When I was 13 I became acutely aware of the need to have a zombie role model. By then my mom had moved us from the run-down house in Boyle Heights. The house was infested with cockroaches (which I secretly snacked on when my mom wasn’t looking). Anyway, we moved to a new house in Lincoln Heights. It didn’t have roaches and I missed that but the toilet in the new house flushed much better and we had a front lawn!
I was now attending Lincoln Middle School. One Monday morning, my homeroom teacher Mr. Montañez came in looking very, very sad. He told the class that the labor and civil rights leader César Chávez had died the Friday before. Until then I had never heard of this guy Chávez but Mr. Montañez explained that César Chávez had spent his whole life working so that farm workers could live in dignity, earn decent wages and have health care. The more he spoke about this guy Chávez, the more I began to admire him. He had organized a union and had gone head to head with the big growers in California and actually won contracts. Wow, what a guy.
“He is a true role model for all of you,” Mr. Montañez said to the class.
Later that afternoon, I walked home with my new friend, Ricky Acuna. Ricky was a nerd like myself and we had immediately hit if off on my second day of school when we saw that both of us were carrying paperback copies of Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers. We soon became close friends but I had to always make sure that my deodorant was working and had to watch my drool extra careful–I really liked Ricky and didn’t want to mess the friendship. Anyway, Ricky told me that his dad had hung up a photo of Chavez in the family living room and did I want to see it. I said sure and we went to his house and I saw this framed photo of Chavez right there in the living room above the mantel.
“He’s really someone to look up to, eh Lazo? A real role model” Ricky said.
“Yeah, he sure is.” I replied.
I hadn’t really thought much about role models but now I was suddenly obsessed with the idea. On the way home I began to think that Chavez was a great role model for Ricky. And, because I was also Mexican, I supposed he was a good role model for me as well. But I was different from Ricky, I’m Mexican AND Zombie. What about my zombie side? Wasn’t there some great zombie leader that I could look up to?
I began to wish that César Chávez could have been a zombie.
And then I thought of something Mr. Montanez had said, that Chávez had undertaken a long fast that had nearly killed him. I began to wonder, what if Chávez HAD died and like myself had come back to life but had kept his zombie side hidden–the same way I did everyday? I mean how would anyone know? And if he had been a zombie, that certainly hadn’t kept him from doing great things for humanity.
Well, that boosted my spirits right away! Yeah, I thought, any one of the great leaders I had heard about like Abraham Lincoln, Benito Juarez and Martin Luther King could have been like me–hidden zombies. And that had not stopped them.
Maybe I could do the same thing when I grew up–be a leader, do good for people like César Chávez had. Even though I was a zombie.
That night I looked up at the walls in my new bedroom and realized that there was nothing there that made me feel good about being a zombie. I was always hiding my zombie side, like I was ashamed. My mom didn’t help any either–she was terrified that someday someone would discover that she had dug me up from the grave and brought me back to life. Always with her, “No le vayas a decirles a NADIE!” But in my heart of hearts I knew this was not right. I shouldn’t feel ashamed of who I am!
That night I decided that I needed a zombie role model.
So the next Saturday I got up early and took the bus to downtown Los Angeles and from there another bus to Hollywood Boulevard to the Larry Edmunds film bookstore. On the bus people started edging away from me and I realized I had forgotten to dose myself with deodorant. But I didn’t let that get in my way. By then I was thoroughly familiar with zombie movies and I realized that the closest thing I had for role models were the nasty creatures scurrying about in movies like Night of the Living Dead, The Omega Man, Dawn of the Dead and The Crazies.
Okay, I reasoned, maybe the zombies in those movies weren’t the greatest heroes in the world but at least they weren’t ashamed of being zombies. I needed to reinforce my sense of zombieness. So I perused the Larry Edmunds collection of movie posters and selected three large size posters. One was for the classic 1968 movie Night of the Living Dead, another was a yellowed poster for the 1957 film Zombies of Mora Tau and my favorite, something I could really identify with, a poster for the 1987 movie I Was A Teenage Zombie! Yes, that was me!
I returned home really happy. I put the zombie posters on the wall of my bedroom with thumb tacks. I sat back to admire my work when my mom walked in. “Por Dios!” she exclaimed. “What have you done! You get those terrible things off the wall at once!” Well, of course, we got into a big argument. I explained to her why I needed the posters. Once she understood it made me feel good about myself she finally gave in. Aren’t Mexican moms great!
But I was still not satisfied with my wall. Finally, I realized what was missing. The next day I skipped school and found my way to the Farm Workers Union in Los Angeles. I returned to the new house and my new bedroom with a framed photo of Cesar Chavez which I hung up on the wall in between the zombie posters.
Although there was absolutely no proof that César Chávez had been a zombie, there was certainly no proof that he HADN’T been a zombie. As far as I was concerned he was my hero, my zombie role model! Copyright 2012 Lazaro De La Tierra and Barrio Dog Productions Inc.
Copyright 2012 by Lazaro De La Tierra and Barrio Dog Productions Inc.