To understand Rosa’s fear of revealing herself to her new friends, we have to travel back in time again. Twenty years before the day of celebrating the Spiral of Life, Rosa lived in a big Californian city. Her parents had brought her across the border from Mexico as a toddler, and never were able to get their own documentation. So technically, Rosa knows, she is in this country – the only one she can remember in her whole life – illegally. She discovered this as a teenager when she started applying for colleges. Her Papi had sat her down and told her she had no proof of citizenship because she was not a citizen in the eyes of the law.
Rosa’s heart broke, for her parents and their constant vigilance against deportation (now so much of their behavior over the last fifteen years made sense to her), and for her own future. Her desire to be a doctor seemed bred in her bones, growing along with them as the lengthened into her now almost adult frame. How could she fulfill this dream without college? And how could she pay for college without financial aid, all those forms that required social security and tax identification numbers?
She scraped enough together from odd jobs to go to the local community college for her first two years. She worked hard, earned good grades, prayed for scholarships that didn’t ask about status. Nothing came together, so she took a job as an orderly at the teaching hospital nearby. The salary they paid Rosa allowed her to eke out a living, pad her savings a little, as long as she kept living with her parents. And she was working in a hospital every day, learning what she could.
She cannot forget the day her Papi sat Rosa down again, along with her mother, to tell her that her younger brother was going to college. She raged. “How could you find the money for him, and not for me, Papi?”
“He’s a boy, Rosa. He needs to earn a living for his family, one day.”
“You don’t think I want a family?”
“Of course you do. And a husband, who can provide, of course. You’ll meet someone nice at the hospital, or at church, I’m sure.”
Rosa searched her mother’s face for any signs of recognition or support for her dreams. “Mama?”
“Your brother will help you, after he’s done,” her mother says, turning her head away.