Look Both Ways in the Barrio Blanco

BOOK: Look Both Ways in the Barrio Blanco
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Agradecimientos / Acknowledgments

announced that 5News was coming to the Maplewood Youth Rescue Center, we all cheered, but me the most. I love movies, and television is kinda like movies, although I didn’t watch American TV. And I never watched the news.

But this was my chance to meet somebody famous.

On the day 5News was supposed to come, I was late getting to the youth center. I’d left Mamá’s sweater in my locker at school and had to run back for it. Angélica didn’t wait like she’d promised. So when I saw her jumping up and down with the other girls in front of the youth center, I darted across the parking lot to tell her off.

Tires squealed, and I jumped. The guy driving the 5News truck had slammed on the brakes. He had to, or he’d have run me over.

If I’d known how the afternoon would turn out, maybe I would’ve let him.

The TV lady in the seat next to him was fixing her makeup when she was thrown toward the dashboard. She flopped back into her seat, her mouth hanging open and her eyes bulging out. A trail of lipstick zigzagged across her cheek.

I’d never seen anybody famous in real life. She looked
, with her sunglasses sliding down her nose and her hair standing up all weird.

But mostly she looked like herself. Like her ginormous picture on Broadway, where her toothy smile stretched five feet across the billboard.

I looked at Angélica and the other girls, and giggled. That’s called
nervous laughter

The driver climbed out of the truck, carrying a TV camera. Me and about a million other kids from the youth center bounced around, shouting for him to take our picture. We chased him inside the building, forgetting all about the lady with lipstick on her face.

By the time she’d fixed it and walked into the art room, the camera guy was taking videos of us while we made picture frames for Mother’s Day.

Mrs. Espinosa and the other women at the youth center buzzed around the TV lady like a swarm of bees.
Do you need anything?
A cup of coffee, perhaps?

She flashed a smile with lots of teeth in it. “Cream and sweetener, please.”

Two women ran to get it.

My best friend, Angélica, never glanced up. But I couldn’t stop looking at the TV lady. Her sweater matched her eyes — blue and sparkly — and her hair was the color of a new penny.

She noticed me and smiled. The kind of smile I’d see on Mamá’s face when she knew I was up to something. Then I remembered I’d jumped in front of the lady’s news truck.

“So, you were in a hurry?” she asked.

I swallowed. “I wanted to meet you, Miss.”

She raised an eyebrow. “You could’ve ended up as the lead story.”

Now — more than a year later — I know that the
lead story
is the most important news, so it comes first in the show. Miss was saying I could get squished running out in traffic. Grown-ups always tell you to look both ways for cars when crossing the street. But nobody tells you to watch out for the people who cross your path.

My face got hot, and I dragged my eyes away. They fell on the picture frame I was painting. The colors at the youth center were wrong, so I mixed mine myself. Just the right shades of pink and purple. Hope and sorrow. Colors that showed what my heart needed to say.

My secret plan would work.

I turned to Angélica, who was concentrating on
Mother’s Day present. “What do you think?”

Angélica studied my frame, then looked back at her own. She wrinkled her nose and shrugged.

She’s jealous?
I grinned.

Holding up her cell phone, Mrs. Espinosa asked the TV lady, “Can I get a shot of you with some of the girls?”

The TV lady whipped out a chair and sat between me and Angélica, but my best friend scooted her chair away. I should’ve done that, too. When your family has a secret, you need to be careful. But I didn’t think about it when the camera was pointing at me. I smiled so big that my face hurt.


“Do you like art?” asked the TV lady through her teeth.


I nodded, then leaned back so she could see my frame.

“Very pretty,” she said, not looking at it. Still showing her teeth to the camera, she tilted her head so our hair touched.

Another flash blinded me.

Our photo would be splashed across the next newsletter, along with the headline “Local Celebrity Combats Teen Pregnancy.”

Except, I wasn’t a pregnant teen. I wouldn’t be twelve for two months, and I didn’t even have a boyfriend. But Angélica and the other kids at middle school snickered, asking when my baby was due.

That feeling is called

Because of the flash, I couldn’t see the flowers I’d painted on my frame. Spots floated in front of my eyes.

The stranger stopped showing her teeth. I realized that smiling was part of her job and she got tired of it. Like doing push-ups with your face. Then she really looked at my frame. “I love your colors!”

She noticed!
Nobody had admired my artwork since Mamá left. My throat hurt. Like I might cry.

I looked away and saw my older sister, Rosa, sitting with the other eighth-graders, frowning. She usually ignored me when her friends were around, but her eyes traveled from me to the TV lady.

Rosa’s worried? She thinks I’ll say something stupid?

But now I think Rosa was jealous. She wanted to steal Miss from me, even before Miss was really mine.

The flock of women came back to flit around her. They presented her with a cup of coffee. A stir stick. A scratchy paper towel from the center’s bathroom.

The TV lady bobbed her head at them. “Thank you — I’m sure it’s fine — no, really — I just need a minute.” She turned back to me. “So, this frame is for your mom?”

The women flapped away, their feathers ruffled because somebody famous would rather talk to a kid. There’s a word to describe how I felt.


I nodded. Seeing my photo in the frame would remind Mamá of her promise. I didn’t need a picture of her. She was there, every time I closed my eyes. Like her image was tattooed on the inside of my eyelids. “But I still have to glue my name on it.”

Wooden letters, painted pink, were lined up on the newspapers protecting the table.

Even without my name on it, Mamá would know I made that frame. She’d see those colors and say, “This is from my Jacinta!” If I hadn’t tried to put my name on it, Mamá would’ve gotten my present.

The camera guy shoved a microphone at the TV lady. “Kate! They’re coming to us early!”

“In the A block?” She pushed something into her ear and pulled her sweater to straighten it. Another bright light hit my eyes.

The guy counted, “In three . . . two . . .”

I heard a tinny voice — a man’s voice — coming from the thing in the TV lady’s ear. She nodded into the light. A tiny red bulb on the camera glowed.
I’m on television?
I prayed that people watching TV couldn’t hear my heart pounding.

The lady spoke into the microphone. “That’s right, Steve. We’re in Maplewood all this week, looking at one community’s efforts to integrate its immigrant population. This city is hailed as a model for local governments.”

Miss’s TV voice was bigger somehow, but not louder. The word for that is
. “Today we’ll explore how the youth rescue center works to prevent teen pregnancy by offering social support and activities for neighborhood girls.”

She stopped talking, her concerned look frozen on her face. The voice in her ear said, “Take video.”

The little red light on the camera winked out, and her smile dissolved.

I didn’t understand what a bunch of girls making Mother’s Day presents had to do with teen pregnancy. But people at the youth center were always
us about boys. We’d nod and wait until they got to the fun stuff.

“When we come back live, can we talk a little bit?” she asked me.

“I get to talk on television?”

She smiled. Not the fake TV smile. A smile that climbed up one side of her face. A smile that looked like it belonged there. “That’s right.”

I smiled, too. “Can I keep working? I need to finish this.”

“You’re Jacinta?” she asked, reading my name from the wooden letters on the table. She pronounced my name with a
sound, like Americans do.

“Ha-cinta. Like an

“Jacinta?” she repeated. I nodded. “Fine. Keep working on your frame while I ask a few questions.”

The camera guy said, “Heads up. Here we come. In three . . . two . . .”

The little red light blinked back on. The TV lady gave the big-teeth smile to the camera. “Steve, one of the center’s offerings includes Teen Promise, a club for girls. This afternoon, participants are creating Mother’s Day gifts.”

So I grabbed the glue bottle, turned it over, and squeezed.


The lady kept talking. “With me is Jacinta. What grade are you in?”

She tilted the microphone at me.

I whispered, “Miss, the glue won’t come out.”

She smiled wider. “Why don’t we do that later? How old are you?”

“But Miss! I have to finish
. Can you try it?
” I pushed the glue bottle at her.

Her eyes flicked over to the camera as she spoke into the microphone. “The girls here have opportunities to work with adult role models. . . .”

BOOK: Look Both Ways in the Barrio Blanco
3.53Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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