My father voted for Donald Trump. He was born in Torrance, California, named Juan Luis Ramirez. His parents, migrant farm workers, left him and his siblings as wards of the state when he was three. As far as I know. Tumultuous years later, he was adopted by a white man and had his name changed to John Luis Baker. He and Mr. Baker moved to rural Ohio, and my father, I guess, stopped being Mexican. I didn’t grow up with la cultura, and neither did he, really.
Those aren’t the actual names my father has used. I made them up, just now. I don’t want to put those real names to paper yet, mine either, out of some latent fear of his hands around my throat again. Or worse yet, him trying to explain it all to me.
My mother cheated on her first husband with my father. My mother is white, Polish and German, and American, I guess. Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood before all those damn wetbacks like me showed up. Her first husband’s .44 magnum in her face, pregnant with my older brother, my mom and my dad got married at the courthouse. They moved out of the trailer park into a house that cost $17,000, paid for by her parents. We were hillbillies proper; we ate venison and burned our food stamps.
My mom liked to call him a wife-beating spic. I wore the same jersey number as him on the high school football team; my teammates liked to call me beaner. Like any fine small-town rural people, we didn’t see color. We solved the race problem by not talking about it.
Donald Trump promised to deport children whose parents were in the country illegally. Maybe my dad thought that since he was adopted that ruled him out from that. Or maybe that he was too old. Maybe he thinks that building a wall is for the best, that the sort of people who leave a boy at three years old don’t deserve to be in this country. Or maybe, as my dad told me and my brother, that we really are only Mexican enough to check off the right boxes on scholarship applications. Maybe we are almost-white, as so many have insisted over the years. Maybe the president would make this country dangerous for the darker Mexicans only, or the ones with more tattoos, or just the ones from the barrios.
I don’t think I know what it means to be Mexican. To be Chicano, to be proud of skin that sits in shades between extremes, skin that has made me oppressed and privileged in the words of my classmates on the same damn day. Urban and Educated Millennials, it seems, don’t see color the same way the rural ones do.
I remember reading On The Road in my high school chemistry class. I was 16 and smitten by Kerouac; I couldn’t put the book down. My teacher called me out about not paying attention; next to me slept the football team’s white running back, unbothered. She didn’t have anything to say to him. I returned to the book in study hall, and Sal Paradise is trying to slip into the family of a Chicana farm laborer, and into her pants. Paradise waxes poetic about falling into her life. I decide I want to marry a Mexican girl, fall into her innumerable tias and primos and be a real Mexican for the first time. Fall out of my rusting truck and desperate student loan debt and my mother’s voice reminding me that all spics are wife-beaters.
I know that’s wrong. But I can’t imagine myself having kids with a white girl, having kids that sit even further in the gray area. How diluted is too much? Does one finger still bring oil?
One of my friend’s is this All-American kid. White, blond hair, blue eyes. His parents drove new cars, held down steady jobs and high incomes with their college degrees. He got drunk and told me to not use any Spanish around him anymore. His fraternity chants “Build that wall!” at tailgate parties. He says they don’t really mean it, that it’s all a big joke. That there’s no way I could have faced any discrimination for being Mexican. Before I could say anything back, he changed the subject to the internship he had just gotten that he, and I quote, “totally isn’t qualified for, but fuck it, right?”
Cam Rentsch is a Chicano writer and undergraduate student at The Ohio State University studying Anthropology and English-Creative Writing. He can generally be found on publicly-owned wilderness, or on Instagram and Twitter @camrentsch. His work has previously appeared in Entropy Mag.