Today, as always, I finish mopping the hallway that floods during rainy season and dusting our humble collection, and I sit down to prepare a game for reader´s club. As soon as I sit down, I hear Richard tumble through the front door. ¨CHELA!¨(White girl) he announces, and three shushes of disapproval follow him as he shuffles to the table where I pretend to be very focused. He knows full well of the library´s low voices rule, and decides full well to violate it every day.
¨Hola, Richard,¨ I smile, noticing scars he has from his ear and under his eye, and the glaring gap between his two mustard front teeth. I decide to give him my time for a few minutes, though I always struggle between paying attention to kids and the tasks that keep the library functioning. ¨Como estás?¨
Richard has never been the politest kid. He is barely nine, but cat calls me from corners, and loves screaming GRINGA or CHELA everytime I pass his house. Though I know nothing of his family, I assume he has a hard home life. There are some kids with hard home lives who are still angels. I would not use this word to describe Richard. I feel like every moment he´s about to lift my skirt or tear a book to shreds.
This morning he wastes no time starting a fascinating conversation. ¨Is it true that you´re a gringa?¨ The direct way he asks the question demands my immediate presence. ¨Gringa¨ is, to many Nicaraguans, a derogatory term for someone from the United States, referring to the ¨green¨camoflauge of US troops, who have never been the nicest people to invade Nicaragua.
¨It´s true,¨ I answer, resolved to ask him not to call me that word any more. ¨What do you think of that?¨
¨Is it true that gringos are bad?¨
I blink into his unblinking eyes. I am suddenly aware that this eight-year-old may know more about the history of his country than I supposed.
¨Some of them are. Do you think I am?¨
¨No, you´re not. But they are. Mi papa has a video where they kill Sandino. And they kill a lot of children like me. So they´re bad.¨
Richard has taken my breath away. The United States did fund the dictatorship that led to Sandino´s assassination. And in the 30s, 40s, and 80s, US troops did commit atrocities against civilians, even children, who stood up to their regime. This still happens around the world.
I know this. I just never expected that an eight-year-old Nicaraguan would.
He continued spouting history, of the Battle of San Jacinto, where Nicaraguans finally defeated the despot William Walker, a gringo who had declared himself president of Nicaragua, and of Somoza, and of the current favored politically party, the Sandinistas, who historically opposed external meddling. My mouth and eyes widened steadily.
¨Richard,¨ I gush. ¨You´re right.It´s sad. Gringos did kill many people. There are many who are very, very bad.¨
¨But you´re not bad, chela, right?¨
¨I don´t think so, Richard. What do you think?¨
¨What´s your name?¨
(He makes the characteristically confused face). ¨Je-ders. Like that?¨
¨Yes. Very good,¨ I giggle.
¨Can I call you that now, chela? Jeders?¨
¨I would love you to call me that, Richard.¨
He takes off pirhouetting through the library, oblivious (or perhaps not) of our stern shushing. As I´m leaving the project for lunch, I hear him call at me through the gap in a tin fence. ¨Gringos are bad! Gringos are bad!¨
My blood begins to churn more quickly, and then I hear him say, ¨But you´re not, Jeders.¨