Except for some nebulous considerations, Tonton Jim and I are identical in our genotypes. So, for that reason alone, I feel free to exploit for the sake of a good story Tonton’s older half brother’s racial identity. His name was Marvin, and he, being Nicaraguan on both sides of his parentage, was of purer stock than Tonton or me. Marvin was a mix of Central American native and Iberian Peninsula. Tonton and I, on the other hand, are a mix of a double handful of genetic origins. Hence, the mongrel certification… which entitles us to what exactly? Probably nothing much. But we will wave those certificates in the face of anyone who accuses us of cultural appropriation for what we write. Not that Tonton has much to worry about since he writes mainly about toads, moles, rats, and badgers.
In the third novel of the Tobias and Sarah series, Antonio is the son of the Nicaraguan woman Danny marries. When Danny first meets Angelina, she already has a boy and a girl. At the time of arriving in America, 1895, Antonio was old enough to have witnessed the hardships his mother had endured as an outcast from her family. Therefore, it makes good narrative sense to have Antonio centerstage and central to the narrative of the third book.
Tonton relates that after his mother married an American who brought her and the children to California, her life improved considerably, chiefly in having enough food and medicine for the kids. But life didn’t automatically become a bed of roses for her. Even in a paradise like Santa Barbara there were difficulties and problems. From an author’s point view, these are a welcomed source of grist for the mill. Sounds a bit coldhearted, but what was done is done. The only thing left to do is to make sense of all that personal history.
No, that’s not right. One doesn’t “make sense” of a history. One can only follow a sequence of events that led up to an event or state of affairs. Hopefully, the historian picks only relevant events to string together in his or her interpretation of why something came to be. At least, that’s the hope of this author of historical fiction when he asks himself: how did this come to be? And: how did I wind up here in this particular state? That’s not just an old person’s idle musing. Some young fellow wrote a song lyric asking pretty much the same thing.
If any of us could pick out the one relevant event that determined the course of events that led to our present state of being, and if we could magically go back and change that… well, what a happy bunch of deterministic time-travelers we’d be. (For the record, I dislike time travel as a plot device, though I did enjoy Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, Back to the Future, and Time Bandits.
For Antonio, that one key and relevant event had to be coming to America. Tonton relates that Marvin had immensely positive feelings about being transplanted to the wealthy land of the north.The family lore believes Marvin – hating the way his mother had been treated in the old country – swore he would no longer speak Spanish; he wanted to become entirely American. But he did speak Spanish to his mother who hadn’t learned English as quickly as he had. It was their language of practical communication, and it must’ve been their secret language of shared sorrows, and a special way of expressing a mutual love that no one else could ever fully understand no matter how many relevant events were recalled and recorded.