by Isabel Kestner
He was my Mexican Match Boy. Only a few years
younger than me, walking barefooted and selling
the bracelets his father made to the awing tourists.
“Isn’t he so cute.” They’d say and hand over a dollar.
I bought a bracelet too, but didn’t call him cute. “Cute,”
as if he were some fuzzy costumed cartoon character
at a theme park. This was no theme park. This was
survival and his father knew very well that Americans
will give a dollar to a four year old selling anything
but would not be so generous to an old man wanting
to support his family.
I had paid my way to Mexico by pan handling cookies
outside big box chain stores and groceries for all of the
previous Spring. I wasn’t as “cute” as he was anymore.
Not like I was when I was four walking the beaches of
Pine Lake in New Jersey trying to get the sunbathing tourists to go buy sodas and pizzas and ice cream
from my parent’s store. All the while knowing that we needed more business to cover the mortgage, to keep
food on the table.
“Isn’t she so cute.” They would say as they headed
to the concession window out the back of the shop
where my brother stood on an empty milk crate
taking their orders. Then them walking away saying,
“Isn’t that so cute, brother and sister. So cute.”
I’d never seen other kids like us in America. The other
little girls loved the stories of princesses and rainbows.
I understood the Match Girl. I was afraid of dying in the cold.
But in Mexico, I saw the Match Boy. He was not cute.
When four year olds work barefooted to put food on
the table, it isn’t cute. It just means Americans
would rather buy things from a little kid than from
a man trying to feed his family.