We hopped the fence and made the closest roof our home. Mama was never happy. She missed the tamales and wrinkly ladies in Mexico. Papa’s breath was too busy smelling like beer, and beer was available in the U.S., so he stayed happy. I was trying to figure out why I grew an uncomfortable stick in my pants every morning. One afternoon Mama told me that I smelt like chucho and wagged her finger at my stick when I let her tie my shoes. I didn’t really know Papa before or after the fence. He just spent more time screwing beer in the U.S. because it was the normal thing to do. The summer before I started middle school, he was in the backyard taking a dump. Mama had to pull him inside. He said he was as drunk as the American next door and was proud of it. I hid in my room that whole day until Mama came and explained to me that he forgot where the toilet was in our new house.
I went to school to learn how to be white, but my nasty accent kept me brown in the other kids’ eyes. Lunchtime was the awkwardest part of the day because I was the only pinto bean in a paper plate of white rice. One day, I brought an enchilada Mama made me for lunch. A white kid, Eric, came up to me with his Hot Pocket and gagged at the sight of my soggy, wet enchilada.
“That looks like an eel that bathed in a period!” Eric said.
Gross. I may have spoken with an accent, but I didn’t think in one. I hunched over my lunch and tried to cover it as I ate. Eric sat right next to me and looked over my shoulder as I slurped up the sauce around the soggy enchilada. I sucked hard and made smacking noises. Eric thrust his head back and wrinkled his face at me.
“You a Mecskin?!” he shrieked.
I nodded, letting Mexican drool trickle down my chin and onto my lap. Eric watched and scooted close to me again.
“Why do you eat like that? Do all Mecskins eat like that? Ma tells me they’re all rapers and murderers. Have you rapped someone?” Eric’s eyes lit up as he watched my lips close around the enchilada.
“You mean rape? And no, I haven’t raped someone. Papa has, though.”
“Really? Mine, too! He always smells like alcohol.”
“Me too!” I started to like Eric right then, even though he was narrow-minded and racist.
He spent the rest of lunchtime watching me slurp up my enchilada. I think I saw the same stick in his pants that I grew every morning when I choked a little bit on a piece of chicken.
We agreed that our dads screwing beer more often than our moms was wrong. He always asked about beer, porn, and drugs from the other side of the fence. When we had these conversations, we moved to our secret spot behind the school gym. His eyes widened like a ravaged raccoon, and he wiggled his fingers like a spider’s legs when I got to the part about rectums powdered with cocaine. Eric was his own kind of white; never openly racist but always disappointed in darker shades. He cried with his pocketknife when a black bean crossed his path during lunchtime. I think I was special to him, because he liked my lighter shade of brown. He could make me white if he wanted to. I just needed to kill my accent and learn how to lick darker beans with a knife. The more time I spent with Eric, the less I wanted to bring my sloppy enchiladas. Letting his white cover my brown in the back of the school gym wasn’t so bad.
Until Eric’s friends thought me too dark. Their knives wanted to know what was beneath my dirty skin. I was a blemish in their sea of white. I figured my skin could use some cleaning, so I let them slice away at my skin after school one day. They brought their knives up and down my arms and chest.
“Dirty … dirty Mecskin. Dirty bean.” They smiled their white teeth at me and spat on my face. I fell to the ground and clenched my belly, letting the blood trickle through my knuckles. It was the first time I felt fear in the U.S. I wanted to go back over the fence. This after-school reminder of my dirtiness became a routine every week. Eric denied me in front of his white friends.
Mama bawled when she saw the cuts. Papa burped up a liter of Bud Lite and grabbed me by the balls. I went into the bathroom and cut my skin, hoping that some white would emerge. But all that came out was my red blood. It dripped down my moldy drain. I was still brown. I hated myself. The second Papa discovered what ‘happy hour’ meant in Spanish, he rarely came home. He screwed his beer till Mama started inviting our neighbors to screw her. By the time they kept me up at night with their banging and moaning, my arms were covered in cuts. They never noticed. I secretly spat on their brown skins and started eating mac ‘n’ cheese for lunch. Papa’s teeth rotted in his beer and Mama popped out four kids nine months later. The little brown beans sucked on Mama’s breasts and cried for Papa. We never found out who the father was.
One day I flicked off one of my baby brothers when he drooled on my shoulder. Mama slapped me, but I pushed her against the wall.
“I’m ashamed of being your son. Slut.” I sneered.
Mama sliced me in half with her eyes. Papa carried my remains out to the curbside.
“This is where you belong, Mijo.” Those were the last words Papa said to me.
I roamed the streets and dipped my brown ass in and out of school as I pleased. Eric and his friends pushed me up against bathroom stalls and fences and licked me clean when they could. One day I stabbed one or two of them, but my teeth ended up on the ground and called me estupido. No matter how much they licked, I was still brown. Eric stopped teaching me how to be white in the back of the school gym, so I cut a hole in the fence and found some dark friends. We formed a Mexican gang and met at the back of 7-11 every Tuesday night. The stick in my pants started to smell like different girls’ breaths. My breath smelt like my father’s. I smeared coke on my upper lip every weekend and played with my homies.
“Homie … you my homie … for life.” My fellow gangster said to me one night when I finished cleaning his hands of white boys’ blood. I watched my friends peel away at white skin with their knives. They sniffed and sucked at the blood, hoping to further darken their skin. I stuck around after the murders and picked at the blood crust with my fingernails to see if I could lighten my skin. I wanted to show Eric that I could be white.
But I was too late. My homies skinned Eric alive. He died naked, head dangling, dripping with beer, porn, and drugs from the other side of the fence. I cried in a port-a-potty. Eric was only trying to teach them how to be white, but the gang wanted to stay brown. I hated brown. It’s color of shit. In the port-a-potty I brushed my teeth and cleaned the stick in my pants.
I left the gang for a few months and worked at a car wash, cleaning white people’s cars. That’s when I heard that Mama finally let herself die and Papa divorced her and his children for beer. My four siblings were taken into foster care. I cleaned the cars with all of Mexico’s might and picked off the Starbucks crust on the edge of the passenger seats. The gang’s knives started getting curiously hungry for my skin and they waited for me outside of work every day. I was leaving work one night when one of my former homies stopped me at knifepoint.
“Que pasa, holmes? Where have you been? Hmm? I’ve missed you, Papi.” He pressed me up against a wall and slithered his knife up and down my chest. I cut him and made him bleed like an enchilada.
“Lo siento. I needed to defend myself. I’ll be back with the homies soon. Abuelita’s sick and I need to make some better money for her.” I lied. I gave him my shirt to dry his blood and ran away.
Eric’s friends were still panting like dogs, tongues hanging out their pockets. Their knives found me outside of school and tickled me till I was almost white. I tried to love my brown, but their white made me see how dirty I was. I screwed beer like Papa and let girls spit on my stick so I could rejoin the gang. My former homies spat on my brown and turned me away.
“You white cracker. You ain’t part of dis no more.” They waved their knives at me and stuck their tongues out. My feet were slimy with their spit.
The fence broke down, and I lived nowhere. I licked with my knife but never got rid of my brown. Countless white skins stained my hands and feet, but they faded away when I worked in the sun at the car wash. I breathed cocaine and stuffed it up my rectum for girls to snort.
One of the girls beckoned me with her thighs spread open like chicken legs. “Mijo, c’mere … we forever, Papi. We forever.” She wanted to have fifteen children. I spat on her brown and brushed my teeth. Later that night, Eric appeared to me in a dream. “You a Mecskin? Dirty bean … dirty.” He had no skin and my homies’ knives were dripping with his white blood. Papa burped into my mouth and filled me with his beer. Mama was naked and cried like a baby, demanding children. A Mexican flag covered my vision, and mariachi trumpets blared in my ears.
I woke up. My bed was drenched in sweat and sperm. The girl next to me moaned in her sleep. She was brown. I needed white. I went outside and sniffed and tasted the ground for a white boy till I found one in the back of the school gym smoking weed. His knife was happy to see me, but he wasn’t. I dropped my knife and cut my tongue—there was no reason to explain licking anymore. I tried too many skins to cover mine. The white boy didn’t seem to get it, though. His eyes were still white and his heart was, too. It would take a lifetime of trying to impregnate beer while getting his stick wet with spit to get him to stop licking. I begged his knife to hold its tongue, because my brown was always going to be the color of shit. But the white boy was a twig. I had no other choice. I picked up my knife and pruned him. He was still white, only a little redder now. And I was still brown.