Saturday September 20. Dow Jones: 11,388
San Francisco, California. 5:30 AM
We were feeling really laid back at Lilian’s party when he arrived with his usual two little friends, Patrick and the other guy whose name I don’t remember. I asked Lilian if she had invited them and she just laughed, which in this case meant no, or that she had no choice but to invite them. I had never had problems with Nacho before so don’t come at me with that stuff about animosity or predisposition, much less premeditation.
It wasn’t premeditated. Nacho Washington Sánchez had come to the party with a gift for the young girl who was turning fifteen two days later. Her parents had moved the celebration up so that it would fall on Saturday the 14th, and as a reward for her good grades.
Nacho Sánchez, Santa Clara, 19, had gone back to school at the age of almost twenty, after spending a time in a Georgia chicken factory. And this time he had come back with enough maturity and motivation to carry him to the second best grades in his class.
According to his friends’ statements to the police, Nacho didn’t go to the party because of Lilian but because of Claudia Knickerbacker, the Chilean friend of the birthday girl. And if he said goodbye to miss Wright with a hug and a kiss on the cheek, that didn’t mean anything. Or it didn’t mean, like George Ramírez yelled at him, sexual harassment.
—The thing is that George speaks less and less Spanish all the time and he forgot or acts like he forgets that we Latinos hug and kiss more often than Yankees do. The other stuff is inside the head of one of those repressed people who see sex everywhere and try to surgically remove it with a pair of hot tongs. It’s true that before heading for the bus stop Nacho turned around and told him that George wasn’t a Mexican-American anymore because in Calabazas North the “Mexican” part had fallen off of him. It wasn’t necessary, but it was after tolerating like a prince the insults that George had thrown at him since he left the Wrights’ house.
—What insults? Do you remember any of them?
—He said to him that Nacho was a child abuser, that Lilian was still only fourteen years old and that he was going to report him to the police and he followed him around threatening him with the telephone in his hand. Without turning around Nacho told him, sure, call 911. The others were coming up behind.
—How many were they?
—Five or six, I don’t remember exactly. It was dark and I was really scared that there would be a fight and we would all get pulled in. We were about a hundred yeards from the bus stop and the bus was waiting for the light to change a block away and George decided to yell at him that he wasn’t going to call 911, but the Migra instead. Everybody knew that Nacho’s parents were illegals and hadn’t gotten papers for as long as Nacho could remember, which was why, even though he was a citizen, he always avoided run-ins with the police, as if they would deport him or put him in jail for being the child of illegals, which he knew perfectly well was absurd but was something that was stronger than him. When his wallet got stolen in the metro to the airport he didn’t report it and chose to go back home and he missed his flight to Atlanta. And that’s why you could say the worst to him and Nacho always kept his cool, biting back his anger but never lifting a hand, and he was strong enough to knock out a mule if he wanted to. Not him, of course, he wasn’t illegal and the others must have known it. But the ones coming from farther back, including John, Lilian’s older brother, who heard the part about “the Migra” and the part about “sexual harassment,” and he caught up with George who stood out because of his size and his white shirt…
—Do you want them to bring you some water?
—I started walking faster, saying that the bus was going to leave without us and I got on it. After that I don’t know what happened. I just saw through the window, from a distance, that they had rushed at Nacho and Barrett was trying hopelessly to rescue him from the mob. But Barrett is smaller than me. Then all I saw were the streetlights on Guerrero and Cesar Chavez, and I sat in the last seat with my cell phone in my hand until I got home. But Nacho never answered any of the messages I left him asking him to call me back. Nacho said good-bye the way he did because he was happy. She had invited him so he would have a chance to ask the Knickerbacker girl out, and in the kitchen while they were cutting the tres leches cake Knickerbacker hadn’t told him no. She told him that they could go out next Saturday and that left Nacho feeling really happy. He had such a complex because of his prematurely thinning hair at 19 years old, which he thought was sufficient reason for any pretty girl to reject him. It’s not like the Chilean girl was a model or anything, but Nacho was blindly in love since starting back to school.
—I don’t think that such a warm good-bye was because he was happy. They always come across that way, they don’t respect your personal space. They say Latinos are like that, but if they come to this country they should behave according to the rules of this country. Here we just shake hands. We’re not in Russia where men go around kissing each other. Much less kiss a child like that in front of her parents and all of her friends. You’re right, her parents didn’t complain, but they also didn’t say anything when George and his friends decided to go out and teach those intruders a lesson. The Wrights are polite and when they saw that Nacho left without causing trouble they decided not to intervene. But I’m sure they spoke with Lilian afterward, because they looked worn out. It was because of a moral issue. A matter of principles, of values. We couldn’t allow some nobody to come and upset the peace at the party and abuse one of the little girls. No, I don’t regret it. I did what I had to do to defend the morality of the family. No, it wasn’t my home, but it sort of was. I’ve been Johnny’s friend since middle school. No, we didn’t want to kill him, but he was asking for it. What worse crime is there than abusing a little girl? He didn’t fondle her, but that’s how they all start. Them, you know who I’m talking about. Them! Don’t coerce my statement, I know my rights. They don’t know how to respect personal distance and then they lose control. No, my partents were Mexicans but they entered the country legally and they graduated from the University of San Diego. No, no, no… I’m an American, sir, make no mistake.
(from the novel Crisis)
Translated by Bruce Campbell