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Trenza Francesa, French Braids

Free as a Bird

A busy morning opens a window onto Carlita’s family life

“¡Ven aquí, Carlita! ¡No puedes ir a la escuela así! Tu cabello es un desastre!” Come here, Carlita! You can not go to school like that! Your hair is a mess! I walk into the room and sit down so Mamá can reach my hair, wishing that she spoke English. Then I wouldn’t be so embarrassed at school. Then no one would tell me to go back to Mexico.

My family’s from Cuba, not Mexico, and I wasn’t even born there. I was born here, unlike most of the kids at school, but that doesn’t really matter. Don’t be like them, my big brother said. Don’t fall to their level. You’re better than them, Carlita. And make that known.

He used to stick up for me. We used to be two peas in a pod, me and him, him and me. Forever, he said. But after he got into trouble, that hasn’t been true. I haven’t seen him at all since he was arrested. Mamá says that’s for the best, that he is el diablo who won’t come back. But I’d be willing to forgive him. I’d forgive him if he came back.

“¡Terminé! Ve a comer tu desayuno.” Finished! Go eat your breakfast! I walk away from Mamá toward the kitchen, where huevos rancheros awaits me on our small counter with two stools, the third tucked away in a closet somewhere. Lifting my hand up to touch my long black hair, I feel the twists and turns of a trenza francesa, a French braid, and think how life is like that, twisting and turning until it throws you off the fraying black hairband at the end.

Alina Samarasan author of Trenza Francesa, French Braids
Alina Samarasan, 12
Brookline, MA

Sage Millen artist of Free as a Bird
Sage Millen, 11
Vancouver, Canada