was born in Monterrey, NL, México, raised on the mystical US/Texas border and, now, calls Austin home. Her passion for cuentos comes from her own abuela and mother, arguable some of the best story tellers on the border. Yara is a bilingual educator, mother and advocate.
"Que te vaya bien," called Papá, reaching over to open the door of his rickety truck so that I could jump out. The air smelled of the morning dew in the dawn glow, even though it would quickly evaporate on this typical hot day in the brutal Texas sun.
We have lived at my grandma's small farm all summer after having left Mexico. Each morning was filled with warm, doughy flour tortillas. Afternoons were for running in the sprinklers with the pingos, my wild cousins, who mom was careful not to let me learn too many bad habits from. And evenings were for chasing each other around the yard and hearing my abuelita tell old cuentos as the sun set in a magnificent explosion.
Life at Abuelita's was different than in Mexico, but it was also easy and didn't scare me. But, late at night, I would think about what would happen when it was time for school. School would be very different in the US; I'd heard from the pingos, and I'd better be ready. In Mexico, we wore uniforms every day, had long assemblies, and carried the Mexican flag through the courtyard. I had all of my addition and subtraction algorithms down pact. My school in Mexico frowned upon miscalculations.
I entered the chilly room that had my name outside on a list and found a large, wood-top desk with a name tag that said my name on it. I studied the other names around me and my excitement grew. They all sounded SO American. Lucy. Crystal. Ashley. I'd never known an Ashley before. It was a name I'd heard only on TV.
We sat at desks without speaking for what seemed like hours. Finally, my teacher, Mrs. Grendel—or Rendel, I wasn’t sure—spoke. My school in Mexico had taught us some English, so I understood every word she said and followed her instructions closely. Our first assignment: draw a picture of what you’d like to be when you grow up. I already knew the answer. Presidente.
Still, I somehow ended up in a special class with a few other kids for a part of the day. They weren't like me. I'd spent all summer with the pingos, my American cousins, practicing my new English words. We watched movies in English late on Saturday nights and I laughed at the same jokes they laughed at. I'd even started singing the same songs from the English radio stations!
The kids in these classes wore dirty clothes, shoes with holes, and didn't seem to brush their hair. They only spoke Spanish.... actually, they barely spoke at all. Day after day I was sent to this room for 45 minutes. It was the longest 45 minutes of my day! I wanted to show the teachers I wasn't supposed to be in that room. I knew all of my addition and subtraction. This was a mistake! I did not want to be a part of this group.
As the leaves started to show richer tones, I'd almost given up being taken out of this room. I might be in the class with these bobos, but I didn't have to be their friend. I don't think they even knew how to make friends! Could they even count? Or know their ABC's? I tried even harder to make the teachers see I wasn't like them. When we were picked up from Mrs. Grendel's class to go to the bobo classroom, I'd walk far ahead just to be sure that anyone who might see us walking down the halls knew I wasn't with them. It was torture.
Then, on a cool Fall morning, she joined us. We stopped at a new classroom to pick up a new bobo, I assumed, but instead out came a girl like me. Tall, in matching neat clothes that looked like her mom spent a lot of time ironing and two matching tight trensas. American me had given up trensas at the beginning of school at the urging of my cousins, but Mexican me wore them proudly everyday with matching bows as well. The tighter the better. Deep down inside, I still loved my trensas. Wearing my hair down all the time made me very sweaty at recess and it always fell in my face when we read.
Her name was Mari. Mari had just moved to the US from Guanajuato the teacher told us; a town I'd heard had some spooky mummies! She must've been so brave to live in a town with mummies. I had to get to know her. Just for that day, I slowed my pace to learn more about this girl. For the first time with anyone in this class, me presente.
She was quiet and wasn't eager to tell me much. She must've felt the way I felt back in August. Still, she smiled at me and didn't walk a lot faster. I needed to learn more. When we got to the class, I realized she was a math whiz! She already knew all her multiplication facts! I had been the fastest mathematician until now, while the bobos worked on counting beads.
Within a few days, Mari and I were getting along splendidly! The teachers sat us together for math drills. They must've been thrilled I was finally talking to someone. Mari had braces. None of my friends had braces. I wanted to know all about them! She told me her school in Mexico had them learn all their multiplication facts LAST year! I even found her at recess so we could play together more.
Months went by and I started to look forward to my daily pickup for the bobo class. Mainly, I just wanted to see mi amiga and play math wars! I'd even started walking with the group because Mari would. She was kind to all the bobos, even the sloppy ones. Sometimes, I'd even let Alberto, a tolerable bobo, try a few math facts with us. He told us he sometimes didn't brush his hair because his mom left so early in the morning to a job very far away that he had no one to help him get ready. That made me a little sad to hear.
The day before our class Christmas party, Mrs. Grendel called Mamá to tell her that I no longer showed signs of needing "extra" help and wouldn't be attending the resource class anymore. I was thrilled! But what about Mari? When would I see my best friend?
When we returned to school after winter vacation, I joined some other students in what I would call the opposite of the bobo class. There were fun, difficult games, extra challenging work, and time to read exciting books with the teacher. Soon, I joined a reading group with Lucy and Crystal to start reading chapter books! Lucy and Crystal sometimes only pretended to read and instead whispered mean jokes about the other kids. Still, I missed Mari and her sweet stories, sharp math skills, and tight trenzas. I lived for recess when it was warm enough for all the classrooms to play outside together. We would run to each other and play the whole time. Those were my favorite days.
Once we got back from vacation, A few weeks went by and I'd almost forgotten all about the bobos except when I'd see them walk by through the tiny classroom window. Mari was always smiling and ready to talk to anyone. "Gross! They're dumb because they don't know English," said Lucy meanly one day as Mari lead the group confidently to their class.
Oh no! Did they say that when I'd go with the bobos? I was crushed. Didn’t they know most of those kids knew Spanish AND some English? Didn't they know the smartest math whiz in the whole school was in there? At recess that day, all the classes were allowed to play together because it was a sunny February day. I saw Mari coming a mile away, her trensas flying, shiny mouth smiling. She was excited to see me, it had been at least a week since we'd gotten to play together at recess. I glanced up at Lucy and Crystal who were watching her run towards me. "Get away from me, bobo!" came out of my mouth. I couldn't believe the words as the passed my lips. I didn't even recognize my voice. I don't think Mari did either. I'm not positive that she understood exactly what I said, but my tone was unmistakable. She stopped in her tracks and looked down. She looked like she had a horrible tummy ache. Lucy and Crystal snickered.
How could I have said that? Mari was kind, the best mathematician in the school and MY best friend! I felt like throwing up. Lucy and crystal smiled with approval.
The next day, I saw the bobos walk by my class. Mine and Mari’s eyes locked, but she quickly looked away. I needed her to look at me. I needed her to know I was sorry.
Over the next few weeks, Mari started walking in the middle of the group, most likely to avoid seeing me. At the awards ceremony for the first half of the year, she was awarded the top math prize. I clapped as loud as I could and hoped she could hear my applause above the rest. She deserved it.
Finally, another warm day came. This time, I grew nervous throughout our lunch knowing that all of our classes would be together on the playground. As the coach blew the whistle to release us to recess, I thought about saying how sorry I was, but it just didn't seem like enough. Why would I call the best mathematician I've known a bobo? Then I spotted her. She was surrounded by a small group of her classmates giggling and having a good time.
I took a deep breath and walked towards the group. Crystal and Lucy stood behind me annoyed that I was approaching her. I gently pushed past the small group. "Uh Mari? I... just... just wanted to say that I'm sorry."
Just like I knew she would do, Mari turned to me with a kind face. "I know you are, Gabriela."
"Can we be friends again?" I asked.
"I don't know, Gabriela. No se." I was not expecting to hear that. I looked around at her new friends. They were a mix of a couple of girls from her class and a boy and girl I recognized from the bobos. She was friends with them all. I wanted her to forgive me and say we would be BFFs again, but sometimes you can hurt someone's feelings so badly that saying you're sorry just isn't enough to fix the friendship. I knew she was right.
By the time the end of year awards came around, everyone had realized that Mari Martinez was the smartest girl in the 3rd grade and was just working on improving her English. I would have considered myself a strong 7th or 8th place. I know Mari would have helped me improve, too, if we had remained friends. That's the type of person she was. She always waved goodbye graciously when her mom picked her up after school as they drove away or smiled as the bobo class walked by. I wondered if she had mentioned to her mom what I said to her and how I'd made her feel that day at recess.
I don't blame her for not wanting to be my friend again, but I do miss her.