At tHE PARK there’s a trailhead that starts at the playground and
circles around the soccer fields. I would bike there and it was on
this path I first saw the houses with boats on the water side of Canal
Street. From the other side, for the most part, all you see are apart-
ments. Typical. Expected. The place I knew I lived in: the heartbreak
of the “American dream.”
From the trail, you can see the big houses. The decks. Across the
waterway, someone else’s boats docked at the marina. On top of those
hills, homes scattered like balconies along the ridge of the moun-
tains. Sort of like the hanging gardens of Babylon I’d read about in
fifth grade. I began to frequent the trail once, twice a week. I began
asking, who owns those homes? Who lives in that house on the hill
that looks like a piano? Where are those people? Where are the peo-
ple who live here, on Canal Street, but in homes? I never saw them
walking on the street.
I was in elementary school when I asked these questions.
Yearning. I attended Bahia Vista Elementary on Bahia Way, two
blocks from Pickleweed Park. Almost everyone was Latino. I learned
English with other ESL students. I think we were expecting something different our first week of school in this country. Everyone
looked like me. “Where are the gringos?” we asked at lunch. Laughed.
When I transferred to the regular classroom, there was one white girl
in my class of 30. One black kid. One Asian. By sixth grade, a small
increase, but not much, at Davidson Middle School. I took a bus there.
Though by then, I’d joined a club soccer team and we were all brown,
from the Canal or Richmond, and we played against other teams. One
of these teams was the Central Marin Bulldogs. Everyone on that
team was white, except for one black kid.
They were a different “class,” they were U- 12 class 1. We were U- 12,
class 3. Which on paper, means they were supposed to be better than
us. They had won their league and were undefeated. We had gotten
second in our league. A brief rivalry ensued.
My PARENtS, like the other parents on the team, had trouble finding
The Branson School soccer field. Most of us had never been to Ross.
Dad cleaned the yard of one of the homes on top of the hill, near Bald
Hill. But not even he knew there was a small private school in Ross.
That there was a soccer team for the people who lived in those big
houses and that that soccer team played on the soccer field we were
trying to find.
Perhaps most of the parents weren’t new to places like Ross. I
know for a fact most of them were nannies like my mom, landscap-
ers like my dad, RNs, took care of old people, cleaned houses, drove
tow trucks, worked at restaurants, occupations that most likely put
them in direct contact with those who could afford a house on a hill,
or somewhere near it. Marin is very hilly.
We were late to the field. But still had time to warm up. The field
was nice, but not as nice as I was expecting. I don’t know what I was
expecting. A professional field? But it was better than Pickleweed’s
patchy, brown-grass field. The game started and you could see the
split on the sidelines. On the parking lot. Things were different. Two
different “classes.” Mostly trucks and used cars, our cars. Theirs,
newer. They sat on one side of the field, and we on the other, like we
were supposed to. It was us, their children, that tackled each other.
Could fight in the mud, to score. Score we did. First they did. The
Bulldogs. Then us, the Canal Clash. No one could outscore the other.
The score told what we all knew was truth. We tied 2-2. We drove
home to our sides of Marin. Our parents proud we didn’t let the rich
white kids beat us. In our trunk, one of their brand-new Nike balls I
would use to train and train.
I’VE bEEN WRItING this article years later from Marin Coffee
Roasters in San Anselmo. A few blocks from The Branson School,
from that field that has now been upgraded to a synthetic field. I
eventually attended that school, on a scholarship. The coach of the
Bulldogs was the athletic director at Branson at that time, and still is.
His name is Tom Ryan. Hi Tom! After the game, he asked my parents
if I wanted to play with that team, almost for free. That conversation
changed my life.
Across from this table, I can see the counter, where the workers
charge you. They’re all white. Around me, everyone white. I’ve been
here five times the past two weeks. It’s always the same. From this
table, I can see the kitchen. Everyone in there looks like me. I can
guarantee this cafe, the soccer field, Canal Street, have wide rivers
flowing between them. I guess through my privilege of education,
my writing “profession,” I’ve learned to swim through them, or it’s
become easier for me to see the river and try to fight across it to the
other side. Not everyone is as lucky.
A few days ago, the president repealed TPS ( Temporal Protected
Status) for more than 200,000 Salvadorans. He had already repealed
it for Haitians, Nicaraguans, Hondurans, Sudanese, etc. The morning of the announcement, Mom woke me, crying, saying, “What are
we going to do? What are we going to do?” I couldn’t say anything.
She’s been sick with a cold since.
Yesterday, the president called my country, Haiti, and the other
African nations that hold TPS “shitholes.” I will not engage.
I won’t try and prove to anyone I belong here. I’m tired. But
if you’re privileged enough to read this, I ask you to be aware of
the canals, of the water that separates us. Be aware of those who
want to widen that gap. Please stand up for us in those private
conversations, tell them we’re only trying to pay for our children
to play on the same field as everyone else. And if you happen to
have one more minute, please call your representatives. Ask them
to support a comprehensive immigration reform where not only
the “children of immigrants” benefit, but our parents too. We’re
all trying to swim. m
I think we were expecting
something different our first week of
school in this country. Everyone looked
like me. ‘Where are the gringos?’