Dreamers, Come True

by Maria Theresa Maggi on June 18, 2020

When the Rodriguez family moved into the little white house one block over, I felt an instant kinship with them. Both of our houses had parking lots on the north side, which made an instant thoroughfare for delivery trucks during the day and drunken college students at night, weaving their way home from the bars downtown. Before they moved in, I fought against and then had to watch the type of development that pushes out families in favor of business (white business). One caualty of a rezoning battle I did not win was that the backyard of that little white house was raised and made into a parking lot. Trees fell to be replaced by hot asphalt, the long ago memory of a solstice fire in that backyard when a friend and her son lived there no longer prompted by the sunken shady yard. At the time of the rezoning, one of Mike’s skateboarding friends and his Mom rented it, and I’d sometimes wave to the mom soaking her feet in a little wading pool under the tree. But after the rezoning they moved out, and, of course, my most cynical self surmised, the owners rented it to the Rodriquez family, who were too busy working to enjoy the luxury of a backyard they hadn’t known was there before, and probably for the same rent.

So I made it a point to wave to anyone who was outside and to introduce myself to Mr. and Mrs. Rodriguez, who at the time, both worked at the Mexican restaurant a couple more blocks away downtown, a common destination of those walking through the corridor of asphalt next to our houses. They didn’t speak much English and I don’t speak much Spanish, but Mrs. Rodriguez and I were able to determine we had the same first name, which brought an instant familiarity and easy smile.

The Rodriguez family had 3 children. We’ll call them Alicia, Roberto, and Tommy. Alicia was a beautiful girl already headed to high school, who had her own set of friends and goals. Then came Roberto, about nine at the time, and his little brother Tommy, about 4 years old. I would stop and talk to the kids, too, if they were out in the yard. I introduced them to Romeo and showed them which house I lived in.

One fall day there was a knock on my front door. Roberto was there, asking me if he could have a job raking my leaves (which definitely needed to be raked). That was the beginning of a years long friendship in which I got to watch him grow up into a young man. But that afternoon, he was a little boy trying hard to rake a mountain of leaves, who also needed someone to talk to. I told him he did not need to do a job to come over, he could visit any time he wanted, and if I was tired or busy, I would let him know, and he could come back another time.

So he would come over, and tell me about school, about his life, how he didn’t have many friends yet, what video games he liked to play and that he wanted to be a professional basketball player or join the army. I would question him about how he was doing in school and the teacher part of me would push him to do better at reading. Sometimes I’d offer to help him with a homework assignment if he asked or let him look something up on my computer if he needed to. Sometimes he would have Tommy in tow, and sometimes, later on, he would bring his cousin Jose, who was already in high school and came to stay with them from Arizona.

The three of them would sometimes sit on the couch and I would sit in the rocking chair and we would chat (well, mostly Roberto would chat, he was the extrovert of the family) and then I would say, well, I need to take a nap now, so I’m going to kick you out, in my good natured way, and we’d all giggle, because they always knew they could come back.

One of my fondest memories of the three of them and maybe another cousin is the summer day I invited them all over to pick from my profusion of raspberry bushes. Tommy in particular had been waiting and waiting until the berries were ripe, because I had shown him how they needed to be red first and then they would come right off without pulling. I still can see them all there at the back fence with their containers and me, crazy garden lady, reminding them “to think like a berry,” and how delighted Tommy was when he saw that what I said was true about how easy they were to pick when they were ripe.

Over the years, Roberto came to confide in me about his life at school and at home, and I got to be a happy witness to his social blossoming when he decided to try out and join the wrestling team– and witness to how he was accepted and encouraged by the coach and the other boys, who became his set of friends, and went to tournaments and began winning matches. This became an impetus for him to finish assignments and read assignments so he could stay on the team. Every once in a while if I was about to eat he’d stay for dinner. I remember one time he was fascinated and delighted to try a completely vegan meal with me. He confided in me when his parents split. He confided in me that though his older sister Alicia and Tommy were born in the US, he had been born in Mexico.

Jose would finish high school in Moscow. He was a quiet, languid and tall boy who loved animals and had a special connection to Romeo. He wanted to work for a vet. He was a dreamy kid, I liked him a lot, and he may also have been a Dreamer. For his graduation, I gave him the book Vatos, a collaboration between Pulitzer Prize winning photographer José Galvez and poet Luis Alberto Urrea that celebrates Chicano manhood, to show how proud I was of him. After that he went on to other relatives. The strength of that family network across miles and countries and states held all those kids–which always made my heart glad. It helped me to reassure myself they would stay safe and be able to live their lives here as the Americans they really were.

The last time I saw Roberto before I left Moscow, I had moved away from Asbury Street. But we ran into each other in the park near there while I was walking Romeo. He was about to graduate, all grown up, I think with a wrestling scholarship, and he introduced me to his girlfriend. It was a moment of happiness he wanted to share with me at his social and academic success as he entered adulthood. We parted with much love and gratitude between us.

By the time I moved away from Moscow, the term Dreamer had been coined, and I was acutely aware that Roberto was one, as the harsh inhumane policies about immigration were starting to ramp up more publicly. So always, as this current administration made senseless war on such a wonderful vibrant community of young people, and immigrants in general, one of my  prayers is always that wherever he is now may it be somewhere here in this country that’s safe for him, and that he’s living a good life. And that his family is too.

Today, when I read the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold DACA, I cheered out loud. I immediately thought of those days when these kids would come over, for friendship, for affirmation and conversation, for support and, in summer, for raspberries.  It made my life better that they were in it for that time.  It makes our life better as a country when we work to make sure they remain a vibrant healthy and equal part of it.

Maria (moonwatcher)

 

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1 J Denman June 18, 2020 at 10:08 am

I cheered the SCOTUS ruling to leave DACA in place, too. Yours is a lovely story about Roberto and his family. I hope they all are healthy, happy, and safe, and that Roberto is living his dreams. Thanks for sharing.

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