I like to think that immigrant parents are capable of alchemy. My mother created things right in front of my eyes, like her mother did back in the Dominican Republic post-dictatorship, and in the United States post-occupation. Post Parsley Massacre and before women's liberation. And sometimes I'm scared that I don't possess that skill. I'm afraid that my strain of magic is weaker; it's tainted by too many insecurities and processed foods in comparison with my parents and grandparents, who were always sure about the direction that they wanted to take our family in.
When I would bring it up to my mom that maybe she has some sort of concealed wizardry with her — "I dreamed about this and that; we have to play 24 in the lottery" — she'll just say, "I'm not a bruja," and she'll do the sign of the cross to show God her piety because no muchacha.
And she doesn't think that what she and my father do is any sort of special; it's what they do. I disagree because it's almost graceful and mystical how they go through the world dealing with people who have laughed at their accents and sound things out slowly and loudly as if they were hard of hearing. At times like those, I remember grabbing my dad and telling him, "Tell the lady you're not deaf, you're just Puerto Rican." And I said it in Spanish because I didn't want the lady to know that I was talking shit about her, which is the best part about speaking more than one language. You can talk shit about people with your dad.
It was unreal how my mom held us together when she worked nights after my dad was injured on his job and he had to have several surgeries. He couldn't work for years, and he raised us during the day. My grandmother and father had a gracefulness that they'd use to spin a story out of nowhere. It taught me about folklore and it taught me about how to listen. I know how to catch lizards, I know where spiders are in the grass in Puerto Rico, because my dad taught me how to listen and look. It's this weird mountain magic that he passed on to me even though I was born in Queens. He taught me to listen for accents so I know how to not say the wrong words to the wrong people. And I know to tell the difference from when someone calls on the phone and my dad's in the room signaling that no, he's not here.
I know how to say "Perdon, el no esta disponible" and "El ta busy" and "I'm sorry, he's not available," and meanwhile he's in the room motioning for me to shut up.
My mom doesn't think her magic is a big deal, no matter how much I tell her it is. But the best trick of all has been the number of excuses she has come up with so that I wouldn't go to a sleepover. I've heard I think over 100 worst-case scenarios. Some I didn't know were humanly possible until she said them out loud.
Over the years, other POC or immigrant kids and I have learned how to trade these worst-case scenarios, not unlike how you would trade baseball or Pokémon cards. It's not necessarily a pissing contest, but it is fun. We're often trying to find whose parent had the craziest thing to say about a sleepover, or why you can't do something, or why you can't go out. Here are a few of my favorites: