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Southern California's Young Faces : Cover Story

Independent

Like Her Mother, Yaminia Ubeso Is Fearless and Resolute--Even When Facing Down Neighborhood Toughs.

April 22, 2001|SUSAN STRAIGHT | Susan Straight last wrote for the magazine about the lessons her familylearned while responding to the 2000 census

What's it like to come of age in a place defined by outsiders and their cliches: surf, gang turf, Hollywood, Vine, the land of milk and honey? Do our children grow up too soon? Is Southern California the great springboard to a life of opportunity? On the following pages you'll find 17 children who are moving toward adulthood. Their stories are not the stuff of headlines or extremes: young criminals, star athletes, child movie stars. Rather, we went in search of "typical" kids. We talked to teachers, parents, tutors, coaches, counselors and school officials. Scores of names tumbled out. We then asked a dozen writers to spend time with these kids, and to try to find the small slice of each one that said something about their lives in Southern California. It is, we hope, a telling collage.

*

Yaminia Ubeso's bus is late. It's nearly 4 p.m., and the parents gathered on this street in Riverside's Eastside grow more anxious. Someone says the bus has been in a minor accident, and the parents run to another corner, where the bus will finally arrive.

Yaminia's father, Fernando, and mother, Bremermann, race down the narrow street, past the apartment complexes with their stark canyon walls and veins of black-barred iron.

My daughter Delphine and I wait too. Yaminia is in Delphine's fourth-grade class, and all year Delphine has told me about her friend's fiercely studious ways, her beauty, her willingness to join Delphine in a football game, the only other girl to brave the jeers and surreptitious shoves of boys who think girls should just clean up and be quiet.

At 7 that morning, as she does every day, 10-year-old Yaminia walked to the bus an hour early so she would be first aboard. Her mother supervises 90 apartments. Bremermann, born in Tijuana, was named after a German/Guatemalan grandmother and gave her daughter a name she derived from one of her passions: Yum Yum Donuts. She is the source of her daughter's fierceness.

The family moved from La Barca, outside Guadalajara, where Fernando was born and wanted to raise his kids, when Bremermann realized how limited opportunities were for Yaminia, then 5. After periods in Rialto and Colton, Bremermann moved the family to La Paz, in Riverside, where she kicked gang members out of two apartments. They had been robbing tenants and selling drugs. In halting English, Fernando says he was afraid for her as she bravely threw the young men out and moved families in, ordering paint and carpet and peace in no uncertain terms. "I wasn't scared," Bremermann says, shrugging. "I'm the manager."

Yaminia waves at us from the bus, where the children are hot and sweaty, uninjured in the fender-bender. Parents call out to their children. Bremermann folds her arms and says, "She's fine." But Fernando waits near the window until Yaminia descends. He picks her up and holds her for a long minute, kissing her fervently on the cheek. Her brother, Fernando Jr., a second-grader, attends the same school, as does her sister, Yennis, who is in kindergarten. But they ride different buses.

Yaminia loves school with a passion I recognize. She stays inside at lunch when she can to work on projects rather than roam the playground with other Spanish-speaking girls. She told me she wants to be a first-grade teacher, but her father tells me that he wants her to be a doctor or a lawyer. She gets straight A's, her father says, while we sit inside their apartment. He began as a janitor in an onion-ring factory in Colton and worked his way up to line supervisor. But he can't get another promotion until his English improves, Bremermann explains. He nods. "I want to go to school, for the English."

He shows me a scrapbook of Yaminia's school awards. Photos show her clove-dark eyes and lips held carefully closed, smiles often guarded. She has told me that she explains her assignments and school papers to her father; I imagine a voice as patient as a teacher's.

Yaminia and Delphine go to play in the courtyard. Kids stampede and laugh and argue along the well-worn trails of cement. The girls come in quickly, and Yaminia says something in Spanish to her parents. They speak mostly Spanish at home, but Yaminia's English is almost accentless. Boys outside were making two dogs fight. The girls got scared.

Yaminia says she spends little time in the courtyard. Later, Delphine tells me, "Boys say things to her all the time. She hates it."

In the bedroom shared by the three siblings, Yaminia sits on her bed while Delphine plays with the Nintendo. Under Yaminia's mattress is her sister's trundle bed. On the otherwise bare wall above is taped her envelope of Valentines from class.

Yaminia doesn't look at the Nintendo. On her lap she holds an old encyclopedia of traditional poems, stories and fairy tales, something her mother bought used. She reads it over and over, she tells me, because her homework is done and she's waiting for her next assignment.

Outside, shouts and laughter and car horns and loud music compete for the narrow slices of falling night air, but Yaminia is not here at all. She is waiting for Monday.

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