Monday, June 27, 2011
I hate my name
A teen struggles with the meanings of the name she was given
By guest author Estella González
I hate my name. What the hell does Lucha mean anyway?
“To fight,” my grandmother Merced tells me.
“To kick ass,” my Tía Suki once told me.
But really, it’s just a name most people make fun of. George, my boyfriend, tells me I should change it to Lucy, just like he changed his name from Jorge to George. But everybody’s always known me as Lucha.
“Que Lucy ni que nada,” Merced told me when she overheard me talking to George on the telephone. “Your mom gave you that name and you have to stick to it.”
Actually, Merced gave me my name. I know this because Tía Suki, on her last-ever visit to Merced and me, told me. We were sitting in the kitchen. I remember because I was near death with the flu and was just getting over it. Tía Suki had promised to make me a caldo de albondigas. And I remember feeling hungry for the first time in a week when I smelled the meatballs cooking in the thick soup.
“Ay Lucha,” Tía Suki said. “More and more you’re looking like Merced.”
Great, I thought. Not only do I have a crappy name, now I’m starting to look like an old hag. Merced is the last person I wanted to look like, ever.
“Is the soup ready?” I asked Tía Suki. “All Merced ever makes for me these days is Spam and eggs. Or beans.”
“Ya mero,” Tía Suki said lowering the flame and dipping her big spoon into the soup. “Merced likes her albondigas right away too.”
I just wanted to eat and go back to bed so I could dream about George and his beautiful hair and eyes. When Tía Suki put the bowl in front of me, the albondigas soup steamed up into the ceiling with its peeling paint. I didn’t wait for Tía Suki to serve herself before I started slurping up the hot broth. The more meatballs I ate, the better I felt.
“Just like Merced,” she laughed, looking at me. “You know she’s the one who named you.”
I just looked down at my albondigas, a big brown blob in a sea of rice, cilantro and potatoes. I kept eating.
“She named you after your mom left Don Pedro,” Tía Suki said and then gulped down the rest of her soup.
Merced had told me about Mom and Don Pedro, this guy Mom had met at El Yuma Bar. She ran off with him to Bakersfield without telling Merced. He had been way older than Mom, but I think that’s why she liked him, because he was old and quiet. Not like Merced, skanky and loud. But they hadn’t lasted, and soon she was back, dragging me back from Bakersfield.
“But she hadn’t named you yet,” Tía Suki told me, handing me a tortilla. “She just called you ‘muñequita.’ I kind of liked that.”
I tried to finish my albondigas quickly so I could go to bed with my thoughts of George, but Tía Suki’s voice was low and deep and crawled into my ears then into my brain. Before I could finish, she told me that one day, when she had come to drop off some yerbas from her garden, she had found Merced and her neighbor, Rufina, in the living room, singing to some ranchera singer.
“Lucha Villa,” Tía Suki told me. “Merced and Rufina were singing ‘Amanecí en Tus Brazos.’”
Merced was holding a picture of Leandro in one hand and me in the other. Yeah, pura novela shit, but I believe it. She’s been hung up on that guy for so long, I don’t think she’ll ever get over him.
“Lucha still sings,” Tía Suki went on. “Not as good as Lola Beltrán, but she is good.”
“She still sings,” I said rolling up the last tortilla in my hand. “Good.”
“And beautiful, too,” Tía Suki said. “Long black hair. Brown skin.”
I stopped eating. I knew what Tía Suki was trying to do and it wasn’t going to work. No way was I falling for that Chicano pride crap. I knew better. That shit was over. This was the ’80s, and I was an American. So over the soup I whispered “Lucy” and watched my breath and steam float up into the peeling paint. Next year, when I started at Roosevelt High School, I would start using my American name, just like George. I would make the teachers remember my name and soon, I knew, Merced would call me Lucy, too.
[Estella González is a writer from East Los Angeles who has had work published in Latinos in Lotusland: An Anthology of Contemporary Southern California Literature (Bilingual Press), and literary magazines such as Puerto Del Sol and Eleven Eleven. She will be reading an excerpt from her as-yet-to-be-completed novel sponsored by the Pasadena Writing Project on Thursday, June 30, 7:00 p.m. at the Armory Center, 145 North Raymond Avenue. This story first appeared in the Pasadena Weekly.]