This past couple of weeks, we had our in-between-semesters term at The Community School: one week for students to participate in activities outside the school, then the second to present and reflect on their learning from the school year so far in front of an audience of their peers and families. As my activity for the week of MLK Day was a Game Jam at the downtown library, I had the chance to browse and borrow a few books, and to buy a few from the Friends of the Library store, while I meandered from floor to floor checking on the students. So along with making an outing to the local Jedi Alliance arcade for a further community connection, I happened to read Piranesi, by Susanna Clarke; Reader, Come Home, by Maryanne Wolf (though I had to request that one by ILL), and Solito, by Javier Zamora. I finally found a copy of I Ching, and I picked up Binti to read next on the strength of Brenton Dickieson’s recommendation. All this while finishing up the SPACE course on games, based on Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, which was awesome.
The students’ game ideas and designs were cool, too, of course, but I have a long way to go to organize a really successful Game Jam. Try, try again; next year we’ll do better. In the meantime, I have to say I’m very grateful to have such a thing as this library within walking distance. Each book made me think about games, as is my wont. I’m sure I’ll write more about them all sooner or later. But Solito has been the biggest revelation. Zamora’s prose poetry memoir of traveling to the US as a child to reunite with his parents brought me back to my childhood, different as it was, and made me think of my friends from kindergarten, Ronnie (James) Aquino and Sebastian Garcia, whose families were from El Salvador and Guatemala, respectively. Something about the timing, as I’ve been finally realizing how little I know about Central America and researching it little by little with Chomsky and now Zamora for a guide–this place, this topic, connected with me with a kind of rightness and inevitability. It makes me want to teach English as a second language again. It makes me wish I could travel and reconnect with some of my oldest friends again.
It’s like I just ate a star in Mario Bros.Solito p 329
And this is just what games do, too.
Come on, Don Chepe, let the kid play. ¡He’s bored! …
Grandpa chuckles, then calls me over. “Here,” he says, pouring a few quetzales in my hand. “Be careful, but have fun.” I don’t remember him ever giving me money for maquinitas before; my family didn’t let me play ‘those games.’
¡It’s the first time I’m hanging out with someone that’s not Grandpa [since starting on the journey north]! I’ll have to be by myself [solito] once he leaves. Grandpa says I have to get ready for that; it’s why we practice my “Mexicanness” under the almond tree twice a day. And he also gives me this advice:
Don’t tell anyone how much money you have.
Don’t tell anyone where you were born. …
Eat as much as you can; you never know when you’re gonna eat again.
[Javier hops on the bicitaxi with Jesús, talking about school and other prospects as they head to the arcade. Then:]
He slows down. I can hear Grandpa under the almond tree telling me, “You don’t be like me, ¿okay? You finish school, go to college.” …
We walk in. It’s hot, and the sounds of the machines thicken the air. It’s like I’m inside a television.
Jesús runs directly to the Street Fighter machine. Grandpa gave me extra quetzales; I offer some to Jesús so we both can play, but he shakes his head and takes out one coin from the bright-blue fanny pack strapped around his waist under his oversized shirt that says something in English we both don’t understand.
“This is the only coin I’ll need. Watch, carnal.” His yellowish teeth are bright in his full grin. I know this game. The Baker’s son had a Nintendo and had this game, along with Super Mario Bros. 3 and Duck Hunt–the one with the plastic gun. The Baker’s son was like me; he never let anyone else play.
Jesús chooses Chun-Li. I laugh when he picks her. “Watch,” he says with a smirk. I put my coin in and choose Ryu. The first round I punch Chun-Li a couple times. Ari-o-ken. Ari-o-ken. I fly horizontally and drop dead on the ground after he hits me with a combination I’ve never seen. The second round, I don’t land anything. …
“¿You have fun?”
I nod. I’ve never seen a teenage have so much confidence. …
“¿What does ‘carnal’ mean?”
“It’s like you’re a good friend, ¿you know? Like blood. It’s a Mexican term.” …
“It’s okay, you’ll cross soon, carnal, don’t worry,” he says, his voice softer…p 61-66 passim