A man learns that having success in the eyes of society is not as important as having a loving family.
by Carlos Manuel
"El catrín...la rosa...la dama...el arból..." Mi cuñado called out the names of the cards as he placed the them in the center of the table. The rest of us used frijoles to mark our cards with the hope of filling it up first and winning the money.
"¡Lotería!" my brother Arturo yelled.
"Yo necesitaba una para ganar," someone else yelled.
As I looked around the room and watched my entire familia enjoying a nice game of "Lotería," I said to myself, "Esta es mi familia. Una familia pobre, pero feliz."
Out of my sister, my brother, and me, I was the only one who made it to college. Being the oldest, I felt a little guilty about it up until just a few months ago because I knew I had the responsibility of helping mi mamá con los gastos de la casa. Ever since our father left us, mi mamá had always worked hard to keep food on the table. My sister took a low-paying job after she graduated from high school, and my brother decided not to finish school but rather work in the San Joaquin Valley fields.
I always knew I wanted to go to college, so I decided to be a full-time student and have a full-time job for as long as I could. After attending junior college -while at the same time working odd jobs to help la familia-my dream to go to a four-year university came true. The knowledge I gained at college was priceless.
"¿Hey, que piensas?" mi cuñado asked, waiving his hand in front of me.
"Nada," I answered.
"¿Estas en la luna?" mi cuñada said, joining the interrogation.
"Well," I said, "I was just thinking that this is the first time in a long time that we are all together en familia."
"That's because we don't see you here that often," my brother replied.
It's true. I didn't visit la familia very often when I was away at school. In fact, after college, I moved to New Mexico so I didn't see my family as much, and even when I moved back to California, I moved in with my ex-boyfriend.
But now, I had no excuses not to visit my family: the college years were gone, my boyfriend left me with a broken heart, and mi familia lived only an hour away. Even if I had an excuse, I wouldn't want to use it, for it was mi familia who supported me through college. They were the ones that provided the money when ends did not meet. They sacrificed some of their luxuries and desires for me. And after all that, I became distant, grew apart from them, and became more of a visitor.
"¿Quien la va a dar?" my oldest nephew asked, referring to the lotería game. "¿Puedo yo, mamá?" he asked.
"Okay," she said.
With much excitement, my nephew picked up the cards and started another game.
It was a few months ago that I started to value my family. Going to college, having a high-paying job, and having the philosophy of obtaining the "American Dream" wasn't enough and had turned me into just another member of society-perhaps, another self-centered capitalist. Of course, having a good job and being successful were impressive in the eyes of society, but I had forgotten what was truly important and had replaced it with what was impressive.
"¿Quién quiere soda?" mi mamá asked from the kitchen.
"Después de este juego," my brother answered as he prepared his lotería cards.
"Yo también, pero con piquete," mi cuñado said.
"No alcohol esta noche," I said looking after his well-being.
The rest of la familia was too busy concentrating on lotería
to care for anything to drink-at least for the moment.
A few months after we broke up, I found myself able to breathe
more easily, to see more clearly, and to feel some type of self-worth
(thanks to friends, mi familia, and a therapist). The longing
to live with another man, to feel the warmth of his body, and
to taste the sweetness of his kisses were nice, but it had pulled
me away de los que me ayudaron a obtener mis metas. I had left
behind the most important and valuable treasure ever acquired:
"¡Si!" everyone shouted in unison.
Mi mamá was a great cook. She used to be la cocinera for a rich family. If her Mexican dishes were incredibly tasty, her desserts son para chuparse los dedos. She had made ensalada de manza con nueces-my favorite! Once again, dessert had become the pinnacle of this reunión familiar.
Weeks before this gathering, mi mamá had been taken to the hospital after she suffered a mild heart attack. I had never experienced the devastation of having a sick mother. It was something I wished to no one. I couldn't work, I couldn't concentrate, I couldn't think. Suddenly, my personal life was insignificant, my problems were worthless, and my desires were meaningless. All I wanted was to see my mother healthy. I wanted to have my whole familia with me, sitting at the table, and enjoying mamá's meals.
Luckily, the storm passed, and the calm winds settled in. It was during this time that my philosophy of life started to change, and I began to appreciate life in a new way. I learned that even though education can give you the success you want, and desire can give you the wishes you look for, neither one will give you the fulfillment of having a familia, who loves you and supports you no matter who you are and what you do.
"Este será el último juego," my sister said as we all sat around the living room to enjoy our dessert.
"Okay, subamos las apuestas," mi cuñada said.
"$1.50 por carta," my brother suggested.
"Esta bien. Último juego," my mother said.
While everyone joined in the circle to play another game, I picked up the deck of cards and shuffled them. It was my turn to throw the cards.
With a Master's Degree, you'd figure I know everything there is to know about life. In a sense, I do have a lot of knowledge in a lot of areas-after all, seven years of college and 31 years of living cannot go unnoticed. But at the same time, to know deep inside that mi familia sacrificed itself so I could be the one with the college degree, is something I still appreciate.
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