Fall 2022, Volume 33

Fiction by Casandra Hernandez Rios



Living in México feels like an endless marathon—one runs with a certitude toward a dream—money and finer things—that can only be claimed at the finish line. Except, the dream is like a fantasma, no one has actually seen it, but many juran it is real. So, it is kept alive by the fear of what could happen if any one of them stops running.

The dream floats finely on whispers and is deftly shared from person to person. The finishers are also only phantoms; they claim their prize when they reach the end and disappear with it to never be seen or heard from again. Everyone wants the trophy and wants to believe they run for something real.

It makes María laugh and cry that she, too, is caught in the current. The fear of stopping a few meters from the finish is greater than the sospecha that she is a fool.



In junior high, her friends and teachers began to call her by her last name: Budet. Her first name, María de Jesús, was not as pretty as Stephanie or as musical as Julie. Her last name was not American but was less familiar in origin than her first. If it hadn’t been for Mr. Dombrowski, her disappointed cheerleading coach, who spent most practices shouting at Budet because she was more of a risk than an asset to the squad, María would have soon tried to change her name to Marie.

Her name had only brought María shame, though she had been christened after a notable Spañola who was a nun and a mystic writer of the 1600s. Her father, on the other hand, would interpret office receptionists’ or school administrators’ stumbles or mal pronunciaciones of María’s full name as assist-signals. With animated gestures, her father would lean into those who struggled with the name, or who only said “María,” and with his labios, he’d exaggerate his only daughter’s name: MA-RI-Ah deh Hay-SOOS. He’d wait three seconds, and with his hand, motion the person to join him: “MA-RI-Ah deh Hay-SOOS” they both would sing. If there was time, he’d glow and lose himself in the history and literary significance of the nombre. No one ever stopped him.

María was certain that what tripped people most about her name was Hay-SOOS. Sometimes she wished that her parents were more like her Latina friends, who bleached their hair with peroxide and said “like” after every natural pause, but who had a healthy sense of embarrassment for being darker than most and for speaking Spanish at home.


La Fiesta

The last birthday Budet spent in Los Angeles was her fourteenth. Her father Horacio and mother Patricia organized a barbecue and invited the neighbors and a few of Budet’s friends. The Friedmans from across the street attended the party; the neighborhood kid who somehow was always around, Albert Guerra, and who couldn’t roll his R’s, was there too; Budet’s friends from school—Margarita and Elena—took their younger siblings, como condición. Aquiles, the 9th-grader who was sort of Budet’s boyfriend, was not invited, claro.

Los adultos gathered around the grill and hung back under the cover of the back porch; the rest orbited around Margarita, who was dangling from the swing chair that Budet and her father had hung from the thickest bough of the largest tree in their backyard the summer before. Margarita was also fourteen, but she was experienced and, even though they were all blushing and pretending she was escandalosa, they wanted to hear about her experience with boys.

They didn’t know it then, but Budet’s birthday party was also an Adiós—in God’s hands was their future, and also their future grandchildren’s lives, who’d risk it all to return home from México.

On the 4th of July, as fireworks lit and opened the sky, Budet and her parents made their way to the airport for a plane that would take them to México City. They didn’t explain to Budet the reasons for leaving, except that it was the best thing right now. Though she knew there was something they weren’t telling her, sabía mejor than to ask for explanations.

The noche before Budet called Aquiles: “We’re moving to México and leaving tomorrow.” “Oh. Okay,” he said. “I guess that means we have to break-up,” she said. He said okay, and Budet ended the call with a “bye.” She didn’t expect him to call her back, but she had hoped only because it was what happened in romantic movies—boy realizes he can’t live without girl. But Budet and Aquiles weren’t in a película romántica; she and he could and would be able to live without each other.



She entered México’s education system a year behind because it took months for the education department to grant Budet equivalency for her entire education in the United States. The Directora of the secundaria, where her parents had elected to enroll her, recommended that she be held back a year; they didn’t attempt to dissuade the Directora. Her parents were rule-followers and the word of authority was absoluta. Giving Budet time to acclimate to a new grading system and different subjects before entering the preparatoria (10th-12th grade) seemed like a sound recommendation.

At first, Budet thought it unfair and ridiculous that she was being held back; she had taken Honors classes in middle school and had been a straight-A student. When it became clear that her reproaches would have no influence on the situation, she stopped fighting. Nothing mattered anymore, all of her hard work and her previous aspirations of being the best were nullified by this move. She was in a country that wasn’t home; where the foreign should have been the familiar; where the people she lived with— familia—were strangers. Her padres had embarrassed her before but, with this, they had broken her espíritu.


Centro Comercial

Budet’s family moved in with her mother’s three younger sisters—las tías—who lived in a large two-bedroom apartment in México City, across the street from the Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana, where they had completed their graduate studies several years prior. They hadn’t married, which is why out of toda la familia in the city, they were the ones who could host them, temporadamente. There weren’t enough beds, but Budet’s mother and her sisters had been raised to sleep three to a bed.

The only benefit to having too many people living in the same quarters was that when anyone went out, it wasn’t questioned. So Budet spent a lot of time outdoors, mostly walking around the mall by herself. Centros comerciales were the same anywhere in the world, she realized: high vaulted glass ceilings, polished marble on walkways, shiny architectural trimmings, strategically designed seating areas, all obvious attempts at maintaining the shopper a dentro. For Budet it was the different types of lighting—task, general, decorative, accent—that overwhelmed her, but now these glaring lights brought her comfort.

She found the Adidas store along her stroll and decided to go in to see if they had the white low-top shelltoe shoes that her parents had got her for her cumpleaños before they left Los Angeles. She was wearing them. In fact, it was the only pair of shoes she wore since they had arrived en el extranjero.

Evenly spaced shelves on slatwalls held shoes with the brand’s distinct three stripes up to customers, as if the clear shelving were pedestals and the merchandise something precioso to be admired. Budet glazed over the merchandise until she found the shelltoe display.

“Están padres tus tenis,” someone said behind her.

Budet turned around to find a tall, somewhat handsome, store sales associate. His nametag read, “Renato.”

“Gracias,” she said, as she looked down at her white shoes. She had cleaned them that morning; the stripes were color mauve.

“We don’t have that color here,” Renato said.

“Yeah, I noticed.”

“Soy, René,” the boy said, who now Budet was realizing was just a few years older than her. She finally thought of Aquiles, though she hadn’t in months.

“Budet,” she said and stuck her right hand out for a handshake.

René grinned. “No eres de aquí, verdad?”

“No,” she said, and smiled.

He took her hand but didn’t shake it.  Instead, he pulled her in and kissed Budet on the left cheek and then the right.


La Fama

Popularity had never been something that Budet had sought. Margarita had been good at being popular, but Budet thought that the more she went unnoticed, the better. She was uncomfortable with the idea of others taking note of what she did or said or didn’t say or do, except in México.

It didn’t start out that way, though. René introduced Budet to his friends, who lived in the same area as she did. As it turned out, CDMX (México City) was a big, small ciudad; people within boroughs knew each other because, even if work took them out of the neighborhood they had grown up in and gone to school; families never moved.

All it took to become popular was to tell the truth, which was easy and counterintuitive to how Budet understood one went about maintaining a reputation. It had always seemed difficult work to keep track of lies and to pretend to be more self-ruling, in action and thought, than was realidad. Budet understood that the narratives Margarita told were fiction, and that if Margarita’s mother had heard her speak about boys the way she had, she would have slapped Margarita all the way back to their family’s rancho in Jalisco.

It all began with the Adidas shoes at a pool hall where Budet met René and his friends. René told his friends Budet was gringa, and they all offered unguarded versions of surprised expressions:

“Órale, que padre!”

“A poco si?”

“No mames, en serio?”

“Que chido!”


Budet smiled at René’s friends, and accepted their expresiones de interés as recognition of their status as being different than hers. If she lied at all, it was in affirmation of René’s statement because, technically, he was incorrect. A gring(a/o) is an American, who is not Latino or Hispanic. She later learned that in México, the term includes anyone who is born in the United States.



Among the many things Budet learned during her first year of secundaria was that she did care what people thought of her. The only time her spíritu caught fire was inside the classroom, where alumnos were seated according to their standing in the course.

On the first day, Budet was instructed to take any of the empty seats at the back of the classroom. During lessons, when profesores asked questions, it stung that she didn’t know the answer. When she got essays back, they were heavily marked. Her Spanish profesora was kind with her comments: “Tu español esta mejorando. Sigue hechandole ganas!” The only subject Budet found easy was English, the intermediate foreign language course she needed in order to complete her plan of study for the year. But even in this subject she felt like an outsider; her peers and the instructor gawked at Budet when she read a short passage or pronounced a new word, as she wrote it in cursive on the chalkboard.

Her peers treated Budet like she was infallible and didn’t require more from her than what she already was. Whenever she tried to express how she felt, her best friend Tania struggled to understand her: “Sufres por ser perfecta?” Sometimes Budet couldn’t find the right words and other times she simply couldn’t explain her loneliness because she didn’t understand it either. Her parents were always working—working for the apartment they had found near her school, for the appliances, the school supplies, and clothes—all were suddenly too much to afford than before.

She stopped seeing René on the weekends and spent every free minute studying for her classes. In all but español, she immediately began to memorize concepts, definitions, formulas, charts, and recited these on her walks to and from school. By the conclusion of the second trimester, Budet’s report card had 10s (A) in matemáticas, química, inglés, física, música, historia, and educación física. By the end of the year, she earned an A in Spanish too.


Dejar De Correr

Maybe México is not to blame but living here felt like running after something abstract that every person makes real with their sueños. Or perhaps, staying in motion is the way people here tricked themselves into believing they were not under the shadow of the country up north, but rather under its luz. Its influence touched all aspects of life—food, entertainment, fashion, education, healthcare—and access to these were determined by its currency: el dólar. Happy Meals were only afforded by the elite; the general population waited weeks, sometimes months, for popular films to be released by the U.S.; fashion trends arrived like hand-me-downs, when they’ve already been outgrown and no longer utíl; education and access to healthcare suffered the same fate and it was easier to simply not have them.

Pesos were backbreaking to earn, but even if it meant spending one’s week wage to walk the malls, go to the movies, buy brands, people kept running for the dream and were happy.
The translation of “earn” in Spanish is ganar, and Budet had heard her parents speak of money as something they had won (ganar).

Knowing the traducción of words had never been this saddening. And now, Budet realized that if she wanted to find the meaning of vivir, she would have to leave. She had many things in México that she didn’t have before, but they weren’t hers to keep.




BIO: Casandra Hernández Ríos received her MFA in Creative Writing, Fiction, from CSU Long Beach. Her fiction has appeared in The Bangalore Review, In Parentheses, Spectrum Literary Journal, Two Sisters, and the Santa Ana River Review. Casandra was born in México, raised in Los Angeles, California, and now she writes from Denver, Colorado.