Fred Dickey's Island of Human Drama
BRAVO TO AN ACHIEVING TEEN, AND HIS TRULY AMERICAN STORY
BRAVO TO AN ACHIEVING TEEN, AND HIS TRULY AMERICAN STORY
By Fred Dickey Feb. 22, 2016
Every kid named Dinkelsbuhl will wish he had Kevin Bravo's last name.
"Bravo" is one beefeater of a surname. In English, it means a cheer. In Spanish, it means fierce or brave.
"It's a cool name. It's a very cool name. It definitely is a macho name," Kevin says.
But I wander off point.
Kevin Bravo is an exceptional young man, which he would also be were he named Dinkelsbuhl. He's a high-achieving junior at Escondido's San Pasqual High School, but he's also a model for generational transition, otherwise called growing pains.
Kevin is standing with his toes over the edge of a cultural diving board, and his Mexican immigrant mother is telling him the water is deep and cold and, well, who knows?
Don't worry mom, he says, I can swim.
Kevin is a first-generation kid, which means his family occupies the doorjamb between the "American way" and the old way.
Kevin's family is his mother, Olivia Gijon. He has an older sister, but she's out of the nest and moved away. It's Kevin and his mom.
His father? Oh, he's also in Escondido, they believe, but Kevin never sees him, and to hear him say it, it's no big loss.
"My father is a blank profile. He went away before I was born. I've probably seen him maybe four times in my whole life. He has several kids. Two go to my niece's school, and we were there for a back-to-school night or something, and he was there for his kids. I just saw him there."
What did you say to him?
"I didn't say anything. He's a stranger."
Kevin says he has met some of his father's other children, but no lasting bonds have been formed. Though they are half-siblings, the relationship glue of childhood is missing.
"When I was younger, I always thought, ‘Oh, I don't have a dad.' It's a sad thing. However, I now don't see it as anger or sorrow or loneliness. It's just the way it is. I know there are probably deeper emotions about this; I just haven't come across them."
His mother doesn't let the matter rest, often telling Kevin he's "Just like your dad."
He responds, "How am I like my dad?"
She says, "You look like him. You're as stubborn as he is."
He then tells her, "OK, but I don't want to be completely like him. I don't want to leave my kid for someone else."
He adds, "I won't do that to my own children. I want my children to have a better life than I do, as every other parent should want for their children. That's what I want in my future."
I tried 11 times over several days to contact Kevin's father to see what he thinks of his son's achievements. No luck. A shame.
Kevin may have a macho name, but he's far from that. He's an outgoing, cheerful kid who would rather negotiate an isosceles triangle than a basketball court. He's studious. He has a higher-pitched voice. He has no romantic girl-friend, but some of his best buddies are girls, and - you know where we're going with this.
"I get asked all the time if I'm gay. I get tired of it. It's one of my biggest pet peeves. I'll meet someone and they're like, ‘Are you gay?' I'm like, ‘No, I'm not.'
"My mom always asks me. She's like, ‘When are you going to get a girl-friend?' I don't know because right now my main interest is school. I really want to focus on that, and make sure I'm able to do the best I can without having other distractions."
For a 17-year-old guy, your attitudes are on the soft side, as opposed to macho. When I say "soft," I don't mean weak.
"Yes. I account for that by the fact that everyone in my life has always been a woman. There's never been a solid male figure in my life. It's always been my mom, my sister and me.
"I have some guy close friends, but once I start getting away from them and into my other just regular guy friends that I just say hi to, they're like - sports, football, basketball. I'm like, ‘I hate basketball. I hate watching it.'"
Kevin's true loves are math and science, and that has kept him within teasing distance of an "A" grade-point average. That and his life story have earned him a Simon Family Foundation college scholarship.
He gives thanks to his mother for having raised two children by herself. At age 58, she works in a restaurant kitchen at a job that requires lots of lifting. She leaves work bone-weary and returns home to a teenager who has his own way of doing things, many of which are foreign to her, in both meanings of the word.
The biggest misunderstanding they have that largely goes unspoken is his Americanization, to which she voices her doubts in Spanish. And that often leads to arguments.
He explains that he wants higher education to make money so she can have a comfortable home and no longer will have to wrestle heavy pots and pans in a noisy restaurant kitchen.
In reply, Kevin says she tells him, "All you want to do is go away. You have no appreciation for your home. I don't know why you're like this. You're just like every other person here."
He responds by saying, "I'm not unhappy here, I just want to go see the world. I want to experience different things, and I don't just want to be here the rest of my life. It's not where I see myself."
Is she afraid you're losing your Latinoism, if I may create a word?
"That's something I've always wondered about. I appreciate my heritage, but then there's the ideals of America. But I'm never going to be ashamed that I'm of Mexican ancestry."
Have you been to Mexico?
"I went once when I was 4. It's very hard to remember it."
From her viewpoint, Olivia's fears make sense: immigrating to a strange country, left alone by the father of her son, facing an empty-nest future in a job incompatible with advancing years. Show me an older mother who wouldn't empathize.
The "cultural wars" at fortress Bravo have their amusing aspects.
"She gets mad at me because I don't like a lot of Mexican food like nopales."
How do you spell that?
"It's n-o-p-a-l-e-s, I think. That's cactus. I hate it."
Do you mean prickly pear? It's delicious.
"I don't like it. I think it's very gross. She thinks I only want to eat junk food. When she's, like, ‘I'm going to make caldo de res,' I'm like, ‘I hate soup.' Like, soup is for when you're sick."
Little things can be stand-ins for bigger things.
"She gets mad at me a lot for that, and she's saying that I don't appreciate it and that I don't appreciate who I am. She calls me a racist about Mexicans. I'm like, ‘Do you know what a racist is, mother?' She's like, ‘Yes, it's what you are.' I'm like, ‘Just because I don't like Mexican food doesn't mean I'm racist.' She says it in total seriousness. She'll yell at me and she'll say, ‘You're a racist.' I'm like, ‘I'm not saying I don't like Mexicans. I'm just saying I don't like some Mexican food.'"
When I'm with them, they're laughing and hugging. However, when the next meal is on the table, the truce will be in jeopardy.
Olivia also said her son spends too much time on his computer and doesn't help enough around the house. That's a real-life "multicultural" issue that will cause every parent to rally to her side.
Some immigrants have brought with them their own brand of nativism, or you could call it ground-zero racism. Kevin says he sometimes hears the charge of "white-washed" thrown at him, but it's always from Mexican-American students who are underachieving.
When he hears the white-washed accusation, he says, "Yes, yes I am."
He says groups tend to cluster in the schoolyard, and though he'll stop by the Latino group, most of his time is spent with the white and Asian group.
"I get along well with them. We can talk about anything, and we could talk for hours."
Kevin is what some might call a "new American." I put it in quotes and without a hyphen because it's a made-up term. Kevin's not a hyphen guy. In his mind, he's just an American.
Fred Dickey's home page is freddickey.net. He believes every life is an adventure and welcomes ideas at [email protected]
© Copyright 2016 The San Diego Union-Tribune. All rights reserved.