We slowly walk along the canyon trail. Below us, the creek roars — seems a swift-coursing vein, flowing to Ocean, where waves become waves, travel and pulse onto shores. I’ve been walking these wilds for some time, ever since having discovered them as a child. I’ve been collecting fragments — potsherds — stories of origin. I’ve stored them in a reliquary, shaped like a page that always returns to blankness. Each of the fragments appears as the syllable of a name. I’ve been arranging them for years, listening for a voice to speak — though I’ve never been able to see, as in the reflection of a stream, a face that resembles the feeling I feel as I look on the world. In what follows, I’ve re-arranged the remnants in the form of an essay, in hopes that they’ll sing together in chorus, linking things linked where links are unseen.
At the age of eighteen, for the first time I saw the woman in whose womb I grew — whose flesh and blood birthed my own. I saw myself in my birth-mother’s eyes.
Her dark, wavy hair, with strands of brunette and Irish red, flowed down her back. Shorter than I, her eyes shone towards me. My heart’s thump, learned from her, in part, to pulse. As her heart, mine learned a song from within a womb. This heart song pulses from past. Looking back, I imagine the pulse crossing oceans as light rays through time. And as love, the song pulses blindly through borders as if they were naught — through deserts and famine, religious and institutionalized oppression, conquest, inquisition, racism and other tyrannies — through times of war and peace. There was never a moment when the heartbeat’s rhythm didn’t animate life’s tribulations or joys. My life is an imbrication of these. Our hearts stir from the ardency of ancient hearts. We all share a heartbeat. Or, so I think as I write of the moment I hugged my birth-mother, Mary, for the first time — her heartbeat and mine again coalesced. My heart felt as if filled with stars.
I met her with the doctor who cared for her through her pregnancy, and me, through my childhood. He was the same doctor who orchestrated my adoption. Somewhat awkwardly, we all sat down at a central table. The lighting was low and origin stories were spun with the candlelight. I remember an impression of good intentions, woven by two voices — that of my birthmother and that of my doctor whom I’ll call Dr. W. Along with my perception, a braid was made and a tale of my life’s beginning, as if woven, appeared.
As we cleaned our plates and the waiter came and cleared them away, there was a feeling that the right thing had been done. There wasn’t a hint of injustice. I was told that Mary had been but eighteen at the time and couldn’t handle a baby. Furthermore, I was much wanted, and so, was adopted by lovely parents at eight hours old. Raised with unconditional love and books, I wanted for nothing. At the table, we laughed, as Mary talked of insisting on running in her high school track meet when seven months pregnant with me.
As the conversation evolved through story and question, there was little trace of my birth-father’s part in the story. I had always known, or had always been told, that he was a “Mexican National” — that he’d emigrated from Mexico to America, crossing desert, mountain and forest, or so I imagined, never having spoken to him at the time. I had yet to peer deeper into — his eyes. I had yet to learn that half of my physical body — as if I could be split — was of Mexican, Indigenous North American and Spanish descent.
Of course, I had lived a life with the outward cultural experience of a Latino, as my eyes were as dark as my hair and brown skin. Raised by Caucasian par ents, however, I knew little of the cultural experience of Latino Americans. I was thus a part of, and apart from, both Caucasian and Latino American cultures at once. I was as the third strand of a braid that binds.
My name, not legal but nick, is Rico, which means, rich in Spanish. Specifically, it refers to qualities of wealth, deliciousness or abundance. My last name, Moore, is Old English, and first referred to a place — a moor, or, “an area of uncultivated land.” The name given me specifically descends, in part, from a name given to a landscape. Syllables, sonorously arranged into locatives, were as offerings to the surrounding land, which gives of its life to our lives. As such, my name, Rico Moore, represents at first, the joining of cultures with language — the Spanish, Indigenous Mexican, and the English, European-based American. And perhaps, my name might be translated as, an abundantly rich and uncultivated land. There is in it a sense of wilderness.
That night at the steakhouse, I also learned that my birth-mother’s family hailed from Ireland. I learned that at birth, I was named another name than I’d been known my entire life — a different name than I’d known myself by. That name, “Chris David,” instantly represented all the possible lives I might have lived — all the identities that might have become but didn’t. What lives would I have known had things happened differently? Who would I be, or more aptly, what world would I see? How differently would I feel, if at all? The possibilities crushed me for some time. Then, I heard the following tale, which is one of dream interpretation. A man has a dream and takes his dream to an interpreter. The interpreter gives a favorable interpretation, if certain steps are taken. The interpreter offers certain rites and ritual songs to alter the dream’s course — to bring to fruition the interpreter’s vision — the potential of the dreamer’s dream. The man performs these rites, utters faithfully the prescribed prayers. And afterwards, he conveys the experience to a group of wise people. From the center of their circle, he asks, ‘How could the interpreter have been right, absolutely, when if I had gone to another interpreter, another interpretation might have been offered?’ To which they replied, ‘You had your dream and went to that interpreter and though it is true that you could have gone to any number of interpreters, you went to that one, and therefore, the interpretation offered is the only one.’ I found solace in this.
That night, with Mary and Dr. W., I would learn that my birth-father was an undocumented Mexican emigrant at the time of my conception and birth. He walked from Mexico with his name, etching the land with his steps, at the age of sixteen. I had no idea of his story or the simultaneously mythical and immanently real importance it represents for contemporary American life. He had no idea of the implications of this at the time. It must be said that he is a person, as well as a Mexican emigrant, since some discourse and legislation being bandied about refuses the ineluctable connection between “Human” and “American” with “Mexican” or “Latino.” Words such as “alien” and “entity” are used in legislative acts such as Arizona State Bill 1070 for the purpose of dehumanizing humans. For, if the law names a person, ‘entity’ or ‘alien,’ they are subtly less human and, certainly in public discourse, are perceived as “un-American,” and so lack human rights. My birth father’s name is Antonio. Under such aforementioned legislation, rights provided to “un-naturalized alien entities” can be easily forgotten or ignored, especially during times of economic distress, when a scapegoat is sought. Before the law, the naturalized citizen, who is far from the food that is farmed by the un-naturalized emigrant, is recognized by the state as “human.” Ironically, the word citizen derives from the Latin, civitas ‘city,’ meaning one who inhabits a city. This term comes from the Ancient Greek, kosmopolites from kosmos ‘world’ and polites ‘citizen.’ As such, at our linguistic foundations, we are all citizens of the world. The very origin of the words that are used in the attempts to legalize discrimination and reify power structures is one of fundamental inclusion. One wonders how a word such as citizen, has been engineered to signify something which excludes from ‘the world’ its children?
As we talked over after-dinner coffee, I heard the first stirrings of the story of Antonio. In short, he came from Mexico to work and found work on my birth-mother’s family’s farm. Though, at that point, the story was skeletal at best, or was offered as such, and I didn’t think to ask the difficult questions that would later lead me to a fuller understanding of what had happened. There was a storied air to the tale — that everything happened exactly as it should have. It was strangely without complication. Later, I learned that Mary and Antonio had a love affair spanning years. Ultimately, she became pregnant. The minutiae of the tale remained unknown to me. I later learned that she’d sneak into his trailer, fleeing whenever someone else was around. In the rainy night, he would sing country songs to her in his broken English. She loved him and he loved her. They’d dance and laugh.
But in the last analysis, it was a love that occurred in a cultural context that forbade it — between a Mexican emigrant — of the subaltern — and a Caucasian daughter of America — of the hegemonic. It was a love that occurred in a time when all efforts to suppress it were active and fully in force. Their love and its actuality — my life, body, mind and words — demonstrates that, despite all attempts of suppression, life begets numinously, itself.
After dinner, Dr. W. made his exit and my birth-mother and I left the restaurant together. She had more to say, so we sat in her car, which was parked behind the restaurant under a streetlamp. Rain started pouring on the roof. She told me of the difficulties she had faced, being pregnant at such a young age. In a letter she wrote to me, soon after I was born, she wrote, “At first I blamed you for everything, and then I realized it wasn’t your fault, absolutely none of it. You were just what nature is all about.” She said she’d spent years wondering if she’d made the right choice. Looking into my eyes, through her tears she said, “You have your father’s eyes — I feel like I’m seventeen again.”
She was, and is, incredibly brave. She said that she met me to know, after all, if she had done the right thing. The alternatives — keeping me, or abortion, weren’t after all, options for her. A Christian, she noted God, saying, “He told me what to do.” She told me that when she was carrying me in her womb she’d walk near the Poudre River of Fort Collins, or the “River of Bright Water,” as it is also known. She was listening to her heart by the flowing vein of the river I’d later live to flyfish and what she heard in the rushing water, she interpreted to be the truth of God’s words. The poet and essayist Gustaf Sobin writes that the multitude of interpretations of one historical event do not require others to be proven false or silenced to be true but can, and in fact do, co-exist. In fact, multiple interpretations of the same event come together in chorus. They sing a song called, humanity. Perhaps she heard my heartbeat sing. In that car, I felt more than ever that I had no idea who I was. I felt the solidity of my identity dissolve as starlight unbraids over light-years.
Indeed, being raised as an adopted child had its difficulties, particularly when you exist in a racially stigmatized culture, look the subaltern but are a child of the hegemonic, there can feel a disconnect. When you don’t feel fully within your parents’ cultural group because of the color of your skin, or your name is markedly different, and when, the cultural group that matches those criteria has no basis in your home-life, then you feel lost, near cultureless — liminal — an incohate citizen. And so I adopted the uncultivated tracts of land as my city—the uncultivated wilderness. I found in the wilds a feeling of home — of citizenship. I found neither discrimination nor prejudice, but the unceasing flow of life. In fact, I found this also with my father when he taught me to flyfish at a young age. I recall the first time, in the upper reaches of the Poudre River, that I first felt the release of a flyline unfurling above and onto the surface of a stream, wending in its shape a deceptive imitation of a fly. I remember the joy in my father’s eyes. I remember yelling to him, over the din of the August breeze, that I had it, ‘I’ve got it!’ He offered the boundless promise of peace near the mountainous ridges, rivers and woods. And my mother, who brought me from the age of eight months to the beaches of Nantucket Sound, whose light breezes are magic, offered and offers me Ocean’s touch. We spend some time each summer in the house her grandfather built at the outset of the twentieth century. In the upper floor bedrooms at night, breezes from the sea pulse the white cotton blinds. Lying in bed, looking at the interlocked slats of wood, one can still see the handprints of those who constructed the house. After nearly a century, the house has seen no major structural issues, built even as it was, in sand. And so that night, spent with my birth-mother, hearing my vita nuova unfold, ended with the solace of the wilds anchoring me. They would be my place of reckoning. Mary had nothing left to say, or was spent in the saying, as I was spent in the hearing. So, she drove into the north darkness to be with her family and I drove to the west to be with my own. (to be continued in a following issue…)