“¡Buen dia, Mamá!” I say as I sit down at the table.
“Buen dia, hijito.” Mamá hands me a bowl and a box of Froot Loops. Mi hermano has a bowl in front of him, too, but his cereal is getting soggy. His spoon rests forgotten in his hand as he stares at el televisión. It’s the news channel, and policía are talking with people. No sé de que están hablando, but I don’t really care what they’re talking about either.
I’m more worried about the test today than the news. I’m almost done with mi quarento año. I’ll be going into fifth grade next fall. But solamente if I can pass mi clase de inglés. And that’s hard. Mis amígos all speak Spanglish. Mis padres – Mamá y Papá – hablan español solamente. Y mi hermano, Ricardo… I look at my brother again, his cereal still untouched. He speaks English pretty good, but he doesn’t like trying to teach me.
I finish my Froot Loops, Mamá hands me a paper bag with a sandwich for lunch, and I grab my Spider-Man backpack from the cluttered living-room floor.
“¡Hasta luego!” Mamá calls after me.
“¡Hasta!” I call back.
Escuela isn’t very far from la casa. I walk down our driveway. The cement is cracked, but we can still park cars on it, so it’s okay. Papá took his pickup truck to work early this morning. He always works early, before I go to school.
Our yard is full of dry grass and weeds, like most of the other yards on the street. Camino past dusty cars parked on the curbs for a few minutes, wait at the crosswalk, and then I’m at escuela.
Morning is always the hardest. That’s mi clase de inglés – I mean, my English class. I need to try to think in English.
* * *
I don’t think I did well on the test. After recess, la maestra talks about stories instead of just words, but it’s hard to pay attention. I’m tired and my brain is full from the test. It feels like años, pero finally, el reloj on the wall says 11:30. Lunchtime! I take my backpack and head to the cafetería, a bunch of mesas lined up near the playground.
Now I just need to find a place to sit and eat. There are six white girls at one table, all covered in makeup and glitter. No estan bonitas. They look like they’re plastic dolls, or Halloween costumes.
“I’m so white!” one of them says loudly.
“Not as white as me!” another one says as she shows the others her reusable Starbucks cup.
“I’m so white that I’m racist,” another niña says, somehow causing the others to all laugh and agree.
No. Definitely not going to sit there. And not with the big fifth graders either.
I finally spot my friend Diego, eating a banana at the end of one table. Me siento next to him.
“Hey!” he says, happy to see me. His English is better than mine. His parents can speak it some, so they can help him with his homework. “How’d the test go?”
“Not great. No creo que lo haya hecho bien.”
“Nah, I’m sure you did fine!” Diego tries to comfort me as I bite my peanut butter sandwich.
“Thanks,” I say around my mouthful.
“De nada. Hey, do you want to come to my house after school?” Diego lives a little farther away from escuela, but he’s only a street away from me.
“¡Si!” I grin, then hold up my backpack. “I just need to leave mi mochila en casa.”
He nods. “We can walk back together.”
I finish off my sandwich. The test was hard, but the day’s getting better. I have to do matemáticas, pero los números son fáciles. Numbers are the same en inglés o en español. I don’t raise la mano in class very much, because la maestra no habla español, but even though I don’t say the answers in front of the class I usually get the right ones.
“See you after class!” Diego says. “¡Hasta pronto!”
* * *
“Alright, class,” says la maestra. “Today we’re going to work on division. Remember, they’re like the times tables, but opposite.”
I turn el libro de matemáticas to the page we stopped at last time. It’s all in English, and it’s hard for me to read the words. Comprendo los números, so I’ll just try to figure out los instructiones from the examples. La maestra said it’s like times tables. Like multiplicacíon, but opposite? I rub my head and look at the example problem:
2 × 2 = 4
4 ÷ 2 = 2
¡Pienso que es similar a sumar y restar! The next example will tell me if I’m right or not. Tres por cuatro es igual a doce, y doce dividido por cuatro es igual a tres. Yes, I get it!
I look up from my textbook to see la maestra writing on the whiteboard:
21 ÷ 3 =
24 ÷ 6 =
She always writes extra hard questions on the whiteboard, and if someone gets them right then they get a candy. I usually know the answers, but I’m never called on to say them. But I understand this time! I think for a moment, figuring out the answers.
I stand up and raise my hand, but I don’t wait for her to call on me. “¡Maestra, las respuestas son siete y cuatro! Veinte y uno dividido por tres es igual a siete, y veinte y cuatro dividido por seis es igual a cuatro.”
My big grin disappears off my face when la maestra looks at me, confused. Some of the white kids laugh.
“In English please, Juan,” la maestra says, frowning at me. I sink back down into my chair, wishing I could escape the laughter and the judging looks from the other niños. Juan isn’t even my name! He sits in front of me to the right! I look up from my book at Juan. He isn’t laughing. He’s looking at me con simpatía.
One of the white girls from lunch says the same thing that I did, but in English. La maestra likes that a lot better, and walks over to congratulate the girl. She gets a watermelon Jolly Rancher. My favorite flavor.
* * *
It’s hot when Diego and I walk home. El sol shines down in the sky, warming my shoulders and back and making me sweat where mi mochila holds the heat in the back of my shirt. It’s always hot after school en la tarde, and I’m used to it.
“Um…” Diego points to my house. “¿Qué es eso?”
He’s pointing at a large white van with green letters on its side. I can’t read them; they’re long English words. Several men wearing uniforms walk around in my yard. One of them is sitting on the ground and holding an ice pack to la cara, nursing a big bruise on his head. One of them shouts on his phone, and one of them holds mi hermano.
“¡Ricardo!” I run up to them, Diego running after me.
“¡Corre!” Ricardo shouts when he sees me, struggling against the bigger, stronger man in the uniform. “¡Corre! ¡Corre!”
The man throws mi hermano to the ground next to Ricardo’s aluminum baseball bat, and he cries in pain. I run up to my driveway and see un carro de policía in my driveway. Mamá y Papá are in the back of the car, y el oficial talks to them in English. Neither of mis padres understand English. They’re just shaking their heads.
“You live here?” the sitting man asks. He stands up. He’s much bigger than I thought.
“Do you live here?” the man says again, grabbing my arm. “This your house?”
“¡Si! It’s my house!” I cry tears of pain. The man has a painful grip.
“This is everyone, then,” the man standing over Ricardo says.
The third man sticks his phone back in his pocket. “Okay. Load them up.”
Suddenly I’m in the air, lifted by rough, strong arms, thrown in the back of the van.