In Mexico and Latin America, celebrating one’s
Saint’s day instead of one’s birthday is common.
I was born in Nogales, Arizona,
On the border between
Mexico and the United States.
The places in between places
They are like little countries
Themselves, with their own holidays
Taken a little from everywhere.
My Fourth of July is from childhood,
Childhood itself a kind of country, too.
It’s a place that’s far from me now,
A place I’d like to visit again.
The Fourth of July takes me there.
In that childhood place and border place
The Fourth of July, like everything else,
It meant more than just one thing.
In the United States the Fourth of July
It was the United States.
In Mexico it was the día de los Refugios,
The saint’s day of people named Refugio.
I come from a family of people with names,
Real names, not-afraid names, with colors
Like the fireworks: Refugio,
Margarito, Matilde, Alvaro, Consuelo,
Humberto, Olga, Celina, Gilberto.
Names that take a moment to say,
Names you have to practice.
These were the names of saints, serious ones,
And it was right to take a moment with them.
I guess that’s what my family thought.
The connection to saints was strong:
My grandmother’s name—here it comes—
Her name was Refugio,
And my great-grandmother’s name was Refugio,
And my mother-in-law’s name now,
It’s another Refugio, Refugios everywhere,
Refugios and shrimp cocktails and sodas.
Fourth of July was a birthday party
For all the women in my family
Going way back, a party
For everything Mexico, where they came from,
For the other words and the green
Tinted glasses my great-grandmother wore.
These women were me,
What I was before me,
So that birthday fireworks in the evening,
All for them,
This seemed right.
In that way the fireworks were for me, too.
Still, we were in the United States now,
And the Fourth of July,
Well, it was the Fourth of July.
But just what that meant,
In this border place and time,
it was a matter of opinion in my family.
— Alberto Ríos