by Mario Lio
Family reunion tonight at 8pm! Everyone convene in mom’s room! I was always excited about family reunions. They happened so rarely that I was just happy to have my entire family in the same room at the same time. My father would lead the conversation in his broken Spanish. Pueblo negro – is what my father used to called it. It is a direct translation from his native Chinese. He would tell us stories of living in the shadows. He would say people living en el pueblo negro have to be at home by 6pm everyday no matter what. If you were a kid and you were at your friend’s house and you wanted to play one more game of Street Fighter and it was 5:50pm, you better pinch yourself really hard for having silly thoughts and run home. And if you were an adult, and you wanted to have another beer at the bar, you better close your tab immediately and start walking home. If you were part of el pueblo negro, you lost your soul at 6pm and became just a shadow after that. After my dad and brother had come visit the U.S. last year, my dad would fantasize about moving to the United States. He brought me a Jansport backpack, a pair of Nike shoes, and a whole lot of M&M chocolate. My dad would say we could take over my uncle’s restaurant and my brother and I could start middle school in San Francisco. I wasn’t thrilled with the idea of owning more American products, nor was I that scared of living in the shadows. I was more thrilled at the possibility that moving to a new country might mean that my parents might get back together.
The sunlight always manages to enter my dad's room despite the heavy navy blue curtains. His room is long and awkward. It was supposed to be a normal square room, but the architect made “minor changes” to our house because his gravity-defying design was going to crumble down, just like my parent’s marriage. The first change was my dad’s room’s shape. The second change was the addition of a column right in the middle of our living room. I picture my parents having tea in the living room with this column obstructing their view of each other. I imagine my parents having a big house party, and awkwardly dancing in the living room dodging the column. Anyway, that is only my imagination playing a trick on me because we still have not built the living room, or the kitchen, or the guest bedroom. My parents used up all of their savings to build the first three bedrooms of the house, and nothing more. My mother hung an old bed sheet in the hallway where the construction had ended. It was her way of pretending that we had a real house, to hide the fact there was a column in the middle of the living room. This column was supposed to bolster the house, to support the weight of my family, to fix the architect's mistakes. But like an old car that has been repaired too many times, the house and my parent’s marriage were headed nowhere.
The sign of our restaurant read "Sorry, we're closed", the neon lights on the porch were turned off, the gates to the front entrances were shut closed. No waiters, no cooks, no customers. It felt almost like it was the end of the world and we were the only survivors. Our flight left at 3:30pm; we were flying to Lima that afternoon so we could make it to our interview with the American embassy to get our visas. It was moments like this where I felt the happiest. My parents seemed like they were pretending to get along. They even called each other nice things. They have never spent more than a couple of hours together without getting mad at each other. And now they seemed like two high school sweethearts. I wanted this trip to last forever. If getting a visa was all it took to solve my parent’s problems, I wanted to get a visa every single day for all the countries of the world.