From Chicken Soup for the Latino Soul

I Graduate Barkely

To make a great dream come true, the first requirement is a great capacity to dream; the second is persistence.

César Chávez

After slowly sipping my grandmother’s caldo, I sat on the flower-printed sofa under a sea of thick blankets. My body ached and my nostrils cried from the stench of vaporú that covered my chest. I glanced at the old square clock and realized that the mailman would soon make his daily stop. I wondered if today he would deliver the letter that would determine my fate.

My grandmother had just entered the bathroom when I slipped on my chanclas and bolted out the front door toward the silver box. Somehow in the midst of the rain, there was a ray of light that illuminated the big package. My joyful screams were silenced when my grandmother appeared.

Estás loca? For why are you outside?”

“Grandma, I got in! I did it! I got into UC Berkeley!”

As I ran inside to call my dad, my grandma gave me one of her famous huffs and “you’re pushing your limits” looks.

“Dad, I got in! I’m going to Berkeley!”

“That’s good, m’ija, but don’t you want to go to UC Davis? Be close to your family? Berkeley’s so far. I have to get back to work. We’ll talk tonight.”

That evening my grandmother lingered around our house and waited for my father and me to talk. My father didn’t say much because he knew that my heart was set, and there was no use trying to battle the stubborn blood that boldly pumps through our family. On the other hand, my grandmother wouldn’t stop telling me what a bad choice I was making. She said that Berkeley was too expensive, the Bay Area was too crazy, there were good community colleges nearby, I would be alone in a city, and that basically I was a horrible daughter for even thinking of abandoning my “helpless” divorced father and younger brother.

I’m not going to lie: My grandmother’s words left bruises, but I understood her point of view. My grandma came from a generation where women kept the house spotless, never ordered take-out and only left their family-home when it was time to start a family of their own. Ironically, my grandmother was rebellious, and it is her mischievous tales that have fueled my determination to break life’s barriers.

When my great-grandmother passed away, my grandma moved in with her tía, who made her work as a servant. In addition to maintaining the ranch, my grandma would accompany her tía on short journeys throughout the campo to sell produce. During that time, my grandmother straddled horses, kept a knife hidden in her boot for safety and became known as “María la loca” by the campesinos. Searching for something more in life, my grandma ran away and headed north because she heard that women had more freedom in the United States.

Eventually, she settled on the border of California and Mexico where she worked two jobs to save money for her dream of a better life. While living in Mexicali, she met a man who impressed her with his charm and told her that he would provide for her. After some time, the two married, and my grandmother’s focus turned to her new family. However, my grandfather basically placed my grandmother into another servile position, ruling her every move. My grandfather’s controlling and abusive ways finally ceased when he passed away after having a heart attack, leaving my pregnant grandmother with gambling debts and little money. Despite the countless obstacles, my grandmother remained strong, raised her seven children and advocated for her family, making sure they would take full advantage of life’s opportunities.

Her story has always motivated me to persevere, and, as a result, I moved to Berkeley in the fall of 1996. In the beginning, being away from my family and adjusting to my new life was extremely difficult. I could really feel the distance take hold. On the occasional weekends home, I felt like a visitor when I stared at the blank walls of my old room. My relationships with each of my family members, mostly with my grandmother, had changed. Our conversations were brief, and my grandmother’s refusal to really look me in the eyes made me hear her unspoken words of disapproval.

As my undergraduate career continued to unfold, my grandmother and I slowly reconnected when I asked for her help. She shared her secret recipes with me, picked out the perfect houseplant for my new apartment and assisted with my Spanish homework. Little by little, she would show her support with her goody bags (which usually consisted of fruit, Top-Ramen and pan dulce) and by slipping a dollar or two into my pocket when she gave me her good-bye blessing.

Four years flew by and before I knew it, graduation was right around the corner. I asked my grandmother to be my honored guest and accompany me in the walk across the Greek Theater. Despite her fears of huge crowds, she agreed to remain by my side during the entire program.

That evening she wore her best outfit, pinned a fresh flower from her garden to her blouse and placed a small amount of pink blush on her cheeks to signal the special occasion. My eyes overflowed with tears, and at that moment I knew that I had truly made her proud.

As the volunteer motioned our row to stand, my grandmother gently squeezed my right hand. “M’ija,” she said softly, “I make it only to grade three, but today I graduate Barkely.

Regina Ramos

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