The Patience Of A Waitress

A little after 2 AM on a Tuesday night I walk into a twenty-four-hour diner. I have just finished a solid writing session where I wrestled with words and harnessed them into decent prose. I find my way to an empty booth and take a seat.

“I’ll be with you in just a moment,” says the waitress as she delivers meals to their tables. It’s quite busy considering it’s a random weekday night. She’s gracefully hustling throughout the restaurant with the utmost efficiency. I look around and notice that she’s the only server.

“Hello, my name is Elizabeth. May I take your drink order while you look at the menu?” she says with a tender smile as she places the menu on the table.

“Sure, I’ll just take a water, please,” I say.

I flip through the pages of the menu and decide on my order. She returns with my water.

“Here’s your water,” she says. “Are you ready to order?”

“Yeah, I would like the club sandwich, please.” As she writes down my order, I notice her black hair has a few streaks of grey in it.

“Would you like regular or seasoned fries?”

“Seasoned please,” I say as I examine the little crow’s feet near her eyes.

“All righty then, I’ll have your order in a few moments.”

She picks up the menu and scurries off to her other duties.

Despite her cheerful demeanor, she looked tired and overworked. She must have been in her mid to late thirties yet possessed more spunk and enthusiasm than a waitress half her age.

I begin to wonder if she has kids and is working at this late hour to provide for them. Maybe she also works at another restaurant and she’s pulling a double.

“That was my mom,” I think to myself.

Twenty-eight years ago: She made the difficult decision to leave me, her only child, with my grandparents in Mexico so she could make the long trek into the United States with the help of a couple of her siblings that blazed the trail a couple of years earlier. She found a nook for herself in their small apartment and then found an employer who was willing to overlook her lack of documentation.

Twenty-four years ago: A few years of waiting tables, long hours, sweat, tears, frustration, broken hearts, and longing for her son to be with her at last. She finally was able to muster enough cash and resources to be able to send off for her niño quierdo. After a daylong bus ride with my grandfather, I awoke to the kisses of my aunt.

“He’s awake,” she exclaimed. “Go get gorda!

Mi baby, mi niño,” my mom cries as she’s kissing and hugging me.

I later throw a tantrum when I find out I’m not going back to Mexico.

Twenty years ago: Her English is spoken with a heavy accent, yet her natural sweetness always shines through. She would become a favorite of her patrons. Her work ethic ensured she got tipped well. Her beauty would have many men competing for her attention. Her only bad habit would be to take a cigarette break. She would drive a beat-up ’75 Camaro to work. Her big heart would have her taking her mother, father, and little sister into an apartment she shared with a friend and her daughter.

Thirteen years ago: I, her sweet boy, turn into a typical spoiled American teenage shithead, ungrateful of the sacrifices she’s made for me to be able to live without serious wants. The long hours she works for me to have a roof over my head, food in my belly, gas in my car, and clothes on my back. She works doubles so I can grow up in a nice city. She confronts an older woman with the wrath of a mama bear when the woman makes not-so-subtle sexual gestures at me. She buys me books, CDs, video games, and a gym membership. She is proud when I get my first job at a fast-food joint. She cries and wonders how she’s failed as a mother when she sees my terrible grades in school.

Six years ago: She gets fired from the restaurant where she spent fifteen years working. A jealous coworker trumps up a reason to get rid of her. Her feet are tired. She no longer desires the headaches caused by cooks who slack on her orders because she won’t date them. She’s annoyed with the cheap patrons who stiff her on tips. She gets a job as a clerk at Chevron. I am freshly out of the Army and I pick her up on my motorcycle and take her on a ride.

“You have really turned into a man, mi amor,” she says as she gives me a kiss on the cheek after our ride.

The lone cook peeks his head through the window as he rings the bell to indicate an order is ready. The waitress delivers it to me without hesitation. I chow down. I ask for my check. I leave her a good-sized tip. I wonder whose mom she is.

~Raul Felix

Read: Ode To La Doña: The Linchpin Of The Mexican Family
Read: Keep Moving, Young Man
Read: Four Things Only Mexican-Americans Will Understand

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Four Things Only Mexican-Americans Will Understand

Aside from the fact that Tea-Baggers and conservatives want to deport half of your relatives, being a Mexican-American is pretty damn great. You have at least one Jesus in the family, so you know you’re protected from the wrath of God come judgment day. Also, your family knows how to make the greatest food ever created—Mexican food. You have a huge, supportive family firmly held together by Catholic fear and guilt. Like any culture, we have our little quirks that only those who grew up in a Mexican-American household will understand.

1. Come 7PM On A Weekday, It’s Time For Novelas

Es tiempo para mis novelas,” your mom will say as she changes the channel to Univision.

The Mexican household is full of workers, and when a person works all day, they need some sort of method to wind down. The men have their nights of drinking themselves to oblivion, while the women have their novelas. Novelas are Mexican soap operas that air each weekday from 7PM to 10PM.

While it isn’t too bad these days with the Internet and cheap televisions, it was pure hell for a young Mexican kid growing up in the 90s when the house only had one television set. Grandmother, mom, and aunts would be glued to the TV as they watched the dashing middle-aged Erik Estrada juggle the complications of having a young girlfriend while dealing with his kids and ex-wife. Or watching the drama unfold as a lowly india marries a big-city lawyer and struggles to be accepted into upscale Mexican society.

Mexicans are a passionate, fiery people, but the reality of the hustle and bustle of everyday life working long hours for low pay leaves them bored. The Mexican psyche needs its daily dose of drama, scandals, and gossip to function properly.

2. You Have At Least Two Family Members Who Are Here Illegally

Here’s a dose of reality for you gringos: Even the most patriotic of us Mexican-Americans has a couple of members in our family who are here illegally. We also think there is nothing wrong with them being here illegally because we know they’re just trying to build a better life for themselves. We’re not going to single them out or tell anyone who doesn’t need to know. It’s tough enough making it in this country without having any documentation, let alone when la migra is coming after your ass.

For Mexican-Americans, immigration is always a touchy issue. Candidates who go on Mexican television get drilled and called out for what they said to appeal to the FOX News-consuming demographic. We’re not as far removed from our roots as those of European descent who aren’t even sure what country their family is from originally.

For us, an illegal immigrant isn’t some random statistic that conservative pundits always seem to bitch about stealing lucrative ’merican jobs like picking strawberries and working as dishwasher at Denny’s. No, he’s our cousin Pepe who works two full-time jobs for minimum wage as he struggles to raise a family of four. Or they’re our uncle Poncho who snuck into the US 25 years ago, worked his ass off, saved his money, got his citizenship, and now owns his own business. Or it’s me, who came here illegally at age five, grew up as an American, got his citizenship, served in the military, and proved he was as much of a fucking American as any of you.

3. Every Little Thing You Do Will Be Gossiped About To The Point That Even Your Relatives In Mexico Will Know

This probably isn’t unique to Mexican-Americans, but it sure is true. The Mexican-American family thrives on gossip. Whatever happens to you or any other family member, no matter how insignificant, will be talked about repeatedly via telephone with each other member of the family. When they’re not discussing what happened in their novelas, you can best bet they’ll be discussing you.

As a kid, I would see this occur: My mom would be talking to her sister Lupe for 30 minutes. At the same time, her two other sisters—Pulga and Debra—would be talking to each other. My mom would finish her call with Lupe. Then she would call Pulga, who’s just finished her phone call with Debra. Lupe would then call Debra. My mom would have the same exact conversation, except Pulga would add details. They’d finish their conversation 30 minutes later. Then my mom would call Debra and begin to gossip with her while Lupe and Pulga called one another. This happened nightly.

That’s only the beginning. If the gossip is extra juicy, they’re going to each be calling their cousins. The gossip network is vicious and has many branches and offshoots. Word will get around, and one day you’ll be hanging out with a second cousin of yours you hadn’t seen in seven years and he’ll say, “Hey wey, I heard you got arrested a while back…”

4. Your Old Clothes Go To Mexico

If there is one thing you’re aren’t allowed to do in a Mexican household, it is throw away your old clothes or shoes. No fucking way. If your old clothes are somewhat serviceable and you don’t want them, they’re going into a box. That box isn’t just a cardboard square used for storage; it’s a lifeline of new goods for your more downtrodden relatives to wear.

Even the most industrious and Americanized of Mexican families has those members who stayed behind in Mexico. Since Mexico doesn’t always offer the best opportunities for advancement, it’s sometimes hard for a man to secure a decent-paying job. Or just like any other family, we have members who suffer from their own demons and vices that prevent them from keeping a job. La Dona of the family always feels it’s her duty that even the lowliest and most undeserving member of the family have the bare essentials: clothing and food.

It’s common practice for the Mexican-American family to go to Costco and stock up on food and other assorted goods to fill the truck up with before visiting Mexico. As much as there is a cliché that everything is cheaper is Mexico, it isn’t true. There are a lot of products that are significantly less costly in the US than they are down there. Food bought in bulk and old clothes are given to our family members who are not living quite as large as we do here. While we know it’s not much in the grand scheme of things, we help out in whatever little way we can. Porque la familia es lo más importante.

~Raul Felix

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Ode To La Doña: The Linchpin Of The Mexican Family

FamiliaFelix

The Mexican man takes pride in the fact that he is the man of the house. In his mind, he possesses the huevos, so he naturally runs shit. If he wants to stay up late on a Friday night listening to musica norteña from the $1,500 after-market sound system of his ’95 GMC Yukon while drinking Bud Light, eating carne asada, and bitching about life with his carnales, he’ll do it, damn it!

Then his phone rings. “Es mi vieja,” he says as he looks down at the screen of ay-phone. He quickly picks up and answers. “Si, mi amor?” His friends hear the muffled sound of his wife yelling at him that it’s time to come home. “Mandala al la chingada,” say his carnales who are single. But they are well aware that he is in a powerless position and when his wife says it’s time to come home, he better move his fucking ass or run the risk of having his favorite Chivas soccer jersey cut up again. His wife may be young, but she is stubborn, brave, and resourceful. She has the makings a future “La Doña.”

In the Mexican family, much like the British monarchy, the man is the figurehead in name only. La Doña is the one who is the true shot-caller. La Doña is the alpha female. She could be the grandmother, oldest sister, or the most assertive, fiscally responsible, and reliable female out of the many characters that comprise the family. She has a commanding presence and rules with love, fear, and respect.

There is no love like the love of La Doña. Upon seeing you she’ll give you a hug, kiss, comment on how fat you gotten, and ask if you’re hungry. Then she’ll immediately get in the kitchen and throw together whatever she can from the contents of her fridge. Even with minimal ingredients, La Doña is able to magically assemble a delicious meal that you eat to the last bite.

La Doña will be the first person you call when life has kicked you in the balls. If you’re broke and struggling to pay your bills, La Doña is hardworking and frugal enough that she can lend you money. If life gets to the point where you lost your place to live, she’ll be the first person to let you stay in her spare bedroom until you reestablish yourself. When you’re downtrodden and everyone is looking down on you, La Doña will ferociously defend you and make it clear that your bad luck is only temporary.

She’ll be at your birthdays, graduations, and major life events. La Doña will be your biggest fan and supporter in all your dreams and endeavors, however farfetched they may be. She will speak proudly of you to others and highlight all of your accomplishments whenever the opportunity presents itself.

But La Doña will also fill you with fear. She will be the first person to confront you when you are fucking up. Get a bad grade in school? Be ready for her to yell your ear off about how if you don’t get good grades, you’ll be washing dishes at Denny’s with the other dumb Mexicans. You want to be cool and hang out with the little gangster kids across the street? La Doña isn’t going to let you become a good-for-nothing cholo that gives the rest of us Mexicans a bad name. She’ll go to their house, find you, and berate you in front of everybody with a combination of your name, swear words, your last name, and more swear words. Then she’ll grab you by the ear and drag your ass back home. Did you decide to get drunk and get your ass bounced out of the bar again? Don’t worry, La Doña will pick you up. The price: her beating the crap out of you for being tan estúpido. It doesn’t matter if you’re 27.

La Doña rules mostly with respect. Maybe she isn’t highly educated or well traveled, but her knowledge of how the real world works in invaluable. She has worked long, hard hours for low pay. She has seen life come into this world and has seen it leave. She has had her share of love and heartbreak, excitement and disappointment, happiness and sadness. She has selflessly put her family’s needs ahead of her own. She has made the right connections and has become a key figure in helping the family establish themselves in a new country.

La Doña knows how to get shit done and has connections who speak Spanish. Your ’92 Camry is having transmission trouble, but you don’t trust any of the gringo mechanics because they’re always looking to rip off Mexicans? Don’t worry; La Doña knows a guy who speaks Spanish and is trustworthy. You need a job? La Doña has a friend who owns a little taco shop and will hook you up. You’re traveling back to Mexico to visit? Just let La Doña make a couple of phone calls and you’ll have yourself a place to stay.

La Doña has more balls than most men. While many men willingly abandon their offspring, La Doña has more character in her right pinkie and will never let any child in her bloodline feel unloved. La Doña leads by example, never expecting anyone to do anything she isn’t willing to do herself. She’s the most levelheaded of the men and women in the family, often putting herself in the middle of their petty feuding to help find a solution so the family stays whole.

La Doña seems superhuman in the way she skillfully governs the chaos that is the Mexican family. Her fuel is her love for every member. Their trials are her trials. Their burdens are her burdens. Their success is her success. Their happiness is her happiness. She will have her favorite picture of you hanging up on some wall in her home. Even as you grow older and start building your own life, she will always worry about you because to her, you’re still esé niño who barely knows how to wipe his butt.

~Raul Felix
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