|Indians and Sailors|
MCG in braids
Mother Lode Parade circa 1975
I guess it was easy to assume I was Me-wuk. I had dark skin; I wore my dark hair in long braids, and my clothes were second-hand. I even played an Indian in my first Mother Load Parade – Sammie, one of my first friends in Tuolumne, did too. Our gymnastics troupe marched in the parade, a row of little Indians and a row of sailors. The girls with shorter hair wore sailor hats and red and white striped leotards. The girls with long hair wore red leotards with a strip of white fringe around our waists and our braids wrapped at the ends and tied off with white ribbon -– my mom's idea. All of us wore white ballet flats which we attempted not to soil as we cartwheeled around fresh piles of horse manure from the contingents in front of us, most of which, it seemed, were on horseback.
Mostly, I understood that I was not Me-wuk, that I was Mexican even though I didn’t really know what that meant other than tacos and a language neither my mother nor I could speak, and even though I was in Indian Club at school. In second grade, the school’s janitor knew I was Mexican, and she gave me the business about it too.
Like many other mornings in school, I raised my hand and asked permission to go to the bathroom. Small for my age with a tiny bladder, like most children, I had been holding it for a long time already. It wasn't until I was out of my seat that I realized how badly I needed to go. I made an easy decision to walk through the cafeteria rather than around on the sidewalk under the breezeway. I saw that the doors were open as I walked toward the cafeteria, behind which were the closest bathrooms. My bladder was so full that it was difficult to walk. I concentrated hard on making it to the bathroom before wetting myself, which I knew I couldn't do because I was in second grade and not kindergarten.
But as I neared the cafeteria, I noticed that the lights were off, the room only lit by the lights coming through the high windows. I could see blue sky and a couple of cumulus clouds – we had learned about those in Mrs. Plescia's class. Once I got to the middle of the now quiet and empty cafeteria, I realized that I was treading on a freshly mopped floor. Mrs. Fulcher, the school custodian, appeared in front of me, her hands on the handle of an industrial-sized mop, a large bucket on wheels nearby. I didn't know why, but she had a hard look on her face. I stopped, my wet footprints on the damp linoleum trailing behind me.
I looked at Mrs. Fulcher. She was eying me hard, still leaning on the mop handle. I really had to go pee bad.
“You're pretty bold for a Mexican girl,” Mrs. Fulcher said, gripping the mop handle, readying herself to wipe clean the tracks behind me.
I wanted to turn back, but I knew I wouldn't make it. So I set my eyes straight ahead, focusing only on the far door. The bathrooms were just on the other side them. I could feel Mrs. Fulcher's frozen stare and her grip on the mop handle, as I walked by. I picked up my pace, nearly releasing a hot stream down my leg.
In the bathroom, it all came pouring out of me almost before I was able to lift my dress and wriggle out of my tights. You're pretty bold for a Mexican girl. I turned the phrase over and over in my head while pulling my tights up and walking very slowly, the long way around the cafeteria building back to my classroom. I couldn’t bring myself to rush even though I felt like had been gone for a very long time. Had I been bold? Was that so bad? Mexican girl? Was it bold to cut through the empty cafeteria, to walk on the wet floor when I hadn’t known it was wet?
Pretty bold for a Mexican girl.
She shouldn’t have said it -- I knew that, but I didn't know why.