Home by Mia Rodriguez
“Life is rough,” my mother says, turning off the stove, with the flick of her hand. “We have to fight,” she says, the whistle of the tea kettle ringing in the air, “we all have to fight.”
I have been having a hard time living, I tell her. Things at work haven’t been good and I’m thinking of quitting but I feel guilty leaving her and my brother with the households debts. She pours herself a cup of tea for her indigestion, one of her many ailments after working more than 50 hours a week for the last six years since my father’s heart attack.”We’ve been through worse,” she says “you have to nourish your soul first and worry about money second.”
I remember worse. Worse was getting all the bills in big, bold, red letters that said PAST DUE and threatened to cut off the water or power. Worse was watching my parents beg their friends for money, knowing that they would never be able to repay them and that we’d have to dodge them for life because of it. Worse was going to the grocery store and writing a check, knowing that there wasn’t money in the bank to cover it and hoping that it would go through so that the people behind us in the line wouldn’t know our secret. Worse was my mother getting fired and worrying about losing our house in the months of drought that followed. Worse were the harassing collection phone calls we’d get all day and night until my parents decided to unplug the home phone permanently. Worse was watching the bank cover each check that bounced and having to pay them the difference plus the $34 fee. Worse was knowing that my mother received her paycheck on Friday and she’d be broke by Saturday afternoon. That was worse. We know worse.
I tell my parents that life after graduation has been tinged with a slight surrealism. My four years in New York with the best professors and the best libraries and the best academics seem like a hazy dream someone injected into me one night, like synthetic memories of a life I’ve never really lived. Arnold Schwarzenegger from “Total Recall” would be proud of me.
I tell them that I feel like a lowly contestant from the Midwest who won a modeling contract or a record deal on a nationally syndicated reality tv show and then went back home to a life of obscurity and all I have to show for it is this diploma. A diploma that hangs on the wall like a distant royal cousin that is embarrassed of my entire peasant family. It just sits there with inside the $400 frame my parents scrimped and scrounged for. They said such a diploma deserved such a frame but I know that them buying it just made the school more money and left us having another late fee tacked onto the water bill.
I graduated from an Ivy League university which should have set me up for life, but instead I’m sitting here writing this one year later without a job or career or anything, really. I was there long enough to begin to feel like I had made a home and long enough to now feel out of place in my actual home. Now that I know what’s out there, how can I find comfort here, in this little section 8 housing-funded house?
I’ve been watching the US presidential coverage lately. I’ve heard my parents and brothers talking about D*nald Tr*mp’s comments on Latinos. I’ve watched that white lady on “The View” try to defend us by saying that if we were all deported “who would clean our toilets?” I turn the TV off and think about how many people can truly only see us as that and nothing more. As janitors, people who sell fruit on the street, as gardeners and nannies. If only they knew that those people and those jobs were some of the most thankless and some of the most unstable sources of income for their families. I think about how pointless my diploma really is to them when they can’t see past my brown skin, sloppy ethnic features, and Rodriguez last name.
On the internet I’m subjected to gifs and videos and think pieces about the girl who ripped the sign of the protestor who (rightfully) said that a vote for Trump was a vote for white supremacy. I see her and her friend plan and plot what they do with monstrous smiles and eager giggles. I try to scroll past them as fast as I can but my brain still knows what I saw and I’m reminded of how little my life, my family’s life and our struggles matters to them. To anyone.
I have been having a hard time living, here in my own home in my own country of birth in my brain in myself in my writings in my life. My mother stands over the sink, washing her cup. “If I told you how bad you’d have it back in our country,”she says “you’d cry.” I’m already crying.
Mia Rodriguez is a first generation latina living in LA. She graduated from Cornell University about a year ago and has been freelancing/working as a tutor and TA/interning since. Most of her work focuses on latinx issues, identity, love/relationships, home, family and family history and memory. Illustration by Mariana Perez.