Are you not ashamed of caring so much for the making of money and for fame and prestige, when you neither think nor care about wisdom and truth and the improvement of your soul?
--Socrates 470 BC-399 BC
When I was five years old, I asked Mama for a beautiful pair of zapatos. They were red and clicked when you walked in them. Mama hadn’t the heart to tell me no, and every day when we’d go into town, we’d stop at the little shop’s window and look in at those mesmerizing shoes. That was the first time I realized that we were poor. And when you realize something like that, other things you’d never noticed before begin to draw your attention as well. Like the clothes I wore with their many patches and familiar scents; the pair of shoes I donned every morning—the color nearly faded entirely—was, in fact, my only pair. And then you realize that you aren’t like the other children with their shiny new bicicletas and juegos. And you begin to see yourself on the other side of the glass, like it’s not really your world at all; you begin to expect very little out of life and you learn to not ask for things anymore for Christmas or birthdays.
So when Maricela’s third birthday came around, nobody really mentioned how nice it would be to buy her a muñeca. And while we didn’t have much, birthdays went far from unnoticed in our family. When I came home from school that day, everyone was busy preparing for Maricela’s party. Edmundo and Adalina, my brother and sister, were decorating the small den with red and gold streamers, and my mother, Estrella, was busy preparing a beautiful birthday cake, the ingredients for which she’d been collecting for a year. My father, Ernesto, would probably not be home until late that evening. He was working at the old textile factory downtown in Tamaulipas, México that emitted an interminable stream of gray smog out of its tall smoke stacks that made the hot city even hotter on a breezeless summer day. Still, we’d make him a place at the table and cut him a big piece of cake, even if he wouldn’t eat it until late that night.