn to seek out the future I wanted for myself.
In school, I gave the teacher my most undivided attention, and at home I wouldn't allow myself to watch television until all my homework was done. Self discipline, confidence, and perseverance were the key to my rapidly elevating grades. My parents became proud of my hard work and thanked me for raising those grades. "No lo pude hacer sin su amor,” I reminded them.
One humid afternoon I was walking towards my apartment. It had been three weeks since my incident with the blond boy. The path towards my apartment went by the play area, where I noticed two kids glancing at each other as I passed by.
“Isn’t that the Mexican boy?” the girl said to the boy on her left when she noticed me
“You’re right, that’s him. What happened between Jason and him?” he replied back.
Who was Jason? Was Jason the blond boy that spat on my face? I needed answers. I needed to swallow my pride and approach them.
“Yes, I’m Mexican. Hey there, my name is Diego, and you are......” I said stretching my hand out to the girl. Although there was confidence in my tone, I was scared of their reaction.
“Oh... I’m Stephanie hey there,” she said accepting my hand shake.
“And I’m Angel.” the boy said shaking my hand as well. I discovered that Stephanie and Angel were best friends with Jason. They said that they knew something happened between Jason and me, but they didn’t know exactly what. After I explained the incident to them, Stephanie and Angel looked at me in shock. Hesitant at first, they explained to me that Jason’s family was going through a difficult situation. They assured me that Jason was kind and caring;
they couldn’t understand why Jason acted like a jerk.
That afternoon was the most fun I’ve ever had in those apartments. Stephanie and Angel immediately became my friend--the only friends I had there. However, they were also friends with Jason and if I wanted to be with them regularly, then I’ll need to face Jason.
The face off took place that Saturday. I woke up excited for another game day with my new friends. I fixed my bed, washed my face, and dashed towards the play area, where we scheduled our meeting. When I arrived, the wide smile I once had on my face quickly disappeared; its replacement was an opened mouthed, dumbfounded expression. Jason had also arrived at the playground! My pulse began to accelerate and beads of sweat emerged on my forehead. I began to approach him.
I called out to him, “Jason...” My instincts were yelling for me to flee, but I wouldn’t hold back any longer. “Hey, I’m Diego.”
When he saw me approaching I couldn’t figure out his facial expression. Was it shock? Was it anger? Was it fear? My insides had turned into twisted knots as I waited for a reply. The silence became too dense, so dense that my ears began to buzz. We both stared at each other, trying to read the other’s mind. Finally, he cleared his throat.
“Stephanie and Angel tell me a lot about you, Diego.”
“Haha... well they are great people,” I replied nervously. “I’ve also heard great stuff about you. They’ve known you since you guys were preschoolers.” It seems as if my words made him recall a fun memory because a smile had appeared on his face.
“That day at the slides I didn’t know why I was such a jerk,” he said in a soft, troubled tone.
“I’ve learned that we all go through difficult times. We all make mistakes,” I said gracefully.
“No,” he cut in. “There isn’t an excuse for my actions. I regret putting you through that awful situation. I’m sorry dude.”
Before I could respond, I heard a gasp behind us. Jason and I turned around to see Angel; his mouth hung wide open in amazement. Suddenly Stephanie appeared, but instead of making things more awkward, she smiled. “Well, don’t just stand there, let's go,” she said playfully. Jason and I became friends that Saturday and I soon discovered we had lots in common. He also had siblings, two younger twin brothers, who were ready to enter school the following year. Like me, his favorite superhero movie was Spiderman, with Tobey Maguire. And although it was for different reasons, the most meaningful aspects we had in common was the temporary hardships our families were going through. We both explained our families’ situation and both promised to keep our situations a secret. A secret I have kept to this day.
I wake up to morning light shining through my window. I slowly rub my eyes and sit up in bed to see my covers on the ground. It has been uncomfortably hot for the past few weeks and today will be no different. I get up for a stretch and make my bed. Even though I’ve never been a morning person, I feel energized by a sense of power. In just a few hours I will be protesting for what is right. I almost leap down the stairs and across the kitchen where I find my parents and brothers already eating cereal and peanut butter toast. Marc is twenty-one and Oliver is almost eighteen.
“Morning sis,” says Oliver barley looking up from his food.
“Morning,” I reply as I head to the cabinet for some cereal.
Marc looks up, saying, “So are you ready for today?” There is a hint of rebellion gleaming in his eyes.
I return the look, “Of course, should we get the posters out?”
My mom and dad listen with approving grins, “You still have some time to get them ready,” says my dad.
My mom adds, “Maybe we’ll see the posters on tv.”
Marc, Oliver, and I smile at the thought of our parents proudly watching us participate in the protest on television. The three of us couldn't be more different, but do agree on today. It is Diada Nacional de Catalunya, the National Day of Catalonia, held to celebrate the history and identity of Catalonia. To honor Catalonia’s identity this year, we plan to do something we have never done before-protest for Catalan independence from Spain.
My uncle shakes me awake with a contagious smile.
“Today is the day,” he yells joyfully.
I can’t help but smile back with the same enthusiasm. Today is the day I get to cover my first story.
I quickly get dressed and start towards the hotel lobby to meet my uncle and his coworkers for breakfast. My uncle is the founder of a humble newspaper, the Know Now. But today we are not just a small company from Rhode Island covering local news. Today we will cover something huge, the National Day of Catalonia.
While this celebration usually includes political demonstrations, concerts, parties, and honoring historic figures, this year will bring much more. Hundreds of thousands of people plan to attend a protest for Catalonia's independence, and our team will be there front and center to record and report the action.
“I can’t even imagine what a group of hundreds of thousands of people will look like,” I exclaim.
The crew members nod in agreement and my uncle says, “I bet you close to a million people will end up protesting.”
Harold, one of the older members smiles greedily, “That may just be too crazy but then again that works in our favor.”
The others grin, excited for the big event, but the thought of a million protesters gives me chills. I am terrified of something this big getting out of control.
Footsteps of kids thundering down the hall and the low purring of my cat wake me up. I rush out to the kitchen to help my husband, Luca, with breakfast. We decide to start today’s celebrations off with our kids’ favorite, cinnamon French toast with extra whipped cream. Carmen, who is seven, and Leo, who is four, have been asking for French toast with whipped cream for days.
“This is so good,” Carmen says with whipped cream now smeared across her mouth.
I smile as I grab a wet cloth to wash her face and say, “I am glad it lives up to your expectations.”
Leo pauses between bites long enough to say “Is there more?”
Luca laughs and says “Finish what you have now and I can make more if you are still hungry.”
He looks at me with a proud smirk. French toast has always been his specialty. All I can do is smile back and roll my eyes.
After breakfast I announce that I plan to run errands early to avoid the protest’s chaos. The celebrations for Catalonia Day have turned into wild protests for Catalonia's independence from Spain. While a large part of Catalonia fights for their independence, Luca and I do not feel the same. We moved here because of our jobs, but we are both from other parts of Spain and have family roots throughout the country. If Catalonia gains independence from Spain, it will add uncertainty to our lives.
“Be careful and whatever you do get back before one,” Luca warns as I gathered my bags and the list for much-needed groceries. “I wish you could just wait until after the protest.”
“Me too but the stores will be closed by then. Don’t worry I won’t be gone long,” I answer as I slide out of the apartment and down the building’s hallway.
I am beaming with excitement. Marc, Oliver, and I each carry a sign with neon colors and bold statements. We park somewhat far away from the protest to avoid some chaos and start to walk towards the crowds. We are a little less than half a mile away, but we can already hear the cries and shouts of people bursting with Catalonian pride ready to make a point.
“Alexis!” a familiar voice yells. I turn to see that it belongs to my cousin, Lucia.
Lucia is just two months older than me and has loads of energy. She carries a sign similar to mine, colorfully decorated.
I answer Lucia joyfully and say, “I was beginning to worry your parents wouldn’t let you come.”
“Well they didn’t exactly let me,” Lucia says with a devilish expression.
“Are you saying you snuck out?” asks Oliver.
“Are you surprised?” says Lucia.
We all break into laughter. It is not the first time she snuck out, and it won’t be the last.
“We’re almost there, we need to stick together,” says Marc with a warning expression.
Everyone is buzzing around except me. I had been looking forward to reporting an important story for what seems like forever, but I am nervous now that we are in the crowd.
“You ready?” my Uncle asks.
“Absolutely,” I say, with some sarcasm.
“Hey, try not to worry. Everything will be fine,” my uncle answers.
People are swarming around me. Signs are everywhere. Shouts and chants fill the air. I sit in my car, completely stuck. I can’t believe the numbers of people. I thought I left early enough to avoid this exact thing. Now my only choice is to wait.
The protest is in full swing. I am marching for what I believe in and think nothing can ruin this moment. Lucia and I walk arm in arm closely behind Marc and Oliver, proudly chanting. Then I hear something, a distant roaring. In less than a blink of an eye the screams start. Screams of pure panic replace screams of passion and pride. I don’t understand what is happening at first, and then I realize the sound is coming from an engine.
I am caught up by the crowds and in my world of writing. Everything quickly changes when people begin to scream and bolt around in so many directions that I lose track of the rest of the newspaper crew. I realize people are jumping to the sides of the road, so I jump too.
It happens so fast I don’t see it coming. A bright red car tears down the street, zig zagging rapidly. People dive out the way and scream for loved ones. I watch in horror as people search for grandparents, children, parents, and friends, but so many are gone, gone, gone.
Marc, Oliver, Lucia, and I are suddenly caught in a sea of people pushing and pulling to get out of the road. Danger has awoken a beastly desperation in us. I hear Marc and Oliver scream at me and Lucia to move. We manage to find our way to an alley where were the four of us huddle together in fear. We slowly realize a car has ripped through the protest, killing as many people as possible. We stay together trembling as we wonder if we know any of the names that will be on the news later that night.
I land with a thud and quickly pull myself up to keep running. A car races right past me. I feel myself shaking as I fall into a haze, but screams fill my ears bringing me back to the moment. People lay in the street surrounded by pools of blood. Their awkwardly positioned bodies lay still. Nausea and unbelievable terror overtake me when I see my uncle among them.