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A bronca spell

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Órale, the Caló word of the week is bronca. It’s a noun that means a fight or conflict. It comes from the Spanish word, bronco, which means harsh, ungovernable, or brutish. In Caló, it means the tension that a bronco generates, not the fight itself but the bad feelings and unease that leads up to one.

The vato listened quietly as has daughter, Xochitl, again cried to her mother that Ivan had bullied her in their third grade class. It had been going one since the start of the school year six months earlier. The two kids had been friends in second grade, but Ivan’s parents’ separation that summer had turned the boy mean. And he took it out on his most vulnerable friends, the girls in his circle. The boys seemed to defend themselves—or not care. Xochi, being a friendly and emotive girl, was an easy mark that showed her stress, which invited Ivan to lean further into her with hateful remarks and feigned aggression.

“The more you ignore him and not let him see he’s hurt you, the faster he’ll move on,” Xochitl’s mother counseled.

Xochitl sobbed in desperation.

“If it get’s too bad, tell the teacher,” her mother added.

The little girl could not be consoled.

She looked up at her father, who tipped his chin at her. He had something to say, but he wouldn’t do it now. The girl noted it, and stopped sobbing, thinking maybe he would give her some relief.

That weekend, Xochitl sought out her father out of sight of her mother and asked his advice on handling Ivan.

“Nothing I do makes him stop. He just keeps saying bad things to me in front of everybody,” she said.

“It’s cuz he likes the bronca. Next time he does it, look right at him and tell him exactly what I’m about to say,’” the vato said, then launched into a favorite bronca spell from his youth.

“That’s it?” the girl asked.

“Simón. That’s all you have to say,” the vato responded.

Weeks later her mother picked her up at school and noted it had been a quite a while that Xochitl hadn’t showed up sad or complained of bullying.

“How’s it been going with that bully, mija,” her mother asked.

“Oh, he hasn’t talked to me or even come close in a long time,” the girl answered.

“So you tried what I told you,” her mother said.

“I did but it didn’t work. Then I said the spell Tata told me,” the girl said.

“What’s that?” her mother asked with a furrowed brow after a long pause.

“I told him have cousins in Juarez who’ll come and knock on his mother’s door and ask her if she’s been feeling OK lately,” the little girl said.

Her mother coughed uncontrollably and pulled over on the side of the road to steady herself.

“And he stopped with that?” she finally asked her daughter.

“Uhum. Didn’t say anything when I told him that. They say his mom told him to stay away from me,” the little girl said.

“I bet she did,” her mom said.

Oscar Rodriguez is the creator and host of Caló.