There are many ways of being thrust into outsider status, as I well know from my own experience. I had never considered being non-Catholic as one of them— until I heard this story from the open-minded grandmother of a lively and curious child whose nickname is Nati.
Three-year-old Natalia skipped along, reluctantly allowing the babysitter to hold her hand. As they passed the village church, Natalia pointed with her free hand and said, “Look, a castle! It must be the house of a prince and a princess!”
The babysitter stopped abruptly and stared at the child. “No!” she said. “Not a castle! It’s the house of God, and we must make the sign of the cross. Like this.”
Natalia tilted her head toward her babysitter. “What?” Her three-year-old version of the Mexican, Mande? came out as Man’e?
The babysitter repeated the sign of the cross again. “Like this.”
Natalia’s puzzlement made her tip her head even more. “Man’e?” she asked again, in a voice even higher than her normal little-child pitch.
For the third time the babysitter made the motions and told Natalia it was the house of God. For the third time, Natalia’s voice saying “Man’e?”came out even higher-pitched in disbelief. Her little head was so tilted at the strangeness of her babysitter’s words and actions that the child nearly fell over on the sidewalk.
At last they moved on from the church and reached Natalia’s house. The babysitter related the incident to Natalia’s grandma in a hushed tone, almost as incredulous as the child had been. La abuela listened calmly as she gave Natalia her coloring tablet and crayons. “We are not Catholic, you see,” Natalia’s grandma matter-of-factly informed the babysitter.
The babysitter staggered backwards a step before she caught her balance. She mumbled some syllable of polite response to the elder, something that pretended to accept what she was hearing– information that, to the babysitter’s prejudiced point of view, thrust this innocent child and her family outside the acceptable.
Meanwhile, Natalia drew and colored, one ear tuned to the grown-ups. Readers peeking over her paper would see a crooked golden castle with a bell tower reaching into clouds. Leaning out of a window in the tower waving, there was a tiny stick figure, with an arrow pointing down to a word scribbled at the bottom of the page: Nati!
La Princesa, of course.