The day Mrs. Adams returned my spelling quiz with an almost perfect score (9 out of 10), she asked if I was watching TV in English. Mrs. Garza, my homeroom 7th grade teacher, had made it a point of reminding me every day: "no more television en español," even on the morning of the poetry contest when everyone memorized an Edgar Allan Poe poem she gave me permission to recite one in Spanish. "Hear that?" she turned to the whole class after I finished, "it's better than what you hear in those telenovelas," admonishing those of us who had just arrived in the country, only to remind us again: "no more televisión en español." Her comments were for to the "non-English speakers," as the school principal and the counselor referred to us. That year it was more than half entering 7th grade class.
My cousin Joey was going and my mother gave me permission to join him. "They have air conditioning," he said but I knew he had little interest in books. He was going to meet "this girl,"
But I knew she was as committed as my mother to Simplemente María and Esmeralda, the women whose dramatic lives filled the small black and white television we had received as a gift from one of our neighbors. I heard her one day coming of the teacher's lounge, when Mr. Argüelles asked her about her Latin heroines. "I need to improve my Spanish," she told the coach. She probably watched it all in a color screen.
There was no way I was going to displace my mother from the unfolding story that filled all those late afternoons of that memorable Olympic year. That's probably how I discovered the public library, housed in a small mobile home right across from that historic building constructed by the Spaniards in the late 17th century. It claimed to be the oldest continuously operated church in the country. My cousin Joey was going and my mother gave me permission to join him. "They have air conditioning," he said but I knew he had little interest in books. He was going to meet "this girl," as he always referred to his latest conquest. They never had name, but all had one thing in common: they were blonde.
I remember that first visit to the librería, biblioteca was not part of our active vocabulary and librería seemed much more authentic, even if it was an incorrect translation. Then again, we never saw a bookstore in the new neighborhood. The first time I came into the place that sold books was in college when I would discover one in downtown San Antonio. They had magazines with naked women and men, unwrapped, unlike the ones kept behind the counter at the pharmacy across the street from our junior high school.
I imagined myself going to foreign lands I had just discovered in the worlds of Asterix, The Count of Montecristo, Robison Crusoe and Tin Tin, all in Spanish. Not until freshmen year of high school did I understand long narratives in English, when our class was led through the adventures of The Outsiders and I imagined Tom Cruise, Matt Dillon and all the other "greasers" come alive in those pages before they had ever been to Hollywood.
The day I encountered the image of the Olympic swimmer's photos inside all the news magazines I was led into temptation, secretly staring at that image. Unlike the following year when I would stand at the edge of the swimming pool admiring and desiring the bodyguard, here, it could all be our secret and not be interrupted by the other boys clamoring for attention.
That day, the biblioteca became my refuge, the place where I would discover myself, long before I was aware that the otherness in me had a name.