Edwardo Reyes

There ain’t no Puerto Ricans in California


Edwardo Reyes is a dashing clinical chemist by day and an even more dashing aspiring writer by night. He spends the rest of his time trying to lift heavy things, making elaborate meals for his spoiled dog, and writing cigar reviews for no one in particular. Edwardo currently lives in beautiful Newport News, Virginia and will be making his literary debut in an upcoming issue of Weirdbook Magazine.

It was hot.

The front steps were burning my butt. Sweat beads were running down my face, my glasses kept sliding down my nose and pushing them back up was getting annoying. It would’ve been easier to just go inside, but it was summer and going inside just wasn’t done. What if something happens on the block and you missed it? Nah man, not worth the risk.

My uncle Papo was sitting next to me, drinking a Heineken wrapped in a brown paper bag. He’d been drinking that thing for at least an hour by then. I don’t see how there could’ve been anything left other than hot backwash, but he still put it up to his lips and took

a swig about once a minute.

“Yo papi, it’s like this,” Papo takes a swig and keeps dropping knowledge. “The cats around here think small you know what I’m sayin’? You keep thinking like that, you end up getting stuck on this block, you know what I’m sayin’? That’s why I’mma get that CDL so I can get outta here, know what I’m sayin’?”

My glasses didn’t seem to want to stay on my face and it was seriously pissing me off. My mom bought me some elastic things that're supposed to keep them from falling, but those things look wack as hell. There was no way I was going to wear those things outside. I didn’t want people thinking that I was a nerd.

“You gonna move?” I asked my uncle.

“Pssh… hell yeah! I ain’t gonna stick around here, know what I’m sayin’?”

“Where are you gonna go?”

“Yo, wherever! As soon as I get this CDL I can go wherever the fu… uh, wherever the heck I want, you know what I’m sayin’? Maybe down by Avenue M, or like Queens or somethin’.”

“California?” I asked.

Papo almost chokes on his hot Heineken, “California? The hell I’m going there for?”

“I don’t know. Looks fresh out there. Palm trees and stuff.”

I’ve always liked the idea of California. I’d never been there but it looked nice on TV. Everyone was always walking around in shorts, living in nice big houses with a backyard and a dog. If I had a CDL and could live wherever I wanted, I would’ve gone there and taken my mom too. Oh, and I would’ve definitely had a dog, a big hairy sheepdog, not a barky chihuahua or some mean ass rottweiler like the people around here have.

“Pssh… California? Hell nah… oh shit!” Papo had his concentration broken by two girls walking down the block. “Yo, say something to those girls yo.”

“Huh?” I heard what he said but the thought of talking to girls shot an icy sensation down my back that, I swear to god, actually made me stop sweating.

“Say something to those girls. Hurry up!”

“What do I say?”

“Yo, say something like ‘Psst, psst. Mira mami. What’s up? I like those shorts.’ Like that. Hurry up, they gonna walk past!”

Papo starts poking me hard on the shoulder.

“Yo, hurry up. Say something.”

“Uh, what’s up? What ya’ll doing?” My voice cracked at the last word and one of the girls giggled while the other one curled her lip up in disgust.

“Yo, that was corny.” Papo said, taking a swig from his empty bottle. “How ya’ll doing,” he said in his best nerd voice.

“You ain’t gonna get no play like that. You gotta learn how to talk to these girls, you know what I’m sayin’? You like girls right?”

“Pssh… yeah.” I say. My hands were still shaking as I pushed my glasses up my nose again.

“So you gotta learn,” said Papo.


“Just say what I tell you when a girl walks by.”


We just sat there. A quick breeze picked up and disappeared. The sun was setting and I noticed the shadows cast by the buildings slowly making their way towards us. I was looking forward to not having that sun blasting me in the face.

“Yo, what was I saying?” Papo asked.

“How I had to talk to girls.”

“Nah, before that.”

“Oh, we were talking about moving to California.” I said.

“What? Nah. I’m moving out of here, but it ain’t gonna be to no California know what I’m sayin’?”

“Why not?”

“California? That’s some white people sh.., uh stuff. Puerto Ricans don’t go to California.”

“That’s not true,” I said “Titi Rosie used to live over there.”

“Right. Used to. Where is she at now?”

“Puerto Rico.”

“That’s what I‘m saying,” Papo said. “She ain’t there no more. Puerto Ricans don’t live there.”

“Nah. There has to be at least one Puerto Rican over there.”

“I’m telling you bro, there isn’t. There ain’t no Puerto Ricans in California.”

That didn’t sound right to me but I didn’t know enough to refute it. When you’re twelve years old, nineteen year olds seem so much older and wiser so you expect them to know more about whatever they’re talking about.

But come to think about it. I don't think I’ve ever seen a Puertor Rican guy on any of those TV shows. I mean, there were latin people but I’m pretty sure they were Mexican or dark skinned Italians or something.

“Yo papi, check this out.” Uncle Papo leaned closer like he was going to tell me some big secret, “California is wack. Nobody wants to live up there man. New York is where it’s at.”

“Yo check it out,” Papo elbows me in the arm, “California ain’t got no honey’s like that.”

A woman, around twenty was walking towards us pushing a baby stroller with a big ass toddler in it.

“Yo, say something to this chick.” Papo said.

“Nah man, she has a kid.”

“So? That just means she puts out bro.”

 “What does she put out?” I asked.

Papo looked at me shocked, then started giggling. “Look, don’t worry about it. But you still have to say something. Say, ‘mira mami, I like kids.’ but say it cool, like I just did. Don’t be like, ‘I like kids’, you gotta be like ‘I like kids.’ You know what I’m saying?”

“Uh yeah, I guess.”

“A’ight. Go ahead.”

“Hey, mami. I like your KIDS!” I didn’t mean to shout, it just came out that way.

Papo slapped his forehead and shook his head.

“Yo, you’re horrible.”

¡Mira Papo!” Abuela poked her head out of the apartment window. “No le enseñes eso. Que eso es una falta de respeto.”

“What? I’m just teaching him. He’s gotta learn.” Papo responded.

No Papo. No le enseñes esas groserías.” she turned to me, “Eduardito no le hagas caso a tu tío, que la última vez que tuvo novia fue en el cuarto grado. Ese es mas virgen que la madre de Dios.”

“Ma!” Papo yelped in acute embarrassment. People were looking.

¡Que ma ni ma! Ten cuidado, ya lo sabes. !Y no te pongas a beber toda la cerveza, que tu pai se va a encojonar cuando llegue del trabajo!” Abuela yelled before ducking back inside.

“Ok, ok.” Papo responded, hoping to get this whole episode over with.

“Pssh. see what I’m saying?” Papo said to me after some of the blood left his face. “That’s why I gotta get out of here. Telling my business all loud like that. And I got a girl, mami just doesn’t know about her. She’s fine as hell too, she just lives far. She stays out in Coney Island sooo…”

I didn’t say anything. I just sat there, grateful that the buildings were finally blocking the sun and that abuela wasn’t putting my business out there.

“Yo, anyway. Look. Say something to that girl right there. She’s fine as hell, almost as fine as my girl.”

I turned and saw the prettiest girl I’d seen all day. She was about seventeen with long, dark, curly hair cascading over a skin tight white tank top that contrasted against her dark olive skin. Painted on stone washed jeans accentuated long muscular legs. A gold chain held a pendant that proudly displayed her name, “Idalis” in big cursive letters. Yeah, she was bad.

Abuelita said not to.” I said hoping like hell to get out of this.

“Look don’t worry about that. Say something to her. Last one, I promise. Be like ‘yo mami, you bad as hell.’ Go ahead.”

“Nah man.”

“Do it. Hurry! Don’t be a pussy man. Do it!”

Papo started poking me again, this time in the ribs.

“Papo stop.” I said.

“Papo stop.” He mocked. “Don’t be a girl. What? You gay or something?”


“Then say something. Hurry up!”

He wasn’t gonna stop, so I figured I’d just get it over with.

“Hey mami. You look bad.”

“What did you say?” she said with a look that made my heart drop to my perineum.

“Uh, nothing.” I said.

“Oh no. You said something. If you ‘man’ enough to say it once, you can say it again so what the fuck did you say?” her big hoop earrings were swinging in concert with her head as it moved from side to side on a neck so limber it seemed inhuman.

 The long fingernails pointing about an inch from my face, the way her breasts (which I was trying very hard not to look at) moved underneath her tight tank top, and the sweet smell of her perfume all combined to become both the greatest object of my pre-teen lust as well as my most maddening embarrassment for years to come.


“Yo, what’s up mami? This guy botherin’ you?”

The red blush of embarrassment was replaced with the pale hue of fear as I noticed the lean, wiry man that had just addressed Idalis.

His height, although probably less than six feet, was imposing. The way his jheri curl shimmered in the sunlight offset the seriousness of his face. Stepping in between Idalis and me, he stooped down, giving me a good view of the large cross hanging from one of the thick rope chains adorning his neck.

“Did you say something to my girl?” he asked

I smiled in fear, which must’ve pissed him off because he suddenly grabbed me by the collar and shoved his fist in my face. The four finger ring he wore spelled out his name loud and clear. TITO.

I’ve seen Tito around the neighborhood. He drove a new car about every week. He wore the freshest clothes and had the loudest sound system on the block. My grandmother always told me to stay away from him and I always did my best to listen to my abuela except this time it couldn’t be helped.

“Yo! I’m talking to you son! You say something to my girl?” Tito asked, pulling me closer.

“Tito. Leave him alone. We was just playin’.” Idalis said with concern in her voice.

“Nah. I saw you. You look pissed off and this dude pissed you off, and I want to know what he said.” Tito snapped without taking his eyes off of me.

My glasses started to slip again and I automatically moved to push them back up when Tito tore them off my face and threw them into the bushes.

“I’m talking to you! Fuck your glasses!” Tito’s blurry face shouted at me from the end of his fist.

I bit my lip. I bit the inside of my cheek. I held my breath. I did everything possible not to cry, but one tear escaped my right eye. I prayed to my father that it would mingle in with the sweat and therefore go unnoticed.

“Tito, come on. He’s just a little kid. Don’t worry about him. Come on let’s go.” Idalis said, trying to pull him away from me by putting her arm around his waist.

“Nah, I gotta teach this kid to not disrespect my woman.” Tito said as he let go of my collar and immediately grabbed me by the throat.

Since that time, I’ve been through a couple of wars, a few fights and even put out some fires, but I can honestly say that was one of the scariest moments of my life. I was sure I was going to catch a beating until I heard the dry raspy voice of my savior coming from behind Tito.

¡Mira abusador! ¿Qué pasa? ¿Quieres meter mano? Mete mano con un hombre.

Even without my glasses I immediately recognized the stocky figure of my abuelo putting his hardhat and lunch box on the ground. Workshirt completely unbuttoned, showing off the white “wife beater” underneath. Sleeves rolled up exposing the well muscled forearms earned by decades of swinging hammers and pouring steel at the plant.

Tito turned around to meet my grandfather and immediately deflated. His loud, angry voice dropped an octave.

“He was being disrespectful to my girl.” Tito squeaked.

“Ok. So I’ll talk to him about that later. But right now you get your hands off of him and get the fuck out of here.”

Tito had a choice to make. He can either walk away and lose face in front of Idalis and everyone else that had stopped to see what was going on. Or, he could get his ass beat by a fifty five year old grandpa.

Luckily for him Idalis gave him the out he so desperately needed.

“Tito come on! My mom’s going to be pissed if I don’t get home soon. Let’s go.” Idalis said in the sweetest voice she could muster.

Tito looked around and straightened out his chain. Grabbing Idalis by the waist, he turned to leave.

“Talk to your boy,” he said over his shoulder as he ambled off.

“You ok?” my grandfather patted me on the back of my neck. I nodded and looked away trying to hide the tears that were streaming down my face.

“Where are your glasses?” Abuelo asked.

I pointed to the bush where they had disappeared only moments ago. Abuelo reached in and immediately found them.

“Here they go. They look ok. I don’t think they're broken.”

Once I put the glasses back on, the sobs started and overwhelmed my anti-crying defenses. A combination of humiliation and anger pushed the tears through and I couldn’t do anything else but bury my face in my grandfather’s chest to hide from the embarrassment.

“Shh, it’s ok mijo. Hey, don’t cry out here.” He whispered as he cradled the back of my head with his rough callused hands. “Come on, let’s go inside.”

Walking up to the entrance I saw my uncle Papo sitting in the exact same spot he’d been sitting all day. Using a shaky hand to bring the paper bag wrapped bottle to his quivering lips.

¿Y tú?” Abuelo said as he stopped in front of Papo. “You gonna let that títere do that to your nephew?”

“Pssh. I knew he wasn’t gonna do nothin’. But that dude got lucky yo. I was about to show him what’s up when you got here, you know what I’m sayin’?” Papo stood up and threw some lazy punches at the air.

“Hmph. Cobarde. You get that from your mother.” He looked down at the bottle that had finally found freedom from my uncle’s grip. “You drinkin’ my beer too?”

Papo shrugged and turned to go inside.

“Hey!” my grandfather snapped, causing Papo to instinctively spin around. “Go get my shit.” Abuelito pointed at the lunchbox and hard hat laying on the sidewalk. As Papo walked over to pick them up my grandfather hugged me close and nodded towards Papo.

Vago y cobarde. Me salvé con este muchacho.”


© The Acentos Review 2021