From Chicken Soup for the Latino Soul

Our Wonderful “Tragedy”

Nada es verdad ni nada es mentira, todo depende del cristal con que se mira.

Latino Proverb

Four years before I was born, my mom gave birth to a baby boy with Down syndrome. In 1958, children with Down syndrome were a rare breed and were often kept hidden and out of the public eye because they brought shame to their families. Little was known about this condition, but Mom and Dad took it in stride and were determined to make the best of the situation. The fragile little baby was nicknamed Chispo, Spanish for “tiny bit.” He was only three pounds when he entered the world. Doctors didn’t give Chispo much of a chance—a year at the most. After a few months in the hospital, my parents brought their physically challenged child home, determined to give Chispo the best year they could provide.

A year turned into two, and my mom had another child, a healthy baby girl. And two years after that, I came along. Chispo was now four and still couldn’t walk on his own, but that didn’t stop him from using me as his personal human teddy bear. We spent a great deal of time in my playpen where he would prop me up, lay me down, toss me around and, when mom wasn’t looking, he would insert foreign objects up my nostrils and into my ears. I’m told that with the aid of his walker, he would drag me around the house. Maybe because I got tired of being his personal mop, I opted for walking sooner than usual— they tell me I took my first steps when I turned eight months old. The little boy in the walker taught me how to walk, and from then on we became a dynamic duo who drove my parents insane. Chispo finally started walking on his own when he was six, just in time to torment our younger brother, who had come along two years after me.

As my siblings and I grew older, we grew closer. There are five of us: Irene, Chispo, Maggie, Carlos and Miguel. My parents treated all of us the same; there were no extra points for higher intelligence, athletic ability, mental retardation or physical handicap. Four of us shared the first two of the above, but Chispo—the only one lacking those same two qualities—was by far the leader of the pack. During the years we attended the same school, we all lived in Chispo’s shadow. Even when he didn’t attend our school, he managed to somehow become the physical education teacher’s assistant. Every kid from first to ninth grade knew Chispo and thought he was way cool. When we tried to cash in on his popularity, kids wouldn’t believe that we were related. We would argue the point until the phys ed. teacher confirmed that we were indeed related—something I will treasure for as long as I live.

At one point, doctors predicted that Chispo wouldn’t live past the age of eighteen. At the time, I was ten and figured that I had four years to prepare. Well, Chispo’s eighteenth birthday came and went. Today he’s forty-five—alive and kicking. My parents are now up in age, and their health is failing a bit. My little brother and I live far away in California, and my sisters have their own families to attend to, but every day when Mom and Dad wake up, there’s an angel from heaven at their bedside encouraging them to go on. The “tragedy” that my parents brought into the world on February 2, 1958, grew up to become their most trusted and loyal companion.

My family has never felt an ounce of shame or regret about Chispo’s condition. We’ve always believed he’s an angel God sent to teach everyone who came in contact with him a lesson on how to live life. He’s good, pure and honest, incapable of causing harm. He has affected the lives of many with his unconditional love, which flows freely and doesn’t discriminate. Ironically, Chispo, who many in our world might judge as less than “normal,” has taught us the dignity, nobility and virtue of being fully human. For as long as we live, we will proudly carry his example and his legacy in our hearts.

Carlos R. Bermúdez

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