I have been to two Mexican weddings in the past year. Both times I have agonized over what shirt to wear.
Last night my sister-in-law married her sweetheart in a cozy ceremony in the garden of a hotel in Hermosillo. As I was putting on a tie I had brought to wear with the white shirt and black slacks I had bought earlier in the week, Hiram asked if I didn't have another shirt.
"I'm afraid people will think you are a waiter."
So I lost the tie and wore the other shirt — the one with the tiny polka dots.
On the way to the hotel, we passed a pair of missionaries dressed in exactly the same clothes I was going to wear originally.
It's hot in the summer in Hermosillo and it's just as well I didn't wear the tie, which I had only retrieved in the first place from a box from the nineties in the closet because I felt guilty for not wearing a blazer I don't own.
At the wedding I took some photos because I can't not take photos. Later, looking at Hiram's brothers in the pictures I had a thought.
What they are wearing is what English speakers call Mexican wedding shirts. They are for sale in many places in Tucson in many colors and styles, new and vintage, expensive and not.
The answer to my question of what shirt to wear was sewn into the shirt I could have worn.
Sometime after my parents divorced, my mother was driving us home from a Thanksgiving spent with my grandparents in Fresno. She decided we would go through Nothern Arizona so we could stop and visit her Uncle Andrew. I didn't think I had ever met Uncle Andrew, but I had heard his name a lot before. He held a high position in our church and had been in a war. He was something of mystical hero to my mom and her side of the family.
I was an impatient ten-year-old prone to car sickness and didn't want to make any trip longer than it had to be.
“Can't we just go home?”
“You love Uncle Andrew.”
“I don't even know him.”
“You do, but don't remember it because you were just a baby. Everyone loves Uncle Andrew. He's a stake president. Did you know he has not eaten chocolate since coming back from the war?”
That part about being a stake president, that is an important church role to Mormons, so he must have had a lot of clout in his largely Latter Day Saint community. The other part, about the chocolate, is a non-sequitur. And that is the way we talk in my family.
“He doesn't eat chocolate?”
“No. Something happened to him in the war and he won't eat chocolate.”
“What about his kids? Can they eat chocolate?”
“Yes, but he won't.”
“Why? What happened to him in the war?”
“He never said. He probably had a vision.
I still was not happy about extending the agony of the road trip, but it was inevitable. I started to wonder now if I might be able to find out why a wise man wouldn't eat chocolate. Could he have been tortured with chocolate somehow? Maybe an angel appeared to him and promised to deliver him safely home from the war if he vowed never to eat candy bars again. Adults won't ask things like that, but given the chance I probably would.
So we went to see Uncle Andrew.
Uncle Andrew's house was huge compared to the houses I knew, so I thought it must be true that he was a successful and important person. There were the familiar prints of Joseph Smith and Blonde Jesus in gilded frames. There were doilies on the arms of the couches and, just like my mom'sother aunts and uncles' houses, everything smelled like Ben-Gay. Also, the house had a basement that wasn't like the few gross basements I had seen when we lived in Mesa. The basements I had seen there had dirt floors and were where the hot water heater was. They smelled of insecticide and us kids were forbidden from going in without a grown-up. Technically, I think they were cellars or crawl spaces, but the hastily built cinder block houses in the area where we were living in Tucson by then didn't have even those.
The basement at Uncle Andrew's was like in houses on television. There were bedrooms and bunk beds and there was carpet and there was a rec room with weights and trophies and black-and-white photos of my mom's now grown and moved-away cousins as high school track stars. Yes, there was wood paneling. To ten-year-old me it seemed like they had a vacation home underneath their real home. I spent as much time there as I could that day studying the trophies and pictures of my mom's athletic cousins, wondering about their lives and thinking abouthow to ask Uncle Andrew later why he wouldn't eat chocolate.
But I was cut short.
At dinner he announced, “Your boys need haircuts. Before you folks leave tomorrow, I'll get the clippers out and shear 'em.”
“What does shear mean?” I asked.
“That's what we have to do to the sheep, so we can make coats with the wool.”
Ha, ha! Cool. I wanted to see the clippers and hoped I could get the flattop the cousins in the photos all had. I laughed and made a joke. Would they sell our hair to make coats? Ha, ha!
Then without missing a beat, he added,“We also have to do it when little boys start looking like little girls, like you do.”
All the adults laughed again. But, ouch. I probably made a face because my mom shot me a dagger.
I no longer wanted the flattop. I no longer cared about making these people laugh. I just no longer wanted to be there. As soon as he left the room I told my mom I didn't like him and I wasn't getting a haircut.
“You'll behave and you'll get a haircut.”
“We'll see about that.”
When Uncle Andrew came back, he asked mom if I was giving her trouble.
“He gets a little big for his britches sometimes. He thinks he's not getting a haircut, but he's getting a haircut. You're right. He needs one. Thank you for offering.”
I don't remember what was said next. I do remember there was shouting and tears and probably spitting. That was something I did then. When everything seemed horrible and beyond my control, I spit. Soon Uncle Andrew gave me a bad haircut, a hard spanking, and a talk about boys growing up without fathers needing discipline.
When we left the next day, Uncle Andrew said, “Bring your little girl back for a haircut and a spanking any time.”
More laughter. I fumed and tried to make sense of what had happened. It was too much though.
I had a dad. I hadn't done anything wrong. I actually wanted the haircut at first. Why did he have to say I looked like a girl? Why did that feel so, I dunno, yucky?
It would be years before I comprehended why it feels creepy when grown men are bothered by little boys looking like little girls.
But mostly I wanted to know why my mom, who was still angry with me, had let him spank me.
“He loves you and he is worried about you.”
“Well, I hate him. I hope I never see him again.”
“If you talk like that again, I'll spank you. One day you'll understand and you'll be thankful.”
But I didn't and I'm not.
Years later when it happened that a man I was dating turned out to be from Uncle Andrew's town and congregation. I told him the story about the haircut and the spanking.
“Really?” He asked, “I always thought he was a sweet guy, but I can see it. He was awfully stern with those kids. Did you ever find out about the chocolate?”
“No. I didn't care after that.”
And it's true, I didn't. By the time we got back to our cinder block house without a basement or a father's discipline, I decided Uncle Andrew had probably had just come down with food poisoning in whatever country he was in and later, when he didn't want to talk about the diarrhea, everyone reconciled his stubborn silence with something unquestionably sacred. Another time when people who should know better got their faith mixed up with some man's awful crap.
Not at all as heartwarming as Queen Elizabeth's holiday message of community this year. Definitely longer than the President-elect's lonely, angry fisted little tweet. It's Christmas 2016.
At the exact moment our winter vacation begins, Hiram and I get on a bus and travel through the night to our family in Hermosillo.
During the day on Christmas Eve, presents are bought and wrapped at the department store. People stand in line for an hour to get gifts wrapped. I wonder out loud if it wouldn’t be faster for them to just wrap the packages themselves. “It’s free," someone says.
Well, there you go.
When my mother-in-law asks how we should prepare the turkey this year. Hiram and I break into laughter.
“What?” She asks. “What!?” She insists.
“Every year you ask us how we think we should prepare the bird. Then at the last minute you make it exactly as you always have. It’s delicious. But it's not how we would make it and it cracks us up that we have this conversation every year.”
“Well this year, you guys can do everything. Make it how you like. I’m not touching it."
Hiram and I go downtown to the beauty district and see our barber here. We get the haircuts we want. I forget to ask about my eyebrows. We stop back in after lunch to have the wandering tumbleweeds on my forehead corralled.
We go for a walk around downtown. I want to see what is happening with the Radiomotores car parts and toy store since Alejandro passed away. We arrive at the shop, press our noses to the glass windows long enough to get a glimpse of the chaos inside — garbage and empty display cases and more garbage — and immediately three bicycle cops arrive wanting to know what were are doing there.
“Someone reported you guys here behaving strangely.”
“That’s interesting to me,” Hiram says. “We haven't been here ten seconds. That’s hardly enough time for us to get here, for someone to see us, for them to contact you, and for you to arrive.”
“Maybe it was someone else then,” says the officer. Then his eyes do that I’m scanning your pockets while trying not to lose eye-contact with you thing officials do. “What are you doing here?"
“I'm visiting from Tucson. I am taking pictures of things downtown,” I say, in my tourist Spanish, holding up my camera.
Strange behavior indeed.
We head back to the car. Along the way I buy a stick pony for my niece. If I were a three-year-old, I would want a stick pony. Honestly, I would still like one. I’m not embarrassed by that, but our place is crowded with stuff as it is; there's just no room for a stick pony in our lives right now. I hope my niece will enjoy the stick pony I have always wanted.
At home, Mom has the turkey prepped and ready to go in the oven. “I have the turkey ready. All you guys have to do is put it in the oven. What time do you think it should go in?”
Hiram and I look at each other.
“What time is mass?” I ask. “What time will you be back?”
“What time will we be back?"
Every year since I started spending Christmas with Hiram and his family, I have gone to Christmas Eve mass with them. The joke is—it’s only sort of a joke though—the joke is that if I want to eat dinner with the family, I also have to go to mass. But this year I insist and don't go.
I can’t say I am ever in the mood for mass, but I usually end up enjoying it. The carols remind me of happy times when I was a kid and, because they’re in Spanish, my first Mexican Christmas in Cuernavaca. There is the part of the mass where you turn and wish complete strangers peace and shake their hand. Also, there are often guitars and bells in the mix. If that's not enough to keep me from being bored, there are always people to watch. If all else fails, I pretend the Spanish language sermon is actually being given in Latin and I am trying to understand it.
This year we were going to a mass given by a priest whose delivery I’m not crazy about. It wasn't to be the hippie Jesuit with the illegally parked car that is blocking the gate to the parking lot and needs a jump. And it wasn’t to be the Spaniard who texts while he’s giving his sermon about gratitude and cold cow spit. It was to be a priest who I can never tell if it's him or his congregation who falls asleep first.
What's worse though is the two statuettes he has representing the baby Jesus. There is a dark-skinned Jesus that resembles the majority of the people in the congregation. Then there’s the blond-haired, blue-eyed baby Jesus that looks more like the Aryan kid on the Kinder brand chocolate bars at supermarket checkout stands everywhere here.
After the mass, the little statues are lifted from their plaster of Paris mangers and walked through the chapel so everyone can wish the “newborn” a happy birthday. Pious old women snatch up their toddler grandchildren and elbow their way through all of the other grandmothers and grandchildren to give Blonde Jesus a birthday kiss.
Meanwhile, an altar boy giggles uncomfortably as he carries Brown Jesus around the chapel to arm’s length fanfare: Everyone including the priest on his microphone, jokes how sad it is no one shows poor Brown Jesus any love. “Haha!”
Haha? There’s so much that can be said about this thing with the Baby Jesus statuettes. Be my guest. For me this year, it’s enough to say I'm not up for being there for it.
So I don’t go to mass. I stay at home and make mashed potatoes.
By the time everyone gets back from mass, the food is ready. We make a toast, eat dinner, tell stories, eat even more. We share stories about Christmas where we everyone at the table is from: Here in Sonora, in Mexico City, and in Arizona.
Fireworks outside signal it's midnight. Christ is born. Time to open presents. Time to say thank you and fib about liking the clothes you just got. Time to smile for pictures. Time to try and stay awake just a little longer.
After the guests leave and the dishes are washed and the open bottle on the counter is finished off, Hiram and I walk out onto the patio to see if it is still raining. Nope. We’re stuffed and exhausted and regretting the second piece of pie. There are still fireworks going off and and banda music in the background. Oompa, oompa, boom, boom, boom. It is almost 3:00 in the morning. We wish each other a Merry Christmas.
“Merry Christmas, Churro.”
“Merry Christmas, Pipo."
Then we turn, look up at the sky, and fart for thirty seconds straight before going inside to bed.
Facebook is an awkward and uncomfortable place to be talking about many of the things a family may or may not have not talked about before. But it happens. Facebook is also most likely where I will find out what's on the minds of you immediate and extended family who, over the years, have relied on it to keep in touch and reconnect. It has meant a lot to me when some of you have expressed your support for my and Hiram's equality and our pursuit of the same opportunities you, our parents, and their parents have had. Thank you. When you have reached out like that, please know you have warmed my heart.
Thank you to the sister who went out of her way years ago when she first met Hiram and told us that if we ever got married, "You have to include me in the wedding." Thank you to a niece for being part of the LGBT Straight Alliance at her school. Thank you to the return missionary cousin who messaged me, “By the way, I am gay too.” Thank you to the cousin and aunt who, after we reconnected because of Facebook, called and said they always knew I was gay and always loved me just the same. Thank you to the in-laws who "Like" or leave enthusiastic comments on the "Hiram & Richard" photos we share. And thank you to those family members who keep me in the loop on their kids' graduations and new jobs and other important events of the people in the families you have created.
All I really have is please and thank you. Thank you for being courageous enough to stand by us in spite of the angrier voices and personalities of our religious and political communities when that is the case. Thank you for reaching out and showing your support those times when it is just the right thing to do even if it isn't the comfortable thing to do.
I am gay. The person I have loved for the last ten years and eventually cried tears of joy with when we were able to marry two years ago is an immigrant. What is at stake in this election for the family we are creating is all frighteningly real to me. Please be on the right side of history here. Please do the right thing and do not vote for a candidate who encourages you to fear immigrants, who has promised to appoint justices who would invalidate our marriage, and who just in general appeals to anger instead of love.
Perhaps because I had mentioned how much I enjoyed Padre Jesus’ no-nonsense masses in the past, my mother-in-law this year took us to his 7:00 O’clock mass at San Esteban, the Goldilocks chapel—not too rich, not too poor. We arrived early enough to get seats in the middle of the room. The sermon in a nutshell: So much trouble is caused by people trying to be powerful. People say they want peace on earth and then they try to get it by being powerful and that never works. When everyone is trying to be powerful, there isn’t much peace. If you want peace, as God wants, it’s easy. Be humble and do your job. “The sheperds of the Christmas story weren’t trying to be powerful, they were tending their sheep. They were doing their job.”
Ho hum. It turned into “Do as you are told.” so quickly. Last year’s cold cow spit communion was easier to swallow. But there was singing and hand clapping (welcome because it muffles those bratty tambourines) and there was a nun in the pews, styled like a nun in an old movie or on a bottle of Mexican egg nog. We both looked a little out of place in this crowd of dark-haired and dressed-up worshippers. I was a tall gringo wearing a cheap blue sweater. She was the kind-faced older woman in a habit and a worn brown robe. I wanted to ask her for a photo, but I talked myself out of it, which I have been doing more often than not this year. Ho hum.