Jorge: The Education of a 12-year-old in an Immigrant Family

Jeremy Scott Burg80By Jeremy Scott Burg
Student at Kapi’olani Community College
University of Hawai’i

I’m packing my backpack with pajamas and a change of clothes. It’s a rare sunny Saturday in Scappoose, Oregon. I’m going to a sleepover at my best friend’s house. His name is Jorge. I say “bye” to Mom and hop on my bicycle. There are several miles to Jorge’s house, but I’m used to riding far on my dirt bike. I ride on two-lane country roads until I get to the paved logging road that will take me most of the way to his house. Cars aren’t allowed to use the logging road, and the log trucks are rarely on it, so it’s a nice safe ride for me. After that ends, I’m back on country roads for a short while when I finally arrive at the long gravel road Jorge lives on. Jorge is my Mexican friend I met while we were both attending sixth grade at Peterson Elementary School. During this sleepover, I catch a glimpse of what it is like being the first-born son in an immigrant family.

Scappoose, Oregon

Scappoose, Oregon

I ride up to Jorge’s driveway. Further down the gravel road is the big dairy farm where Jorge’s dad works. I turn into the driveway when Jorge and his younger brother, Crispin, are coming out of the house. Jorge is a little taller than me with a lean body. His thick jet black hair is cut short on the sides and left longer on top. He says I’m just in time because his mom has asked him to go to the minimart to get some supplies. The cool part is we get to take the car. Jorge is twelve years old and has learned to drive by going back and forth to the dairy farm with his dad, about a mile round-trip. He’s also previously driven to the minimart with his mom and alone. The distance is about seven miles. There isn’t much traffic or police out in the country. Jorge tells Crispin he can’t go with us. We get into his mom’s new Ford Taurus and drive away. When we are far enough away, Jorge pulls a tape of N.W.A. out of his back pocket and puts it in the tape player. We have just morphed into the two coolest twelve year olds, blasting gangsta rap with the windows rolled down. I haven’t even tried driving yet, and here’s Jorge running an errand for his mom with the family car. I feel free. 

Jorge is a good driver, and we get back with no troubles at all. He parks the car in the gravel driveway of the pink house he lives in. The house is an older stucco style with a rounded front door entrance. Jorge’s dad is the head milker at the dairy farm, and the house comes with the job. We go inside, and I say hello to Jorge’s mom and his sisters, Yesenia and Nancy. We’re breakdancing in his room while his mom makes dinner. I’m getting jealous. He’s always been stronger than me, allowing him to do some of the more trick moves. We aren’t dancing for long when his mom calls him into the living room. She doesn’t understand something on her credit card bill. Jorge looks it over as they speak in Spanish to each other. It’s decided that a call needs to be made, and Jorge calls the credit card company’s customer service line. He speaks with the agent humbly and yet has a sense of authority in his voice. I can tell he’s been doing this for some time. I have never had to talk to anyone in customer service and wouldn’t know what to say if I had a complaint. He corrects the discrepancy with the agent in English, verifies his mom is okay in Spanish, and then ends the call with the agent in English. When he’s back in the room, we just start break’n again.

It’s dinner time, and the whole family sits down to eat. It’s a chicken and vegetable dish with rice and tortillas. Everything is handmade from scratch down to the tortillas. Being the guest, I get extra attention, and everyone wants to know what I think of the food. I say it’s delicious, and I mean it. The parents like to talk to me in their broken English. They ask me questions in simple sentences like, “Does your mom make this?” referring to the chicken dish. Although it seems like they are practicing their English on me, I’m mature enough to realize they are being polite and making sure I don’t feel left out. There are long moments of Spanish-speaking where I have no idea what anyone is talking about. During these times, Jorge will explain things to me in English if something funny or interesting is said, but it’s not a constant translation. Again, it is about being polite and Jorge keeping me involved. Otherwise, I just focus on eating my food.

Later that night, when everyone is asleep, Jorge and I slip out of the house to walk down to the dairy farm in the light of a full moon. There is a cool breeze, and I’m feeling free again. Our plan is to play in the feed hay and jump in the cotton. I’ve never jumped in cotton before. Jorge explains that they feed it to the dairy cows. I’m imagining fluffs of white balls that will be soft to land in. The hay and cotton are kept in a barn that is much older than the rest of the farm buildings. The wooden structure looks like it’s been there since the olden days. We easily get inside the barn and begin to build forts out of the rectangular hay bales. Climbing up to the second-story floor, we jump down into a huge pile of cotton below. I then learn that this is “cotton seed.” They are basically the size of a bean with a white fluffy coat around it. Each seed having a cotton coat makes the pile give a little when jumping on it, but the hard seed in the middle keeps the pile from feeling like a white fluffy cloud. I only jump twice and decide it’s not really that fun, but at least I’ve tried it. After we’ve had our fun, we put the hay bales back the way we think they were originally. Jorge and I walk back to the house feeling the glee of having had a late night adventure.

When we get up in the morning, all the kids have cereal and milk for breakfast. The milk is from the dairy, and the two young sisters look at me funny when I forget to shake the milk before pouring it. Raw milk separates into layers when it sits for a while. Because I didn’t shake the bottle, I got some of the thick cream that rises to the top into my cereal. I explain to Yesenia and Nancy that I forget to shake because you don’t have to do that with store bought milk. They giggle at me a little. I explain to Jorge I have to leave soon so I can make it home in time for my mom to take me to soccer practice. We just finished our cereal when his dad calls him into the living room. He has a contract of some kind that he needs Jorge’s help translating. I see him read the paperwork and then speak to his dad in Spanish. This goes on for a while back and forth. I don’t know what the contract is for, but it seems like the dad wants to make sure he really understands every part of it. I have to leave before they are done. I say goodbye to everyone and am sure to thank his mom again for the food.

As I ride my bike home I think about Jorge. I realize how he’s bolder than me in most circumstances. I relate it to the “grown-up” things he has to do for his parents because of the language barrier. He was the first-born to grow up in this American culture, so he can give his parents more than just a translation of language but also an insight into various situations that occur in most American families. Credit card bills, customer service agents, buying a car and/or reading a school announcement – Jorge bounces between two worlds. Whether it’s reading a contract for his father or sneaking out to build forts out of hay bales, Jorge lives a life of duality in his youth effortlessly. I always respected him for that.

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