Photography and words by Alyssa Castro
Ed. Note: In this photo essay, Alyssa Castro takes time to reintroduce the Merced she knows and lives in to her older brother Ignacio, who is currently incarcerated.
I know I don’t write very often, sometimes it’s hard for me to come up with the words to say. I don’t like asking how you’ve been or what you’ve been doing because those questions run up against the harsh reality that you’ve been in and out of prison most of our lives. I hope you know with certainty that I miss you all the time and you are so loved by our family.
Instead of small talk, I want to share with you experiences I encounter in my day-to-day life. I absolutely love the taco truck on Yosemite parkway by Merced Liquor. I enjoy the atmosphere of that taco truck. It’s always busy with people shouting orders, and the sound of footsteps coming and going. The aromas of carne asada, chicken, and other dishes escape from the truck and surround the area. But I don’t just go there for the delicious tacos. I also go for the neon sign high above it.
I ride the bus often and am frequently offered advice from different parents about raising Luka, your nephew. I like taking Luka to the library.
If we’re not on the bus, Luka and I walk almost everywhere we go. During our walks I find these tiny details in Merced that I’ve come to appreciate, like the way the light reflects off the windows of a particular building near the corner of M and Main. Most anywhere you go in Merced you can see a homeless person. I’ve met a few. I’ve even become accustomed to passing mom’s memorial every day.
The old theater downtown has been reopened. I guess it was a big deal for a while when it first opened up. The city also rebuilt the Bradley Overpass over by Golden Valley High School, and built an underpass on 23rd street by Bernie’s Liquor.
Our nieces and nephews are growing up so fast. I can’t wait for them to see you. I’m struggling to find the words to continue this conversation, I just hope you’ve enjoyed seeing what a piece of my life is like. See you in 2016.
Your sister Alyssa
When mom died, I didn’t cry for a long time. I was so hurt, I felt like I hadn’t gotten any closure with her. We never really talked or spent time together. After she passed, crossing the tracks or going anywhere near them would get me emotional. The more time went by, the easier it became. The first year was the hardest. I thought about you a lot during that time. It worried me to think of you mourning our mother alone.
The 23rd Street Overpass, another new addition to Merced’s landscape, holds special significance for me. Since I walk most everywhere I go in town, I was able to see the construction of this overpass firsthand. There were nights I had to walk past it to go home and times I would seek out the solitude of the construction site as a place to reflect.
This is my son, your nephew, Luka. He has been the most unexpected blessing in my life. With all the surprises that came with his birth, the most impactful was the fact that I don’t think I have ever loved someone as much as I love Luka. He’s forced me to be more responsible and outspoken. We’re growing together at an alarming rate. Mona and Millie, your cousin and sister, mention that some of his features and proportions remind them of you.
Your four year-old niece Miley is creative in every aspect of her life, whether it’s finding her way out of trouble, sneaking an extra snack before bed or drawing a picture to give someone. Miley will not fail to make you laugh within minutes of being with her.
Haidyn, your eight year-old nephew, likes to control the remote. He knows what he likes to eat and will tell you if something doesn’t meet his standards. Similar to his wrestler role models, Haidyn is brave and opinionated.
Your niece Stephanie is witty and intelligent beyond her 12 years of age. It always puts a smile on my face to see how much leadership has surfaced in her personality. She enjoys her solitude, so it’s fitting that her favorite part of home is sitting high in a tree in the front yard, where her siblings can’t reach her.
Merced Liquor is one of the many corner liquor stores in Merced. It seems everyone has their favorite one where they’ve formed a relationship with the cashier through multiple daily visits. I pick my corner store for its aesthetics, which is what I appreciate about Merced Liquor. They have a giant sign that looks really cool at night.
Ken Hamilton is 63 and has been houseless in Merced for 23 years. He’s partially blind and can’t speak clearly due to a laryngectomy. It was overcast the day I met him by the taco truck in front of Merced Liquor. He told me about a near death experience he had seven years ago at UC Davis where he was revived after 25 minutes of being technically dead.
The old theatre on Main Street is finally open again! The building holds years of history in the city. It’s probably our most memorable building so in a way it is an icon for many Mercedians. To see it come back to life has been exciting.