“Look, you can see your breath,” I puffed at my little sister Sarita. She waved one of the small American flags that the scouts had given us through my steamy cloud. It was just getting light, and we were waiting to show the guards our purple tickets so they would let us through a gate to the inauguration. Dad’s friend had gotten the tickets for us, because we really wanted to see Barack Obama become the President of the United States.
“Isaiah, please ask the security man if this is the purple area,” my mama said to me in Spanish.
The security man was as tall as a basketball player and as wide as a football player. A woman was holding up an orange ticket to show him.
When she finished, I asked him my mama’s question, but he didn’t turn toward me.
“¡No seas del rancho!” my father whispered. He meant, “Speak up, don’t be shy.” I asked louder this time, but the huge man still didn’t hear me.
Then Sarita squeaked, “Is this the purple part?” and he turned our way.
“We’re all one color now, darlin,” he grinned down at Sarita.
This was the right place then. From where we stood, the people on the steps of the Capitol Building were no bigger than sprinkles on a cupcake. But we could see the dome very well, with the flags hanging down in front. As we threaded though the crowd into a little space behind a metal fence, my mother squeezed my arm. “Don’t be shy; just say, ‘Excuse me’,” she told me. As always.
Sarita and I climbed up on the wide base of a lamppost to get a view between people. We saw a giant TV screen, with kids singing in a choir.
“¿Te levanto? Want me to pick you up?” Dad asked, and he hoisted me onto his shoulders. There I was, up above everybody—but staring straight into my face was another boy, on his dad’s shoulders. He gave me a big smile. I felt so shy I took my dad’s cap off his head and whispered to him, “¡Bájame! Put me down!”
Back on the ground I asked, “How long before Obama comes out?” and nobody answered me. “I’m freezing,” I complained. I stamped my feet and waved my little flag. “Isaiah, be careful you don’t wave that in somebody’s face,” my dad warned.
The crowd cheered about something on the big screen, but I couldn’t see it. Dad’s belt buckle dug into my ear.
Between my mom’s feet sat Sarita, laughing. Clap, slap, clap, slap—“he rocks in the treetops all-a day long…” She was playing pattycake with a little kid, probably the brother of the boy who had smiled at me.
From up on his dad’s shoulders, that boy was telling his mom, “Malia and Sasha are coming in now!”
“You want a muffin, Isaiah?” his mom asked him.
My mama’s mouth dropped open. “He’s your tocayo!” she said. That means he and I have the same name.
I don’t like to talk to people I don’t know, but I just couldn’t stand it! “MY NAME IS ISAIAH, TOO!” I yelled up at him.
“For REAL?” he asked, his eyes open wide. “I’m the only Isaiah in my school! We’re probably the only two Isaiahs in this whole crowd!”
“Well, how about a nice sweet potato muffin for you too, Isaiah, and one for your sister down there? Is that okay with your mama?” his mom asked me. I looked at my mama.
“Andale, okay, dile ‘gracias’,” my mama told me, and his mom handed around these squishy muffins with yellow napkins for all four of us. They were excellent.
You know how sometimes you eat something good, and it makes you morehungry? Now my parents took the tamales out of their pockets. The security guards hadn’t let people in with lunch bags, so mom and dad had tamales in sandwich bags in their inside coat pockets. They handed them to the other family and to us—the tamales were still warm.
“This is DELICIOUS!” Isaiah’s dad’s voice boomed out after his first bite. “I never had ‘em homemade before!” Everybody else loved them too. I felt proud.
By that time Sarita was teaching Isaiah’s brother to play “al citron.”It’s a game where you sing a song and pass some small thing around—me and Isaiah hunkered down with the little kids and played, passing Obama buttons we got that day.
It was funny to be between so many feet and legs. My dad was wearing his cowboy boots—my tocayo’s dad had big yellow construction boots. There were high-heels and sneakers and old lady shoes.
The next time our two dads put us up on their shoulders, I wasn’t shy at all any more. We gave our moms and dads news of what was on the big screens, and why people were cheering. We came up with a special way to wave our flags: when people chanted O-BAM-AH, on the AH we bumped our fists together, and the flags flew!
At last the Chief Justice came to swear Obama in. Michelle was holding the Bible for him. Isaiah’s mom started to cry. She was hugging mi tocayo’s dad, but then she turned and hugged mi mama, and she started crying too.
Sarita’s lip trembled. “Why are you crying, mama?” she asked, and mama answered, “Because we’ve all been through so much.” Mi tocayo’s mom nodded to say “That’s the truth.” They both had the same look, happy and sad, but more happy.
Isaiah got a pen from his dad, wrote his phone number on the bottom white stripe of his flag, and gave it to me. I wrote my number on the pole and gave it to him. Then we both stuck the flagpoles in the backs of our jackets, so the flags were waving over our heads.
I felt so happy with our new president. And with mi tocayo, my new friend.
A Brooklyn girl, Deborah finished her studies in Teaching English as a Second Language and found that New York City couldn’t afford to employ her during its budget crisis of the mid ‘70’s. So she took off for Cancún, Mexico. There everyone she met wanted to study English. She founded a language school that ran for 24 years and served up to 400 students daily.
But after 13 years in Cancún, Deborah and her young son had many reasons for returning to the U.S.
In California she married and had another son. For several years she has been teaching ESL to a great crowd of UC Berkeley’s Visiting Scholars and others at Albany Adult School. She also supports foreign students at Academy of Art U. in SF.
Deborah has developed and published several games and materials for learning English. She presents her work at teachers’ conferences, often with bilingual children’s author Rene Colato Lainez. Then she comes home and writes. Visit her athttp://www.deborahsusanfrisch.com/