I thought I was a Mexican chola girl — then I met my dad
“On this day, May 31, 1998, the Skagit County Juvenile Court finds the child minor, Krysta Walia, guilty of the charges of disorderly conduct and truancy,” the judge said. “If the above-named child is absent from school again without an approved excuse, any deputy sheriff, police officer, or school official can make an arrest and take the child into custody without a warrant.”
This piece contains strong language.
What the fuck? I stood there, 12 years old, angry and numb. The judge said, “If I see you back in court, you will be sent to juvenile detention.”
I was in court because I’d told the racist vice principal to fuck off in front of 30 middle schoolers and teachers. He had stood there and told me, “I see your future, behind bars, in an orange jumpsuit, knocked up by some dirty Mexican.”
I refused to take his bullshit. All the kids started chanting, “Kry-sta, Kry-sta, Kry-sta!” The police were called, and I was charged with disorderly conduct and inciting a riot. Two of my proudest life accomplishments.
I’d been a shy, straight-A kid, until 8th grade came around. That’s when I couldn’t take it anymore. I’d had enough of my chaotic home life — it was me against the world. I became this fiery, take-shit-from-nobody girl who would kick yo’ ass if you looked at me the wrong way.
I also found my crew: the other brown kids. The Mexican chola girls with the dark lipstick, thick eyeliner, crunchy hair gel, and black Dickies. We cussed in Spanish, smoked weed before school, skipped class, and knew the lyrics to every Tupac song.
“To all my sisters on welfare, Tupac cares, if don’t nobody else care.”
I was expelled in 8th grade because what else did I have to live for? I grew up in Sedro-Woolley, in rural Washington state, with the crazy, poor, white, alcoholic, gun-toting, dip spitting side of my family. Beneath the layers of chewing tobacco spit and racism, my family members were hardworking, blue collar, real, authentic people.
My sisters and I stuck out: We were the three brown kids in the family. People called us spics, wetbacks, and dirty Mexicans. Our own mom didn’t even want us. She was so mentally ill, our family often says she should never have had kids. But there we were. We had three different dads who weren’t around.
And our mom was never home. Where the hell was she? When she was around she was awful. She would have full-blown meltdowns. I remember one Christmas, we were playing outside in the snow, making noise, laughing, you know, being kids. My mom comes out to the porch and in front of the entire Section 8 housing complex, on Christmas morning, yells,“Shuuuuuuuuuut up you little CUUUUUUUNTS!”
My way of coping was to be a smart ass, so I yell back across the parking lot “Merry Christmas everybody!” I do credit her for helping me develop my sense of humor.
That day in middle school, my grandma Trixie took me to court because, of course, my mom was nowhere to be found. I remember Trixie puffing her Virginia Slim Ultra Light, saying, “God kid, you’ll be all right as long you don’t turn out like your mother.”
That was the wake-up call I needed. Driving home in her Baby Blue Thunderbird, Trixie said, “Kid, you can still turn this around. I hear they give minorities full-ride scholarships to college these days.”
What? Holy shit. Being brown and being a minority could get me the fuck outta here? She flipped the script. My whole life I struggled as a poor, brown girl and here was my way out of Sedro-Woolley.
In high school, I turned things around. I stopped skipping class, I quit smoking, and I was even president of the Spanish club — props to my cholas for that one. Tupac’s music still gave me hope.
“I was born not to make it but I did, the tribulations of a ghetto kid and Still I Rise.”
I graduated high school and college, and eventually got a job as a counselor at Seattle Central College, helping students like me. Trixie always said, “Praise the lord and pass the ammunition! You got out, kid, it’s nothing short of a miracle.”
You’d barely even know I’m from Woolley, minus the severe anxiety attacks, occasional night terrors and crippling self-doubt. I mean, fuck, I couldn’t come out completely unscathed. But like Trixie said it’s nothing short of a miracle that I got out. Trixie isn’t with us anymore — she’s up there with Tupac in Thugz Mansion. May they both rest in paradise.
So where was my mom all those nights? She was out searching for belonging through her yoni. Hooking up with South Asian dudes up and down the I-5 corridor. When I met my dad for the first time, I was not expecting the beard or the turban. Turns out he’s a Sikh dude from Punjab, India. I’m fucking Punjabi? And all that time I spent as a chola!
I met my dad and his family for the first time at their home in New York. It was like a scene from the Maury Povich show. I walked in, and we were all thinking the same thing: “With 99.9 percent accuracy, he is the father!” Goddamn I finally knew where I got my nose from.
My connection with my dad was undeniable. It wasn’t just our big noses. We both have the same dry sense of humor and love for nature.
Papa Walia and I stay in touch almost every day. In true Punjabi father fashion, he texts me motivational videos about how to live my best life and he sends anything and everything about Sikhism and Punjabi culture. I am learning about a part of my heritage that was completely unknown to me growing up. My dad may not have been around when I was a kid, but now that I have him in my life as an adult I do not take the time I spend with him for granted. I treasure every moment with him — and every cheesy joke he tells.
When I reconnected with my dad, people from Sedro-Woolley asked, “How the hell did some dude with a turban meet your white-ass, country mom? In Woolley of all places? And in the 1980s? I, too, have asked myself that. I still don’t have the answer. All I know is that I am the unlikely product of a Punjabi, Sikh immigrant and a poor, white woman from upriver.
I still struggle to feel like I belong in South Asian community. When I talked to my therapist, she said, “What are you talking about Krysta? You should be proud! You are putting Sedro-Woolley on the map as part of the greater South Asian diaspora.”
“I think of that 12-year-old girl, and what Trixie would say if she could see me today: “Kid, you came a long way, but still you got so far to go.”
Krysta Walia performed this reading for Tasveer's Yoni Ki Baat 2018 at Seattle University. She wishes to thank Katie Shaw for help with developmental editing.
The Seattle Story Project: First-person reflections published at KUOW.org. To submit a story or note one you've seen that deserves more notice, contact Isolde Raftery at firstname.lastname@example.org or 206.616.2035.