Book: Resilience - The Life of a Mexican American. Novel based on a true life story. Names changed to protect participants. Introduction & 18 Chapters. I´ve posted first nine chapters. Interested in reader feedback. If interested, please read and provide me contructive feedback via comments. For additional chapters and poems, email (comments emailed to me, not posted so as not to influence future readers)

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Chapter 8: Junior High

Junior High was totally different than elementary school. So much attention was placed on what you wore, who you were and how much money you had.

There were the jocks and the preps. The preps were popular, mostly all white and had money. Some of my friends in the advanced classes in elementary school became preps. They slowly stopped talking to me.

I didn’t fit in anymore.

I was still in advanced classes, but it just didn't seem to matter to them.

What did matter was the fact that I didn’t fit in.

I was Mexican-American. I was poor and I wore second hand clothes.

Mom frequently shopped at the Salvation Army. She used to call it “La Viejita.” That was because a “little old lady” was at the counter.

I didn’t feel different in my second hand clothes when I was in the advanced Elementary School classes. I sure felt different in Junior High.

In seventh grade, I ran into Celia again. Now, she was a Mexican bombshell. She was five foot six, about three inches taller than me at the time. She wore funky clothes. They were cool. Somehow, she managed to make her second hand clothes look cool.

I knew her family from church. They were in the same shape financially as we were.

It was kind of funny. I had mostly all advanced classes in Junior High and I wasn’t having any fun in them. I was the goody-goody smart Mexican nerd with second hand clothes. Nobody talked to me.

My only fun class was my one non-advanced class. It was science class. Celia was in that class with me.

Since we knew each other, we sat in the back row together. She used to like to boss me around, “Come on. Let’s sit in the back row.” I always followed along.

Two cute Mexican-American guys, Rick and Ralph, sat right in front of us. They never would have sat by me, but they gravitated towards Celia. They sat by me by default. Celia always teased them. We had so much fun. We were always laughing.

Mr. Henson was the science teacher. He didn’t appreciate all of the fun the Mexican kids were having in the back of his class. Sometimes, to get our attention, he threw pieces of chalk or an eraser at us. One time, the chalk flew just centimeters from my nose.

One time, he hit Celia in the back with a towel. She reported him, but somehow she got into trouble. After that incident, she never came back to class.

My report card reflected Mr. Henson’s feelings towards us. I received an A or B in all of my other classes, the D he gave me stood out like a sore thumb.

I was glad that I only had Mr. Henson for one semester, but I was sad not to have any more classes with Celia.

In November, 1963, there was a grim announcement over the P.A. system at school. President Kennedy was shot. John F. Kennedy, my President, the only elected official I felt I personally knew, was shot.

Everyone was crying. I just felt numb. They let us out from school early that day.

As I was walking home, tears were streaming down my face. When I arrived home, Mom was in front of the TV. My sister in law, Ramon’s wife, was watching TV with her. They were both crying.

The President was dead. My President was dead. I started crying again too. Soon, all my brothers and sisters came into the room and watched TV with us and we all cried together. We stayed glued to the TV for days, through to the funeral.

Our trusted news man, Walter Cronkite, gave the reports.

When John-John kissed the casket, we all broke down in sobs.

When Oswald was shot, we stood in alarm. How could this be happening?

When it was over, we were still in shock.

Back at school, things started getting miserable. Mom said it wasn’t lady-like to play outside anymore and I was gaining weight.

I was a poor Mexican-American, wearing second hand clothes, missing a front tooth and I was getting fat. My smart friends didn’t want to be my friends anymore. My cool friend wasn´t in school anymore. My President was dead.

Right when I thought things couldn’t get worse, they did. We moved. Right in the middle of eighth grade, I had to change schools. I was devastated.

My current junior high, Orion, was a new school. Potter, my new junior high, was the oldest school in the city. It was also in the worst neighborhood in town. I walked into the dilapidated old school and immediately knew I was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Since it was the middle of the school year, kids already formed their cliques. So now this poor, Mexican-American, second hand clothes wearing, missing toothed fat girl was going to a poor, dilapidated, gangbuster junior high school. Kids were teasing me and I just walked in.

My counselor took one look at me and said, “I see you were in advanced classes, but they are full here. I’m going to give you a break and get you in regular classes.”

Going into these classes was awful. The teachers treated me as if I didn’t know anything. The kids didn’t readily accept me. I clammed up.

It was funny. I had regular classes at Potter but I was getting worse grades here than in my advanced classes at Orion. The teachers expected me to do poorly and I lived down to their expectations.

It wasn’t a wonder that I started hanging out with the bad kids.

Lilly Cheyenne was one of the toughest kids on the next block. She had a terrible reputation. When we moved to our new neighborhood, Mom, who never went anywhere, heard about her. Lilly was already dating and everyone called her a loose girl or worse.

I didn’t know any of this when she asked me to walk to school with her one day. All I knew was that someone was being nice to me and wanted to be my friend. When Mom found out we were walking to school together she cornered me, “Don’t walk with her. She’s a bad girl.”

I figured I didn’t know the difference. She sometimes said I was bad too but I knew I was really good.

At first, Lilly was really sweet to me. Before long, she was asking me for things. First it was paper, then pencils, then lunch money.

Pretty soon I was buying all of her supplies and buying her cokes on the way home from school. She took all of my lunch money every day.

I didn’t think it was right, but I didn’t want to lose my only friend.

Lilly hung out with a rough crowd. Some of them teased me but Lilly made them stop. I figured she was my friend. I didn’t know that she laughed at me behind my back with them.

Once, Lilly’s boyfriend picked us up from school and drove us home. He dropped us off a block away so no one would see. Her boyfriend was a much older, white boy. He was at least 19 or 20. That was the first time I met Fred Morris. Years later, he married my sister Gloria.

For now though, I just thought he was Lilly’s much older boyfriend. He made me a little nervous. He had Elvis Presley blonde hair and he acted kind of sneaky. I just couldn’t put my finger on it. All I knew was he made me nervous. That was the only time I took a ride from a stranger.

Dad must have had some kind of radar. He came to pick me up from school that day. He rarely did that. I always walked the two miles home. Since I wasn’t there at my usual corner, he gave me the third degree when I arrived home. I made some excuse and weaseled out of it.

Mom said I was lying but nobody was listening. I snuck off to my room.

The next week, Lilly and I got into a big fight after school. Me, the quiet, studious kid, got into a fistfight after school for the first and only time in my life.

My relationship with Lilly was growing strained. She was taking all my money and her brother was starting to ask me for money too. I started thinking that her friends were dangerous.

Worst of all, Dad was starting to get suspicious about me.

The day started out quiet enough. I woke up early and met Lilly and we started walking to school. About halfway to school, she asked me for my lunch money again.

I had been building up my courage for this moment.

“No. I’m not lending you any more money.”“Why not? You know I’ll pay you back.”

“You’ve never paid me back. Now I don’t want it back. I just don’t want to lend you or your family any more money.”“My family! Don’t you talk about my family!” She started hitting me in the back.

I started to run ahead.

“She’s talking about me!” she screamed to her brother. Donald Cheyenne was the baddest guy in the neighborhood.

I started running faster.

They quickly caught up to me but by now, we were in school and they didn’t want to do anything in front of the teachers.

Later, she caught my eye in the hallway!

“You can’t be talking about my family, you bitch! You meet me at the front door after school. I’m gonna kick your ass!”

I was so miserable. What was I going to do?

At the end of the school day, I delayed as long as I could before heading out the front door. I walked out and a crowd had formed. Lilly and her friend Roberta were at the head of the crowd. They saw me.

“I’m gonna kick your ass, girl! That will teach you to ever talk about my family!”

I didn’t say a word. As I walked closer to the crowd, they made a path for me which led directly to Lilly. They formed a circle around us and Lilly started hitting me in the back of my neck, speaking her taunts as Roberta stood in front of me and blocked my path.

Whack! Whack! The slaps were getting harder. Finally Roberta grabbed my hair and pulled my head down. Lilly started pushing me. Everything was moving so fast. I started to put my hands up when two strong hands pushed their way through the crowd and pulled us apart.

The crowd faded back as the policeman quickly escorted us to the principle’s office. He had witnessed the entire scene.

Lilly was fighting him like a wildcat, so he held her by the scruff of her neck, like he was holding a cat. He guided me gently with a hand on my back.

“Why are you grabbing me like that and you ain’t doing nothin to her?” “Cause she ain’t fighting me,” he answered.

In the principal’s office, they sat us in chairs and I started to shake. She meowed and yowled and they told her to be quiet.

They asked me what happened and I quietly explained. I was shaking so hard that when the tears finally came down, they leaped from beneath my eyes onto the floor below.

They told me I made bad choices in friends and I should learn my lesson. They sent us both home, warning us they would be watching so we better not fight again. When we came out, the crowd had dispersed.

I was still in shock by the time I arrived home. My parents were waiting for me. I was almost an hour late.

In ragged sobs, I shared what happened. I told them the whole story, the money, the supplies, the fight, the policeman and the principal’s office, everything. The whole time, Dad just shook his head. Mom answered first.

“What do you expect? I told you she was a bad girl. That’s what you get. Now, maybe you’ll learn to listen to me and you’ll stay away from her.”

I started to cry and I begged, “I hate that school. I never wanted to leave my old school. I don’t want to go back!”

This time, Dad answered, “You have to go back. If you don’t go back, you’ll never go back and you’ll run away from every problem. You have to go back and face this. You will go back to school tomorrow.”

There it was. Another one of Dad’s lessons. When you get knocked down, you get back up. You never give up. I had no choice. I went back. He was right, of course.

The next day was horrible. Everyone knew what happened. Kids were writing each other notes about me. Me. The quiet kid in all her classes was one of the bad kids. She got in a fight. She made some slurs about Lilly’s family. She deserved what she got. She’s bad.

I think I was the most disrespected kid in the school for a while. But schools are like soap operas. Pretty soon, another story broke out in the school headlines and I was out of the limelight. I was still pretty unpopular and stayed a loner in that school.

Later the next year, Celia started dating my brother Raul. Celia was thirteen when she started dating. Now at fourteen, in my eyes, she was a woman. Even though I was the same age, I felt like a little girl.

Raul was back home from the Army. I was glad to have him home again. I always thought Raul was cool, and besides, he was always in a lot more trouble than the rest of us kids and that took the heat off of us.

When Raul came back home, he fell into his old routine, hanging out with his friends and having girls follow him everywhere.

I was kind of shocked to hear that he was dating Celia. I sort of introduced them, but not really.

A few weeks earlier, we all went to a Mexican Dance. I sat with Celia and a few other friends. I usually just watched other people dance, but my brother Raul came and asked me to dance. He asked me about Celia.

When I came back to my seat, Celia asked me about Raul. A little while later they were dancing. I didn´t think too much about it until a few weeks later when I found out they were dating.

I was surprised because I thought Celia was just a kid like me and I knew I was too young to date.

All of a sudden, my family was talking about driving down to Texas. Raul was going to marry Celia. I was shocked.

In Texas, Celia could marry Raul since they allowed a girl to marry at fourteen.

I felt as if we stole away in the night. Both Celia´s family and ours caravanned down to San Antonio and Raul and Celia were married.

When Raul and Celia set up house that summer, I thought it was fun to go to their apartment. It was a cute little place. It seemed almost miniature and it was like she was playing house.

They left each other silly notes. One time, there was a note on the door that said, “hetay eykay siay nderuay hetay atmay.” (The key is under the mat.) It had been a while since I read pig Latin!

Late in the school year, all the kids participated in math assessment. I scored well and I was eligible to take Algebra in ninth grade. My counselor called me in and asked me about my schedule for the next year. He recommended that I forget about Algebra and take vocational classes.

“After all, you’ll want to take classes that will meet your needs. You probably won’t go to college anyway. You’ll just get pregnant and get married. These vocational classes will help you get a job.”

I looked at him. Even my fourteen year old eyes could see he thought I was dumb and he had a very poor opinion of me and my future. At this low point in my life, in this horrible school, I knew I was the only one who was going to speak up for me.

“What did I score on the assessment?”


“What was the eligibility score?”


“Am I eligible to take college prep courses?”“Yes you are.”“Fine. I’m taking Algebra and I’m taking College Prep courses in ninth grade.”

“Ok. But they’re not going to help you.”

Ninth grade was a little better, but not much. The classes were better, for sure. Kids wanted to be in those classes. The teachers were interested in teaching. There was more of an expectation that you would learn in these classes. I studied and my grades improved. I started getting B’s again.

I was still very unpopular and had no friends, but at least my grades were better.

In ninth grade I didn’t care if I was popular. I wanted to learn and get on with it. I started getting heavier in ninth grade. I also had no clue about make-up or dress. My school pictures attest to this.

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