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This one is dedicated to all my Mexican brothers and sisters. Decades ago, the Mexican sandal was aerodynamically designed for butt whooping. It had the perfect weight and balance and fit in the palm of the parent’s hand with ergonomic precision. And it was decent footwear, too. But when that chancla started flying, children started crying. And yet we turned out alright–or at least we like to think so.

“¡Mueve la mano! Mueve la mano! Mueve la mano!”

You ran around in circles trying to dodge the pain. Once in a while it would slip or they’d miss and the sandal ended up across the room and you thought for a moment you were safe.

“¡Ahora tráigame la!!”

And of course you obeyed. You knew what was coming if you didn’t–more. I’ll never forget the day I had made my first set of nunchucks. I was a big fan of old television martial arts serials and I thought one day, I’d be a kung fu master. So I cut up an old broom stick, fashioned a small rope, and with the help of some electric tape, I had become a legend in my own mind. I don’t even remember how young I was.

One day I was twirling that thing around and around in my right hand in the living room and I thought I was pretty good. I figured I had mastered the right hand so I started whipping it around and over with my left hand when within half a second, I had shattered–no, obliterated the ceiling fan lamp globe that hung above. No sooner had reality set in than fear did–of the chancla.

I knew I was going to get it. My mind raced into overdrive to figure out a way to make this right before my dad got home. I decided that the best way was to make some money to either buy a new globe and replace it with a replica (maybe he wouldn’t notice!) or at least to give my my dad the money to cover the cost of replacing it. After cleaning up my mess, I raced to a neighbor’s home to see if I could wash a car or mow a lawn. I told her I needed to earn money that day and badly.

She had a friend or relative that needed work done in her yard and I was sold. So she drove me over there and it was clear on the other side of town. Not only was I way out of my comfort zone, I was in another world, totally foreign to me. To top it off, when I stepped into that back yard, there was no lawn, no garden. Just a blanket of weeds as tall as me that covered every square inch of that property. At this point, I don’t know which was worse, the hell I was about to endure or the dreaded chancla.

I spent hours and hours inching my way around, skillfully raising and lowering the mower to turn that weed infested jungle into a finely manicured weed bed. I had finally earned my money and returned home after what seemed like an eternity. Looking back, I don’t even remember the undying drudgery. I only remember my dad’s reaction when I told him everything that happened as soon as he walked in the front door. I’m not sure I ever saw my dad laugh so hard at this point in my life. This was not the reaction I had expected. I’m not sure if I felt humiliated or what. I think I just felt stupid. Could I have avoided the sandal of doom? Could I have avoided being taxied to the other side of the world into some kind of hell to labor as a servile captive?

I think the most important lesson I learned from this ignominious failure is to go with what you know. Yes, the chancla is one of the most dreadful things in a Mexican childhood, but it’s over relatively quickly, like pulling off a band-aid from a dried wound. As the old proverb goes, “better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.”

Did I ever stop swinging my nunchucks? Nope!!

 

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