“Abre el piquito pajarito,” my dad would say to me every Sunday morning at the dining table. His famous words, calling me his little bird, grew fondly in my heart, and every Sunday, there I was, sitting in my favorite chair, waiting for my dad to sit beside me.
When people asked me what day of the week was my favorite, I responded with Sunday. I’d get comments like, “Why would you choose Sunday?” or “Wouldn’t Friday or Saturday be ideal?” Since I was six years old, Sunday has become the blessed day in my household. Not because my parents dragged my brothers and me to church, or the usual Chinese buffet right after. No, because it was the only full day of the week that I had with my farmworker father, despite living with him in the same household.
After breakfast, my dad and I would harness our German Shepherd, Daisy, and he would walk around the block while I peddled away on my bike. We’d make a pit stop at the park and sit at the now-destroyed table between two trees, where we had once engaged in a game of dominos and ultimately lost our pieces to the hole in the middle of the table –– never finding them again.
Across the park, my dad would take me to purchase candy from the “candy lady,” as I remembered her. He let me fill out a small bag of candy for my brothers and me, and afterward, I would peddle while he walked back home. Upon arrival, my dad and I would work on word search puzzles, ironically all in English, despite my father speaking Spanish.
Later that same Sunday, my dad would take me to bed, in which I begged and begged for the same bedtime story. He’d always tell me my favorite one, “El tututututu” a made-up story about two little boys being neighbors. However, one is rich, and one is poor. The rich little boy has everything he wants except for the “tututututu” the poor boy has. The rich boy’s father begins searching for the toy but can’t find it until he approaches the poor boy and promises him clothes, toys and food if he can see the “tututututu.” The ending was always my favorite part as my father prepared to emphasize the story’s end. The poor boy runs inside his home, enters his bathroom, grabs an empty toilet paper roll, runs back outside, and shouts, “tututututu!” I’d always end up giggling and receiving a kiss on my cheek, and soon the lights turned off.
A few years later, this changed. Our Sundays were cut short. My dad’s famous quote continued. But I no longer rode a bike, and he no longer walked around the block.
“Abre el piquito pajarito,” my dad said, this time 360 miles away behind a phone as he arrived at the fields to work as a migrant field worker to support our family. This became a yearly cycle my brothers had to endure before I was born, and ultimately landed on me too. From early July to late November, my dad lived in Central California to escape the desert heat brewing in the Coachella Valley –– reaching 120º Fahrenheit, sometimes even higher.
I only saw him during special occasions like back-to-school shopping or my birthday, though this was always tricky. My birthday in September was only celebrated on my birth date if it landed Friday through Sunday, so my dad could commute without missing work. Instead, we’d celebrate it a weekend ahead or a weekend after; thus, the cycle continued yearly –– in which I soon began to dread Sundays as they continued to be cut short.
Despite not seeing him in person, my dad made it his duty to call or text me before school and before going to sleep. We talked every day and had a routine before going to sleep. My dad would make me recite “Ángel de la Guarda,” a prayer he taught me after getting lost in my hometown when I was eight. Until this day, at 20 years old, my dad continues to recite this prayer with me before going to sleep.
Though It wasn’t until COVID hit in 2020 that my dad stayed home that entire year. I graduated high school and began to attend my local community college as we switched to asynchronous and synchronous learning. My dad was one of my biggest supporters throughout this period. In 2021, when he had the chance to migrate again, he decided not to and began working closer to home. He saw me graduate from my community college in 2022 and cheered me on while I received acceptance letters from four-year universities.
This time, it was me leaving him 120 miles behind once I chose to attend California State University, Long Beach. The cycle we were once familiar with continued, and while this fact had me crying the day he helped me settle into my apartment. He told me how incredibly proud of me he was. I never saw my dad cry as much as he did when he drove off, and maybe it was because I was the youngest out of four, leaving the bird’s nest or knowing that I’d be the first of his four children to obtain a bachelor’s degree.
One thing is for certain between the pinky promise I made to my dad at 10-years-old –– I was going to study and pursue higher education so that his hard work would pay off because he wanted me nowhere near the grapevines like him. Little did he know, I wanted to be just like him growing up. I realized all the sacrifices and obstacles he endured, and while Sundays were hard on me, they were hard on him too.
For over a decade, my dad has carried a picture of him and me in his wallet as a reminder of why he has to work as hard as he has been. Whenever he missed me during his time away, he’d open his wallet to remind him that I’m waiting for him back home.
“Abre el piquito pajarito,” my dad still says at the dining table, promising to continue saying this quote until he can no longer. I quickly discovered how fortunate I am to have him not only as my dad but as my best friend.