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    Léalo en Español

    To Abuelo’s by Midnight

    Associate Provost for Diversity and International Programs Juan Martínez shares with Fuller storyteller David Moore memories of driving across the United States on family vacations and his perceptions of the US as a young Latino.
    Meet the Storytellers

    Editorial Note

    “Story connects us as instantly as pushing a plug into a wall socket. When a reader is moved to say ‘that is my story, too!’ an electric circuit is completed. Then, a light is shed on a corner of the truth that might not have been seen before.”—from To Have the Mind of Christ? Start by Telling Stories

    —Lauralee Farrer, Lead Storyteller and Senior Editor


    Papa is driving and I'm in the back seat. We're past the dangerous Mojave and Quartzite, with their expensive radiator caps. From Indio to Tucson, “You want to be past Tucson before noon because of the heat,” Papa always says. We know, we all think.

    We’re about 70 miles outside of Van Horn. Papa likes to joke that El Paso is halfway between our home in the Central Valley and our family in South Texas and Monterrey, Mexico. We do this every year. It's our adventure.

    “Thank God for Storytellers”

    Juan Martínez preached on the importance of storytelling in All-Seminary Chapel, Fall 2012. Watch it here »

    “The sun is riz
    The sun is set
    And here we is
    In Texas yet.”

    Papa likes to quote that. He saw it on a postcard in El Paso. Even though we have been in Texas for hours, we won’t be at my grandfather's farm near Monterrey until after midnight. I bet my cousins will be waiting for us. I hope that there’s barbacoa. We’re eating homemade burritos or baloney sandwiches until we get there.

    I haven’t seen that postcard. When we stop, Papa gets to go inside, but we stay in the car. The blankets we drape as sunshades across the windows make great covers for watching strangers in secret at the gas stations.

    Papa says we’re not welcome in some places. That's nothing new. I’m used to being the outsider. I was born in Chicago, but in California, most of my friends are from Mexico. When they make me mad, I say, “I’m going to call la migra on you!” Then they get mad and call me “el aleluya” because I don’t go to mass. I go to Papa’s church. One time, some people came to our house to offer to help Papa move out of town. They must have made a mistake because Mama said we’re not moving anymore. She’s had enough of that.

    All over West, Mama and Papa picked apples, lemons, strawberries, almonds, oranges. We moved from field to field. When they lived in Chicago, they had me. Then after two months, Mama said it was too cold. So we moved to California. Suddenly we weren’t working on farms anymore. My dad became a pastor and we started going to church every Sunday.

    I wake up when Papa stops for gas in Alpine. I peek out the windows. It’s morning, and Papa has driven through the night again. Our old Fairline can’t take the heat of the daytime sun, so a little ways out of town, we’ll pull off under a tree and Papa will sleep. I stay in the car, but I wish I could go exploring.

    I have to be quiet when Papa sleeps. Sometimes he stops at night at a rest area and sleeps on a picnic table. Or if it’s really hot, under it. Mama is supposed to sleep, but I can tell she’s bored. Mama isn’t used to travelling long distances—at least she wasn’t before she met Papa.

    I wish Mama could drive, too. When I am old enough, I will drive, too. Maybe next year we can stay in a motel in Lordsburg. Papa has said something about it a couple of times.

    Juan Martínez

    Living with Unjust Legacies: Race, Justice, and Privilege

    From a Panel featuring Juan Martínez
    “Every culture, every society, has people who are privileged and people who are not, and those in privilege get to tell the story.”

    My dad is a great driver. Just last week, we were driving up a mountain road, and a horse came jumping over a fence right in front of us. Papa slammed on the brakes and we all flew forward when we crashed into it. The horse hit the front of the car, and the car stopped running. The farmer who owned the horse came running up to us. I could hear Mama praying. I think she was praying for the horse while Papa talked to the farmer. We had to stay in the car, but we could hear the horse whining. The farmer said it wasn’t our fault. Mama quit praying and said, “thank you, thank you, thank you” under her breath. I don’t know why she quit praying. She told us the horse would be all right, but Papa told me later that horses don’t get better very often. It was an accident, but Papa is going to try to avoid hitting anything else for awhile.

    Papa’s church raised money to fix our car so we could go on our trip.

    Papa wakes up after an hour. We eat some of the burritos Mama has packed. Papa says we’ll be at Abuelo’s by midnight.

    The night passes and we bounce down the two-lane highway. I peer out the blankets to the mesquite trees by the side of the road. I know there are animals out there and wonder if they’ll jump in front of him. I think about that horse and pray that he got better—and that he stays inside the fence.

    I wake up when we start to slow down. I think we are in a town, but there are no buildings, just flashing lights. I worry that Papa has been speeding, but he shakes his head. It’s not police, it’s la migra. They want to check our car.

    An Evangelical Call for Immigration Reform

    Our walk from the Pasadena campus to City Hall is an expression of our commitment to immigration reform—to acknowledge that it is our responsibility to care for the stranger.

    Listen to Juan’s interview with KPCC »

    The officer talks to Papa. “Is everybody in the car a U.S. citizen?” I want to shout, “I am! I am!” But Papa has told me to keep quiet when this happens. Mama gives him her papers. Papa gives him his papers. They want Papa to get out.

    I peek out the blanket and watch the dog sniff our car. I want to pet the dog because he looks lonely. Suddenly, the back doors open and a flashlight shines in my eyes. The officer lowers the light and my eyes adjust back to the dark.

    They eventually wave us on.

    We go through Laredo. I get out to stretch again. We’re still hours from Abuelo's. I wish he lived closer, but I’ll get to go to the creek with my Mexican cousins and later to the beach with my tejano cousins. The ocean in Texas is warm like a bath, not cold like the beach in California.

    The only thing to do at this point is listen to the radio. Papa likes to listen to the stations from Mexico. They call them “Border Blasters.” I think about radio stations with big guns, but Papa just says they are really big radio stations pointed towards the U.S. We listen to preachers sometimes, but Wolfman Jack also has a program on one of them. He plays songs that white people like to listen to. I like some of them, but Papa does not approve.

    I fall asleep as one of the preachers signs off. I plan out what I will do first with my cousins: First, we'll swim in the creek. Then, we'll play tag. Maybe we can go to the neighbor’s house and watch television. They do not charge too much to let us watch.

    The bouncing on a dirt road wakes me up; we’re on Abuelo’s driveway two days after we left. The old Fairlane made it through. So did Mama.

    The barbacoa is delicious.

    Juan Martinez - talking

    • Tamara McMahon
      Tamara Johnston McMahon
      Tamara is Operations Coordinator in Fuller's Office of Building Services. She is a principal creative with Burning Heart Productions, a fair trade activist, and an avid photographer. Read her blog here.