A children's story by Álvaro Huerta
Mayto is full of big dreams.
While most of us kids in East Los Angeles' Ramona Gardens housing project want to be firemen or play for the Dodgers when we grow up, Mayto wants to work for NASA to build the next Martian robot explorers.
When Mayto talked about his plans in our 6th-grade class at Murchison Elementary, the entire class laughed. Even the teacher giggled.
"But, Mayto, you don't even like math," the teacher says. Ms. Cher is a great teacher who is usually very serious. She has red hair like Ronald McDonald.
"That's not a problem, Ms. Cher, I like to build things, just like my father. He's an engineer."
"You don't even got a father," a kid from the back of the class yells out.
"That's not true," Mayto says. "My father is a big time engineer in Mexico and he will be back once he finishes a ginormous project for the government." Since Mayto has a tendency to exaggerate, most kids roll their eyes in disbelief -- except me. I know that he can do whatever he puts his mind to.
One day, while we are playing baseball after school, Mayto is talking to Tony the Janitor about a big, broken-down vacuum cleaner he used to clean the playground.
"What are you going to do with this old machine?" Tony asks.
"I have plans for it," Mayto says.
"Well, I guess you can keep it, but you need to ask your dad to fix the engine," Tony replies.
"I don't need help," Mayto says.
"OK, Mayto, whatever you say."
Mayto pushes the humongous machine all the way home. The kids yell at him.
"Hey, Mayto," Jazmin says, "are you going to build a space machine?"
"Yeah," says Joaquin, "can I be the first Chicano astronaut to go to the moon?"
Not responding, Mayto hurries home to get to work on his mystery project. While the rest of us play Ms. Pac-Man at La Paloma Market or watch Nickelodeon TV programs, Mayto works day and night on his mechanical contraption.
One day, after disappearing for a month, Mayto shows up at the soccer field in a gas-powered go-cart.
It wasn't your typical wooden go-cart. It was a customized, low-rider go-cart -- cherry red, with velvet seat covers, a leather steering wheel and small whitewall tires with chrome-plated spoke rims. The engine was positioned in the back, like a VW bug. It was a gem.
"Where did you get that?" Joaquin asks with envy.
"I made it myself," Mayto says without boasting.
"That's the coolest go-cart ever," says Antonia.
"Yeah, that's very cool," concurs Gabriela.
"Can I have a ride?" Tomás, the local bully, pleads.
"Who helped you build it?" Xochitl inquires.
"Did your father return from Mexico?" Adam asks.
"I built it myself," Mayto responds.
It turns out he rebuilt the engine from the broken-down vacuum cleaner. He assembled the frame from an old Schwinn bike and the body from metal sheets he got from the local junkyard on Soto Boulevard. For a seat, he used a milk crate from La Paloma Market. He got the Chevy logo from an abandoned truck and steering wheel from a '76 Cadillac. Finally, he went to a local car painter, Richard, who provided the finishing touch: the word "Spirit" on the front hood.
"What does Spirit mean?" I ask.
"That's the name of NASA's rover on Mars," he responds.
"I didn't think you could pull it off," Fat Ritchie intervenes.
"I told you guys that when I grow up, I'm going to be an engineer just like my dad," Mayto says, as he drives away in his customized, low-rider go-cart.
Álvaro Huerta is the author of "Los Dos Smileys" in the anthology, Latinos in Lotusland (Bilingual Press, 2008). Special thanks to Andrew Huerta for the illustration. This story first appeared in the Los Angeles Times.