What do you do when you love your family, but don’t vibe with Catholicism? In this short story, Jose grapples with his quest to be his own person within the context of his family, friends, and culture.
Ramon Jimenez is a member of the Mexican Diaspora who is from LA, but now is lost in the city of Seattle. He teaches, and writes poetry and short stories. You can follow him on Instagram at @RamonLovesWriting for writing and @infinitecookingaddict.
I’m Not Catholic Anymore
by Ramon Jimenez
In the living room, my dad watches some old black and white film from the golden era of Mexican cinema. It stars Pedro Infante in his sombrero, singing a copla about some woman that broke his heart. As my dad sings along with Mr. Infante while ironing a dress shirt, he notices me coming out of the kitchen.
“What’s the occasion viejo? You got a date or something,” I casually comment.
“Come on boy, by your age I already had 50 girlfriends and you don’t even have one.” He replies loud enough to make my mom laugh from the kitchen.
“Mijo, get ready. We are going to mass at your uncle’s in the valley,” he continues as he strokes his thick Stalin-like mustache.
“I got plans viejo, I’m meeting a friend.” I reply back, discussed at the fact that he demands me to go to church and the Valley at the same time.
“Friends? What are friends? How many times have I told you Jose? There is no such thing as friends, only backstabbers and addicts.
“Seriously viejo?” I reply, aware that I am talking back.
“¡Ala chingado con tus amigos! What do you need friends for when you have family?” He shouts as the veins in his thick arms bubble.
“Shave that beard. It looks like a pile of whiskers. You’re not seeing any friends. You’re going to mass with your uncle. A priest from my hometown is giving the ceremony. We all need to go, even your sister Leslie is going. Get ready now!”
“They don’t get it. I’m not catholic anymore,” I tell myself as I change. I think about how I told them a million times and now that I’m in grad school, I mean it. I quit prayer, the confession both and service. But, they don’t respect my opinion.
Naturally, I want to go off on my dad, disturbed at the fact that my parents have no tolerance for my agonistic ways.
Steeped in political thought, I want to give him a compelling argument. Tell him that religion is nothing but a tool used by the rich to keep the working class in a box of stupidity. I want to explain to him how the Catholic Church in Mexico took land, enslaved natives and forced a population to lose their culture.
And the last time I did this, my mom denounced me for turning my back on the traditions of our ancestors while refusing to talk to me for three days straight.
But, a part of me wants to go against the grain, tell him how much of a grown ass man I am. I want do what white American kids do and talk back to my parents while cussing them out, letting them know what’s on my mind.
However, things did not turn out that way at all. Later that day, we were in my mom’s brown SUV on the way to the Valley. As we drove onto the 405 North, entering the other side of the universe, I try to contain my outrage. I hate a lot of things, but I hate the Valley with a passion. The Valley is hot and stuffy. Plus, everyone is arrogant because they live in the burbs. The whole ride, with my arms folded, I sat there bothered about how as an adult I am not authentically free to choose my own path.
As we continue, the urban jungle of LA turns into rolling hills, shrubs and trees. I see Leslie calm in her black mascara, black jeans and black T shirt, dressed more for an emo selfie session than for church. She stares at the window, unbothered.
“I can’t believe we have to go to this ish and celebrate the colonizer’s religion,” I whisper lightly. My parents may not speak English, but they know the sound of talking shit.
“Calm down b!@#$%, I got something to make you feel better, something to take the edge off,” she remarks softly, pulling out a little cookie wrapped in a plastic with a label that reads “100mg of THC.”
“Where did you get this?” I reply.
“Don’t worry about it, just eat half and shut the f!@#$ up.” She replies with a deep grin.
I quickly devour my half.
We get to my uncles house in the valley. His backyard, turned into a makeshift outdoor church comprised of four rows of plastic white chairs. We take a seat in the back as I start to feel the high.
“Don’t blow our cover Jose,” Lelsie points out.
“Your eyes are red as f!@#. And stop breathing like that, act normal pendejo,”
Out of nowhere, cousins, uncles and aunts walk in. My dad commands us to greet them all.
For a second, I pretend to be normal, shaking everyone’s hand, trying to keep my face together while hiding the fact that this is the highest I’ve ever been. My heart, thumping harder by the minute, I try to smile, but I know I look a mess with all the sweat. Within moments, more friends of the family arrive, some from Los Angeles and some from Jalisco.
The mass begins. Songs and prayers are recited to the flow of each acoustic string. The priest makes his way in. Padre Bonico, a medium height man with a slight gut and a pair of glasses; my father’s favorite priest and a family friend since Mexico. Two altar boys follow, one of them is a cousin who years later confessed to me that he too is an agnostic that enjoys a puff on weekends.
After praying, singing, and following repetitive requests to get up and sit down, the father looked around. Scanning us meticulously, he glares at a couple of restless children horse playing.
“Technology is ruining our youth.” He articulates slowly in clearly enunciated Spanish, pausing to leer at the same distracted children.
In the corner of my eye, I see them play on a phone under a chair.
“Mom would’ve kicked my ass if I did that,” I whisper to Leslie.
“Be quit Jose, stop messing up my high.” She whispers as I notice some red in her eyes forming.
“Technology is ruining our youth. You see, our kids are being consumed, taken alive by their computers and social media,” the Father continues.
“Drugs, violence and premarital fornication! All of the sins that we know in our graceful hearts are wrong, catalyzed by these new forms of technology.”
Normally, I ignore the sermon. That’s how I survived 20 years of church. I trained my brain to mute the words of the good book. But this time, I couldn’t help but pay attention.
As Padre Bonico went on, I thought about my new path, wondered if I was caught up by technology too, using it for knowledge but not for good. I thought about what was taught in school, wondering if it conflicted with the culture and values of my parents.
I tried to reflect further, but I began to lose concentration. The THC in my body was taking over; I was no longer in charge. With the scorch of the valley hitting my face, buckets of sweat poured slowly as my eyes become blood stained.
“¿Ah mijo, estats bien?” My mom asks.
I look at her awkwardly for what seemed like 2 minutes. Saying nothing as the cotton mouth sealed my lips.
“Esta muy furete el sol,” I softly reply while pointing at the sun, trying to hide my eyes by covering them with my hand. My mom gave me a second glance, scanning the sweat as it dripped from my brow.
If she ever found out I used pot, it would crush her heart. I could imagine her disowning me for being a pinche marijuano for the rest of my life. Worst of all, if my dad found out, I would be done. At this point, he’s still pissed from the morning.
It is one thing that I don’t go to church and honor my parents, but being labeled a marijuano is bad. And this is the challenge that kids with immigrant parents face at times. No matter how much we achieve in country that hates our guts, we will never be good enough for our parents. If we go to college or land a good job but go out for drinks with friends, we’re bad examples. If we smoke a little pot, we’re stupid and useless. The typical Anglo American kid can get straight C’s through college; work at some start up with their friends while chugging beers in the afternoon. And their parents will always be proud of them. But for me and Leslie, until we go to church and start a family of our own, we will never be good enough.
Throughout the rest of the mass, my parents would give me a quick glance. Scanning me, wondering if I was ok. I thought they may know. However, the last time I was super high around my mom, I smoked a joint full of hash and made a ruckus at two in the morning while munching on cold tacos dorados. She came into the kitchen, accusing me of drinking and driving. But, I didn’t drink that night at all. Over all, I don’t think my parents know how someone acts when high on pot. For all they know, I’m ether hot or socially detached from the morning’s altercation. They know I still feel bitter about it, and they know it was wrong to talk to me like that, but they’ll never acknowledge it.
As the three hour mass finally comes to an end with Padre Bonico giving a blessing, I finally calm down. My heart no longer throbs at a rapid fire pace and I no longer sweat like a leaking pipe. My father is happy and I am no longer mad at him for forcing me to come to this spectacle of archaic nostalgia.
Given the context, Leslie and I end up in the front of the food line. Our lovely aunt Conchita, who made the entire spread, let us cut. We bring our plates and she serves us a generous portion of stewed beans, rice simmered in tomato sauce, bread rolls and a bright green salad. From a large pot, she grabs a giant ladle and serves us birria, a magical stew made with beef, lamb or goat, simmered in a sauce of dry red chili, beer, cinnamon, cumin and garlic. The meat is separated from the broth and then it all gets served together.
Leslie and I, hoping to avoid our fake ass family, grab our own separate table. We survived mass, and no one could tell that we were high out of our socks. Recognizing that our parents will never accept our lifestyles and occasional recreational activities, we happily garnish our birria with cilantro, chopped onion, green lime and an ass burring salsita made of chile del arbol. All of Tia Conchita’s salsas are spicy, spicy enough to stop white people from gentrifying entire neighborhoods.
Finally, my delirium disappears thanks to the magical effects of Tia Choncita’s birria, a birria that even my mom enjoys, and she hates Tia Concha. I regain my sanity and think about my family, finding it funny and tragic how close we are and yet how far.
As they carry on, I wonder why I can’t be like them. I always think about how we were forced into being Catholic, how we were forced into a religion by people who came to rob and terrorize. No matter how persuasive, the words of the priest could never resonate with me. Something about me seeks to question and rebel. And this is why I stay in school, dependent on my studies to point me to the historical facts. All those long seminars, readings and drunken debates at the Irish pub could never be washed out with drugs or good times.
And this also leads me to think of authenticity. By taking this path, am I white washed? I can recall my parents berating me in my youth for listing to Nine-Inch Nails instead of Vicente Fernandez. They loved calling the Downward Spiral album the sound of barking dogs. And some days, I want to blame Trent Reznor for all of my problems. After all, his song Heresy told me that God was dead. But, Mexico has been around 200 years as an independent country and it has an even longer indigenous history. Surely, there is more to the identity and culture than being Catholic. And I know for a fact, I’m not the first to turn my back on the church.
I feel conflicted, but what can I do. If I ever have kids, they will never know a hot church pew on a Sunday or the booklets from first communion classes. How will they ever relate to their other family members? I don’t know. All of that will be lost with me. But, I’m ok with that; I just wish my parents could be ok too.