¡No te dejes!
That happened once to my oldest brother, Marcel, when he was only 8 years old, a time when he had to be the “little man” of the house because my father was out working long hours.
He took his role seriously.
This was also a time when we were living “in the shadows,” as an undocumented family, in one of several small houses owned by an unscrupulous landlord in the old part of Peoria.
Those in our situation knew well to keep theirs noses to the grindstone, work hard and everything would be all right.
The landlord had a son around my brother’s age who had discovered that he could bully his way around the neighborhood without much retribution. He had gamed the system and had even learned to say, “la migra,” as a way to satisfy his father.
Marcel had to contend with the taunts and the punches, something my mom was unaware of, while my dad was away at work. Marcel didn’t let them know what was going on; he felt it was just part of his responsibility. My brother took instructions for not causing any waves that might jeopardize our situation seriously. La migra aside, we could be evicted at any time without notice.
So, the landlord’s son thought it was fun to use my brother as a punching bag.
Then one afternoon, it all changed. As my mom retells it, I like to play the scene in my mind as if it were a movie.
At the end of an empty lot next to our house, Marcel, arms stretched out and gripping the chain link fence at his back, was taking his usual beating as an elderly couple watched helplessly from the other side of the fence.
I picture my mom coming out of our small house carrying a metal tina filled with water she had rinsed dishes in and, as she begins to pour water on the ground to keep the dust from kicking up, she hears a commotion. As she looks up to see her son being attacked, her motherly instincts kick in, to hell with the consequences.
“No te dejes!”
She screams at the top her lungs, commanding her son to protect himself and to fight back. She tells me that before she even finished uttering the last word of her command, the bully was on the ground shielding himself from my brother.
He fought back. The elderly couple cheered and said, “Way to go, m’ijo!”
The kid ran off, but he wasn’t done. The next day he parked himself on our small patch of a front yard. Marcel told him to leave and, when he wouldn’t, my brother approached him and said, “Oh, you’re back for more?” And, for the second time in two days, the kid ran for cover.
Marcel and my mom didn’t discuss the incident much after that. They didn’t even tell my dad. We weren’t evicted and didn’t even have la migra called on us.
But things did change.