amada.jpg by Peter Schmidtke

The orange Chuck E. Cheese balloon trapped against the high white ceiling of Amada Morales and Curtis Green’s one-bedroom apartment is too much for one-year-old Jordan. He peers up at it and giggles while his mother tickles the curls that form a natural mohawk atop his head, his face all eyes and smile. Morales, 19, and her 21-year-old boyfriend Green celebrated their son’s birthday the previous day with about 15 of their family and friends, and indications of the celebration still remain in their Auer Avenue apartment — a covered birthday cake in the kitchen, toy trucks scattered around the living room floor, and a half dozen or more birthday cards sprawled next to the sofa chair where Morales holds Jordan and talks about her life in Riverwest, her studies at Marquette, and her aspirations for the future. It doesn’t take too long to figure out that she and her boyfriend go way back. “We’ve known each other pretty much all of our lives,” Morales says about Green, who is catnapping in the bedroom, sleeping off the hectic responsibilities of the day before. “When we were 10 or 11, we would just hang out with a group of neighborhood kids and do everything together, mostly at Gordon Park, plus painting and crafts and stuff at the Y (the YMCA Holton Youth Center) in the wintertime,” she says. They started dating in their early high school years at Riverside High, and last December, during Morales’ first year at Marquette University, Jordan came into the world. “It was a surprise,” she says with a nod towards Jordan, her curly black hair pulled back. “But I don’t regret it, and I just strive to fit him into my life.” She and Green receive child care money from the state which they use to send Jordan to the Children’s Outing Association (COA) on Garfield Avenue, where she and her brother, Bennie, went when they were her son’s age. Morales also works part-time as a clerk at Usinger’s Sausage downtown. Her son’s arrival came during her winter break, and she laughs when she thinks about how determined she was to have him during her time off. “My teachers were all really impressed,” Morales says as Jordan pulls the cord of a nearby toy, activating a few bluesy notes. She talks about her semester’s course load of theology, history, psychology, and Spanish, and she lets slip that she has a 10-page paper she must start and finish after Jordan settles down. Fortunately she has a computer in the apartment and an avid interest in the topic. An Equal Opportunity Program (EOP) scholarship she applied for has allowed Morales to attend Marquette. Originally she wanted to go to school in Miami, but she became homesick when she visited the campus to check things out. “The big thing is, when you’re in high school, everyone says, ‘Oh, I want to get out of here, I want to leave the state.'” After her visit, she wasn’t so sure. Now at Marquette, she has a double major in journalism and Spanish and a minor in history. The work Morales did at the Strive Media Institute while in high school cemented her decision to major in broadcast journalism. At Strive, a non-profit mentoring and training program gives students experience in mass communications, Morales wrote articles about diverse topics including a trip to Cuba to see relatives. She also wrote anti-smoking columns for GUMBO magazine for Fighting Against Corporate Tobacco (FACT), for which she was a Milwaukee representative. “And in the television show I was on (Teen Forum on ABC), I learned a lot a lot about editing and presenting yourself. Even when I was little, I watched 20/20 on Friday nights,” she remembers. Despite growing up speaking both Spanish and English with her Mexican mother, Bertha, and Cuban step-father, Bernard, she is also majoring in Spanish to perfect her grammar skills and give her journalism career a boost when she graduates. “When I’m speaking Spanish, I’m actually a pretty poor speaker,” she claims. “And that’s pretty common for people who grow up in bilingual families – you can understand everything, but when it comes to speaking, you sometimes get tripped up.” In addition, Morales says that her blended Hispanic background created a “unique” way of speaking. “There was the Cuban Spanish and the Mexican Spanish with my parents, and I heard Puerto Rican Spanish from my friends and other family, so sometimes I don’t know which way to go when I talk,” Morales says with a shrug and a laugh, placing the phone back on the hook after Jordan yanks it off to put the oversize receiver to his ear. Although the late morning light has just started to flood the apartment and Morales looks comfortable lounging in a Marquette t-shirt, she has managed to get up for church services at St. Francis on Brown Street. “I think I may be the youngest adult there — I just recently starting going back, and Jordan will be baptized there in January,” she says. She gestures toward Green, sleeping in the next room. “Hopefully Curtis will come along, too. He’s been a very good father and friend, very supportive.”