As snowflakes settled and stacked atop one another, superintendents across the metro closed school yesterday. Blessed with a day of rest, inspired by our winter wonderland, I revisited this piece I drafted with my students in response to “My Name” by Sandra Cisneros, a vignette from The House on Mango Street.
It never snowed where I grew up. Well, it did once back in the early 1900s, long before I was on the scene. Snow was a bad word in the Rio Grande Valley. Freeze was enemy to the farmer who feared for row after endless row of citrus trees. Snow meant starvation.
So we never had a snow day at school. We set out school-bound every morning, 180 days a year. There was one thing that got us out of class. Her name was Alicia, just like mine, and she was a whirling dervish of water that worked her way inland and wreaked havoc. My mother packed me, my sister, and her Bernina in the back seat of her 1978 Cordoba. No building snowmen, no hurling snowballs at each other. No sledding or snow angels. Just hour after hour in the back seat of the car—me, my sister, and the sewing machine. We raced down the road out of harm’s way, away from the hurricane that shared my name. We sought shelter at the Four Seasons Hotel. White towels, white sheets, and little white soaps in a place that implied a time for snow.
We lived in a white stucco house. We drove a white car. We had a white German shepherd. My mother sewed our dresses on a white sewing machine. We were white. Blanca. Bolias. Gringas. And me with the Spanish name. They called me Alice. They did so with affection, and embraced me in their culture; yet I longed desperately to share their Hispanic heritage. To be one of them.
My sister’s name is Cimarron. They would say it with a Spanish accent, but it is an Indian name. She with her blond hair that they loved to touch, and me, the part Sioux, part Choctaw, but mostly white gringa with the Spanish name.
I was named after Alicia Lopez, the flying trapeze artist who befriended my mother as we traveled the continent with the Shrine Circus. My father was half-owner and ringmaster. I turned six months old in Mexico City where it never snows and they call me Alice. I celebrated my first birthday in Montreal shortly after my trapeze-flying namesake taught me to walk—on the groun
I slept in a makeshift crib in the car as we drove from location to location. I still get sleepy when I ride in the car for long stints, like I did on our way home from the Four Seasons Hotel after the hurricane that shared my name died down.
We moved back to Oklahoma when I was in high school, and no one called me Alice again. But they do not pronounce my Spanish name properly. In Spanish, you say each syllable. Uh-lee-see-uh. Here in Indian territory, where they know my sister’s name, they call me Uh-lee-shuh. Here where it snows in the cold season. Here where we occasionally have enough snowfall for snowmen and snow angels and snow days. Here where we hurl snow balls at each other, and they say, “Heads up, Uh-lee-shuh!”
Alicia is my middle name. When I write my name, I precede Alicia with a lonely L, which stands for LeeAnne. Who can’t pronounce LeeAnne? Who would hesitate calling a freckle-faced gringa LeeAnne? LeeAnne who likes snow and doesn’t look like an Indian. LeeAnne who no longer writes a lonely L at the beginning of her name
Beautiful Name for a beautiful person. How interesting about the circus…My favorite part is the Trapeze Artist. I bet you have some wonderful stories.
Thank you, Cindy! My father had sold the circus by the time I turned two, so I have no memories of those experiences. But we do have hundreds of interesting pictures!