In 1977 I was boy wonder, a chavalito. My first book of poems, The Elements of San Joaquin, had attracted attention in the literary world the New York Times Book Review, for instance, had good words to say about it. I was 24 and full of myself, as only a young person has the right to be. I had shoulder-length hair, a mustache, a pierced ear (radical at the time), and bell-bottom Levis. I was the first Chicano ever to graduate with an MFA from a creative writing program. I was a rare bird, and actually flying.
At the time, despite my one book and my formal education, I was as poor as the next brown brother or sister, yet unworried by the empty cupboards and the VW Bug that occasionally needed a push to get started. I knew that something larger was going to occur in my life, and not because I was a scheming careerist but because I was on fire to write. I was going to spend more than 25 years producing how was this possible from a boy who graduated from high school with a 1.8 GPA? a body of literature that children and young adults nationwide would eventually read. I was going to write Living Up the Street, Chatos Kitchen, Too Many Tamales, Baseball in April, and Buried Onions the last a novel that has been optioned for a major motion picture. My books were going to sell in the latter half of my writing life more than 1.5 million copies.
Now I look at myself in the mirror: Im a quickly aging man with a paid-off mortgage, savings, unused golf clubs in the garage, and a Buick that gets 25 miles to the gallon of regular. My pierced ear has closed up, and my hair, once shiny black, is mostly gray and in rapid retreat. My knees hurt. My formerly clear eyes are red from working in front of a computer. Only seven years ago my waist measured 30 inches, but it has bulked out to a figure I would rather keep to myself. Bodily, Im a different person than I was 25 years ago. In fact, when my wife and I recently put out our wedding pictures we were married in 1975 our daughter asked, Who are those people?
Those people, I realized, are aging baby boomers, who, with a good many Latinos who pitched themselves into la causa of the 1960s and early 1970s, are now approaching points in their lives when they are thinking of their mortality that is, the temporal state of existence. Of dying, in other words. If the days of the week represent a decade Monday being equivalent to the ages of 1 to 10 then many boomitos, who are expected to live 70 years, are living on Thursday afternoon. Or Friday morning! We have two more days 20 years and then the great call!
True, Latinos in this country are a youthful group, in large part because of immigration but also because of the cultural penchant for families to boast three to five children. A single-child family is a rarity; a couple that marries and doesnt produce offspring is even rarer oddballs subject to gossip from family members. I could cite figures that are sure to resonate 70 percent of all Latinos, for instance, are under 18! How does a figure like that translate into a business plan?
But the boomitos born between 1945 and 1960, who educated themselves and in time helped set policy in law, politics, medicine, education, the arts, and business, are aging. Our foreheads are pleated, our stomachs cascade over our belts, our memory slips when we try to locate our cars in long-term parking at airports. More than one of us has received his or her first letter of eligibility for AARP. Perhaps the initial reaction was, Oh, wrong address, or, perhaps, It must be for my mother. Im afraid it was meant for you! In short, when you reach 50, the computer knows where to find you.
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