* * *
Soon after I turned three, Rosa Maria Garcia Martinez divorced Joseph Garcia Senior and squeezed the few things she had to her name—myself included—into a tiny Toyota and moved us from a blue-collar barrio of Magnolia, just east of downtown Houston, to the more affluent west side suburb of Spring Branch.
After two years, I not only grew accustomed to the people that populated most of my favorite TV shows and movies, but even made a sidekick out of little Tommy Tucker, the platinum blond kindergartner who lived in the townhouse across from ours.
Mr. Tucker made his living behind a mower, had leather-bound skin as dark as any of my hardworking tíos, and loved how I said the word jalapeño; which is exactly how I felt about he and Mrs. Tucker said jalapeenio.
But since our neighbors and Sesame Street could only take my English so far, the good people at Shadow Oaks Elementary had to transfer me to a different school, where I learned—among the other fundamental lessons of ESL—not to use the word gringo, at least not in front of white people.
Back in Magnolia, the only blondes I remember—other than Father David—were the short-shorted ladies of the night that haunted the cantinas crowding ‘Buelita’s corner of the barrio. Sometimes, while driving us away from his ex-mother-in-law’s, Dad would roll down his spotless window and hurl insults at those poor pasty women who I always imagined had gotten off at the wrong bus stop and lost their transfers or something. Aside from those explicit outbursts that made me want to dissolve into the white vinyl of the car seat, the only gringos, I’d ever seen Dad talk to were the clerks, gas station attendants, or waitresses working at stops on our cruises from one side of that sprawling metropolis to the other.
So it was kind of weird walking up to that house in the woods with a man who knew very little about my newer, whiter world.
But it was cool too, because he seemed ready to join the party, or maybe he might already be some sort of secret member.
* * *
We stopped at the bottom of the stairs leading up to the porch.
The hosts were a mostly bald, egg-shaped man in gray slacks and a white button down and his much thinner, more wrinkled partner in a long black dress with thick glasses and a tight salt-and-pepper bun. They finished ushering in a young redheaded man and his blonde lady friend, then turned to greet us.
“Well, look who we have here, Mother,” bellowed the old happy man.
Dad started up the stairs toward them. I shuffled along behind, tucked behind his legs.