It was a border town, like others, with a promise of refuge from the weather for some, jubilation at a long journey’s end for others, and it had an edge of uncertainty about it as well. Rosalinda found the town hall without difficulty, which shared a common wall with the sheriff’s office and next to that, a jail. The hall was situated among a connected strip of assorted retail stores at the far end of the dry and dusty main street of this small border village, not far from the sun-beaten and well-faded “Welcome to Del Rio” sign.
She paused at the entrance to the great hall, which was braced by tall wooden columns constructed to portray an image of a higher power within. Here she gathered her thoughts. Sufficiently fortified with a newfound but still fragile confidence, she entered through heavy double-glass security doors. An official immediately approached and inquired about her business there that day. Rosalinda told him the reason she was there and was then directed to one of several waiting lines for the town registrar.
Today, everything else would have to wait. Today, I do this important thing for my son, she rationalized as she waited in line knowing that she faced many pressing problems, each piling up waiting their turn for attention. She needed a job badly, money for food and a place to properly care for her baby. Rosalinda was also determined to quickly learn the ways of the Norte Americanos. She was in a new land and must do everything within her power to stay, to nurture her little boy along the right path, and to enjoy watching him turn into a man whom others gave respect. This new path to success was not very far, not even more than a dozen miles from her own country, but so very distant in opportunities that would be his to chose.
The line moved slowly, she repeated the purpose of her visit to herself constantly, like a mantra, fearful of omitting any critical fact, and as a way to stay focused while she waited. When it was her turn, Rosalinda moved to the seat placed in front of the desk and sat down nervously. The town clerk’s assistant, opposite her, finished up the paperwork from his previous customer, reached for a clean sheet of paper, a new form, and looked up at her, smiled and nodded in greeting.
“Good morning,” he said absently.
She smiled in return, paused to say something, a greeting in return perhaps, but instead something unforeseen happened. The question she was desperate to ask, the one that had been revolving incessantly in her mind for days, the one she had assembled and disassembled in every possible way, looking for the proper form so as not to embarrass herself and to insure a respectful and honest response, the one all-important question that now, somehow, had inexplicably escaped her lips without permission. With no warning, this most important question had involuntarily popped out of her mouth, and was now very audibly, feathering gently down in the warm, humid air of the registrar’s office, to the man who would give her the answer she needed to hear.
“My son, he was born here! He is an Americano citizen, no?” She nearly shouted, challenging the clerk.
How did that happen, she questioned herself with rising alarm? Surprised, she lowered her head trying to disarm her loud demand, relieved that the process for which she had come, had now started, although not in the way she had imagined. She waited, and wondered if the outside of her body was trembling like the inside.
“This is true,” answered the clerk’s assistant, “your son will be an American, of course, because he was born here in the states. That’s how it works. Do you have papers? Tell me his name and I will write it into the registrar’s book of births. What do you call him?” he asked.
Without hesitation Rosalinda said in a heavy Mexican accent, “Ramon, his name Ramon!” She was so excited that her boy was going to be a natural American citizen, as the old women of her village had told her, that she stumbled over the pronunciation, and it came out sounding as if it were two names.
The clerk’s assistant pondered this a moment and wrote down what he had heard, “Ruh Moan,” and spun the registrar’s book around with its fresh entry for Rosalinda to verify. She hesitated. “No, that is no right, it look different,” she said, her words trailing off.
“Isn’t that what you said, ma’am?” The clerk was more than a little puzzled now. He was not prepared for the interpreting part of this job. It was supposed to be easy work, indoors, out of the heat. That’s what his cousin, who worked in the back, had told him last week when he arrived from the damp northwest to take the position.
“That’s how you spell it in English,” he finally said in an attempt to placate the woman and move her out of his line and onto the next station. The line at his station had become long and his boss would soon notice the backup and surely not approve of his performance, and the bottleneck in the system. He looked away, momentarily, from the woman in front of him and the line composed of a mix of nationalities and genders curling away from his desk. He angled his head past the line and looked through the heavy glass entrance doors that were directly across from him. There he could see the town bank’s electric sign, blinking alternately with the temperature and the current savings rate, on the corner across the street. Jesus, it was going to be another hot one today, he muttered to himself.
“Ma’am?” He returned his focus forward and addressed the perplexed woman standing before him. Anxiously he looked at her, his face pleading for confirmation. “Yes?”
Rosalinda moved her eyes slowly downward towards the written names, again hoping that it would look somehow right to her this time. It didn’t. She felt the impatience of the clerk’s assistant growing, a pressure she could tangibly reach out and feel, it was so strong. It felt like a clock that was ticking and soon a bell would ring and her time would be up; her son would not become an American on a technicality. No way, she demanded of herself, this could not happen!
She was about to cry out when a thought squeezed into her increasingly panic-locked brain, “No two name, is one!” she finally cried out loud, as if the words had been piled up tight in her mouth, jammed against her teeth and then abruptly the lips parted and they spilled out all at once, in a quick jumble onto the desk.
“No two, one! Please,” she begged, “put the word close!” This she said breathlessly, rapid-fire like a game contestant.
“His name one, no two,” she said triumphantly, more slowly this time, in a tone that now sounded final, confident. She had solved the problem, no? Yes!
The clerk’s assistant beamed his understanding at her and said with a broad smile, “RuhMoan! Yes, very excellent,” he said joyfully! “Now, please, may I see the birth papers?”
Rosalinda was suddenly crestfallen, “He is born in my room. I have no paper. What paper? Please help me, what kind of paper?” she begged.
The clerk’s assistant stared at her for a moment with a disappointed look on his face, then pulled open a drawer on his left, and removed a different form from the stacks within. He breathed out with a sigh. He looked this new form over and satisfied it was the proper one, handed it across the desk to Rosalinda, “Fill this out, and go wait in that line over there,” he pointed to his right, “they will take a statement from you on the baby’s particulars, validate it, and issue you a certificate of birth.” He added in conclusion, “Good luck to you and your boy. Have a nice day, ma’am.”
“Next please,” Rosalinda heard the clerk’s voice say as she turned and moved towards a standing counter nearby, with many pens and pencils every which way on it, to fill out the form for the birth certificate line. Midway there, she turned back and gave the clerk’s assistant a wide grin, she floated on a fluffy cloud and could not feel her feet touching the ground.
Clearly, Rosalinda was very happy about her accomplishment.
* * *
RuhMoan does not remember this, of course, being less than a year of age at the time, but it does seem like he watched it happen, wide-eyed and openmouthed, unbelieving, gazing down from a secret one-way ceiling mirror. He has heard the story from Rosalinda so many times growing up that he could easily pass a lie-detector test. Now, understandably, these days when he has to explain the unusual spelling of his name, he nearly always gives the abridged, seven- second version, “The ignorant puta couldn’t spell a lick,” RuhMoan would say shaking his head. “Pendejo!” He said disgustedly as if recalling every detail.
Clearly, RuhMoan was not very happy about his circumstance.