By Alberto Moreno, El Hispanic News
After leaving Mexico and the bone-gutting hunger of that place. After leaving that adobe bodega with its scurrying scorpions and the bats in the rafters. After leaving the place of our waiting, we arrived in Chicago. The city of broad shoulders and bright lights. They dropped us off at a tenement building with street lights and running water. And after a year, we saw our parents for the first time. A year is a very long time to wait when you are 7 and 9.
Pero los padres soon disappeared into their factory jobs.
It was James Otis Elementary that took us in. And fed us. Our starving minds and bodies. I still remember the fifth grade teacher who spoke no Spanish but loved me still in a language of her own. She saved me that year — this kind, elderly teacher sin nombre.
I would require more saving. From the gang that took to beating me up on my way to and from school as part of their recruitment strategy. Bruised and beaten, I reluctantly joined. Los Erie Boys, a subsidiary of the Latin Kings. And in this tenement jungle I again became lost. For a long time. And I did things I would not tell you about. Pero, perdido I was. Until that one night when I saw that open door on the side of that building. And I saw opportunity. La oportunidad of unattended things. And I opened the door and quickly went in. And what did I find, you ask? Nothing. And everything.
I stumbled into a place filled with men fighting. Men sparring. Trying not to look out of place, I found the nearest punching bag. And before I knew it I started to go to town on that bag. Taking out my anger at God and all my imperfect fathers.
Y luego something happened. Somebody was tapping me on the shoulder and I thought they knew I was here to take things that were not mine. Pero I was so mad I couldn’t make out what the bato was saying. This black bato was talking to me, pero I couldn’t understand him. Except that he was axxing me a question. Pero I couldn’t make it out. Cholera will do that to you.
Pero he repeated himself, waiting for me to “espeak Inglish.” He was axxing me if I wanted to learn how to box?
And I gave the only possible answer when love is asking you a question. I said sí! Clark took me in under his wing that night and taught me patiently to box. And in doing so he saved my life. I tell you this story because that night there were three boxing coaches. Two Mexican coaches and Clark. Pero, it took a black man named Clark to reach down and raise me up.
I tell you this because it happened again. After I went to college. After I left the pugilism of that place. After I got mad again about nobody caring about our brown children. After I got mad at having our brown mothers turned away from the medical care they need for their pregnant bellies. For our unborn children. Mad about being outside compassion’s end. Angry at the benign neglect which is never benign. Mad about indifference in this world.
And now it’s me yelling at a room of nice people. Now me asking them how is it morally tenable that our pregnant immigrant mothers can legally be excluded from medical care? Pero nobody in that room cares. And nothing will again happen to us. The nothing of benign neglect will continue to sit idly by as our children try to grow in iron-deficient wombs.
Pero I was wrong. I don’t know exactly que pasó. The next thing you know I’m sitting with the Honourable Representative Alissa Keny-Guyer. And I tell her: 5,000 of our mothers go without prenatal care. Every year.
She wanted to make it right. We are better than this, she said!
We talked to governors, legislators, and other good people. And I can now tell you that after working on this for over 10 years, it finally happened. Our Mexican, Somali, Asian, and Russian mothers can now get the care they need. For our unborn children. So that when they come into this world they can enter it as God intended.
And she reminded me of Clark. She reminded me of the most important lesson Clark taught me. More important than side steppin’ or how to throw a right uppercut. She reminded me that it takes all of our communities, black brown, or white to reach down with a helping hand to raise us up. She reminded me that together we are abundant.
Join the Oregon Latino Health Coalition and the Oregon Primary Care Association in celebrating the extension of access to prenatal care to all women in Oregon, Sept. 25, 9 a.m.-11 a.m., at the PSU Native American Student and Community Center (710 SW Jackson St., Portland). Spanish interpretation will be provided upon request. To RSVP, request interpretation, and for more information, contact Linda Roman at 971-295-3124 or firstname.lastname@example.org.