Auntie Maria would always tell me to watch out for sparrows in the springtime. She would stand at her porch yelling after me, her words tapping my back as I ran along with my friends.
“Chica, don’t let the sparrows catch you! You’ll fall in love and that’s no good!” I just blushed and kept running. Giggles would bubble up from my friends.
“Rosa who you fallin’ in love with? You got a secret lover boy in your pocket? He’s your little birdy, huh?” Liza teased.
“I bet you it’s that boy Benny, in class he was lookin’ at you like you was made out of candy” Julia would tag on.
“Yeah, like a big red lollipop. Mmm, delicious!” Liza joked. They both cracked up as we trotted our way into town.
“Eew, no!” My face grew hot, it was a nice sunny day for once, so I had let my hair down. It was tired of being locked up in a bun every day and had taken its newfound freedom as an opportunity to spring in every possible direction. The red curls of frizz bounced in and out of my view with every step. Auntie says that my parents both had hair as brown as fine soil, so no one knows why mine isn’t. I asked her once;
“Auntie, am I really Latina?” Auntie gave me a real stern look.
“Your mother spent nine months carrying you around, birthed you, and named you. You are Latina through and through.”
“But how come my hair is red then?” Auntie Maria took a second before responding.
“God blessed you with a full head of hair, made it red to show you off. You are the primera rosa, with hair that makes flowers pale. That’s why your mother named you Rosa.” And that was that. My parents are a sore topic with her, she never really wants to talk about them. I think Auntie feels sorry for me, she would never tell me that though. I tried calling her ‘mama’ one day and I still remember the look of insistence she had when she told me.
“Mija, your mother was a beautiful woman. I was her sister. To call me ‘mama’ is to forget her a little more, and in life we must cling to beauty like it is the most precious of things, no?” That always seemed odd to me seeing as how we don’t have any pictures of mama in the house, and we’ve never once visited her grave. I think that’s alright though, because Auntie Maria is a mama to me, even if she wants me to remember a woman I never met. To her I’m her little Rosa, her wild rose.