Some stories are easier to tell than others, but in my mind they all need to be told. Such is the story of Abe, a hard one that is not easy to tell. Often when I have an encounter I rush to get it down on paper because it is so easy and fun to tell. Abe’s story is not one of those. I considered this one for awhile. Listen with your heart, take it in, and let me know what you think.
I was looking for a place to rest my feet, get a drink and check my phone for messages when I came across a little bar in downtown Santa Fe. I sat down at the end of the bar, ordered a drink, and let me eyes adjust to the dimly lit indoors. I looked to my left, and sitting just two seats down, was Abe, nursing a beer. I said hello and asked if he would mind sitting with me. I started chatting with Abe, told him briefly what I was up to, and I asked him his story.
Abe is just a little older than me, born and raised in Roswell, New Mexico. He is of Mexican descent, his parents having come from Mexico. He grew up in an integrated school district, where whites, Mexicans and native americans all went to school.
When Abe was a little boy, he saw that the whites seem to have every advantage. They had more money, drove nicer trucks, and bigger homes. They were taller, and in his mind, the boys were more handsome and the girls blond and prettier. They must have a much better life than I did, he concluded.
He would look in the mirror and all he saw was a dirty Mexican. He came from a family that didn’t have a nice truck, or money, or a big house. They had nothing, other than each other. This made him feel ugly, and unwanted.
So Abe decided that he was going to fit in with the white kids. All he wanted to do was be white, and he was determined to not be a dirty mexican. So he tried and tried to hang out with the white kids, but the handsome, athletic white boys, and the blond girls wanted nothing to do with him. They sneered at him and looked down on him. They told him to stay away, and he felt dirtier and uglier each day.
The only whites that would hang out with him and accept him were the poor, troubled white kids. They were the ones that did drugs and alcohol. They stole cars and spent time in jail. They had broken families and they didn’t bother to go to school. Even with this group, which allowed him in, he was the lowest of all of them. But at least they accepted him.
He would see the Mexican families in town and shake his head. Many of them were here undocumented, and very few of them spoke decent english. They dressed like squares, wore straw hats, and drove nasty, beat up trucks. They stuck to themselves, stayed with their families, and worked from dawn til dusk day after day after day. They didn’t mix with the white kids at school, didn’t do sports or other things because they were working all the time, and went to church in one big, brown, ugly horde. They were superstitious and had religious symbols all over their run down little homes. He despised them.
And after he made his way into the group of whites that stole, drank, smoked, dropped out of school and ended up in jail, the Mexicans wanted nothing to do with him either.
Even with the group that had accepted him, Abe felt different. He knew, on some level, that he did not belong, that he was an outcast among outcasts. Even when he had been marginally accepted by this group, he would look in the mirror and still not like himself.
And of course, shortly after he joined the group, he became dependent on drugs and booze. He stole, he robbed and he ended up in jail. Again and again and again. He did long stints in prison, and a few times when he was out in the world for brief periods, he had children.
Abe sat next to me at the bar and took a long pull from a beer. “Now look at me”, he said. “I’m old and skinny and ugly.”
I asked him if I could take his picture, and he was not excited about it but agreed. He then showed me a picture of himself from 15 years ago, a picture that hung in the corner of the bar. “Look at me back then”, he said, pointing to the picture. “Look. I was pretty handsome and I had some muscle on me. My hair was darker and shinier. Women thought I was something.”
He sighed and took another long pull off his beer. I asked him what his life is like now, what his children were up to.
Abe looked at me and a pained, sad expression overtook him. “My children are all criminals. They are either in prison or on their way. I’m dying of cancer, stage four. I’m not getting treatment, whats the point?”
I didn’t know what to say. I just sat with him, in silence. Finally, Abe said, “All my life I wanted to be white, like you. I wanted to have beautiful friends and pretty girls and have everything that you have. But I am Mexican, and that’s a fact. All those Mexican people that I hated back then? They have families, good jobs, people respect them, they drive nice trucks now. Their kids aren’t criminals. I spent all that time and all my power trying to be white, and hating myself for being who I am. And now all that hate is cancer and it’s killing me.”
Abe shook his head, finished his beer and got up from his seat. “Thanks for the talk, John.” he said. “Thank you, Abe.” I said to him. “For what it’s worth, you seem to be a pretty good guy to me”. He smiled faintly, and left the bar, into the afternoon, into the world where he couldn’t find a home.