Truth be told, Ricky’s father learned English off the portable radio and his children suffered the consequences: Rhonda, Donna, Sherry, Cheri, Venus, Barbara Ann and Ricky. Six Spanish-speaking baby girls and one American-born prince. The Mora de la Cruz girls, with the exception of Venus (who staged political protests and came out at sixteen), grew up in the shadows of Los Angeles and came into the city as one might expect: they married well, divorced, took half and then married again to second and third husbands always a little bit older and a little bit richer than their first. Other than Barbara Ann (who had three daughters with three different daddies), they remained childless, thin, beautiful and determined above everything to choose and maintain a certain lifestyle. To erase a certain past.
In the past the Mora de la Cruzs’ picked grapes, asparagus, peaches and—worst of all—strawberries from the time they set foot on California soil until the youngest among them turned twelve. They moved with the harvest, living in the dust and hay of the farm labor camps from Salem to Stockton, Bellingham to Riverside. Between the nine of them they were deported—individually and collectively—thirteen times under various grounds and foundations. Yet somehow, with assorted auspices and finagling, they always managed to make their way back to the states.
Juan Duran de la Cruz, a.k.a. The Cauliflower King, put on a bathing suit and—unable to swim—kicked a rubber tire a treacherous fifteen miles to shore. Rhonda waded through raw sewage in the Tijuana River. Sherry and Cheri jammed themselves into boxcars with hundreds of other norteños, unable to move, hardly able to breathe. Donna rode across the border spread-eagle on the top of a freight train, her blistered hands white with holding on. And Venus, a particularly bold and quick girl of fourteen, sprinted through the backed-up traffic at the port of entry, defying Border Patrol to chase her. Barbara Ann had to pay $550 American dollars to a coyote smuggler to take her to Fresno. She rode sewn inside the bench-seat upholstery of a Volkswagen Vanagon for 149 miles; and once she crossed la frontera she was held hostage for another $250 in ransom, which required her to work a full five months indentured and hungry, sleeping in the dirt with rotten lettuce for a pillow. But Ricky—the only true-to-flesh American born citizen of the de la Cruz clan—holds the best yarn by far.
Caught as an infant sucking on warm milk and stuffed inside the folds of his mother’s dress, Ricky was deported with his mother, Angelina, without question of the papers that secured his legitimacy. On the wrong side of the Rio Bravo, Ricky was stuffed into a Styrofoam cooler and floated across the border like Moses while his mother trailed behind. Kicking against the current and steering little Ricky away from eddies, Angelina fished crawdads from Ricky’s makeshift cradle and tucked him into the tulle at the first sign of danger.References the Los Angeles Times article “3 Men, 2 Nations, 1 Dream” (Jennifer Mena, June 30, 2001, A-1)