By Olympia Andrade Beltrán
Brown skinned and beautiful,
Island girl the youngest of six.
Inner fire bursting forth from dimpled smiles.
Her Island rises up from the streets of Sherman Heights,
a great temple where love and family are revered.
Ancient smells of chocolate and roasted chiles
mixed with silky ballads of Jorge Negrete
coloring her walk to Stockton Elementary school
with piñata vibrant flair.
Obsidian hair, wild and unruly,
whips behind her as she defies gender stereotypes
with a line drive to center field.
Playground boys high five her when the game is over,
despite sideways glances from starch pressed girls
tightly clutching their school books.
Mama has sad news to share over afterschool pan dulce and milk.
Daddy’s having a hard time making ends meet and Nana’s health is failing.
Crystal tears from adobe eyes would fall onto the Island Avenue porch
one last time before following the crows flight to Tecate.
Watching daddy and the boys make bricks for their new home,
she thought Spanish sounded heavy like stones that she struggled to embrace.
Stones that weighed her down three grades,
the shame of which she just couldn’t bear.
So she stopped going to school, and taught herself to read
by narrating the Sears Roebuck catalogues on nana’s bedside table.
Imagining herself twirling on the dance floor,
weaving between her sisters and their beaus in the latest spring fashion,
she read her heart’s desires like precious secrets to her fading nana.
Mama, ever adoring, sewed her sweet Babe’s dreams into pastel realities
that reminded her of the Island life she left behind.
Flower in bloom, Viola adorns the dance floor with lavender grace.
Swaying to ballads of love and loss, of simple pleasures and folk heroes,
the beauty locks eyes with a tall orphan youth,
whose gaze betrays the ember of hope
burning in his heart for just one dance with her.
The handsome güero dares to ask, and she accepts.
His courage a reflection of her warrior spirit,
she sees her Tezcatlipoca in his steel grey eyes.
This is her One.
Souls bound by God and destiny,
the newly weds plant the seed of their love
in the iron rich soil of New Deal America.
Her belly grows along with her responsibilities
as war calls her lover to fight for freedom across the sea.
She rises up like a corn stalk hearty and strong,
bearing the weight of her fruit
and wrapping her battle weary husband
in the medicine of her embrace upon his return.
Soon, the little ones come.
First a son, raven black hair and restless spirit,
her father’s Chichimeca blood stirs within him as it would forever.
Then, a little girl, eyes the color of summer leaves on sunflower breezes.
Heart’s jewels, playfully exploring the beaches
provided by Coronado’s military housing,
just across the bridge from the Island Ave. home she loved as a child,
the years had brought her full circle.
Riveting dreams of a home all her own,
methodically placed in every General Dynamics war machine,
she shared visions of family gatherings and backyard gardens
with every comadre on the line
while her love healed his Purple Heart driving buses on North Island.
Like mama’s childhood dresses, her dreams of a home became reality
through hard work and careful planning.
Creation would bless her home with one last baby boy,
and oh how she loved babies.
Their sweet milk breath and downy hair
felt like peaceful meditation in the rise and fall of sleep at her breast.
His father’s son, he grew to remind her of that handsome güero
who asked her to dance so many moons ago.
Dance they did, through the melancholy ballads of border life and war time,
soulful notes of discrimination and the anguish of post traumatic stress.
They danced, hand in hand, upbeat two-steps of happier days
celebrated with family and friends.
There came a day when the dancing came to an end.
When Alzheimer’s swept her kitchen clean of dusty corridos
and the smell of fresh flour tortillas.
No more did her stove simmer with caldos seasoned by backyard cilantro.
The days became quieter.
Children, grandchildren and great grandchildren drew nearer
until one last backyard gathering sent her spirit off to Mictlán,
wrapped in Tlazolteotl’s starry rebozo.
There she waits, bright eyes peering through the night sky,
blessing the seeds she planted in life until we are reunited once again.
Olympia Andrade Beltrán is the mother of four children and the wife of SDFP editor/columnist, Brent E. Beltrán. She monitors heart rhythms, helps grow community gardens and dances to the ceremonial beat of Aztec drums, among many other things.