Every time I tell this story, I want it to be about how not all men have a price. That when in the thick of it, with his back against the wall—in a word, bien jodido—a man doesn’t give in.

But my papi wasn’t a telenovela wetback, didn’t have hazel eyes or a strong jaw like García Bernal, the kind that made panties drop. He was one of those stout mulattos who knew his place from a young age. Self-diagnosed más negro que negroid. Was prone to patting his pockets when we passed black people on the sidewalk, even though his moms was darker than the coffee beans he helped her pick as a kid. And all that was a symptom really. Of the emasculation. Of the names his own papi called him growing up. Of the challenge inherited by all who leave their native land and take those first dusty steps into los EEUU, only to arrive below average height, below average worth.

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