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MCG, a Chicana feminist, for sure, teaches community college English

Monday, November 12, 2012

Saving Face

MG with "Amelie" and friend Lara Sprinkles
Summerville High circa 1986
In any other school at any other time Rick Oliveros and I might have been a couple. He was a short, compact, dark-skinned, muscular Mexican-American (the kind who wouldn’t have wanted to be described as dark-skinned at all) who almost always wore the classic grey pullover hooded sweatshirt, the look of his sport. Rick was a wrestler, known for lean, bulging muscles and quick moves. His athleticism gave him access to popularity that my being a band geek did not.
         Rick Oliveros, who was a year older, hated my guts. He hated Amelie too, called us freaks and spit in our direction whenever weren’t able to avoid crossing his path. It was because of Rick Oliveros that Amelie and I developed a sort of defense system. I was the mouthpiece.
         “Fuck you, Rick. What’s the matter, you upset you don’t have any sweaty guys to roll around with today?”
         We had to respond, to be nasty back, to save face.
         If Rick made any aggressive gestures in my direction, Amelie would get between us and stare him down, for she was several inches taller.
“Little man complex, eh?”  I’d add before he’d turned to walk away.
Fucking freaky bitches,” he’d say loud enough for others to hear that he had gotten in the last word.
We both knew he wasn’t likely to take his threats too far and jeopardize his place on the wrestling team, though we went to the kind of school that might let such a slip-up slide the first time. And he never said anything to Amelie when she and I weren’t together, but we both sensed that I had to take special care not to run into him on my own between classes or coming out of the bathroom alone.
         At my locker one day, on my way to a class that Amelie and I did not take together, Rick crossed the breezeway, crashed into me, slamming my body hard into the metal lockers. Shocked and in pain, I did nothing but grab my bruised hip with one hand and shut my locker with the other. Some watched on amused and at least one or two looked concerned, but no one intervened.
         “That’s what you get,” he said, nostrils flaring.
         I watched and waited until he turned and lumbered away.

         Though, I guess we both knew that he was, Amelie and I never talked about the fact that Rick Oliveras was Mexican-American just like we were. In fact, his English was lightly accented, that of a Spanish speaker, and his older brother Omar spoke with an even heavier accent. Only Omar was skinny and nerdy and nice, nice to everyone. Maybe it was because we were tired of hearing about it from the adults who pointed it out for us, like our Spanish teacher who liked to remind everyone that we were best friends and we both had Spanish last names and French first names, but Amelie and I never spoke much about being Mexican at all.
         Maybe Rick was secretly angry that I had sullied my chance of dating him, sullied our hyphenated identity by dressing weird and purposefully chopping my hair short in response to the ascribed standard of beauty. Or was he simply a short, dark-skinned Mexican kid in a small town that didn’t want him either –Amelie and I threatening to expose what he was trying to mask with his singlet and that hard look on his face. 

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