Selected Published Essays
I am a Spanish-speaking chica, born and raised in Panama, one among dozens of primos, tíos and tías, role models when mothers failed and fathers died—a world I left and haven’t left.
My own book is about to be born. It’s an expression of me—an excavation of memory and return to the soil of “la familia.”
I have stories to tell. I know you will understand.
I’ve written a memoir about her — my need to love her, and the distances I had to cross to be close to a woman troubled with overwhelming anxiety that left little room for me, or my sister and brothers. It is set in Panama and in the U.S. after I leave for school in my teens.
We’ve taken off and curving left as we rise; the left motor is droning harshly. The highways below are close enough that I can make out the long vans and trucks and certain colors of the cars. We are over the Atlantic now. We’ve started our journey south to my busy city in that squiggle of land at the top of the South American hip.
Tía Mimí was lumpy. My tía Esther was fat. My father’s two sisters never married.
“You’ll grow up to be old maids like your aunts,” mami sang to Patricia and me.
“Julita doesn’t appreciate your wonderful papi,” they refrained. “Your mami’s spoiled,” they said. “She doesn’t deserve him.”
I am sitting at a round table across from a pretty brunette, 24, with a ponytail set high on the crown of her head that flips from side to side when she’s expressive. There’s a blackboard in the room and windows to the parking lot sea below. (I’m in Silicon Valley after all.) The girl wears boxy eyeglasses not too different from mine, though mine hide wrinkles. Hers look like a prop, what a model might wear, like a hat.
It’s a sliver of a diner in a white American suburb: metal and cracked granite, red leatherette stools, three large fans in constant motion. The smell of grease from the grills brings them in, the comfort of that smell. The lack of perfection. Every store in this affluent town sells jewelry, clothes, or beautifully confectioned pastries.
One by one, every girl in the queue to the chapel reaches into the basket by the open double doors and plucks a head covering, a round doily the size of a yarmulke pinched with a single bobby pin that does not discredit the sweetness of the tulle and the lace. I attach mine, and I walk in.
The D.J. at the end of the room has been instructed to open with “The Yellow Rose of Texas” and to play tía Adelaide’s old favorites. I look up. You can’t avoid looking up. The ceiling is as tall as a palm tree. We are in Casco Antiguo, the old, colonial quarter of Panama City where buildings date back as early as the 1600’s. My American husband and I took an Uber so as not to drive the narrow brick roads in the dark.
The cast starts on her instep, covers her lower leg, ends four inches past her knee. It covers almost half of Penny, who is four. Our granddaughter will be fine when the bone heals, six weeks in an “Elsa Blue” fiberglass cast the color of princesses dresses. I am heartsick.
“Grandma,” Penny whispers to me in the kitchen, “I’ll teach you yoga today.” Penny at four is the younger of my two granddaughters, the one who everyone says takes after me. I look at Penny who has cupid lips the texture of rose petals, and I try to imagine, what was I like when I was four?