cultural studies writing question and need guidance to help me learn.

After reading the assigned readings from Massacre of the Dreamers, Borderlands/La Frontera, When God Was a Woman, the ending of Erased Faces, and watching the documentaries, how do these readings and visual sources change or reaffirm your view of women as spiritual figures that are strong and capable? As Catholics and Christians and in the Judeo-Christian tradition, “God” has always been male and women are either non-existent or marginalized? How do these sources shift this viewpoint?
Cite each source from Weeks 4-7 at least once. 750 words minimum.
Use standard essay format (MLA or APA), your choice.
No plagiarism, answer the questions fully
Requirements: 750 and more words
erased faces
erased facesA Novel ByGraciela Limón
This volume is made possible through grants from the City of Houstonthrough the Houston Arts Alliance.Recovering the past, creating the futureUniversity of Houston Arte Público Press 452 Cullen Performance Hall Houston, Texas 77204-2004Cover design by James Brisson Photo courtesy of Eduardo Vera, “Mayor insurgente Maribel, EZLN, October 1994” http://evera.home.ige.orgLimón, Graciela. Erased Faces / by Graciela Limón. p. cm. ISBN 978-1-55885-342-31. Women photographers—Fiction. 2. Women revolutionaries—Fiction. 3. Americans—Mexico—Fiction. 4. Indian women—Fiction. 5.Mexico—Fiction. I. Title. PS3562.I464 E7 2001813?.54—dc212001035543 CIP The paper used in this publication meets the requirements of theAmerican National Standard for Information Sciences—Permanence ofPaper for Printed Library Materials, ANSI Z39.48-1984.© 2001 by Graciela Limón Printed in the United States of America10 11 12 13 14 15 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3
In memory of those who perished in the massacre of Acteal, Chiapas 22 December 1997
Although set against a background of conflict in Chiapas, this work is anovel. Places and people portrayed have been fictionalized.G. L.She meets with her face erased, and her name hidden. With her comethousands of women. More and more arrive. Dozens, hundreds,thousands, millions of women who remember all over the world that thereis much to be done and remember that there is still much to fight for.EZLN communiqué: Twelve Women in the Twelfth Year Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos 1996
ContentsAcknowledgmentsChapter 1 She didn’t look like me.Chapter 2 Adriana decided never to speak again.Chapter 3 We repeat ourselves.Chapter 4 She wondered if white things felt pain and sadness.Chapter 5 The mountain spoke to us.Chapter 6 You have already been among us.Chapter 7 Our people built that church.Chapter 8 The soil was gray; it had no color.Chapter 9 She felt that floating would turn to flying.Chapter 10 The gods made men and women of maize.Chapter 11 Why don’t you come and see?Chapter 12 In the end, los patrones are severe and unforgiving.Chapter 13 He even owns a mule.Chapter 14 Kap jol, the anger of the people.Chapter 15 I’ll see that he’s taken care of.Chapter 16 There was only emptiness.Chapter 17 The night in Tlatelolco had shaken him.Chapter 18 We call him Tatic, Little Father.Chapter 19 They crush us but we also crush ourselves.Chapter 20 There cannot be equality in a false peace!Chapter 21 He wondered if he would ever see her again.Chapter 22 It was quick. It was merciful.
Chapter 23 In these parts the only thing that matters is a signature.Chapter 24 They were innocent!Chapter 25 Why is the day moving in reverse?Chapter 26 What about me?Chapter 27 Emboldened, Juana mingled with the crowd.Chapter 28 You are my blessing.Chapter 29 The leash snapped!Chapter 30 In lak’ech. You are my other self.Chapter 31 The anguish, too, was the same.Chapter 32 She asked me to be the lips through which their silenced voiceswill speak.Books by Graciela LimónAbout the Author
AcknowledgmentsI’m sincerely grateful to Letitia Soto, my dearest cousin, as well as toAndy Soto, who accompanied me to Chiapas during the month of June1999. Circumstances were intimidating to travelers at the time, especiallysince we had to travel through the mountains between Palenque and SanCristóbal de las Casas, a region filled with armed military checkpoints. Iknow that I would not have had the courage to do it on my own. Letitia andAndy’s company, their courage, their chistes and cariño of what we sawand experienced, made that journey unforgettable and rich in information.Roberto Flores, valued colleague, shared remarkable photographs anddocumentation on the Zapatista War, and for that I’m indebted to him. Ithank him most especially. I’m very grateful to Mary Wilbur, one of thefirst readers of Erased Faces. Her input, suggestions and research enhancedthe work beyond my initial concept of it. Also, much gratitude to ToniZepeda for her numerous readings of the manuscript and for her helpfulinput. Finally, but not least of all, is Acción Zapatista which has been sohelpful to me in gathering information.G. L.
Chapter 1 She didn’t look like me.The Lacandona Jungle, Chiapas, Mexico, 1993.Her ankle-length dress caught in the thick undergrowth. Her legs andbare feet were bleeding from cuts inflicted by roots and branches mattingthe muddy ground. She ran, plunging headlong into a snare of decayingplants, oblivious to the pain that shot up her ankles, through the calves ofher legs, lodging deep in her thighs. She ran because she knew the dogswere gaining on her; she could hear their baying, and in seconds she beganto sense their clumsy paws pounding the darkened jungle floor. Terrified,she ran, lunging forward, panting, her body covered with sweat and her facesmeared with tears of dread.She could not be sure, but she thought that there were others runningalongside her. In the thick gloom of the forest, she caught sight of womenrunning, desperately clinging to babies, tugging at children trying not tolose their way in the darkness. Long cotton dresses pulled at them as theyplunged through the growth; straight, tangled hair stuck to their shoulders.She saw that those women were also afraid that the snarling dogs wouldcatch them and tear them to pieces. Men were running, and they, too, wereterrified—their brown, sinewy bodies pressed through the dense foliage,their loincloths snagged and ripped by gigantic ferns that reached out withdeadly tentacles.The Lacandón women and men ran because they understood that soonthey would be overcome and devoured by the ravenous pursuers. She ranwith them, but suddenly she stopped; her feet dug deep into the jungle slimeas she halted abruptly. She began to turn in circles, arms rigidlyoutstretched, but she could see nothing; she was blinded by fear, and shedarted in different directions. She had lost something, but she could notremember what it was that had slipped through her fingers. She dropped toher knees, groveling in the mud, digging, trying to find what it was that shehad lost. Her fingers began to bleed when her nails ripped from her flesh,
and her desperation grew, looming larger than even her pain, greater eventhan the terror of being overcome by the dogs.She was on her knees when she felt her long straight hair wrap itselfaround her neck. It got tighter and tighter. It began to strangle her.Frantically, her fingers dug into the taut coils that were cutting off herbreath. Nearly drained of air, she felt that her lungs were about to collapse.With each second, the hungry dogs got closer, but she was paralyzedbecause the pain of having lost something that was precious to her naileditself into her heart.Adriana Mora awoke startled, panting and covered with perspiration.She sat up choking, out of breath and in the grip of an asthma attack. In thedarkness she fumbled, trying to reach the inhaler that she had placed on therickety crate next to her cot, but her groping hand got tangled in themosquito net. She struggled with the mesh, knocking her dark glasses to theground, almost spilling a cup half-filled with water. When she finallyreached the device, she pressed it into her mouth and plunged once, twice,relieved to feel air clearing her throat and reaching her lungs.When Adriana’s heart returned to its normal rhythm and her lungsreadjusted, she sat with her back to the wall, still shaken and breathingheavily. Making out the palm ceiling as well as the earthen floor, she lookedaround the tiny hut, a palapa. Through the ridges between the cane stilts,moonlight seeped casting elongated shadows on the dirt. Trying to gain ahold on herself, she stared at the small table where she had propped herequipment: cameras, tripod, note pad, canvas jacket with its pockets stuffedwith lenses she used to capture the faces and bodies of Lacandón women.Adriana drew her legs up until her knees pressed against her breasts.Wrapping her arms around the calves of her legs, she leaned her headagainst her knees; she stayed that way, thinking of the nightmare fromwhich she had awakened. She was listening to the jungle sounds that filledthe night: the jumble of insect chirping that scraped against the heavybreathing of iguanas and other reptiles. Howling monkeys barked,chattering angrily as they swung from branch to branch. Screeching parrotscomplained because of the hooting of owls and other nocturnal birds.Adriana tried to decipher each sound. She wanted to identify what animal,
which insect had made what noise, but it was impossible because it allmelted into an indistinguishable cacophony of murmur, hissing, andhowling. The night vibrations of the jungle fused with the sad groaning ofthe muddy waters of the river that coiled around the tiny village ofPichucalco.She thought of the dream, trying to discern its meaning. She hadexperienced it before, but never had it been as vivid, as terrifying. The othertimes, the woman had been remote, someone else. This time, however, shehad no doubt: It had been she who was being hunted, she who was runningin the forest along with other natives. It had been she who had lostsomething precious, something loved and so riveted onto her heart thatreliving the dream made her feel pain beneath the nipple of her left breast.With outstretched fingers, she rubbed the palm of her hand over her chest;she was thinking, concentrating, trying to recognize what she had lost. Butit was useless, because she could not remember anything that had evermeant so much to her, not even the distant memory of her mother andfather.Unable to find the answer, Adriana straightened her head and cocked itto one side, this time listening to her dream. She stayed that way for a whileuntil she realized that she heard only the sound of menacing dogs. Hersearching mind then focused on the woman in the dream.“She didn’t look like me!”Mumbling out loud, Adriana flung aside the net and slid off the cot. Shewent to the stand where she kept a basin and water jug that she used towash her face and hands; above it, she had nailed a small mirror. Sheunhooked it and made her way past the gunny sack that covered theentrance of the palapa. Once outside, Adriana found herself in moonlightthat was bright enough to see her reflection.“It couldn’t have been me.”She studied her face: brown angular features, high cheekbones. Adrianaconcentrated, turning her gaze on her mouth and head: thick lips; short,curled hair. Then she went back into the hut, stretched out on the cot andstared at the palm-frond ceiling. She reflected on her nightmare, the bayingof dogs still echoed in her memory as did the sensation of pain. She broughther hands close to her eyes, turning them palms up, then down. There wereno cuts, no bruises.
She touched her forearms, searching, but her fingertips found only thescar tissue inflicted on her left forearm by scalding water when she was achild; she had been seven years old when that happened. Adriana’s mindhalted for a few seconds, remembering that day. Then she returned herattention to the dream, to any traces it might have left on her. She went onfeeling her body, pausing, searching for signs of pain, or even a slightindication of having been hurt, but she discovered nothing.A nagging sense of loss forced Adriana to shut her eyes because she feltthe sting of tears burning behind her eyeballs. She flung her arm across herface and remembered her life, how ever since she could remember, she hadfelt lost, separated, alone, always filled with fear. She was twenty-four yearsold, but sometimes she still felt as she had when she was a child; nothing inher life seemed to change—not inside of her. She was now a woman, on herown, making a living as a photographer. Wanting to be accomplished in herprofession, to publish her work, she had chosen to come to the jungle tocreate a photo history of the women of the Lacandona.Adriana stared at the thatched ceiling, her eyes wide open and vacant.She was remembering that when she had finished college in Los Angeles,she had drifted to New Mexico, where she stayed a short while. After thatshe decided to go south to Chiapas, so she made her way to the border, andfrom that point down to Mexico City, and from there she traveled toMérida, Yucatán, where she stayed only a few days. Then she pushed on toPalenque, attracted by the prospect of capturing on film what was left ofMayan civilization, but once there, she realized that it was for living facesthat she searched. So she put her things on a dilapidated bus that hadPueblos Indígenas painted in large letters on its windshield. When she gotoff the vehicle, she was in Pichucalco, on the edge of the Lacandona Jungle.Her thoughts drifted back to her childhood, probing incidents in her life,trying to explain why she had always felt such deep isolation. Then sherelaxed her body, allowing her memory to return to the past.
Chapter 2 Adriana decided never to speak again.Adriana was barely four years old the night she was awakened by loudvoices. She sat up, hugging her raggedy stuffed rabbit, listening, turning herhead toward the door, trying to make out who was screaming. Her eyeswere beginning to adjust to the darkness of the room when a blast silencedthe voices. The girl was struggling to make out the noise, when a seconddetonation shook the walls. Time passed but nothing happened. Then asmoky stench seeped into her room from beneath the closed door. Therewas no more yelling, no more explosions, so she slipped back onto herpillow.Everything was quiet again; she could not hear or see anything, not evenwhen she peeked out from under the covers. The girl listened for hermother’s voice, or the sound of her father’s heavy footsteps, but all sheheard were cars driving by their apartment. She wanted her mother to comeand wrap her arms around her, but there was only silence. Adriana driftedback to sleep.She opened her eyes again, but this time it was the sun that hadawakened her. With the frayed rabbit still in her arms and her legs crampedfrom being rolled in against her body, she stretched and looked around theroom. In one corner were her toys and on the other side was the smallcloset. She could see her dresses hanging neatly, one next to the other.“Mamá?”Adriana called her mother just as she did every morning. She waited,hugging her toy to her chest, but nothing happened. Her mother did notopen the door and peek around it to smile at her. Trying to see the sky, shelooked out the window. There was nothing there except the bare branches ofa tree.“Mamá?”This time Adriana’s voice was edged with tears because she wasremembering the noises she had heard the night before. She began to shiver,
thinking that her mother and father had gone away, leaving her alone. Shehad never before heard the house that quiet. She decided to go out to thekitchen to find them.Adriana, with her rabbit dangling from one hand, shuffled down thehallway to the bathroom, where she struggled onto the toilet. After that shewent to the kitchen. When she walked in, she felt happy all of a suddenbecause she saw her father taking a nap at the table. She looked carefully,taking in how he was sitting in his favorite chair, leaning his head in hiscradled arms. She was relieved to see him, although she had never seen himsleep that way.She tiptoed across the kitchen to the stove, where she expected to findher breakfast. At that moment, she wondered why her mother was not there.She looked first in the service porch, thinking her mother might be puttinglaundry into the washer. When she did not find her there, Adriana searchedthe small front room, where she found the television set turned on. That wasall. From there she made her way to her parent’s bedroom.“Mamá? Mamá?”She found her mother lying on the bed; she was taking a nap, too.Adriana decided not to go near her; she might awaken her. Still clinging tothe dingy stuffed rabbit, Adriana returned to the kitchen because she washungry. Trying not to make noise, she opened the cupboard and looked forher favorite cookies, but when she saw that the package was on a shelf toohigh for her to reach, she put down the toy and struggled to edge a chairinto position. She was able to do this quietly up until the last pull, when oneof the legs stuck in a crack in the linoleum. She yanked, then flinched at theloud, grinding noise that filled the kitchen. She shut her eyes and hunchedher shoulders, expecting her father to wake up and scold her, but nothinghappened. When she opened her eyes to look at him, she saw that he wasstill asleep. Relieved, she climbed up and lowered the box. Then she wentto the refrigerator, where she found a small carton of milk. Again she couldnot reach a glass, so she took the cookies and the container to the frontroom, where she munched as she watched cartoons until late into theafternoon.When she needed to go to the bathroom again, she decided to awakenher mother. As she neared the bed, Adriana saw that the sheets andbedspread were stained red, and that her mother held her father’s gun in one
hand. She saw also that there was a big bump on one side of her mother’sforehead, and that, too, was dripping with a red mess.Adriana was so frightened that she felt pee dripping between her legs;she could not help it, and she did not know what to do. She reached out andgrabbed one of her mother’s shoulders and shook her, trying to awaken her,but she felt that her mother was stiff and cold. Crying, she ran to where herfather was still sleeping, and she tugged at his shirt, hoping that he wouldwake up to help with her mother. Instead, her pulling pried loose one of hisarms; it fell inertly and dangled from his shoulder.She understood that something awful had happened to her mother andfather. She ran to the front door. Doña Elvira would know what to do; shealways did. When Adriana tried to open the door, however, she realized thatthe dead bolt was engaged and that it was too high up for her to reach, evenif she stood on a chair. She screamed and pounded on the door, but no oneheard her cries for help; no one heard her frail fists beating on the door.Night was falling, and the gloom inside the apartment terrified Adrianaso much that she ran to her room, where she hid under the bed, clutchingher stuffed rabbit. She came out only to nibble on crackers or to drink waterthat was in a container by the sink. She banged on the front door severaltimes during the days that followed, but gave up when no one heard her.Each time, she returned to the hideaway under her bed; its narrowness gaveher comfort and lessened her fear. But the tiny space began to lose itsprotection for Adriana; its confines seemed to close in on her, taking awayher breath, making her heart race and pound until she lost consciousness.She did not know how many times this happened to her.Finally, it was the stench, not Adriana’s weak pounding, that alertedDoña Elvira Luna. When that happened, the elderly neighbor stood outsidethe Mora apartment wearing an apron and still clutching a wooden cookingspoon in her hand. She twitched her nose, sniffing around the edges andhinges of the locked door, then banging on it as she stuck her nose up intothe air, wiggling her nostrils and upper lip, her wide open mouth gaspingbecause of the foulness that was polluting the air. When she realized what itwas that she was smelling, she ran down to the manager’s office.“Don Luis, come with me! Now! Something is terribly wrong in theMora apartment.”“What do you mean?”
“Don’t talk! Come!”The man and woman ran up the stairs and when they turned the cornergoing in the direction of Adriana’s apartment, Don Luis came to a suddenhalt. He, too, smelled the vile stench.“¡Santo Dios!”His hands were shaking so much that he could not insert the master keyinto its slot, so Doña Elvira snatched the ring, slid the key into place,disengaged the latch and opened the door. The manager flung himselfbackward as if he had been struck with a blunt weapon; he gagged andreached into his back pocket for a handkerchief, which he nearly stuffedinto his mouth.Doña Elvira was just as shaken, but she regained her balance after a fewseconds. Taking off her apron, she tied it around her nostrils and mouth, andentered the gloomy pestilent place, going first to the kitchen. When she sawMario Mora slouched over the table, one arm stiff and dangling, she knewhe was dead.“¡Marisa! ¡Adriana! ¿Dónde están?”Shouting for the girl and her mother, Doña Elvira ran from the kitchen tothe front room, where the television set was on but inaudible. Then shestaggered to the larger bedroom; there she discovered Marisa Mora’sdecomposing body.“¡Virgen Santísima!”She spun around looking for the child’s room, but when she finallyfound it, the door was closed. She flung it open and looked around; it wasempty. She was about to leave when something told her to search, so shewent to the closet and began poking and pulling at hanging dresses andplaysuits, but she found nothing. Then she glanced at the unmade bed. Withdifficulty, Doña Elvira got down on her hands and knees to peer under it;there she discovered Adriana, who at first also looked dead. Doña Elvira letout a wail so loud that even the cringing Don Luis forced himself into theapartment.By that time, Doña Elvira had recuperated enough to drag Adriana outfrom under the bed. As she did this, she realized that the girl was not deadbut unconscious. With the manager’s assistance, the elderly woman got toher feet with Adriana in her arms, and with unexpected energy, she ran pastMario Mora’s body, past the room where Marisa Mora lay; nothing stopped
her until she reached her apartment. There, she put Adriana on the frontroom sofa. Adriana lay there for hours before she could be awakened fromher trance, despite the ambulances, patrol cars, coroners, televisionreporters, investigators, and curious neighbors swarming through theapartment complex.The girl finally sat up; she was groggy, hair disheveled, confused, butaware of two men speaking in hushed tones in the kitchen. She felt DoñaElvira hugging her at one moment, then gently nudging her out of sleep.“Adriana, you have to wake up. Open your eyes!”The girl struggled with confusion, trying to focus her blurred eyes onDoña Elvira. Suddenly, one of the men came and plucked her off the sofaand carried her to the kitchen, where the light bulb hanging from a cordmade her blink even more. She thought she overheard Doña Elvirawhispering to her husband, and she was almost sure she could make out thewoman’s words.“No le digas ahorita.”“But we must tell her now. Later will be worse. You have to rememberthat the police want to talk to her. She has to know before then.”Doña Elvira’s husband spoke loudly, clearly. He was opposing his wife’swarning not to tell the girl what had happened.“¡No!”“¡Sí!”Adriana was now fully awake and she knew something terrible washappening. Whatever had occurred was so bad that Doña Elvira and herhusband were almost arguing over it. The man carrying Adriana intervened.“Your husband is right, Doña Elvira. The child must be told. If you waituntil later, it will only hurt her more.”Adriana looked at Doña Elvira and at her husband, then at the man whoheld her. They were neighbors, and although very old in her eyes, they werekind. They often looked after her while her mother and father were at workor out of the house.“M’ijita… “Doña Elvira’s voice quivered, then broke off, leaving her unable tospeak. She turned away and put her hands on the side of the kitchen sink.Her husband picked up where Doña Elvira had stopped.
“Adrianita. Listen to me very carefully. Something has happened to yourmamá and papá. They were in a bad car accident. And now… now… theyare in heaven. Now you must stay with us.”Adriana knew. She had lost her mother and father. They were dead, andshe knew that it had not been in a car accident. Adriana was only four yearsold, but she knew that her mother had killed her father. She knew becauseshe had been there when it had happened. What she did not understand wasthe reason why her mother had done such a thing, or why her mother hadabandoned her. Knowing, in conflict with understanding, collided in thegirl’s mind, causing her to lose her breath, strangling the air out of herlungs, and it was there, in Doña Elvira’s kitchen, that Adriana experiencedher first asthma attack.After that, when Doña Elvira Luna took her in, Adriana decided never tospeak again, because she was afraid that if she opened her mouth, thebreathing attacks would recur. But despite her not speaking, the attacks didreturn to torture her. Years passed, and because she was always silent,people became convinced that she was incapable of speaking. Only DoñaElvira knew the truth; only she understood the enormity of Adriana’sanguish and confusion. That old woman was the only one who realized thatAdriana’s soul had withered during the days in which she was a prisoner inher mother and father’s tomb.In the palapa, surrounded by the murmur and hissing of the jungle,Adriana felt her recollections so vividly that her nose twitched because thememory of stench surrounded her, as did the isolation of self-imposedsilence. Her heart beat wildly against her ribcage, just as it had done thatnight long ago, just as it did whenever she remembered.Struggling to control her racing heart because she feared anotherbreathing attack, Adriana conjured her mother’s image in her mind: browncomplexion, willowy body, black straight hair that hung to her waist. As ayoung woman, she had migrated with her family from Campeche in Mexicoto Los Angeles. In that city she met Adriana’s father, loved him, marriedhim. Yet, she had shot him dead, taking her own life at the same time andleaving her daughter alone. Now Adriana’s heart struggled with anger andlonging to know what had compelled her mother to do such a terrible thing.
Then the image of Adriana’s father rose from the rubble of her little-girlmemory. She saw the skin of his African ancestors, the muscular bodyinherited from a mix of races, the nappy hair of his family. This pictureblurred, giving way to the form of a man slumped over a kitchen table, onearm hanging inertly by his side. She was able to tolerate the image only afew seconds before her mind shut down, fatigued by the memory of hurtand abandonment. She drifted back to sleep until sunlight awoke her.
Chapter 3 We repeat ourselves.“¿Qué soñaste anoche?”The toothless Lacandón native Chan K’in asked Adriana this questionevery morning. In the beginning she found it strange that he never greetedher with a simple buenos días but always asked what she had dreamed thenight before. After a few days in the village, however, she discovered thatdreams were so important to the people that the question took the place of agreeting. At night, instead of buenas noches, she was told, Be careful ofwhat you dream tonight.“What did you dream last night, niña?”Chan K’in repeated the question. Despite the humid, warm air of thejungle, Adriana felt a shiver as she recalled her dream. She had decided toput it behind her, to disregard it, not to try to find meaning in what she hadexperienced. It was too frightening because it brought back the pain ofinexplicable loss. But now, as she stood looking at the old man, she feltcompelled to tell him.She was dressed in khaki pants and shirt, and she wore hiking boots.This was her usual way of dressing, and although it was different from thegarments worn by the native women, no one seemed to mind. They knewwhy she dwelled among them, and they trusted her enough to allow her totake photographs of them as they toiled in the jungle or fished in the river.“I dreamed many things, viejo. A dream that I’ve dreamed before, butnever so vividly.”Adriana spoke to Chan K’in in Spanish because she did not know hisnative tongue. She liked conversing with him, asking questions about thetribe’s traditions, its history, its culture. It was Chan K’in who explainedmeanings to her when she did not understand. As she gazed at the old man,she studied his frail face, and body. She did not know his age, but as shescrutinized him she gauged that he was very old; the skin of his brown facewas leathery and cracked. His nose was a beak, and his eyes were those of
an Asian nomad, or an eagle, she thought. Chan K’in wore his hair in thetradition of the men of his tribe: shoulder-length with straight bangs thathung covering his eyebrows. But unlike the younger men of the village, hishair was completely white. Since he sat on the ground cross-legged,Adriana joined him, sitting down in the same fashion and facing him.“It was very strange, viejo. At the end, I dreamed that I was beingpursued by hungry dogs and that I ran because my heart was filled withterror. There were other people running along with me. I don’t know whothey were, but they were dressed like your people. The strangest part of thedream, what I really cannot understand, is that suddenly I stopped, eventhough I could hear the dogs, even though I knew that I would be torn apartby them. I stopped because I had lost something precious, more preciousthan my life. I began to choke and I awoke.”Chan K’in looked at Adriana. He seemed to be studying her face, and hewas silent for a while as he gazed at her. Then he began to trace an imageon the soft earth with his finger, seemingly lost in thought until he returnedhis eyes to Adriana.“You know that the Lacandón people place meaning in dreams, don’tyou?”“Yes.”“A dream, though imperfect, is a mirror in which we see our past lives.Centuries ago we were driven from our towns and villages into thesejungles. We were hounded by white men who ran after us with fire weaponsand dogs. We were forced to abandon what we had built and plantedbecause the hunger of those men was without limit.”Adriana remained silent. She had lived with the tribe only a few months,but she knew already that there was much discontent. She was aware ofvoices that murmured, whispered, repeated stories passed down throughgenerations. But she found little to connect her story with what resonated inthose voices. Facing the old Lacandón, Adriana tilted her head, trying tounderstand, to find a similarity that would link her dream with what he wassaying. Chan K’in closed his eyes as he spoke, his voice a hoarse whisper.“It happened in Itza Canac, land of the Maya, in the Year of the Rabbit,as the Mexica people still tell. The woman had been wandering for days,perhaps longer, separated from her people by the soldiers. She was lost. Shewas not the only one. Most roads and pathways were clogged with roaming,
uprooted people aimlessly searching. Some traveled alone, but others werein small bands; most of them were looking for someone they mightrecognize.“The woman was thin, nearly emaciated, tired and thirsty, when shestumbled onto an army of Spaniards heading south. She discovered thattheir leader was a man by the name of Captain General Hernán Cortés. Shesaw that part of the entourage was made up of men and women like her, yetof a different tribe, people she did not recognize by their clothes orlanguage. The woman noticed, also, that one of those natives must havebeen important, since he was always guarded by soldiers. That man, sheobserved, limped grotesquely, as if his feet had been mutilated.“There was something about those people that alarmed her, but thewoman was more afraid of being alone, so she attached herself to the group.No one asked her questions. She stayed with them as they hacked their waythrough the jungle, crossing rivers, making camp at nightfall. During thosedays she was fed by a woman who, by the signs of her body, was with child.The woman never spoke; she merely gave out food and then returned to hersilence.“Finally, the marchers came onto what had once been known as ItzaCanac, now a bleak, deserted and pestilent place. They were all at the endof their strength; they could walk no farther. As they set up camp next to amud-clogged stream, the Spaniards filled the air with cursing and loudwords; the natives responded with morose silence.“The woman thought that she was the most fatigued of them all. Herdress was torn and soiled. Her feet were bruised, as were her arms andhands. Her straight hair, matted with sweat, clung to her forehead and neck.She was so tired that she could not eat. She simply collapsed near thestream, and there she fell asleep under a ceiba tree.“At dawn a clamor awakened her with a fright. Though her body achedwith weariness and pain, the woman forced herself to rise and seek cover.From there she could see the soldiers standing by the native they hadguarded so carefully. He shifted his weight from one foot to the other, as ifto relieve pain. He had a rope tied around his neck.“Soon a crowd formed around the captain general. He seemed enraged,uncertain of what to do next, and the woman saw that his gestures werefollowed closely by the others. To one side she made out the figure of a
priest. She had not seen him before, but his rough brown garmentdistinguished him from the metal coverings and weapons of the others.Also, he held a cross in his hands. By now, most inhabitants of those landsknew the meaning of that symbol.“In the throng, the woman was able to make out the woman who hadgiven her food, but now her silence was filled with grief. There were manyothers, men and women of that same unknown tribe. Every one of them hadtheir eyes riveted on the prisoner.“‘Cortés, you meant to do this from the beginning.’“She heard these words but did not understand them; they were not inher tongue. She knew, however, that their tone was solemn, filled withmeaning. She saw that the captain general ignored what the prisoner haduttered and instead made a sign with his hand. Suddenly, the prisoner’sbody was violently yanked into mid-air. The man struggled against the rope,but because his hands were tied behind his back, it was his body thatcontorted while his legs jerked grotesquely. He dangled from the rope,gasping and gurgling; his tongue wagged until after a short while it hunginertly between purple lips. Then there was stillness, and she saw that theprisoner was dead.“The woman approached a man whom she had not noticed before, butwhom she identified as someone of her land; his tunic and cut of hair toldher that he was a Chiapaneca. Now she wanted to know who that dead manwas and why he had been executed, so she crept close to the stranger andwhispered her questions.“‘Amigo, who is it that just died?’“The man was startled by her presence, so close to him all of a sudden.He looked at her, letting her know that he had understood her language butthat the woman had frightened him. He turned his head from one side to theother before responding.“‘I’ve heard rumors that his name is Lord Cuauhtémoc, a noble, the lastSpeaker of the Mexicas, the masters of Anahuac.’“‘Where is that place?’“‘It is far to the north.’“‘But why are they here, so distant from their land?’
“‘I heard that the captain general is in search of gold for himself and hismaster. He has already vanquished the Mexica empire and all its richness.When he was informed that these parts are rich in that metal, he feltcompelled to come and see for himself. Tongues also tell that he distrustedthe Mexica lord so much that he forced him to come along on the march.Our people wonder at the captain’s foolishness, since Cuauhtémoc is barelyable to walk. I hear he has been an invalid since having his feet burned bythe captain for not revealing the secrets of the Mexica people. Now LordCuauhtémoc is dead.’“‘Why has this happened?’“‘It is said that Cuauhtémoc was a traitor.’“‘A traitor? To whom?’“The man turned his gaze toward the woman. He seemed baffled by herquestion. He rolled his eyes, frowned and hunched his shoulders.“‘To them. Who else?’“When the woman moved away from him, she saw that the otherMexicas were on their knees, weeping. She stretched her neck to see moreand saw that the woman who had given her food was also crying. Shereturned her attention to the man.“‘Who is that woman?’“‘She is known as Huitzitzilín. She also is of the Mexica people, one oftheir noble families. She is famous among her people. I heard her tell thatshe was a witness to the assassination of Lord Moctezuma by the invaders,and that she even took part in expelling the captains from Tenochtitlán oneterrible night.’“‘Why is she here? Is she related to the nobles?’“‘Ah! You ask so many questions! I do not know why she is here. Noone knows why the others are here either. They are slaves now, no longernobles, and perhaps that is why they are here. Perhaps they werecommanded to come just as was Lord Cuauhtémoc.’“The woman remained silent as she stared first at Huitzitzilín, then at thedangling body of Cuauhtémoc. She was inundated by deep sorrow and asense that she had witnessed an event that would never be forgotten. Herthoughts were interrupted by the voice of the man.
“‘But see how the woman is with child? It is said that the child is that ofa white captain.’“‘One of the enemy is the father of her child? Did he force himself onher?’“‘I don’t know. How can anyone know?’“‘That is a terrible thing! What will the child look like?’“The man sucked his teeth and wagged his head, expressing confusion aswell as irritation. When he began to move away, the woman reached outand held onto him. His eyes slipped down from her face, stopping at a largescar of burned skin covering her left forearm and elbow. His eyebrowslifted, questioning her.“‘I was burned when I was a child. Someone pushed me into boilingwater.’“‘Ah! I’m sorry. Who would do such a thing?’“‘I have no recollection. When I try to remember, I can hear only myvoice weeping.’“The stranger looked at her steadily for a few minutes; he appeared towant to say something, but remained silent. After a while, he turned to lookat the assembled Mexicas and then returned his gaze to her.“‘Forgive me, but I must leave now.’“‘Wait, amigo! What about the strange one? The man with the cross inhis hands?’“‘He is a priest of the white religion. His name is Motolinía. It is aMexica name, but I do not know what it means.’“The man turned and walked away from her, and her eyes followed hismovements until he disappeared into the forest. The woman felt saddened,because he was one of her kind and now he had vanished. She was aloneonce again. She returned her attention to the cluster of mourners whohuddled around the body of their dead noble, still hanging from the ceibatree.“The woman felt compelled to help the Mexica bring down the corpse,and she assisted in disrobing the body, then rubbing it with ointments, andfinally shrouding it. All the while, she joined the grievers as they burnedcopal and murmured incantations. These prayers she could only mouth, notknowing the words but understanding that they were petitions on behalf of
the dead man for a safe journey to the other side. A litter was made, and onit the body was placed. She beheld all of these movements with curiosity,wondering where the Mexica would go to put their nobleman to rest.“Finally, when it became clear that the mourners intended to begin theirtrek to the north, the woman felt an urge to follow them, but decided insteadto return south, to the Valley of Ixtapa, where she might be reunited withher people. As the strangers departed, making their way through the dankforest, heading toward the place where she knew the gods dwelt, she turnedin the direction of her land, leaving that sad place to the hooting ofnocturnal birds and to sorcerers known to infest those parts.“Months passed before the woman finally arrived at Chiapas, the land ofher birth. Instead of family and home, however, she encountered gravemisery caused by enslavement, whippings, persecutions, and dogs thatravenously mutilated bodies. No matter how much she searched, she foundno one of her family. She crossed paths with men and women who wept,remembering the freedom into which they had been born but that had nowbeen snatched away.“But the day came when they could no longer tolerate that oppression.The Chiapanecas rose in rebellion against that injustice, and their resistanceand battles were so fierce that the Spaniards fled in terror to barricadethemselves in Comitán. It was from that small town that they regrouped,made contact with Captain General Cortés, and waited for assistance.“When other Spaniards arrived, they brought cannons, rifles, horses, andmore dogs. It was not easy for them, however, because the Chiapanecaschose to resist, and she was one of them. Battle after battle took place; eachtime the Spaniards were the winners. Their strongest weapon was thecannon, which not only ripped holes into mountainsides and dismemberedbodies, but caused terrible fear in the hearts of the Chiapaneca men andwomen. Slowly, her people were forced back, inch by inch, as they foughtwith arrows, sticks, and many times even with the nails of their fingers.“The Chiapanecas backed away, heading for Tuzla, the cradle of theirbeginnings, where no one even remembered from where or when they hadarrived. The woman knew the terrain; it was high in the mountains, split intwo parts by an immense gorge that fell in ravines toward a river. Everyoneknew it was their last stand; there was nowhere to escape to from there.That night, with the moon at its fullest, hundreds, thousands of the
Chiapaneca men and women decided that neither they nor their childrenwould live under the oppression of the invaders. The ritual began, and inclusters of families, they leaped over the ridge.“The woman decided to join the others and take her life, but she wasforced to wait for hours before reaching the ridge. The morning star wasrising by the time she and the last wave of Chiapanecas were nearing theedge. They clustered one against the other, knowing that in a few momentsthey would be on the other side of the sierra, there to begin their new life offreedom. As they began to chant the prayer of those who are passing, sheand the others heard the clatter of hooves. Pandemonium broke out.Understanding that the invaders would do anything to keep them alive for alifetime of slavery, the Chiapanecas, desperate to cheat the enemy, pushedto reach the ridge before the soldiers arrived.“The woman was close to the edge when she felt a pair of arms encircleher waist; at the same time, her feet were grabbed, and she was pulled to theground. She resisted, freeing her feet, then kicking and thrashing her legs,landing blows on the bearded face that pressed against her, and finally onthe man’s groin. She heard the pain-filled howl just as she bit into his arm,her mouth filled with coarse hair, nearly making her vomit. Disregardingher disgust, she clawed and contorted her body, trying to reach the edge ofthe cliff, but it was useless. She was to be one of the many held back to livethe life of a slave.”Chan K’in fell silent and returned to the pattern he had been drawing inthe sand. He seemed to be waiting for Adriana to speak, but when sheremained withdrawn, he spoke. He had no way of knowing that she wasstunned into silence by what he had said about the nameless woman’sscorched arm.“You want to know what all of this has to do with your dream?”“Yes.”“The people of this forest know that each one of us has lived not onlyonce, but in other times. What is happening to us now is a repetition of whathappened to us then. We also know that in each life we might have adifferent face or name, be a child or very old, or even be a man this time,and a woman the next. We repeat ourselves. You also have a repeated life.”Concentrating on Chan K’in’s words, Adriana wrinkled her brow. Shestared at him, listening, wondering if she had at last found the connection
between the old man’s words and her own story. She slipped her hand underthe long sleeve of her blouse and ran her fingers over the thick scar thatcovered her forearm.“Viejo, why do we not have a memory of those other lives?”“We do have a memory. We remember in our dreams.”Adriana lowered her head and leaned it to one side. She was looking atthe figure traced in the dirt by Chan K’in, trying to make it out, but it wasabstract, geometrical, and it held little meaning for her. As she listened, sherealized that his words were like that image: indecipherable, yet pointingthe way to understanding.“Could I be the woman of whom you’ve just spoken?”“Yes.”Adriana, intrigued by the ancient man’s ideas, thought for a while. Shewas moved by the possibility of being a native woman, living a repeatedlife.“If dreams can mirror our past lives, do you think they can also tell ourfuture?”The old man’s eyes narrowed to slits as he gazed at Adriana. Slowly,almost imperceptibly at first, he began to nod his head, which was thenfollowed by a swaying of his back.“What are you thinking, niña?”“I’m trying to understand what it is that I lost in my dream, and I can’tfind the answer. I believe it could be the loss of my mother and father, butwhat I feel is different, so I’m thinking that perhaps it’s something that I’lllose in the future.”“Perhaps it will be someone and not a thing at all.”Adriana tensed at the words coming from the old man because theyseemed to begin to answer her question. Her mind leaped, lunging indifferent directions, searching, not for something but for someone whoseloss might cause her such pain. She found only emptiness; there was noone. Her silence prompted Chan K’in to go on speaking.“Did you find someone who is important to you?”“No.”
“Yet that loss has inhabited your dreams. Perhaps it is someone whosepath has crossed yours in another time, another place, and who will againcome to you.”With those words, the old man got to his feet, dusted off dry leaves thatclung to his frayed tunic, and walked away from Adriana. She remainedsitting a long while, still cross-legged, elbows on her knees as she reflectedon what Chan K’in had said.She braced her elbows on her knees to cup her chin in her hands. Sheclosed her eyes. The sensations evoked by the nightmare were still with her,linking with other images she had recently dreamed. They blurred with thememories of her childhood, of her scarred arm, and those recollectionsstuck to the pit of her stomach, causing her much pain.
Chapter 4 She wondered if white things felt pain and sadness.When Adriana was seven, Doña Elvira died. Her husband became illshortly then after, and his children took him away. Adriana never saw himagain.“¿Qué vamos a hacer con esta niña? Es hija de negro, y su madre fueasesina.”Even then Adriana was aware that her African side made herunacceptable to many people in the barrio. Worst of all, no one hadforgotten what her mother had done to her father. No one wanted her until adaughter of Doña Elvira, Ramona Esquivel, finally took her in as a fosterchild. It was not affection that moved the woman to do this; it was themoney given to her by the county. Adriana knew this, and when she movedin with the Esquivel family, she did it filled with fear and sadness.There were other children, and except for Raquel, who was her age, theywere older than Adriana. All of them were resentful that she had intrudedon their family, and her silence only provoked them. Sometimes they beatup on her, though she fought back, she was usually pounded to the point ofwelts, bruises and tears. She hid in closets and under beds, but she could notstay in those places for long because she imagined that a putrid smellwrapped itself around her, taking her breath away, forcing her to come outof hiding before her terror turned into an asthma attack. Ramona Esquiveldid little to prevent her children from mistreating Adriana. At times sheeven joined them by making fun of her tight, curly hair and thick lips.“Look at you! You’re a real negrita, aren’t you?”The children laughed because of what their mother said, encouraging herto invent new ways to make them giggle. Adriana cried and tried to avoidthose mocking eyes. She did this by retreating into herself, pretending thatshe was elsewhere, that she was someone else. It was at that time that shelearned to be alone, and even to prefer to be by herself, although this only
brought back the memory of her father asleep on the kitchen table and hermother lying on red sheets.Adriana had been with the Esquivel family a few months when she andRaquel were sent to catechism school to prepare for their First HolyCommunion. She still refused to speak, even to the nuns, who tried to coaxher into responding to their questions.“Who made us?”“God made us.”“Raquel, I know you have the answers. I want Adriana to respond.”“Yes, Sister.”“Once again, Adriana. Who made us?”Adriana looked at the nun, refusing to break her silence, despite herliking the nun. She thought that Sister Geraldine was beautiful; she evenlooked like the statue of the Virgin Mary that was on the altar in the church.Her eyes were as blue, her skin was the same color of milk, and the veil shewore was almost the same as that of Mary.“Adriana, why won’t you respond? You know the answer, I’m sure. Youreyes tell me you can speak. Let me try another question. Why did Godmake us?”“God made us to love and serve him.”“Raquel! I know you know the answer. Please be quiet and give Adrianaa chance to speak.”“She won’t, Sister Geraldine. She never speaks, not even in school.She’ll never get out of first grade.”In time, the nuns gave up on Adriana answering the questions on Godand the Church. Nonetheless, they decided to put her forward with thegroup of boys and girls that would receive First Communion, hoping that itwould help her to open up.On that May day, Adriana was standing in line waiting for the processionto make its way into the church. Like the rest of the girls, she was dressedin a white dress, gloves and a long veil held at her temples by a band offlowers. Sister Geraldine went down the line handing each child a litcandle, which was to be held in the right hand, along with a rosary, as theymarched up to the altar. Most of the boys and girls were talking to oneanother, or to a parent, or to a sponsor, but, as always, Adriana was silent.
Her eyes were riveted on Raquel’s head; she was looking at the veil thatwas so white that it sparkled in the sunlight. She wondered if white thingsfelt pain and sadness, as she did.Sister Geraldine gave the signal for the children to begin the procession,then took her place at the end of the line. Inside the church, the organblasted out the hymn that signaled the children to begin the walk up theaisle. By the time Adriana stepped inside the high-vaulted vestibule, thechoir was singing O Sacrum Convivium, moving most of the mothers to dabtheir eyes in a show of emotion.As she walked, Adriana looked up at the paintings of saints and bishops;she was captivated by their faces and postures. Then she stared at the angelsand the huge statue of the Virgin Mary. Once, when the procession had topause, Adriana concentrated her eyes on the face of that statue, envying itsporcelain-white skin, blue eyes, upturned nose, and powder blue veil. Shelooked down at her brown arms, made darker by the contrast with her whitegloves and dress.When no one moved, Adriana realized that someone must have made amistake or taken the wrong seat, but she did not mind; she was not feelingimpatient. Instead, she again stared at Raquel’s veil, still wondering if it hadfeelings, and what would happen if she put the flame of her candle close tothe fine mesh.She looked around, trying to forget what had just come into her mind,but her curiosity grew until she decided to test it. At first nothing happenedas she neared the flame to the edge of the veil. She put it closer and closer,until a puff of smoke suddenly enveloped her face. She recoiled in shock asshe saw Raquel’s head in flames. Adriana thought that she looked longer,taller, as the flames swirled upward and her arms flailed wildly, trying to ripthe burning material from her head.“¡Ay! ¡La niña!”“¡Raquel! ¡Raquel!”An uproar shattered the reverence of the congregation as people rushedtoward Raquel in an attempt to help her. In a matter of seconds, a man tookoff his jacket and wrapped it around the girl’s head and shoulders. The otherchildren shrank back in terror, shrieking for a mother, a father, someone,anyone. The priest and two altar boys pressed their way through the milling,screaming crowd until they reached Raquel, whose whimpers became
weaker with each second. By the time her mother reached her, the girl hadlost consciousness. While all of this was happening, Adriana had fallenagainst a pew, watching, her eyes bulging.“¡Hija del diablo! ¡Hija de un diablo negro!”Raquel’s mother, in a hysterical fit, lunged toward Adriana, intending tohurt her. The woman’s words, telling her that she was the daughter of ablack devil, shocked Adriana even more, transporting her to the apartmentwhere her mother had murdered her father. Again, she smelled the stenchthat had invaded the place; she felt a tightness in her chest and her stomachturned until she vomited.Ramona Esquivel disregarded the mess at Adriana’s feet and she grabbedthe girl by the neck, shaking her with all the strength of her arms. Thecrowd stood aghast as she thrashed Adriana from one side to the other.Everyone was shouting and babbling.“¡La policía!”“¡Pronto!”“¡Una ambulancia!”Suddenly, from out of the throng, a pair of hands took hold of SeñoraEsquivel. The strength of that grip forced the woman from Adriana’s throat.The strong hands then took the girl through the crowd out of the church.Still gagging and breathing heavily, her face puffy and smeared with tears,Adriana looked up to see Sister Geraldine.“Why did you do such a thing, Adriana?”The nun muttered the question over and again, knowing that the girlwould not respond. Nonetheless, she felt compelled to ask because she wasbaffled by what had happened. She had never before experienced such atumult in church. Sister Geraldine stood staring down at Adriana; she, too,was breathing heavily.“I wanted to see if it would hurt the veil.”The nun began to say something that had nothing to do with whatAdriana had said, but cut off her own words abruptly. She blinked indisbelief at what she had heard: not Adriana’s words but rather her voice.The girl had spoken, and she did so in clear, correct words. There was noslurring, no incoherent connections. It was a complete, understandablesentence.
“Adriana! You can speak!”The nun, still shaken by the many unexpected happenings, took Adrianaby the shoulders as she turned her face up to hers. She looked intently at herface and head.“Little girl, you can speak!”Repeating her words, Sister Geraldine expressed her joy to Adriana, whoin turn was convinced that the nun was the Virgin Mary. If not, then shecertainly was an angel, the only one in her short life who had ever shownAdriana that she cared enough for her to protect her from pain.“She said that I’m the daughter of a black devil!”“Yes, she did say those words.”“Is that true, Sister?”“No! No one is the daughter of the devil. But you have to understandthat Señora Esquivel was very upset, and people say strange things whenthey’re frightened. God forbid it, but maybe Raquel will be scarred. You’llhave to apologize most sincerely to her and to God, and you must promisenever, never to do such a thing again.”As it turned out, Raquel Esquivel was not severely hurt; she lost most ofher hair but that grew back, and there were no scars left on her face.Apparently, the blaze everyone saw was that of the veil only. Aftercounseling and advice from the parish nuns, the family took Adriana back,but Ramona Esquivel tucked the incident in her heart, and never forgaveher.Not long afterward, when she was nearly eight years old, Ramona toldAdriana to heat water to wash the dinner dishes. Adriana did as she wastold, even though she could barely reach; she had to prop a chair against thestove to put the pan on top. However, when the water boiled and was ready,she knew that she could not carry it over to the sink, so she called SeñoraEsquivel and asked her to do it for her. Adriana was standing by the sinkwhen the woman, pot holders in hand, turned to her.“You want the water, m’ijita?”“Sí, señora.”“Where do you want it, mi chula?”Adriana turned to point her finger toward the kitchen sink when she feltthe searing pain of boiling water crash against her left side. She felt heat
invade her body, and it was so hot, so intense, that the light coming throughthe windows began to dim until she could barely see. The dimming soonbecame blackness, and then there was nothing.When Adriana regained consciousness, her eyes opened slowly to see anurse looking down at her. The face was a blur at first, then it began to takeshape, until finally it became clear. As the woman scrutinized her, Adrianaheard voices somewhere next to her bed.“Doctor, I tell you this was an accident.”“Explain how such a thing could happen accidentally if the child wasstanding by the sink, and the water was boiling on the stove? Remember,I’ve gone to your place, I’ve seen the kitchen, and anyone can see that thereis at least five feet of separation between the sink and stove.”“I’m telling you that she tried to pick up the pot and dropped the wholething on herself.”“But you’ve already said that she was standing by the sink.”“Well, I made a mistake! I didn’t mean it that way. Oh, shit! It’s all herfault. Look at what her mother did to her own husband. And look at whatthe little brat did to my Raquel! She’s a monster! I’m afraid of her.”“What does any child have to do with what her parents do, or don’t do?And as far as I’m concerned, what happened at that ceremony was just achildish thing. She had no idea of what could have happened! But this wasnot a childish prank nor an accident! This, Mrs. Esquivel, is very serious.Adriana will be lucky if she comes out of this without her face beingscarred. Her arm will be, that’s for sure. This is a terrible thing that’shappened to her. I can’t prove what really happened, but I can assure youthat she will not return to your place.”“¡Señorita Adriana! ¡Señorita Adriana!”The voices of several Lacandón girls yanked Adriana back to thepresent. It was time for her to join the women to begin the photo shoot.Adriana stood up, but the doctor’s voice was still ringing in her ears, as wasthe memory of pain, which hardly ever left her. She smiled at the girls,grateful that they had retrieved her from her past life. She signaled to themthat she would join them as soon as she got her equipment.
Chapter 5 The mountain spoke to us.The whir of turning film filled the air as Adriana aimed the camera andsnapped shot after shot. Surrounding her was a cluster of huts, each with itsopening facing a center in which kneeling women ground maize. Otherspatted tortillas into shape, then baked them on a comal placed over an openfire. Some women were embroidering huipiles, shawls worn by the villagewomen. Yet others were spinning cotton to be dyed and sewn into the fullskirts that marked the women of the tribe. These products would be sold inthe open markets of San Cristóbal de las Casas and Ocosingo.Adriana had been part of the village for several months, and in that timethe villagers, men as well as women, had come to feel at ease with her. Ithad been difficult in the beginning; no one would allow her to point acamera at them. Chan K’in explained that to reproduce a person’s image onpaper was the same as possessing the spirit of that man or woman. She hadexpected this, however, since many of the old women and men of her barrioin Los Angeles had similar ideas. She knew that trust had to happen beforeanything could be done, so she lived with them and waited until theyunderstood that she was a friend.“¡Micaela! ¡Muévete más para acá, por favor!”Whenever she asked one of the women to move closer, Adriana’s requestwas answered with a shy smile. She could overhear them twittering in theirlanguage. She knew they were gossiping about her, but she did not mind.She felt good about whatever they might say. She also liked the sound oftheir speaking because it echoed the sweet tones of bird songs filling the air.As she took each picture, she concentrated on faces while trying tocapture the dense jungle background. Sharp profiles with bird-like contoursattracted her most of all. Next to side views, Adriana focused on thealmond-shaped eyes outlined by long, straight lashes. She zoomed in onsmiles curved around small, white teeth, knowing that the black-and-whitefilm she used would capture the dark mahogany tones of the women’s skin.
Adriana looked to her left just in time to catch sight of a young mother,and, hoping to capture that image, she rapidly pointed her lens at the girl’shand as it uncovered a full breast. Muttering under her breath, Adriana gotcloser; she wanted to catch the image of the child as it suckled its mother’smilk.“¡Chispas! The girl can’t be more than thirteen.”She shot several frames of the mother and child before she lowered thecamera. Adriana focused her eyes on the young woman, thinking that shewas beautiful. She gazed at her face: an oval covered by brown, smoothskin. The girl’s eyes were filled with light; although Adriana knew theircolor was black, she thought that they appeared to be cast in silver. Thegirl’s hair was raven-colored, caught up in braids, with some escapedstrands, clinging to her forehead and neck.Adriana could not take her eyes off the girl’s face. She found the contrasthypnotic: the sight of the mother, still a child, offering the breast of a grownwoman to her baby. Adriana sat down by a tree, placed her camera next toher, and leaned against the trunk. She pulled a note pad from her pocket andbegan jotting down her impressions. As always, Adriana made carefulnotes, including not only the details of her subjects, but her own feelings aswell. Suddenly, a mix of emotions crept over her as she scribbled: love forthe young mother, envy because she was not the child sheltered in thosearms, sadness at having been robbed of love, fierce desire to discover thereason for her mother having murdered her father. Without warning, theexperience transported her thoughts to the beginning of her ownadolescence in Los Angeles.She was eleven years old. She was standing with Mrs. Hazlett on thecorner of Whittier and Kern; they were waiting for a bus. The social workerhad been Adriana’s case supervisor for a number of years, and the girl nowfelt at ease with her. In the beginning, when Adriana was recuperating fromher scalded arm, she had been afraid of Mrs. Hazlett, mostly because shewas different. She spoke only English, and she lived in a different part ofthe city. The woman was tall and lean. Her hair was a faded blond, her blueeyes were tiny, and she tended to squint them when she looked at people.
Her looks intimidated the girl for a while, but soon Adriana learned thatMrs. Hazlett was kind, that she wanted to help her.As they waited for the bus, Adriana, with her small suitcase proppedagainst her leg, felt sad because she was being placed in yet another home.She had been moved from foster home to foster home, and now she wouldhave to begin all over again. She would have to be with a new family, withdifferent people, but by now Adriana knew that anything could happen.Those people might like her, or maybe dislike her. There was a biggerchance, she thought, that they would not care for her, and no matter howmuch she tried to tell herself it did not matter, she was still afraid ofrejection.The street was clogged with cars and people who bustled in and out ofstores and small restaurants. Sidewalk vendors peddled fruit salad in papercones, music on cassettes, handmade jewelry, even shoes and shirts.Adriana wiggled her nose, sniffing the odor of frying food as she stared atpeople eating off paper plates while they waited for the bus. She wasfamiliar with the sounds and sights of that part of East Los Angeles becauseshe had been living with a family around the corner on Arizona Street.“My, my, that sure smells yummy!”Adriana knew that Mrs. Hazlett was trying to make things easier for herby speaking that way. She doubted that the social worker really liked thesmells. She even wondered if Mrs. Hazlett ever ate anything fried, or if sheate with her fingers the way those people were eating. She decided not tosay anything; instead, she pretended to be looking out for the bus.Mrs. Hazlett went on trying to cheer up Adriana. She made funny facesand quick remarks, hoping to lessen Adriana’s latest displacement, to makeit less depressing. The girl understood this, and she was grateful, yet shecould not help feeling sad.“Look, honey, it’s better to have a change of scenery. Just think of all therest of us who have to live day in and day out in the same old house. Atleast you move around. You’ll never be bored, that’s for sure.”Adriana pretended to giggle, but it was fake, unconvincing. She knewthat the families with whom she had lived never wanted her in the firstplace, that not one had ever loved her. At times she blamed the scar on herarm, thinking that it must have made her repugnant to anyone who saw it.At other times she was certain that a smelly cloud hung over her, forcing
people to back away from her. She wondered how it felt to be loved. Wheredid a person feel love? In the stomach? In the mouth? Where? The onlything she really knew was fear, which she felt all over her body, especiallyin her chest when her breathing became difficult and when her heartpounded against her ribs.“I know, Mrs. Hazlett. I’m sure there are a lot of kids who would love tobe like me. But I think that I would like to stay in one place for a long time,just for a change.”The bus finally came. It was packed, but Adriana and Mrs. Hazlett soongot a seat. Once they sat down, they were jostled back and forth, from sideto side as the bus jerked, stopping, going, dodging traffic. Adriana lookedaround, convinced that people were staring at her, but then she rememberedthat Mrs. Hazlett was different from the rest of the passengers, and shedecided that she was the reason people were looking at them.Adriana was relieved when they got off the bus at the corner of FourthStreet and Soto. She knew they were in Boyle Heights, a part of LosAngeles not far from the east side. Adriana looked up and down the streetand saw that it was just as crowded as where they had waited for the bus.Then she tugged at Mrs. Hazlett’s sleeve to get her attention.“Mrs. Hazlett, what’s the name of the family that I’m going to livewith?”“Orvitz. No! Wait a minute, that’s not right. Let me check.”Mrs. Hazlett pulled papers out of a bulky satchel hanging from her leftarm. She fumbled for a while, struggling because there was a breeze thatwhipped the pages from side to side.“Here it is. The family’s name is Ortiz. The house is just around thecorner. I’ve visited them, Adriana, and I know you’ll like them. SeñoraOrtiz has fixed up a room for you of your very own.”She took Adriana’s hand, and together they walked the short distance tothe two-story frame house. As they moved, the older woman spoke to thegirl, using encouraging and affectionate words. She said things that she hadnever before said to Adriana, so the girl listened carefully.“Remember, Adriana, that even though you don’t have parents, orbrothers or sisters, or anyone else like that, still you’ll find people who willcare just as much for you.”
“Like who, Mrs. Hazlett?”“Well, like friends. Friends can love us just as much as family.”“No one has ever loved me.”“That’s not true, Adriana. I care very much for you. I always will. Ah!Here we are. The Orvitz house.”“Ortiz, Mrs. Hazlett. Ortiz.”Adriana had no way of knowing at that time that the family in whichMrs. Hazlett placed her would be the last of her foster homes. Neither didshe know that it was there, in the home of the Ortiz family, that she wouldwitness her body change from that of a child into that of a woman.“Señorita Adriana.”Adriana was pulled away from her memories by a voice calling out hername. Caught by surprise, she could not make out where the voice wascoming from, or who it was that was calling. She sat up, turning in differentdirections, but all she saw were the women at their tasks; no one seemed tobe looking at her or wanting her attention.“Señorita Adriana.”Soon a figure moved away from the dense shadows of the forest into aclearing, showing herself. The woman approached Adriana who, still sittingby the tree, squinted her eyes as she tried to identify the stranger. When shecame near enough to Adriana, she extended her hand.“Me llamo Juana Galván. Mujer de la gente Tzeltal.”Adriana stumbled to her feet to return the handshake and acknowledgeher name. When she straightened up, she realized that she was much tallerthan the woman standing in front of her. She saw that Juana was diminutive,smaller yet than the other women of the tribe.“Sí. Mucho gusto. Soy Adriana Mora.”The other woman nodded, letting Adriana know that she was aware ofher name. Adriana looked at her intently, sensing that the woman wassomeone of importance in the tribe. For a moment, her eyes fixed on acrescent-shaped scar stamped over her left eyebrow. Adriana had neverbefore seen her, but Juana Galván, Adriana saw, walked and held herself in
a special manner. Both women looked at one another, taking in height,looks, ages.“Why don’t we sit down? Here where I was sitting.”They sat cross-legged, with elbows on knees. They were silent, stillscrutinizing one another. The day was drawing to its end, and the junglenoises were escalating toward their night pitch.“You were lost in thought. I had been watching you for a while, and youseemed to be far away.”“Yes. I was reliving my childhood.”“I do that often also. Where are you from, Adriana Mora?”“I’m from Los Angeles in California. Have you heard of it?”“Yes. Some of our young men have left us to go there to work and live.Most of them never return. They say it’s too far to come back. Is that true?”“Yes, it’s true. Los Angeles is far away from here.”“How did you get here?”“I first went to New Mexico. I went there to begin my work. I planned totake photographs of the women of the Hopi tribe.”“Are they people like us?”“Yes. In many ways.”“Would you say that we’re all related?”“Yes.”Juana and Adriana fell silent, as if listening to the rise and fall ofrhythms emerging from the jungle, but they were really considering oneanother. Beyond them, the howling monkeys, at times barking like dogs,then roaring like jaguars, made the loudest racket. Adriana returned to herstory.“I worked a few months with the tribe, but then I read a story about thepeople of these parts; it appeared in a magazine that had photographsincluded in it. Something in those pictures drew me. I wanted to come hereand see this jungle with my own eyes, so I put my things together and camehere.”“You did this by yourself?”“There were other people. I wasn’t the only one.”
“What I mean is, do you have brothers or sisters? Do you have ahusband?”Adriana felt herself tightening with each of Juana’s questions. She beganto feel uncomfortable, edgy. Instead of responding, she turned the directionof the conversation.“And you, Juana, are you from these parts?”“Yes. I have lived in the Lacandona all of my life.”They again became silent, giving way to the inner threads that wereconnecting them one to the other. After a few moments, Juana spoke as shejutted her chin in the direction of the camera.“You record images with that machine?”“Yes. I’m a photographer.”“That’s how you live?”“I try.”“You were writing in that pad. Are you also a scribe?”“Not exactly. I write down my impressions of a photograph, that’s all.”“Why do you do that?”“I might forget what I was thinking, what I was feeling, or there mightbe a color or a detail that I want to remember especially. Writing thosethings will help me remember later on when I examine the pictures I take.”Juana smiled as she pulled blades of grass from the ground, rubbing eachone between her index finger and thumb. She looked at Adriana, whoreturned her gaze.“When you take the images of our women, what is it that you’re lookingfor?”“I can’t be certain, Juana, but I think that what I hope to find is thetruth.”“The truth? About what?”“About the women.”“You think you’re looking at the truth when you take pictures of womentoiling, breaking their backs, growing old before their time, buried in themud of ignorance?”“You find what I’m doing wrong?”“No! Not wrong, but empty.”
Adriana, feeling misunderstood, did not like the direction theconversation was taking. She did not want it to continue that way, so shedecided to stop its momentum.“Please tell me the meaning of your words, Juana. I recognize them but Idon’t understand their meaning.”“When you take the face of a woman with your camera, and herexpression reflects misery, it is not enough to have that image on paperonly. You must also capture her spirit, and the reasons for its anguish.”Adriana’s mind jerked; she was astonished. The impact of Juana’s wordsmoved her profoundly because it was as if Juana had been able to reach intoher heart, into her soul, and discover what she most desired to do with herwork, with her life. She realized that Juana did understand her after all. Shenodded, letting Juana know that she agreed with her.Juana, her head tilted slightly to one side, did not take her eyes fromAdriana’s. Her gaze was intense; it lingered for moments on the otherwoman’s face. She appeared to be deliberating, considering an idea,analyzing it, bringing it closer to her tongue.“I know that you’ve seen the poverty in which we live. Our girls are soldfor a few pesos without having the right to say if they desire to be marriedor if they want children.”Adriana, who had been shifting her weight from one haunch to the other,not because of fatigue but because of tension, nodded, acknowledging thatshe understood Juana’s comments.“Twelve years ago, when I was your age, I took refuge in the mountains.There I joined men and women of my tribe, and other people who hadgathered to prepare to break the yoke that was imposed on us centuries ago.The mountain spoke to us; it told us to take up arms, and we listened. Wehave been training up there, gathering arms and information regarding ourenemies.”“Why are you telling me this? I’m not one of your people.”“No, you’re not, but soon you will be, and we’re certain that you will notbetray us. Besides, you, too, have suffered, haven’t you?”Adriana was astounded by Juana’s question, which she heard more withher heart than with her ears. Her dream returned to her. Fragments ofmemory flashed in her mind: someone like her running, terrified and
panting through dense jungle. Then Juana, contemplating Adriana, movedher lips as if to say something, but she kept quiet. A few moments passed,and when Adriana did not say anything, Juana again spoke. She repeatedthe question.“You have suffered, haven’t you?”“Yes.”“Inside and outside?”“Yes.”“That scar on your arm, is it part of the pain?”“Yes. It happened when I was a girl. Someone wanted to hurt me.”“The hurt was much deeper than your skin?”“Yes.”Juana looked away, thinking of Adriana’s pain while she touched thescar that curved over her eyebrow. When she returned her gaze, it was toagain look into Adriana’s eyes.“Some anguish is never forgotten.”It was Adriana who now opened her mouth to speak, but no sound cameout. The words froze in her mouth, suddenly blocked by an intense surge ofaffection for Juana. This unexpected emotion startled and confused her,causing her to recoil and to want to end the conversation. Sensing theturmoil that was accosting Adriana, Juana pursued.“Join us, Adriana.”“What good could I be to you? I’m not a native, much less do I havetraining in what you’re planning.”Juana straightened her back and she crossed her arms over her breasts. Itwas only then that Adriana focused on that part of her body; until thatmoment she had concentrated only on Juana’s face. She took in theembroidered, faded cotton blouse. The sash around her waist showed off thesmall woman’s plumpness.“We are about to embark on a plan for which we’ve been preparing formany years, one that will return to us what was snatched away long ago. Itwill be painful, and it will cause anguish, but it must take place. All of ouractions should be chronicled in writing as well as in images for the world tosee. You can do that for us.”
Adriana’s body drooped, accosted by a mix of fear and excitement. Aswirl of unrecognizable emotions caused by the woman facing her filledher, shaking her, forcing her to confront the vulnerability and loneliness thathad stalked her since her childhood. She felt a compelling attraction, a pulltowards Juana she had never before experienced for anyone. She lookedaway from her because she feared that what she was feeling would leak outthrough her eyes.“Will the people accept me?”“They already have. That is why I’m here speaking to you.”“Where will I get my supplies?”“We will see that you have what you need.”“Is there going to be bloodshed?”“Yes.”The thought of violence shocked Adriana, forcing her to wonder if shehad the courage. On the one hand, she found it easy to identify with thesuffering of the natives; she had recognized it each time she focused herlens on a woman; she saw it stamped on her face. She was convinced thatshe understood their misery because it reminded her of something inside ofher. Yet the shedding of blood was another consideration. She looked atJuana.“I don’t know if I have the courage.”“None of us knows that until the time comes.”Adriana nodded, remembering that she had yearned to understand thereality behind the images she captured on film. How else could she do that,she asked herself, except to get as close as possible to her subjects. To joinJuana would be dangerous, yet the idea of being in the heart of the conflictenticed her, making her forget whatever peril might come her way.However, without knowing it, much less admitting it, Adriana was above allseduced by Juana’s image, by her voice, by her ideas. In her mind Adrianahad already said yes.She returned to the palapa to pack her personal belongings; the camerasand attachments she would carry separately. As she sorted lenses, film andnotes on the cot, she felt apprehensive about what she was about to do, andthe haste with which she had agreed to join the rebels. She was morefearful, however, of the storm of emotions that had been unleashed in her
soul by her meeting with Juana. She tried to stop thinking of her and toconcentrate on what she was about to do, but the indigenous woman’s faceand her figure would not be erased from Adriana’s thoughts.She forced herself to think of practical things. She had been able to mailpart of her work to an editor in Los Angeles, but she had a collection ofrecent shots, along with numerous notes, still to be organized. She had todecide what to do with those photos and descriptions. After a while, sheplaced the material in a canvas bag, and left the palapa in search of ChanK’in. She found him at the edge of a clearing, working with a boy; theywere mending a broken farming tool. At first, neither of them saw Adrianastanding by their side, and she had to clear her voice to get their attention.“Buenas tardes, Chan K’in.”Her words startled him out of his concentration. The boy, too, wassurprised. When they realized that she was standing by their side, they gotto their feet.The old man smiled a toothless greeting. “Buenas tardes, niña.”With an eye signal, he told the boy to leave. When they were alone,Adriana sat down on the ground and crossed her knees. Chan K’in did thesame; he was still smiling.“I hear you are leaving. Voices say you are going up to the mountains.”Adriana was unable to mask her surprise upon discovering that the oldman knew her plans, since she had told no one of her conversation withJuana Galván. She looked at her watch and realized that less than an hourhad passed since she agreed to leave the village.“What do you think, viejo?”“I think it is good for you to do that. Your work will be important; theworld will see what is happening here.”“But I don’t even know who I’ll be living with, or in what way I’ll beable to help. Perhaps I’ll be nothing more than an intruder, a foreigner.”“That is not the case, niña. You are part of us. We used to be like stones,like plants along the road. We had no word, no face, no name, no tomorrow.We did not exist. But now we have vision; we know the road on which weare to embark, and we invite you to come and seek, to find yourself, and tofind us. We are you, and you are us, and through you the world will come toknow the truth.”
Adriana narrowed her eyes, concentrating her gaze on Chan K’in’scraggy face. She was touched, even surprised by his words and the intensityof their meaning. His voice, too, sounded youthful, vigorous; it filled herwith the courage that she had been missing only minutes before. She slowlyrocked back and forth on her haunches, thinking of what the old man hadjust said, especially about his invitation for her to find herself. Juana’simage flashed in her mind, and behind it came a memory she had longbefore forgotten. She had made love with a man, but she had not felt thenwhat she was feeling now for the small, indigenous woman.“I love you, Adriana.”Kenny’s mouth clung to hers as he rolled off of her. They had justfinished making love, but they were still locked in an embrace of legs andarms, hoping that the pleasure they had just experienced would not goaway. It was a dark night on Point Fermin, the place where she and Kennyoften met to talk and to be with one another.They were quiet for a long while, listening to the sound of wavescrashing against cliffs and rocks, but the breeze skimming off the Pacificwas cool, forcing them to put on their clothes. After that they sat side byside looking out toward Santa Catalina Island; scattered lights glimmeredfrom that shore.“Let’s get married, Adriana.”She listened to him but did not respond. Instead, she drew her kneestoward her chest and wrapped her arms around them, resting her chin there.Adriana seemed to be concentrating on the island’s faroff lights.“Why won’t you marry me?”“I don’t know.”“I don’t understand. We go through this every time we make love. Iknow you love me; I can feel it. Yet when it comes down to marrying me,nothing!”Adriana could not deny what Kenny was saying. When she was lockedin his embrace, her body did not hold back its pleasure. But, whenever hespoke of marriage, something inside of her shut down. She was afraid, andshe did not know what it was that frightened her. All she understood wasthat he offered something she could not return because her soul would not
let her do it. She felt that something inside of her was locked up, closed inon itself.“Kenny, I’m about to finish my courses. After that I’ll be able to beginwork as a photographer. I need to see how that goes. I need time, that’s all.”He got to his feet, frustrated with her response. Without a word, heturned from her and made his way toward the car. Adriana followed him,but once in the car, he refused to speak to her as they drove toward East LosAngeles. That was the last time she and Kenny Wallis saw each other.Adriana and Chan K’in remained silent for a long time facing oneanother, listening to the heightening of the jungle’s nocturnal voices andmurmuring. She felt the clamor intensifying their silence, creating anenergy that coursed its way through her arteries, her bones, muscles, brain,her entire being. Adriana smiled at Chan K’in, nodded, and then turned tothe satchel she still clutched in her hands.“Viejo, will you take care of this bag for me? It contains photographsand writings about the village. I think it’s good material, and when I return,I want to send them back home.”“I’ll watch over your things. In the meantime, let me give you myblessing.”Adriana bowed her head when she felt the weight of Chan K’in’s gnarledhands on it. She had little memory of her father and mother, but sheimagined them to be inhabiting the old man’s body at that moment. It wastheir blessing that was coursing through her body and soul, and it came toher through the bony fingers of the old Lacandón man.
Chapter 6 You have already been among us.Their trek to the mountain began at nightfall. Juana explained that it wassafer that way; the moon was full, and there would be enough light. As theybegan to make their way through the jungle, Juana said that they would bealone, but soon after this, Adriana felt that other people were walking alongwith them, heading in the same direction they were taking. SometimesAdriana slowed down, focusing her eyes on the gloom that surrounded herand Juana, but she saw nothing; she could only sense forms of peoplesomewhere nearby.Juana, with only a rolled-up petate lashed to her back, silently led theway, picking her way through the matted undergrowth. Adriana, toting afull backpack, followed the diminutive figure closely and concentrated onher black hair twisted into a braid reaching to her waist, the embroideredblouse covering her narrow rounded back, the wide sash girding her hips,the dark woolen skirt hanging limply to her ankles.As Adriana struggled with her load, she noticed that Juana movedsteadily, confidently, each step placed carefully on the right spot. Herhuaraches appeared to be part of the earth, curving around stones, moldingthemselves into the soft soil as she moved. Adriana’s boots, on the otherhand, became heavier, more cumbersome with each step, and she wishedthat she had exchanged them for sandals.The women moved through the jungle for several hours, pausing only torelieve themselves or to drink water. Finally, Juana stopped and gave asignal with her hand; it was time to interrupt their march. Adriana wasgrateful because she felt fatigued, thirsty and sleepy. She was soaked insweat, and her hands and face were scratched and stung by mosquitoes.Adriana eagerly looked around, searching for a place to unroll her sleepingbag. As she did this, she again sensed that others were with them, but shestill could not make them out. She saw nothing as she squinted. There wereonly shadows. She remembered the dream she had experienced the previousnight. In it she had felt the same thing: others beside herself, in the jungle,
lost and frightened. She decided that it was her imagination, prompted byher dreams and the ghostly shadows of the jungle.“We’ll rest here for a few hours. We can begin our march before dawn.We’ll be in camp by sunrise.”Juana spoke in clipped sentences, putting her lips close to Adriana’s ear;it was almost a whisper. Without thinking, Adriana eased her head closer toJuana’s mouth, and her nostrils picked up the other woman’s scent, a smokyfragrance mixed with the aroma of damp earth. She nodded and watchedher as she laid out her petate, on which she sat back on her heels. From asack she took out yuca and, after a moment, she handed half of it toAdriana. They ate in silence until Juana spoke.“You will make a good compañera.”“Why do you say that?”“Because I feel it here.”Juana tapped her chest and smiled at Adriana, who wrestled with a floodof emotion. She stared at Juana, both hoping and fearing that she would saymore, but Juana kept quiet, and after a while she rolled off her heels,reclined on her side and appeared to fall asleep.Adriana tried to sleep, but she was so tired that she could not. Every timeshe began to drift off, a jerking muscle violently yanked her back. Not eventhe lilting sound of murmuring cicadas and chirping crickets that filled thejungle’s darkness could put her to sleep. Finally, she decided to concentrateon the shadows cast by moonlight, hoping that this would help her relax.She stared at a large spot, a lagoon of light, not far from where she lay. Itshimmered like a mirror, reflecting different patterns against a tree trunk.As fronds and vines moved in the breeze, Adriana thought she made outstrange forms: a serpent wrapping itself around a tree; an enormous insectswooping over her, spreading its wings, fluttering and opening them, thenclosing in on itself; a creature with a pointed snout, sniffing, rummaging inthe gloom.Despite the heat Adriana shuddered. So she clamped her eyes shut anddrew the top of the bag over her head, but the images persisted behind hereyelids. That bright jungle mirror seemed to reach out to her. Sheconcentrated, trying to dispel its lure. After a while she was relieved whenthe reflections began to fade. Her mind calmed, drifted.
She remembered another mirror; she was eighteen years old. She was inthe bathroom of the Ortiz home, naked and contemplating her body.Someone was knocking at the door, telling her to hurry. She continuedstaring at her reflection, ignoring the pleading. She looked at herself. Nolonger a child, she had grown tall, thin but shapely. Her skin was the colorof coffee with cream, lighter in some places, darker in others, especiallyalong the inner part of her thighs and the cleavage between her breasts. Shestared at the nipples, which stood out taut, nearly black.Her eyes shifted to the side and focused on the scar on her arm; shetouched it carefully, softly, nearly expecting to feel the old pain. It wasdifficult for her to forget the anguish, and often she imagined that the scarwas hurting her all over again. She closed her eyes to get rid of thesensation. When she opened them again, she looked below her waist,stopping to examine the mound of thick hair between her legs, and fromthere down to her knees, calves and feet.With her eyes riveted on the mirror, Adriana gazed upward to her neckand face. There she saw a broad forehead, a straight, short nose, slightlybulbous at its tip. Beneath it were her full, wide lips, outlined by a darkbrown hue tinged with purple. She lifted her hands to her hair, feeling itstight curls, its thickness. She then looked into her eyes, which peered backat her. They were almond-shaped with short, curled lashes; their pupils weredark brown, flecked with green.The knocking became pounding, but Adriana refused to move. She wasspellbound by the sensations welling up inside and outside of her body. Herskin and hair felt connected to desires she sensed in her mind, in herstomach, on her breasts, in the intimacy between her thighs. Soon the fistswere hammering on the door with such force that she felt the vibrations onher shoulders. Suddenly, the door broke down, and something came at her,forcing her to run, to sprint through the jungle, naked and vulnerable. Herbreath caught in her throat; she began to choke because her lungs had runout of air. Something was behind her, gaining on her, lunging at her. Shecried out.“Adriana. ¡Despierta!”
She awoke to find Juana holding her. Drenched in perspiration and withher face smeared with tears, Adriana felt her heart pounding wildly; shecould not breathe. She struggled against suffocation while she stretched andgrabbed at the backpack, fumbling, tugging. She finally found the inhaler.She shoved it into her mouth and pumped, then she inhaled deeply andwaited for her lungs to stabilize.Juana held her in her arms until Adriana was able to calm down. Shewiped the sweat off her face, all the time reminding her that it had been anightmare, that she was safe, that nothing would harm her. Juana’s softwords reassured Adriana, calming her, allowing her to again fall into a deepand this time peaceful sleep. She was unaware of how long she had sleptuntil she became aware of Juana’s voice.“It’s time.”Juana was nudging her shoulders, whispering, trying to awaken her, butAdriana’s sleep was sound, and it took her seconds to realize where she wasand who was calling her. She shook her head, trying to clear her mind, butshe was still half asleep, unable to distinguish where and how her dreamhad ended. Suddenly, she felt a rushing urge to relieve herself. She easedherself away from Juana’s arms and crawled out of the sleeping bag stoodup and walked to the ferns, where she unzipped her pants, squatted, andallowed her body to drain. Then she returned to where Juana waited for her.Without saying a word, Juana turned and began to make her way throughthe jungle. Adriana looked around expecting to see someone, whoever itwas that had pursued her in her dream, in her mind. She saw only trees andthick undergrowth. She walked slowly, following Juana, at the same timereminding herself that it had been only a dream, her imagination that hadevoked those shadows. Nothing more. The words uttered by Chan K’infloated back to her, and she wondered if it really could be possible thatperhaps in more than a dream she had been chased through this jungle inanother era. She shrugged her shoulders, balanced her backpack, and pickedup her pace behind Juana.By the time the sun was rising, Juana and Adriana filed into camp. Thefragrance of tortillas hissing on comales wrapped itself around Adriana’snose, making her mouth water. Despite being exhausted, she felt a burst ofnew energy as she took in her surroundings. She saw at a glance that thecamp took up a large clearing in the jungle, where palapas and other
structures served as shelters. In most of those huts, she noticed that therewere weapons of different types.To the side she saw a sturdier house with windows. It was raised on afoundation, with stairs leading to a deck, then to the front entrance. Juanamade her way to that structure, and as she and Adriana approached, menand women came out to greet them with smiles and embraces. There wasmuch noise and jabbering.After a few minutes, however, Adriana perceived a marked change inmood. Serious expressions replaced smiles; joyful eyes became somber.Astounded, she looked around, taking in faces as she tried to discern thecause of the sudden change. Juana signaled her to stay where she was whileshe moved aside to speak with two members of the group. Adriana kept hereyes on the three, all the while knowing from Juana’s body movements thatsomething important was being discussed. In a few moments, Juana noddedand walked toward Adriana.Meanwhile, Adriana’s attention returned to the men and women millingaround her. She saw that they were all indigenous. She was surprised by thenumber of women, most of them young, who had made themselves part ofthat army. She concentrated on their faces, on the strength reflected in theireyes. Those were the faces that the world beyond the jungle would soon beseeing through the camera lens. There were a few older people, but most ofthat army of men and women, she noticed, appeared to be in their twentiesand thirties. Adriana could not understand what they were saying in theirlanguage. She did realize, however, that no one spoke Juana’s name.Instead, she heard the word “capitán” as it was repeated over and again inSpanish.When they reached the stairs leading up to the house, the throngdispersed and Juana gestured to Adriana to put down her gear.“Here I am known as Capitán Insurgente Isabel.”“You’re an officer?”“Yes. We’re an army.”Adriana, not knowing what to say, kept silent. She inwardly reproachedherself for being naïve, for not having prepared herself for what she wasencountering.“Why are you surprised? All armies have officers.”
“But you’re a woman.”“We’re all equal in this army.”“You even have a different name.”“We give up our original names as we give up the old ways.”Embarrassed, but not knowing exactly why, Adriana was at a loss as towhat to say; she only nodded. Again, she admired Juana’s way, the mannerin which she transformed what could be complicated into something simpleand natural.When they reached the top of the stairs, Adriana looked through theentrance and caught glimpses of men and women in discussion. As she andJuana entered, everyone turned in their direction, momentarily surprised,but then obviously relieved to see them. Adriana sensed that they had beenworried about their well-being. Along with this impression, she felt a heavymood in the room; tension seemed to hang in the air like a pall.Her eyes scanned those faces, moving from one to the other—seeing thatsome of the men were mestizos, and that they, as well as the women, wereall armed. These men and women were the leaders—of this she was certain—and as she had done minutes before, she concentrated on expressions,observing the jutting jaw of the man turning toward her, the prominentforehead of the woman looking intently at her, the nose of the womanstanding next to her. Later on, when these same people would put on masksto erase their faces, Adriana would be able to recognize each one by thecharacteristics she first observed as she met them.Again, Juana moved away from Adriana to approach one of the men.With him she engaged in a long, whispered conversation that betrayedsurprise, then what Adriana interpreted as exasperation. As they spoke, theothers kept silent, apparently knowing what Juana was hearing. When theywere finished, she nodded to the man and returned to the group. Juanaspoke in a low voice, her eyes shrouded as if she were thinking ofsomething else. “Compañeros, this is Adriana Mora. She has agreed tobecome part of our cause and to chronicle the enterprise on film. From here,the images she records will go out to the world.”Juana’s voice was steady and clear as she spoke in Spanish. Adriana wasmoved by Juana’s words because she had never been made to feel sowelcome. The apprehensions she had experienced melted away, leaving hercertain that what she was about to do was important and necessary.
Juana took Adriana to each of the officers, women and men, indigenousand mestizo. Even though they did not speak to her, she saw that theyaccepted her. Most of them shook her hand, others patted her on theshoulder.“This is El Subcomandante, our spokesman.”“This is Major Ana María.”“This is Comandante Ramona.”Juana paused when they neared a man who wore the long cotton tunic ofthe Lacandones over which he had strapped a cartridge belt and revolver athis waist. Adriana looked down at his feet, taking in the worn huarachesthat did not cover heavily callused heels and toes. She noticed also that hisfeet were oversized, too big, for his mediumsized body, and that one toewas missing from each foot.“This is Coronel Insurgente Orlando Flores.”Juana paused as she looked at the officer, and her face took on a seriousexpression showing respect as she introduced the Lacandón rebel. She thenwent on to name the other insurgents.After that she helped Adriana with her gear and showed her where shewould stay. It was a palapa, like the one she had in Pichucalco. Here, too,was a cot with a net covering as well as a basin and water jug placed on topof a small table. Adriana understood that she was being shown privilegebecause she had already noted that the rest, males and females, inhabitedthe long, open huts along the fringe of the camp, and that they slept inhammocks.From there Juana took her to the stream that skirted the living area andpointed to a bend where a waterfall churned up foam and spray. Then sheshowed her to the outhouses and to the communal kitchen. Everyone, sheexplained, helped with the cooking, cleaning and laundry. After the tour ofthe grounds, they returned to the palapa.“For now, rest and get used to your new base. Tell me what you need,and I’ll see that you get it. I’ll show you what we do tomorrow.”Adriana gazed at Juana. She again felt a strong pull toward her,compounded now by a sense that something dangerous was about tounleash itself on the camp. She hesitated, not knowing if she had the right
to ask, fearing that her question might sound like prying. After a fewmoments of wavering, she spoke up.“Juana, what’s happening?”“Why do you ask?”“I felt that something was wrong from the first moments with the group.The compañeros appear apprehensive.”Juana, with her usual directions, did not delay her answer. She looked atAdriana, head tilted to one side, allowing her face to show her thoughts.“Two policemen were killed. It was a brutal murder. They were mutilatedand cut into pieces. Now the catxul blame our people; thirteen men from thecanyons have been arrested. We have no doubt that they will be tortured andkilled.”Juana’s terse words had a deep effect on Adriana. She understood thatthe violence she had feared was already staring at her with unblinking eyes.Despite the little knowledge she had of the insurgents and her lack ofawareness of their plans, she knew that they were at a crossroad.“The Bishop has called for a rally. It’s to take place up there, in thecanyons,” said Juana, jutting her jaw, pointing in an upward direction.Then Juana tapped Adriana’s shoulder to let her know that she hadnothing more to say. She turned and walked away, heading for the center ofthe compound.Adriana stood looking at her until she disappeared into a hut. Shewondered if Juana was experiencing a similar inner turmoil. In her mind,Adriana examined every detail, every gesture of Juana’s, trying to discovera hint of what the woman thought of her, felt for her, but only the sensationof Juana’s arms around her as she fell asleep prevailed.Intense heat and humidity had now taken hold of the jungle. Adriana feltsweat seeping through her clothes and socks. She tried to put aside herdiscomfort as she rummaged through her backpack looking for her notepad. When she found it, she went to the small table and began to record herthoughts, observations and feelings.She noted the impact Juana was having on her and the confusion thatwas gripping her, as well as the unaccountable joy she was experiencing.With equal detail, she noted her fears and her admiration for the fierce
determination she had detected in the insurgents. When she finished,Adriana reread her notes and absentmindedly mouthed a faint yes.She sat at the rickety table for a while, allowing her thoughts to focus onthe insurgents. Like vivid photographs, each face was etched in her mind,and she again felt apprehensive, understanding the magnitude of theirmission. Again, Adriana wondered if she had the courage to be a part of it.With that weighing heavily on her mind, she moved to the cot, bent overand untied the laces of her boots. Putting one foot on her knee, she gruntedand struggled to pull off her drenched socks and heavy shoes. Adrianasighed with relief as she wiggled her toes in the air.She got to her feet and began peeling off clothing: canvas vest, khakishirt and pants, bra, panties. She stood naked for minutes, letting the sweatevaporate off her body. Then she reached into the backpack and pulled out along shirt, put it on and went out, making her way up the stream to thewaterfall. There she took off her shirt, slid down the grassy bank and wadedin toward a small pool of clear, swirling water. Heavy mist covered her,drenching her hair and skin, relieving her of the extreme heat her body hadbeen experiencing.Adriana dove down to discover that the bottom was several feet below.Resurfacing, she surrendered to the swirling emerald-colored water, faceuplifted, arms and legs outstretched as she floated listlessly, allowing thecurrent to swivel her in repeated circles. She clenched and unclenched herfingers, enjoying the pleasure of weightlessness, feeling the watery caresson her breasts and thighs. She looked up at the mahogany and ceiba trees,their branches and leaves meshed into a plush, green-black canopy aboveher. She narrowed her eyes taking in the colors: deep green, amber, black,emerald, yellow, orange. She was dazzled by the jungle that teemed withbutterflies, birds and flowers. Everywhere she looked there was dampness,richness, beauty. She closed her eyes and listened to the roar of the cascadeand the incessant cacophony of the forest. Her body and soul floated.Adriana remained there for a long while as her mind filled with Juana’simage, her own struggle with feelings of abandonment, and her new lifeamong the insurgents.
Chapter 7 Our people built that church.Juana’s body was limp as it surrendered to the curve of the hammockwhere she had lain awake during the long hours of night. The storm hadpassed; only the echo of thunder rumbled as it crashed against the distantmountains. The camp was silent except for the repeated whistles of sentries,signaling that the compound was secure.She felt a breeze whip under the hammock, lifting moisture sucked fromthe dampened jungle floor. There were gaps in the palapa’s thatched roof,and through them, Juana’s eyes gazed high above at the blackened canopyof entangled ceiba and mahogany trees. Her vision was riveted on thetreetops, but her mind was concentrated on the impending crisis facing theinsurgents. She closed her eyes, trying to capture some moments of rest, butfrom deep behind her lids Adriana’s face emerged.Juana shivered, making her think that rain had dripped onto her throughthe thatching, wetting her shoulders, or perhaps her hips. She ran her handsup and down her body, examining, touching, but found that she was dry.She sighed, realizing that it had been Adriana’s image that had made hershudder.Easing herself back into the hammock, Juana wrapped her arms aroundher head. With her eyes closed, she contemplated the sentiment she hadnever before experienced. She turned on her side, curling in on herself,unable as yet to understand what she was feeling, yet clinging and yieldingto its allure because it brought her solace and serenity.Juana sighed deeply and closed her eyes; she forced herself to think backon her life, hoping to discover in her past a similar sentiment, one thatwould explain what she was now feeling. Memories quickly wrappedthemselves around her thoughts, transporting her back to her childhood.
Juana Galván labored under the burden of woven shawls, huipiles andsashes piled high on her back. The bundle was secured by a band strappedaround her forehead, and except for her bare feet, her diminutive figure wasnearly obscured by the huge pile. Dawn had just broken. Streaks of sunlightwere cutting their way through the narrow stone passages of San Cristóbalde las Casas, past colonial façades, wrapping church spires and bell towersin a golden shroud.She had just turned fourteen, but Juana had been doing this work sincebefore she could remember. Every Wednesday, she and her mother madetheir way from the outskirts of the city towards the open market, where theywould set their wares on blankets stretched out on cobblestones. There theywould spend most of the day, selling what the women of the tribe hadfabricated.The city and the surrounding valleys had been lashed by a storm thenight before, transforming the streets and plazas into muddy streams. Theheat, churned up by the tropical rain, was already rising, and Juana feltsweat sliding its way down her back, dripping to her ankles. Thetemperature intensified as the women trudged past the Zócalo, a vast squaredominated by the cathedral. As she walked, Juana turned to the left to catcha glimpse of the distant sierra, almost always shrouded in thick clouds. Shethen turned to the right, trying to see the top of the huge crucifix planted inthe center of the square, but the weight on her back kept her from raisingher head and eyes. It was easier for her to trace its shadow, which coverednearly all of the plaza. She felt a slight shudder because, just as everyoneelse did, she knew it to be the place where people had been flogged by thepatrones up to just a few years before.She followed her mother as she made her way around corners and pastalleyways. After a while, she stopped to catch her breath. When she lookedup, Juana saw that her mother had also stopped and was leaning against hergoods. The girl didn’t have to wait to be told to put down her load. Togethermother and daughter rested on top of their colorful mounds, each breathingdeeply, knowing that they still had a way to go before reaching the stalls ofthe mercado.After a few minutes of rest, a smile spread across Juana’s face. She felt asudden surge of playfulness overcome her when she saw that the fringe ofher mother’s rebozo, which encircled her waist, dangled behind her almost
dragging to the ground. Juana giggled softly to herself, remembering themany times her mother had scolded her in disapproval of the pranks sheoften played on her sisters and the other village girls.In spite of the threat of a reprimand, Juana found that she could not resistgiving into temptation, so she crept over behind her mother’s back andsoftly, silently, took the fringe of the shawl and wrapped it tightly aroundthe cord that bound the bundle on which her mother sat. Then, even morestealthily, while struggling to smother her laughter, Juana moved back toher own things and waited.Soon enough her mother tried to get to her feet, only to be yanked backonto her haunches. She struggled again only to have a repeated force pullher back down. She jerked and squirmed, jiggling her legs, until she finallyunderstood. She smiled to herself and relaxed, but not before snapping herhead in Juana’s direction, shattering the girl’s self-control as she burst out ina fit of laughter that doubled her over in cramps. Juana’s laughter was sofilled with girlish mischief and mirth that it infected her mother, who joinedher, laughing first softly with a closed mouth, then in a loud, wide-openbelly laugh.Mother and daughter laughed without restraint, so much that otherpeople stopped whatever they were doing, and they, too, chuckled withoutknowing exactly why they were laughing. All this was happening in front ofthe Church of Santo Domingo, where people were rushing up the steps tomake it in time for early mass. Even those men and women stopped in theirtracks and joined in the fun.As Juana wiped tears from her cheeks, she gazed silently at her mother,wishing that they could be that happy always. But when she saw her facereturn to its usual sad expression, Juana realized that it had been only a briefmoment that would soon disappear. Trying to dispel that thought, Juanalooked upward at the imposing façade. She could not remember the numberof times she had stood in that place, looking up in that way, always feelingthe same astonishment. Each time she was drawn by the ornate stonework,the niches, the statues of saints. She looked at it not because she found itbeautiful, but because of intense curiosity and because it helped her forgether mother’s unhappy face.She wondered how it was that an artisan could carve a piece of stoneuntil it looked like a patrón, the owners and bosses of the haciendas. Even
the winged figures looked like the women of the haciendas and citymansions. How could it be, she asked, that a stone nose could be chiseled tolook like one of a mestizo? The same happened with eyes, chins, mouths,hands. As always, she wondered what those statues and stone robesconcealed. Was the body of a man or a woman under that rock? Since Juanahad never seen the body of a white person, woman or man, she could notknow how they might look; so she wondered.Suddenly, the bells of the church began to ring, calling people to mass.The metallic clanging was so loud that Juana felt its vibrations tug at herhair and pound on her chest. She looked over to her mother, who had freedher rebozo, and saw that she was already on her way to the stalls lined upbehind the church. She got to her feet and struggled with her load until shebalanced it on her back. In a few moments she caught up to her mother,shuffling briskly as she watched her point repeatedly toward the church.Our people built that church with the sweat of their bodies.Juana silently mouthed what she knew her mother was saying as shepointed at the church with a short, skinny finger. The thought of womentoting stones instead of shawls made Juana grateful that priests no longerordered such places to be constructed. The image of stooped womenabruptly halted her, and she envisioned the people who had been forced tobuild that church. Without thinking, Juana let the bundle slip off hershoulders as she recalled a story her mother often told.At that time their city was named Ciudad Real. That had been so manygenerations before Juana that all she knew was that it had been during thefirst reign of the white masters. It was a time when women who had beenher ancestors trudged up and down the mountain to mine stones for thechurch. Her mother told her that there was among them a special woman,singled out by her resistance to the bosses, as well as by the scar thatmarred the skin above her left eyebrow. Every day, that woman staggereddown the steep, narrow path, bent low under the burden of a stone-filledbasket. Its handles were strapped around her forehead; its weight pressedagainst her curved spine.On a certain day, the woman’s hands reached backward, clinging to theload so that it would not shift from one side to the other. She moved slowly,
deliberately, knowing that a false step would send her headlong down into aravine. She turned and looked upward to the pinnacle of the mountain,toward the long line of women: brown, bent, sweating, intense onaccomplishing the same task. In the rarefied air of the high altitude, thehuman snake gingerly coiled its way down, stooped and breathing slowlythrough its opened mouth.After a few moments, she swiveled her head forward, concentrating onher next step. When she reached the bottom of the trail, she dumped therocks onto the growing mound, then she turned around and began a freshascent to the mouth of the stone quarry.She and other women of her tribe had been doing this for years. Eachday, they wearily climbed the mountain, then returned down the slopes,ridding the cavern of the stones loosened by men who dug with picks aswell as fingernails. Here stones were produced for the new city namedCiudad Real.“¡Más rápido, indios perezosos!”The foreman barked out his offensive demand for more speed, moreefficiency. The woman, however, did not heed his words; she had heardthem for too many years. They had been uttered in different forms, bydifferent lips, at different times, but the meaning never changed. She insteadfocused her thoughts on the load under which she struggled.It was dark by the time the shift was halted. Wordlessly, the men andwomen took knapsacks and other possessions, and headed for town. Therethey were forced to attend evening mass. She walked slowly, her back stillbent because it had forgotten how to become straight even without a load.As she made her way to the Church of Santo Domingo, she chewed on apiece of yuca. She held each pulpy bite in her mouth to soften it because herteeth were decaying and loose.Soon she and the others entered the high vaulted church, where theheavy odor of incense and burning candles curled itself into her nostrils.She felt nauseous, but she ignored her churning stomach as she joined thewomen and men of her tribe, squatting on the stone floor, backs bent, eyesdrooping under the weight of fatigue.She nailed her vision to the floor as she rubbed her fingers first on thescar over her eyebrow, then on the floor’s surface, wondering if that stonewas one of many she had carted down the mountain. She remained that
way, hunched over her crossed legs, not looking toward the high altar. Shewas too tired to lift her eyes.The woman’s stooped, haggard silhouette suddenly melted into thevaporous air, vanishing from Juana’s eyes, which had become bright withtears of pity and admiration for that woman. Although she desired to bewith that distant ancestor, she realized that she had fallen behind, so shesnapped out of her trance and picked up her pace in an attempt to reach hermother.As she neared the marketplace, the charred maize aroma of elotes asadoswas the first to coil itself through Juana’s nostrils, and soon this blendedwith the smell of panuchos being served to a merchant who made his wayto his store. Fragrant scents collided with the pungent, acrid odors ofspoiled vegetables, moldy corncobs, rancid fruit, muddy corners.Everywhere there was noise, a clamor made up of vendors hawking wares,buyers driving a bargain, babies crying, dogs barking, bells clanging, dirty-faced children playing and shouting at one another.When Juana finally caught up with her mother, she found her alreadysitting on her heels, unfolding shawls and placing them on mats. Juana’sfather, who had gone ahead of them, was securing a corner of the canvasthat hung overhead, protecting them from the glare of the sun. She gotdown on her knees where she, too, sat on her heels as she began to put outthe garments she had carted. They were silent.Hours passed. People came to examine certain pieces, to ask prices, thentried to lower them. Some women bought blouses, or belts; others merelylooked and walked away. Juana felt drowsy and hungry, but she knew thather mother would soon bring out the bag that held their tortillas and beans.The thought of food made the girl’s mouth water.Juana looked at her mother, letting her know that she was hungry, but hermother ignored her. Juana was about to ask if something was wrong, when aman stepped under the canvas and stood in silence holding a straw hat in hishands. Juana stared at him; she had seen him before in the village. Sheremembered that at times he would follow her and would not take his eyesoff of her.“Juana, ven acá.”
Her face snapped toward the side of the stall from where her father wascalling her. He was sitting cross-legged, with his back rigid, and he held hishands, palms down, on his knees. Her mother sat behind him, as usual, onher heels. Juana obeyed and moved toward him. She, too, got down on herknees and sat on her heels. He spoke in the Tzeltal tongue, as they alwaysdid when they were alone.“Do you know this man?”“No, Tata.”“His name is Cruz Ochoa. You may greet him.”Juana knew that this was not a permission that her father was granting; itwas a command. Juana felt her stomach begin to ache, knowing thatsomething terrible was about to happen. She nevertheless turned to the manand nodded. He returned her gesture.She continued to look at Cruz Ochoa, taking in his face and his body. Hewas not old, yet older than she. He was not handsome, yet not ugly. She sawby his dress that he was not a Tzeltal man but a Lacandón. He wore thewhite cotton tunic of those people, and he wore his hair in their fashion:straight, covering the forehead down to the eyebrows, and long enough toreach the shoulders.Juana stretched her neck and looked behind her father to where hermother crouched. She saw that her eyes were cast down, but she could seeby the frown pasted on her face that she was feeling sadness for herdaughter. Juana returned her gaze to her father’s face, but his eyes wereriveted on a point somewhere above her head. She could hear peoplecoming and going by their stall, but she knew that they were stragglers,because it was not the time of day to market; that hour had passed. Sheturned her head toward the man, who stood without saying anything.“Buenas tardes.” Juana spoke in Spanish, since she did not know theLacandón tongue.“Buenas tardes, niña.”The brief greeting was followed by more silence because no one couldspeak until Juana’s father gave permission. Finally, he spoke.“This man will be your husband. He is willing to take you as his wife, tolive in the Lacandona, where you will have his children. He is a man of
influence. He even owns a mule, which he has offered to sell in exchangefor you. I have accepted his offer.”Juana felt as if a hand had gripped her throat, cutting off the air that herlungs needed to breathe. Vivid pictures of her three older sisters flashed inher brain. One by one, they, too, had been married by her father and at anage even younger than hers. She saw them as they grew thin and sickly witheach pregnancy. She saw them losing their teeth after being battered bydrunken husbands. She saw them become sullen women, worn out beforetheir time.She looked at her mother, and for the first time in her life, Juana realizedthat she, too, had undergone the same brutal treatment as had her sisters, aswell as the other women of the tribe. Juana saw that although her motherwas not more than thirty-five years old, she was toothless, her breastssagged, her hair was ragged and gray, and her skin was blotched. Thisrealization made her shiver because she knew now that this would also beher fate, and she did not want this for herself. She did not want to marryCruz Ochoa, or anyone else.At that instant, the image of the woman stooped under an intolerableburden of stones again came to Juana. The picture was vivid, stark,haunting, and she was so shaken by the turmoil she was experiencing thatshe sprang to her feet in an attempt to run away. Her father, however,moved faster than she, and he was able to grab one of her ankles as shelunged toward the street. She tripped, lost her balance and fell on her face,splitting her upper lip on the cobblestones. When she rolled over, her facewas covered with blood.The hammock swayed slowly, responding to the motion of Juana’shands. She moved her arms upward to her face, where her fingers touchedher lips, her nose, her cheeks. She massaged the scar over her eye,reminding herself that it had not been caused by her fall in the marketplace,but by something that happened later on. This thought moved her mind totake flight again, back towards the years that had launched her on the paththat led her to this encampment, to the struggle for which she was now aleader, and to the mystery of what she was feeling for Adriana Mora.
Chapter 8 The soil was gray; it had no color.Two weeks after meeting him, Juana stood by Cruz Ochoa on a side altarat the rear of the Church of Santo Domingo. The mass and marriage ritualwere over and the altar boy was snuffing out the candles. The familymembers and friends who had attended began to leave without sayinganything; they only patted the couple on the shoulders or on the arms.Juana’s mother was the only one to approach the couple to offer a blessing.After that, everyone dispersed, and Juana followed Cruz Ochoa as he ledthe way to the second-class bus station. She carried her belongings in asmall cardboard box.Juana was glad that Cruz was silent because she did not want to speak.She felt dejected and would not have known what to say to him if he didattempt a conversation. She knew, however, that sooner or later he wouldapproach her. In the meantime, she distracted herself by looking around atthe crowds of people waiting their turn to board buses. She looked in onedirection and saw people elbowing and shoving one another to get to thefront of the line. She turned her gaze in the opposite direction and saw awoman, a little older than she, with a child hanging on to her skirt, anotherone wrapped in her rebozo, and another in her womb. A man, who Juanawas certain was the husband, stood apart with his straw hat pulled low overhis brow. Everywhere Juana looked she saw people from different tribes,each wearing their native garments. She saw some like her, the Tzeltales,but there were Chol, Tzotzil, Zoque, Lacandón; there were even poormestizos in the crowd.Juana shut her eyes and mopped her forehead with the back of her hand.It had not rained in several days and the air was sweltering, oppressive.Most of the passengers were irritable and impatient to leave the city, hopingto find relief from the heat once in the countryside.“Ruta número cinco dirección Huixtán, Oxchue, Chol, Ocosingo.¡Pasajeros abordo!”
The shrill voice over the loudspeaker bleated out the route that wouldtake Juana and Cruz Ochoa to the point of their first transfer. FromOcosingo, they would take another bus to their final destination, El Caribal.As soon as people were able to make out the muffled announcement theyhad just heard, the shoving became intense. Juana was barely able to hangon to her box as the flood of travelers pressed toward the front entrance ofthe vehicle. Since the men pushed the hardest, they were the first to findseats, leaving most of the women and children standing in the middle aisle,or sitting there on their bundles and boxes.Seeing that Cruz had secured a place for himself at the front, Juana wasglad that she had been shoved all the way to the rear. She edged back as faras possible, placed her box on the floor, sat on it and leaned her body back.When she looked down the aisle, she saw that most of the women wouldhave to stand in uncomfortable postures until they got off the bus, makingher even more grateful for her place. From where she sat, she could seeCruz’s square head and flinty eyes as he turned to stare at her from time totime.The driver got on the bus and sat at his seat, turned the key in theignition and cranked the engine. Loud backfires erupted from the rustymuffler, and everyone instinctively held onto whatever they could, knowingthat the trip would not be smooth. Juana braced herself for the trip from SanCristóbal to El Caribal, the village where she would now live. The villagewas distant, on the fringes of the Lacandona Jungle, and because the buswould stop at most of the towns and settlements along the way, the journeywould take between seven and eight hours.The bus rumbled onto Highway 190 southbound, then on to 186eastbound, but just as the driver picked up speed and Juana felt that somedistance would be covered, the vehicle pulled over. Its first stop was LosLlanos, then after a short while they halted again at Huixtán, and onward,stopping almost every fifteen minutes. In the beginning, Juana was relievedwhen she saw that several passengers stepped down, but her mood changedwhen she realized that more people got on than got off. This happened ateach stop, until she thought that the bus would explode if more passengerswere taken on board.Three hours later, the bus rolled into Oxchue. At the time, Juana wasdrowsing, almost asleep, but the bumpy stop awakened her with a jerk. She
looked up to see that Cruz was once again looking back at her. She decidedto ignore him, thinking that each time he craned his neck and face towardher, his eyes became smaller. His eyes frightened her; they were tiny slits,like those of a wooden mask that glinted at her, boring into her, cutting likea knife.“¡Media hora, más o menos! ¡Todos abajo!”The driver was grumpy as he shouted that everyone was to get off thebus; they would have at least a half-hour wait. Juana was grateful for thechance to stand; her legs were cramped and her buttocks ached fromcrouching. She gathered her box in her arms and followed the press ofbodies off the bus. It was near dusk, the heat was diminishing and thepassengers didn’t mind walking down the dirt path that took them to foodstalls and roaming vendors.As Juana strolled, happy to exercise her legs, she passed butcher stallswhere chunks of raw beef and pork were hung out on giant hooks. Shelooked at the pieces of meat, blackened with flies and dirt. The smelldisgusted her, making her nauseous, forcing her to cross the highway to theother side, where grocers had erected their stands. In contrast to the putridstench of rancid flesh, this side of the road brought the aroma of tortillascooking on comales, blending with the fragrance of fresh popcorn.“¿Quiere palomitas?”Juana whirled around, startled by the outstretched hand offering her abag of popcorn. She had forgotten about Cruz, but now his face, so close tohers that she felt his breath on her cheeks, reminded her of his presence inher life. Dejection again flooded over her. Yet his offering struck her asthoughtful, unexpected, and she smiled stiffly as she put down her box sothat she could take the small bag. He intercepted her move, taking hold ofthe parcel. She responded in Spanish, “Gracias.”She nibbled the fluffy corn without saying anymore while walking,aware that Cruz was by her side. They continued until the structures ended;beyond that point only tiny palapas could be seen in the thick of palmfronds and banana trees. Juana, with nowhere to go, turned around,intending to head back where the bus was parked, but she felt Cruz take herby the arm and edge her toward the rear of the last stand. There the grassgrew taller than she and almost as tall as Cruz.
Juana resisted, but his grip on her arm only tightened. She knew what hewas going to do. She knew that she did not want it to happen, but she alsoknew that there was nothing she could do to avoid it. It was inevitable, shehad already told herself. It would come sooner or later. Cruz nudged Juanatoward the thickest part of the growth, forced her down to the ground, ontoher knees, out of sight.“¡Quítese los calzones!”Repugnance and nausea flooded Juana when Cruz ordered her to take offher pants, but she knew that if she did not do as he ordered, he would beather until she obeyed him. It would be no use shouting for help; no oneinterfered when a husband demanded what was considered to be his duefrom a wife. Juana removed her pants as Cruz stood looking down at her.She saw that with one hand he was lifting the tunic that reached his knees.He shoved her onto her back with the other one.“¡Abra las piernas!”She let herself roll back on the grass and opened her legs as he hadcommanded. She clamped shut her eyes, not wanting to see him come downon her because she knew what he was going to do. She had seen it happenmany times to girls and women of the tribe. She had seen a man take a girlas she planted maize, or as she wove a huipil, or as she put tortillas on thepan. She had seen her father do it to her mother. She had seen her sisterspinned down to earthen floors, straddled by men they called their husbands.Pain coursed up from her vagina to her brain. She felt that she wassuffocating. The weight of Cruz’s body pressed the air out of her lungs,forcing her to gasp over and again. She clawed at the damp earth, hoping todiminish the pain that intensified each time he plunged in and out of her forwhat seemed an interminable time. Finally, he gasped, shuddered andsighed. Then he rolled off her, coiled and pressed in on himself.Juana lay motionless, unable to move. It took time for the pain todiminish, allowing her to control her racing heart. She ran her hands up anddown between her inner thighs, trying to wipe away the thick discharge thatcoated them. After a few minutes, she thought she heard Cruz snore softly,but when he sprang to his feet, she knew that she had been wrong. Helooked at her with blank, squinty eyes.“¡Vámonos!”
Juana stumbled to her feet as she struggled with her clothes and fumbledin the grass for her box. She followed Cruz to the bus, where she found thatmost of the passengers were already seated. She realized that they werestaring at her because they knew what had happened. She realized that Cruzhad asked the man seated next to him to watch his belongings while he waswith his wife.She made her way back to her place and sat staring through a dirty,cracked window, wondering, for the first time, why her father had given herto Cruz Ochoa for the price of a mule. She stretched out her hands on herlap, palms up, as she examined them, seeing that they were smeared withmud and blood. The thought crossed Juana’s mind that although she mightlook the same, she was different because she had crossed over a bridge thattook her to an unknown land, which she neither loved nor hated. Her feetwere now planted on soil that was gray; it had no color.In the darkness of her palapa, Juana brought her hands close to her face,fingers outstretched, palms in front of her eyes as she remembered howresentment and disgust for her father replaced her first childlikequestionings. It happened during the grayness of the first years of her lifewith Cruz Ochoa. She squinted her eyes in the gloom, then she closed them,trying to remember another color, but it was of no use, the murkiness ofthose months that had passed into years washed over her memories. Sheturned her head to one side as her thoughts once again leaped over the ceibatrees, scurried through palm fronds, hovered over rivers and ravines, untilreaching those past years of her life in El Caribal.
Chapter 9 She felt that floating would turn to flying.El Caribal, a village on the fringe of the Lacandona Jungle, 1978.Torrential rain had deluged El Caribal for three days and nights withoutletup. The narrow river that fringed the cluster of huts had swollen andflooded, dragging trees and chunks of mud downstream. Animals howled inprotest as thunder and lightning caused the earth to shake, disturbing theirhideaways. At night, when the jungle was at its blackest, streaks of lightflashed on and off, sending terror through the dense growth of ferns andgiant trees.In her palapa, Juana was lying on a petate on the earthen floor. Exceptfor a small fire, the place was dark. She was covered with sweat, slowlyregaining consciousness, blinking her eyes as she tried to dislodge thecoating that blurred them. In a few minutes, forms began to take shape asshe looked over to the corner of the hut where she was able to make out thesilhouettes of three women. They were the village midwives: toothless oldwomen with wrinkled, parched skin, shoulders stooped from years spenttoting loads to the marketplace, hands gnarled from a lifetime of toiling inthe fields.Juana concentrated on their heads and faces, trying to clear her brain.She took in more of the women’s appearance, seeing how their hair wasbraided but disheveled and streaked with gray. After a few moments, sherealized that from her place near the side of the hut she could make out onlyprofiles: beaked noses, flabby jowls, hollow mouths, furrowed necks. For atime, Juana was vaguely aware that they were speaking in hushed tones.She concentrated. In a few minutes her hearing became attuned, and shecould make out their whispering. It sounded like dry fronds scraping onbark.“El niño se murió.”“Nomás no puede. Pobrecita mujer.”
Juana’s hands moved to feel her abdomen. It was empty. The child hadslipped out between her legs, and it had done so soundlessly because it wasdead. She felt her heart shiver. She dragged her hands to her breast andrubbed, trying to stop the trembling. Then she clasped her hands on her earsbecause she did not want to hear the hags pitying her, repeating over andagain how she could not keep a child in her womb long enough to deliver italive.More lightning flashed, filling the palapa with a light charged withviolence, made more threatening by the explosion of thunder that followedalmost immediately. Juana felt the earth under her shift; it too was filledwith fear. Four years had passed since her father had sent her away withCruz, and this was the third child she had lost. Remembering this pushedher into a pit of sadness, made intolerable to her because her grief wascoated with dread.“Pobre hombre.”“Buen hombre.”“Desafortunado hombre.”Poor man. Good man. Unfortunate man. The toothless mutterings of themidwives reached her again, this time sympathizing with Cruz Ochoa,pitying him for having a useless woman as his wife. Juana filled withdesperation, wondering why they pitied him and not her. Inside of her avoice asked why did they not understand that each child had beenconceived in fear and repugnance, robbing it of a reason to live. She turnedher head away from the silhouettes, hoping that she would again loseconsciousness, making them disappear, wishing that a bolt of lightningwould strike her, erase her from that hut, erase her existence.In the village, Cruz Ochoa was considered a good man. He neither drankalcohol nor did he beat his wife. For these two reasons alone, the women ofthe tribe envied Juana, because in most palapas, drunkenness and batteringwere common. What no one knew, however, was that Cruz was a man filledwith anger, with a rage that washed over Juana every time he glanced at her,every time he commanded her to open her legs. No one knew that theintoxication that possessed him was caused not by alcohol, but byfathomless bitterness. No one knew that although he did not beat her withhis fists, he attacked her with eyes filled with ire.
Days after the last miscarriage, Juana emerged to return to her tasks,grateful that Cruz had, at least for a while, disappeared into the jungle. Inher heart she wished that he might be devoured by jaguars, poisoned byserpents, swallowed by a river, but her mind yanked her from thesethoughts, reminding her that he would, in time, return. She braced herself,not knowing how he would vent his rage on her this time. During hisabsence, her mind filled with questions: Why was Cruz so embittered? Whydid he hate her, yet bury himself in her body with such abandonment? Whydid he not speak to her as other men did to their wives? The answers tothese questions never came to her. She resigned herself to living with a manfilled with shadows.One day, Juana knelt by the river, washing clothes. She was lost inthought, oblivious to the other women who chattered, exchanging gossip.The rain had stopped, but the river was still swollen, dragging tree trunksand dead animals down its course. Some of the women had tied their skirtsaround their hips, wanting to keep dry, but Juana had not bothered; she waswet up to her waist. Her motions were listless, mechanical, as she rubbedsoap onto a shirt, then scrubbed it against the flat rock at which she worked,then rinsed the garment in the rushing current. All the time, she wasthinking about how much she wanted to vanish.Suddenly, a fist from behind struck her neck, plunging her headlong intothe muddy water. The force of the blow knocked her unconscious. She didnot feel the pain of her face scraping against a rough surface, nor was sheaware that Cruz had leaped into the current, grabbed her by the neck, anddragged her limp body from the river. Had she not been unconscious, Juanawould have resisted him, hoping that her wish to be erased might havecome true by drowning.When she regained consciousness, she was on her back, where Cruz hadthrown her. Her face and nose were bleeding, making it hard for her to see,but after a while, when she was able to make out his features, she saw thatthis time he would go beyond just spilling his disdain for her through hiseyes. She realized that his fists would pound her with a strength thatmatched the bitterness that was devouring him.Juana and Cruz glared at one another for moments before she leaped toher feet and ran, slipping over the muddy banks of the river, regaining herbalance by clawing into the soil with her fingers. She did not have a
direction or place to go. Her legs simply obeyed the compelling impulse toescape Cruz, who sprinted behind, narrowing the distance between them,until she could feel his fingertips grazing her back.He latched on to her blouse, ripping it off, leaving her naked except forher skirt. He grabbed her shoulder with one hand, and with the other hespun her around to face him. Juana tried to defend herself by pushingagainst him, by trying to wiggle loose from his clutch, but it was useless;his grip was as strong as a vise. Then she saw one of his arms rise above hishead, fist clenched. When it struck her face above the left eye, intense painfroze her brain, and the day lost its light as blackness again enveloped her.Juana awakened to find that she was lying in mud. She put her hands toher face. It was puffed, bruised. She realized that she could see with onlyone eye because the other one, the one that had received the blow, wasswollen shut; the gash above it was deep and still bleeding. Then she puther hands to her breasts and felt the nipples hardening under her touch. Sheshivered, relieved that Cruz had not mutilated her body.She stayed there until her thoughts cleared, until she could think of whatto do next. One thought dominated the others: She had to leave Cruz Ochoa.She had to separate her life from his. She had to escape, even if it meantbeing devoured by the jungle. When this thought came more clearly intofocus, she struggled to her feet, stumbling and tripping again as she madeher way toward the river’s edge. There she began, with difficulty, to removethe clothing still on her body. Her hands were bloody and her fingers wereso bruised that taking off her clothes was painful, but finally she wascompletely stripped.Naked, Juana stepped into the water and waded towards its center, whereit was deepest and where the current was the strongest. It crossed her mindthat surrendering to the rage of the river would be better than submitting toCruz. When she was at the point where her feet no longer touched theground, she allowed her body to submerge, covering her breasts, neck andhead. Slack and inert, she floated downstream as the force of the currentcarried her with growing speed. Instead of resisting, she surrendered to itspull, not knowing where it would lead her, but satisfied that it was takingher away from Cruz Ochoa.Wanting, intending to die, Juana floated with the current of the river,grateful for its energy and speed, thankful for its embrace, which would
carry her to oblivion. But as she yielded to its flow, she began to feel anemotion that contradicted her desire to vanish. It was a small sentiment atfirst, but one that grew with each second, intensifying, possessing herentirely, and in a while she recognized the feeling: it was the desire to live.Eyes closed, arms extended away from her sides, she felt that floatingwould turn to flying, and that once airborne, she would find liberation. Sheopened her good eye and saw that day had turned to night. She flipped herbody over and began to swim across the current toward land.Juana walked for hours through the darkened jungle, oblivious of itsdangers, never once thinking of the coiled snake or the hiding jabalí. Shewalked, her nakedness and her bruised face forgotten. She moved, notcaring in what direction she was going, knowing that sooner or later shewould come to a village, where she would be given shelter. She stumbledupon such a place at dawn, when the women were busy preparing breakfast.“Me llamo Juana Galván. Necesito quedarme aquí.”“Está bien. Quédate aquí.”No one seemed surprised. Her nakedness and battered face told them shewas escaping, and they took Juana in as one of them. She remained in thatvillage, working with its women, earning the food she ate and the hut whereshe slept. She did not allow herself to think of Cruz Ochoa, nor of hisvillage. Whenever she was assaulted by those thoughts, she forced herselfto erase them from her mind. In that way, Juana passed several months,aware that although her body had healed, her spirit was shattered.One evening, three women came to her. They sat down crosslegged onthe earthen floor to face each other over the small fire that Juana continuallyfed with twigs.“Tu hombre te busca.”“Vino a la aldea mientras sembrabas maíz.”“Dice que te llevará con él.”These words stunned Juana, making her stomach ache. Each womantook her turn uttering what sounded like evil incantations.“Your man is looking for you.”“He came to the village while you were planting maize.”“He says that he will take you with him.”
Cruz Ochoa had stalked her, hunted her, and found her. She put herfingers to the scar over her eye; the skin was still tender, and she winced,feeling pain under the pressure of her finger. Juana’s mind, its thoughtsscattered and disrupted by what she had been told, soon focused. Cruz hadfound her, and he had spoken to the villagers. That meant that he had beenwatching her, waiting to ensnare her. Her back stiffened as she understoodthat he had been secretly spying on her for a time, perhaps days, or evenweeks. While she was unaware of his presence, his disdainful eyes had beenriveted on her as she walked, planted, ate, and even as she slept. Her headsnapped toward the palapa’s entrance, expecting to find him standing there.“¿Dónde está?”“Afuera.”Juana had not been wrong. Cruz was waiting outside the hut. Knowingthis cast her into a pit of sadness. She could not help or control the tears thatwelled first in her heart, moved up to lodge behind her eyelids, and finallyspilled over her cheeks. She understood that her liberation had been a falseone, that it had been a trap that had just slammed shut, catching her inside.In silence, Juana got to her feet to gather her things, which she thenrolled into the petate. She lashed it over her shoulder and stepped out of thehut without saying a word to the women. Cruz was standing under agnarled, stunted ceiba tree with his hat pulled down low over his brow.Juana could not make out his eyes, but she knew the fire that was burningthere. Without saying anything, he turned to make his way into the jungle,and with a silence that matched his, Juana followed Cruz Ochoa back to hisvillage.Not noticing if it was day or night, she lost track of time as they trekkedthrough the jungle. She lost a connection with her body, not caring whetherit was tired, or hungry, or needing to relieve itself. She followed Cruz,watching his back and the rear of his sandaled feet, watching as he hacked away through the dense jungle with a machete.It was morning when Juana and Cruz made their way though the centerof the village, he in front and she several paces behind him. She was awareof the villagers’ stares; she felt the impact as those harsh looks pastedthemselves onto her body. She could hear the secret thoughts crossing theminds of those women and men.“Mala mujer.”
“Bad woman.”“She deserves to be punished.”“Buen hombre.”“Good man.”“He does not deserve such a woman.”Juana stiffened her back and straightened her shoulders, rejecting thevillagers’ scornful thoughts. She felt bewildered by the pitiless looks caston her by the women as she passed by them, so close that she could almostfeel the fringes of their huipiles. She knew that they suffered similarcruelties from the men in their families, and yet they apparently chose todeny it, refusing to recognize what she was feeling. As Juana walkedbehind Cruz Ochoa, she wondered if those women secretly felt sympathyfor her, if they privately wished that she had escaped, and whether, out offear, they were hiding it instead.In the palapa, Juana snorted through her nose, remembering. She nowknew that the women had indeed wished that she might have escaped. Nowshe knew that they, too, were waiting for someone like her to show them theway, that their gossiping and words against her had been a pretense. Shenow knew this because when she finally left Cruz Ochoa, dozens of womenhad come to join the army of compañeras and compañeros. They werewomen who would never again return to those huts in which misery hadencased them.
Chapter 10 The gods made men and women of maize.El Caribal, 1980.“The gods made men of gold, but those men were hard, arrogant,unbending and ungrateful to their makers.”Juana Galván sat on her heels, bent over a metate. She was grinding cornfor masa, which she would then pat into tortillas. Most of the women of thevillage were busy at the same chore; they worked in the clearing aroundwhich the palapas and other living areas were clustered. The scraping ofstone on stone floated in the air. Despite the din a man’s voice was clear. Hespoke in Spanish, but Juana and the rest of the women could understandevery word.“Seeing this, the gods were dissatisfied with what they had done, and sothey made new men. This time they were made of wood. But they, too,were unbending and stupid, so once again the gods repented.”Juana stopped what she was doing to listen more intently. What the manwas saying was not new; it was a common belief among the people of theregion. What did capture her attention, however, was the sentiment behindthe voice. It seemed to be promising something more.“Then the gods came upon a new inspiration: They made men andwomen of maize. Those people were flexible, grateful, diligent and just.Soon, the gods saw that their labor had been good, that those made of maizewere the true men and women of this world. So they showered those peoplewith land, fruit, and children, making them rich. After this, the gods weresatisfied with their work, and they rested.”Juana listened, absentmindedly rubbing bits of masa from her fingers.She was thinking of the men of gold and wood. She, like all others of thosetribes, had been taught that her people were made of maize.“Then the men of gold and wood rose in anger against the gods becausethey had been replaced. They conspired and plotted, envious of the men andwomen of maíz who had inherited the richness of the land. Then, four
hundred years ago, they transformed themselves into the Catxul, false men,taking back what was given to the people of maize. The Catxul now governour lives because they possess war machines to protect their brutalconquest. The servants of the Catxul are the Aluxob, the liars who make upthe false government that rules us, the ones who deceive us and oblige us toforget our past. Together, these evil men have spread death and pain amongus.”Juana by this time was intrigued by the man’s words. She looked aroundand saw that other women were listening as well. She saw that not onlywomen were interested, but also men.“Do you not long for another life? Would you not like to be educatedlike the men and women of gold? What about you, the women—would younot want to feed your children better food? Don’t you want to give themmedicine when they are sick?”She sat back on her haunches, thinking. Six years had passed since shehad been married to Cruz Ochoa, two since she had attempted to escapefrom her life with him. He had stalked her and found her, and she hadfollowed him to his village, unresisting, knowing that any struggle would befutile. At the time, she had realized that to refuse to return to his hut wouldmean death. Although she had desired death rather than life with him,something inside of her had compelled her to cling to life.Juana put her fingers to the scar over her left eye; she stroked it over andover again. The skin layered on the gash was slightly discolored, so that itstood out on her forehead like a reflection of the eyebrow beneath it.Cruz had shown his disdain for her with more intensity since herattempted escape. He was always sullen, angry with her. This, however, hadnot kept him from accosting her sexually. He often came to herunexpectedly, as she was preparing a meal, or when she was on the hillsidesplanting seeds, or even when it was the time of month when she bled. Atthose times he penetrated her with a heat that seemed to pour out of hisskin, but never again did Juana get pregnant.“Are you not tired of being told whom to marry and when to do it?Would you not want to choose your own partner? Would you not want tosay when you are to have children, and how many?”Juana was impressed by the stranger’s words because he had utteredthem just as she was thinking of Cruz. She wanted to believe that there was
hope for a different life, but she mistrusted what he was saying because shethought that the choices he proposed were impossible; they went againsteverything she and others had been taught.“Look, everybody! I want you to know that we’re gathering, up there inthe mountain. Men and women just like you, who are tired, fed up! We needyou. We need the strength of your arms and legs, we need your intelligence,but above all, we need your courage. We are the people of maize who arefaceless right now, but soon we will regain the face that was erased by theCatxul so long ago. We will fight until that face is returned to us. When thathappens, you must be with us.”Juana got to her feet, forgetting about the dough and about the tortillasthat she should already have made. Her hands and forearms were crustedwith the yellow paste; even her hair and nose were smeared with it. Shestood because she wanted to speak to the stranger; she needed to knowmore about what he had said.“I want to hear more of what you’re saying.”“Compañera, that’s why I’m here. What’s your name?”“Juana Galván.”“Juana, my name is Orlando Flores. I’m a Lacandón.”Juana was at a loss as to where to begin. She fidgeted, scraping masa offher fingers and arms while she thought of what to say to Orlando Flores.She finally blurted out what first came to her mind.“Are there others like you?”“Do you mean others who think and hope for the same thing as I do?Yes. There are many others. They’re just beginning to gather—up there.Why don’t you come and see?”Orlando pointed with his chin in the direction of the mountains and theheart of the Lacandón Jungle. He smiled and Juana saw uneven teethpoking through a thin, drooping mustache. She examined his face and body,seeing that he was dressed in the white cotton tunic typical of his people.When she looked at his feet, she saw that they were too large for his bodyand that, despite the heavy huaraches he wore, his feet were covered withcalluses. Then she noticed that a toe from each foot was missing.“Amigo, are there females up there?”“Yes. There are many of them.”
“Are there only girls?”“No. There are also women who are married. Some come in couples;others have chosen to leave their husbands.”Juana’s eyes widened as she wondered if she had heard Orlando’s wordscorrectly. She wrinkled her forehead and narrowed her eyes while shereflected on what he had just said.“There are married women who have left their husbands?”“Yes.”“Who feeds those women?”“We do. We work together and share our food and other supplies.”“What about children?”“No. There are no children. They are left behind with someone else.”“What about husbands? Do they come by themselves?”“As with the women, some come in couples, some by themselves.”“Why do they come?”“To prepare for the day when we will rise against the government that istaking away our lives and our spirits.”“Do you accept only Lacandones?”“We accept everyone.”Juana stared at Orlando for a few moments, trying to put order to theclash of ideas and thoughts racing through her head. There was much todecipher, but most important of all was her strong attraction to whatOrlando was describing. His words seemed to be aimed at her, only her, butwhen she looked around, she saw that other women were looking in theirdirection, evidently interested in what was being said.“Amigo, I think you will be destroyed by the Catxul, and if we join you,we will be destroyed, too.“You’re wrong, hermana! We will not be shattered.”“When have our people ever been able to overcome our oppressors? Ifyou can tell me that it’s happened before, I’ll believe you.”Orlando’s face drooped, and Juana moved one step away from himwithout taking her eyes off of him. As she did this, however, he followedher, coming even closer to her than he was before she had moved. When hespoke, his voice was husky.
“Look, compañera, there have been many times when our people haveovercome the Catxul, but each time they have recuperated because help hascome to them in time. That will not happen again. Why? Because we can nolonger endure the burden placed on us by them. It’s very simple. Whenthere is no more blood in a body, there is no more blood. That’s the way itis. The Catxul cannot drain us anymore because they have already suckedus dry, and now that we are without blood, we will rise against them,because not to fight is to die.”“What is the name of the group?”“We don’t have one yet, but we will have one very soon.”That evening, Juana and Cruz ate in silence as usual. The distanceseparating them, she was convinced, was widening with each moment. Herthoughts were in turmoil as she contemplated what Orlando Flores had saidabout the people who were gathering in the mountains. She wanted to speakto anyone who would listen. She wanted someone to hear that a fire hadbeen ignited inside of her. She needed someone to know that the stranger’swords, as she ran them over and again in her mind, added fuel to that fire.It was early evening, and the jungle had begun its night song. She andCruz were squatting on the earthen floor of the palapa they shared, she onher haunches and he cross-legged, hunched over as he ate. The glowingembers in the small fire pit that separated them crackled as they died out,filling the air with smoke. She knew it was growing cold, and although shewas expected to keep it going, she did not try to stoke it.Juana stopped chewing, her mouth still filled with a half-eaten tortilla.She stared at Cruz, hoping that he would look up and catch the expressionin her eyes, but since he did not even glance at her, she took her timeexamining him. His nose, she thought, had grown longer over the past sixyears, and his mouth was an inverted halfmoon that pulled down his jowls,and the reflections cast by the fading embers cut strange patterns on hisface. She put a cupped hand over her mouth and spit its contents out intoher palm. She was still hungry, but could no longer eat. The sight of Cruzhad churned her stomach into nausea.Suddenly, his eyes snapped up in her direction. His gesture was sounexpected that she nearly lost her balance, almost toppling over on herside. His eyes were on fire, she thought; they glowed more than did theembers in the fire pit. She braced herself. She knew what was coming.
“¡Quítese los calzones!”His command for her to take off her underpants was the signal for whathe intended to do. But when he began to squirm closer to her, crawling onhis hands and knees, Juana knew that she was not going to obey Cruz thistime. She hunkered in a hostile position, glaring at him as she snatched acharred branch out of the fire. She gripped it with one hand, and with theother she threatened him, thrusting her clenched fist in his direction as shejabbed the burning stick closer and closer to his face, nearly scorching thewhiskers under his nose. At the same time, she heard her voice hissingwords with unexpected defiance.“¡Esta vez, no! ¡Nunca más!”Cruz fell back on his rump, gawking at her with disbelief stamped on hisface. Juana saw that he was overcome with surprise, that he did not knowwhat to do, and that he was shaken. After a few seconds, however, helunged at her, pouncing on top of her, momentarily overcoming her with hisbody weight. But as they rolled over and again in the dirt, she managed topull up his tunic, exposing his naked rear end. She still gripped the burningstick in her hand, and with a strength prompted by the indignity of six yearsof obeying his command to take off her underpants, to open her legs, toremain inert while he emptied himself into her—with that energy, shepressed the point of the burning branch against his buttocks with one handwhile she held his body with the other one.“Ahhhgggg!”Cruz groaned as he rolled over, jiggling his legs, twisting and thrashingin the dirt, trying to yank the stick away, but his contortions kept him fromgetting a grip on the fiery prong that stuck to his flesh. Juana, her chestheaving with anger and exertion, watched him but did nothing. Finally, hegot on his hands and knees and crawled out of the palapa, the stick firmlyseared onto his rump. He disappeared into the blackened jungle.Breathing through her mouth because her racing heart blocked her fromtaking in air through her nose, she waited on the alert, widening her eyes,turning her ears in all directions, hoping they would absorb any hostilesound. She knew that Cruz would return as soon as he regained hiscomposure and understood what had happened. She had defied him, evenhurt him. Soon the entire village would know the truth, and Cruz could notsustain the humiliation. She knew also that because of this, he would come
to kill her, and no one would prevent him from taking her life. Juanastrained her ears, expecting to hear him, but there was only the racket ofhowling monkeys and the shrill scraping of cicadas and crickets.Juana was frightened at what she had done because she never imaginedthat it was in her to do it, to defy Cruz. She was afraid, not knowing what todo next. She crouched, pressing her back against one of the supportingpoles of the palapa. She brought her knees tight up against her breasts,wrapped her arms around them, and there leaned her head. Her eyes wereclosed, but her ears were alert. It had grown dark in the hut. Only a few ofthe embers still glowed, but their light was dying.She lost track of time. She knew that hours had passed when she noticedthat the moon had risen, its rays cutting long shadows on the earthen floor.Then a light flickered in her mind, and Juana knew what she must do. Shecrawled to the petate on which she slept. She unrolled it, put a blouse,underpants, and huipil on it, and rolled everything into a bundle, which sheput on her back. Last of all, she filled a gourd with water. She walked out ofthe palapa that had served as her cell for six years, knowing in whichdirection she would go.
Chapter 11 Why don’t you come and see?Juana Galván left the palapa in El Caribal and headed west toward thesierra, where she knew she would find Orlando Flores. She knew also thatshe was going in the direction where the Lacandón Jungle became thethickest, where the trees and growth grew so dense that in some places noteven sunlight could penetrate its cover. Her people called it the place ofeternal night.She walked steadily, stopping from time to time only to rest. In places,the undergrowth was so thick that she was forced to retrace her steps to finda more penetrable path. As Juana traveled, flashbacks of her life in ElCaribal ran through her mind. Her thoughts filled with images of womenher age who toiled on mountainsides, doing the work of mules and oxen.She thought of beatings inflicted by demoralized, drunken husbands. Thenher mind focused on the image of Cruz Ochoa, and she felt a surge ofenergy, because she knew that returning to the village was now impossiblefor her. She trekked on without hesitation, disregarding danger.As she walked through the darkness, Juana remembered her father,certain that if he were with her, he would force her to return to Cruz to beghis forgiveness. Her father’s face, as he accepted the price of a mule for hisdaughter, burned behind Juana’s eyes, filling her with rage. To erase thatanger, Juana looked back on her childhood in an attempt to find somethingthat might bring her joy.No matter how hard she tried, she could not remember when she hadbegun to help her mother with the heavy work done by the tribal women. Ifshe and her mother were not going into San Cristóbal de las Casas to selltheir wares, it was Juana’s task to cart water to the village. When she wasnot doing that, she and the other girls prepared the soil for planting.Because the land the owners allowed the villagers was usually nothing morethan meager hillside patches scattered here and there, it was thought thatchildren could best manage the task of pulling out roots, small rocks andother growth. So she spent her days on her hands and knees, clinging
precariously to steep inclines, gathering rocks in her apron and luggingthem down to where they were dumped.Juana also remembered days when she and her mother went into the city.Often they would pass the street on which scribes sat at their desks, somewith writing machines, others with only paper and pens. Juana recalled thewonderment she felt seeing the lines of people who waited their turn to sitby the scribes, who would listen and write for them. She had envied thosemen because they could capture on paper what a person uttered with hislips. Even more intriguing for her were the times she saw the scribe look ata letter or a document handed to him by a Tzeltal, or a Lacandón, or aTzotzil, and she witnessed the wise man decipher what was written on it. Itwas a mystery to her how signs and symbols scribbled on paper could betransformed into words that could be spoken and understood.Overcome by fatigue, Juana finally allowed herself to stop her trek andtry to sleep. She fumbled in the darkness until she discovered a shelteredcove between trees. There, she squatted, holding her legs and leaning herhead on her knees. After a while, she gave up trying to sleep; she was filledwith too many thoughts. Most of all, it was impossible for her to forget thethreat of Cruz Ochoa, who would come after her, as he had the last time. Soshe got on her feet and moved on steadily until daylight began to filterthrough the thick mesh of mahogany branches and palm fronds. Soon afterdaybreak, she reached a river where she discovered a bank of water cress.There she ate and drank from the river.Juana wandered through the jungle, most of the time lost. She followedthe course of the sun by day, but at night, when blackness and animalsounds filled the wilderness, she hid in nooks and under trees, until onceagain daylight crept through the green density. It was not until the third daythat she came upon two women and a man walking single file in thedirection in which she was going. She saw by their dress that they, like she,were Tzeltales. She spoke to them in her tongue.“Amigos, I’m lost. I’m looking for a man named Orlando Flores. He’s aLacandón, and I know he lives in this region. Can you help me?”They looked at her and then at one another. Juana saw that theydistrusted her, not sure who she was, nor why she was searching forOrlando Flores. She was certain, however, that they recognized the name.One of the women spoke up, “Why are you looking for him?”
Juana looked directly at her, taking in her size, her age, her garments.She saw that the woman was of medium height, near her in age, and thatshe had a broad face with a short nose and small, bright eyes.“He’s asked me to come to join him and the others who are herepreparing.”“Preparing for what?”This time it was the man who spoke, and Juana turned to examine him.He was barely taller than the women and, she calculated, younger than anyof them. He appeared to be just beyond boyhood.“I don’t know exactly what it is that they’re preparing for, but I want tobe part of it.”Juana was disconcerted when the three people burst out in loud laughter,and her confusion heightened when she saw that they continued to laugh.The man hunched over, hugging his stomach while he howled in merriment.One of the women covered her face with her hands, trying to disguise heramusement, but her belly, which heaved in and out with suppressedguffaws, betrayed her. The other woman was laughing so hard that shepressed her knees one against the other as she stuffed her hand into hercrotch.Juana’s bewilderment turned into irritation as she understood that theywere laughing at what she had said. It apparently had been a stupid thing,but she remained calm despite the rising heat inside her. She crossed herarms on her chest, planted her feet wide apart on the soft earth, and quietlywaited until the chuckling ceased. Soon, the three of them wiped tears fromtheir cheeks and paid attention to her.“I know that I’m ignorant. I know you’re laughing because I knownothing. Still, I am one of you, and I want to join Orlando Flores and theother people like him. Please take me to him.”Juana’s words appeared to erase their distrust, and they looked at oneanother, showing that they regretted having mocked her. Confirming theirtrust in her, one by one they gave her their names.“My name is Porfiria.”“Mine is Torcuato.”“Amiga, my name is Tirza. Forgive us for laughing. We’re very foolish.We’re close to the camp, and I’m certain that Orlando will be glad to see
you. He’s always happy to welcome new recruits.”“My name is Juana Galván.”With Juana trailing, they formed a single line as they made their waytowards the campsite, which turned out to be less than an hour away. Asthey approached, she began to hear sounds of life: echoes of voices,clanking of metal, neighing of horses. Smells reached her; she caught thefragrance of wood burning and of food cooking. Noises and aromas grewlouder and more pungent with each step, and something inside of her toldher that she was crossing over into a new part of her life. She felt a mix ofjoy, excitement, apprehension, doubt, and curiosity, all at once. She knewthis would be her home, perhaps forever.Soon Juana saw that she had allowed her imagination to run wild withunchecked images, and her stomach churned with disappointment when shestood at the edge of the clearing and saw the stark reality. Having listened toOrlando’s words about the community, she had thought she wouldencounter a large organized station, with living areas, a school, a center forcommunal gatherings, fields for planting, weaving areas, sheds for tools,animals and equipment. But as her eyes scanned the site, she saw only afew dilapidated palapas, one or two leaning roofs, two scrawny horses, anda solitary campfire in the center. She looked at her companions, and theydiscerned her feelings. Torcuato took the lead by nudging Juana towards thecenter as he pointed with his chin.“Hermana, don’t be disappointed. We’re just beginning. What isimportant are our ideas, the rest will follow. There’s Orlando Flores. I’lltake you to him.”When Orlando saw them approach, he nearly ran to greet them. Juanasaw happiness stamped on his face, convincing her that she had made theright decision, after all. He took her hands in his and shook them withenthusiasm. Then he patted her on the back, all the time grinning his toothysmile. When he spoke, he did so in Spanish.“You came to see, after all!”“Yes.”“Are you thirsty? Hungry?”“Yes. I’m very thirsty.”“Come with me.”
He led her to the largest of the huts, which served as a kitchen. He founda gourd, which he filled with water. After rummaging in a basket, hehanded her a stack of cold tortillas. Juana did not mind. The water andtortillas tasted delicious.“I hope you can stay.”“I know that I will stay.”“Why do you say that?”“Because I will be killed if I return to the village.”“Ah!”Without another question, Orlando gave Juana time to eat and drink.Then he showed her the grounds, explaining the purpose for each hut andplace. The settlement was small, so it was only a short while before heshowed her where she would live.“We’ll eat again at sunset. Come at that time so we can all speak.”As soon as Orlando left her, Juana took the pack off her back andunrolled the petate. She hardly had time to put aside the clothes she hadrolled up in it, when she could no longer resist her fatigue. She flopped ontothe mat, where she fell into a deep sleep for several hours. When sheawoke, it was nearly dark and the jungle was already teeming with sound.Just as she sat up, wondering how long she had slept, Tirza came into thehut. As Juana was to discover, she would share the place with her andPorfiria.“Juana, come with me. We’re going to eat before the meeting.”“We’re going to have a meeting?”“Yes. Decisions have to be made.”“The women, too?”“Yes.”Juana was baffled and did not know what to say, so she did as she wasasked. She followed silently to the center of the cluster, where she saw agroup of men and women gathered around a campfire. She took time toexamine faces, but besides Tirza, she recognized only Torcuato, Porfiria andOrlando, who stood to one side listening. Her eyes focused on his big feet,wondering why he had not grown taller to match their size.
Food began to be circulated from hand to hand. A basket filled withfresh tortillas was the first thing to reach Juana. After this came a bowlfilled with beans, seasoned with chopped onion and salsa. She was sohungry that she squatted on the ground, placed her food between hercrossed legs, and ate with her fingers, dipping a tortilla into the beans, thenstuffing it all into her mouth. She closed her eyes, savoring the spicy flavorswith pleasure.When she finished eating, Juana noticed that people chatted quietly. Noone spoke to her directly, but she did not feel uncomfortable because shesensed that she had already been accepted as one of the them. Eventually,silence came over the group, although some of them were still lickingfingers or drinking from a gourd. Juana realized that everyone looked in thedirection where Orlando now sat cross-legged. She took her time as shestudied his face in the reflection of the fire. She focused on how hismustache drooped over his thick upper lip and saw that his eyes, whichwere small, became slits as he spoke.“Two people have joined us today. There, standing next to Saúl is ournew compañero Roque. And over there sitting next to Tirza is ourcompañera Juana. We welcome you both.”“Orlando, why are we wasting time with names, welcomes andintroductions when it is important for us to know what our next step willbe?”Faces snapped in the direction of the audacious voice. Juana heard itschallenging tone. Curious, she stretched her neck, trying to catch a glimpseof the speaker. Before she was able to identify the man, however, she sawsome people nodding their heads in agreement with him. Others mumbled,some loudly, others under their breath. She returned her attention toOrlando and saw that he sat with his back rigidly straight, his lips clampedso tight that they appeared to be a straight, hard line.“Our next step is to have patience because we must wait until we gathermore members. Then we must train until we are ready to defy thepatrones.”These words unleashed a torrent of remarks and questions that peltedOrlando from different directions. Juana had never witnessed suchoutspoken men. Her experiences had taught her that silence was usually her
people’s response. She saw, however, that Orlando answered every inquiryand comment looking each speaker in the eye.“Who will train us?”“We will train ourselves.”“To defy the patrones we need weapons, vehicles, clothing, boots, food,ways to communicate. Above all, we need money. Where will that comefrom?”“All of that will be provided.”“Provided? Who will provide that, Orlando?”“El Norte. People know about us up there, and they are collectingeverything we need. They will provide us with materials. For now, it is forus to get more people: men and women willing to fight a war, and even todie.”When Orlando kept tight-lipped and silent after these comments,everyone else followed his example. A hush fell over the group as if a veilhad been torn from a forbidden topic, and no one spoke until the same boldvoice again rang out.“Women? That’s crazy! ¡Estás loco! Women are useless in war! In fact,why are women here? War is not for women! This is none of theirbusiness!”As if they had been seared with burning prongs, all at once the womenhowled in rage. Loud muttering and hissing combined as clenched fistsslashed the night air. Women’s voices rang out, and hostile gestures wereaimed at the man who had uttered those words.“¡Cabrón!”“¡Qué chinga!”“We have toiled as much as you for centuries. Why shouldn’t we havethe right to fight?”“We have endured not only the fist of el patrón but that of our fathers,our brothers, our husbands. We have earned the right to be in the war!”The uproar coming from the women was such a clamor that it silencedthe man who had voiced his opposition. He said no more. Instead he slunkback where the reflection cast by the fire could not reach him. Juana staredin disbelief because she had never before seen women force a man away infear. Just then, the image of Cruz crawling away from her flashed in her
memory, and she realized that she had already made a man slink away inpain, and maybe even in fear. She breathed, forcing air into her lungs, thenexhaled slowly, coming to terms with the truth that she had already fought awar when she defied her husband.She returned her attention to the questions that had picked up once again,and to Orlando, who answered them, intentionally disregarding the issue ofwomen and war.“Orlando, it will take time to gather such an army. It cannot be doneovernight.”“We’ve got time. We’ve waited centuries.”“What will keep the patrones from wiping us out?”“The jungle will protect us as it has for so long. Secrecy will protect us,as it has for long years.”“If we make war on the mestizos, we will be destroyed.”“You and I might be destroyed, but others of our people will follow.”The onslaught of questions, doubts and demands for answers poundedOrlando, coming at him from men who had no experience in defying theauthority of the mestizos, and women who were for the first time believingthey had rights. Juana observed that the women with their silencedemonstrated confidence in what Orlando was saying. Then the barrage ofquestions stopped as suddenly as it had begun. It had been a rapid exchangeof words followed by a silence so complete that Juana thought that thesounds of the jungle had grown louder.Juana looked around, taking in the expressions of those around thecampfire. She stared at the men: disheveled, overworked, aged beyond theiryears. Juana then concentrated her eyes on the women, who were like her,mostly young, with determined faces that nonetheless reflected wearinessand impatience. After that, she looked into her own heart and saw that shewas in turmoil and confusion because she understood so little of what shehad just witnessed and heard. She knew, however, that what Orlando wasproposing was rebellion.After the group dispersed, Orlando came to where Juana remainedsitting. He sat by her side for a while before speaking. Behind them, in thepalapas, the murmuring of men and women mingled with the softstrumming of guitar strings, accompanied by humming voices. The crisp
sound of crickets and the faraway cascading rumble of water filled the air inthe distance.
Chapter 12 In the end, los patrones are severe and unforgiving.Juana gazed at Orlando’s face, knowing that he had fallen into thoughtand that his spirit was engaged in secret worlds. She contemplated himfreely, without shyness or reserve, taking in his profile, its long beakednose, the straight lashes and the tiny wrinkles that wrapped around hisslanted eyes. She had already taken in the brilliance of those eyes and sawhow they shone with a mixture of hope and apprehension. Left on her own,Juana scrutinized the man who was proposing resistance, even war, againstthe mestizos. She focused her gaze on his chest. It was shrouded by thecoarse Lacandón tunic, but its bony frame betrayed an underfed andoverworked lifetime. She looked at his rough hands, thinking that theirveins and knuckles appeared to be carved from hardwood. Juana’s eyesreturned to Orlando’s face to concentrate on the long, limp hair that coveredhis forehead and dangled down to his shoulders..“What are you thinking, compañero? Do you believe that the man whocried out a while ago was right about women and war?”“No. Women will have much to do with our struggle.”“Why do you say that when you know that in the palapas, in themercados, in the llanos, we are less valued than burros?”“It’s because you do more than half the work, because you suffer twiceas much as men, because you have the children, that you have earned andshould have an equal amount of authority.”Juana leaned her head to one side as she studied Orlando’s face. She hadnever heard a man acknowledge what in her heart she had felt, especiallysince her life had been joined to Cruz Ochoa.“Compañero, if that ever happens, it will be the first time. Don’t youthink that more than one man thinks like the one who spoke out? I can’timagine we would be allowed to participate in your plans as men do.”“He was wrong. Didn’t you hear how the women responded? Womenhave fought with men before, and it will happen again, because we will not
overcome the Catxul and the Aluxob if we don’t allow women to be ourpartners.”“The thieves and the liars… yes, you’ve spoken of those people before,compañero. But tell me, how can women help overcome those who havegrown used to being patrones?”“By not being afraid, and by fighting with weapons as well as words. Bymasking our faces in order to give a face to our people. By changing ournames, and returning lost identities to our ancestors. By forgetting our ownpasts so that we can give a future to our children.”Juana liked Orlando’s words, but she cared more for the way he spoke toher, because it was intense yet calm. She looked into his eyes despite herhaving been taught that a woman should not do so when speaking to a man.“Look, amiga, I will tell you of a woman who lived among us manygenerations ago and who led the first insurrection against the bosses. Shebelonged to the Tzeltal people. I first heard about her when I was a boyworking on an hacienda in Lacanjá. That history was told to me by a man, aLacandón who was educated and who became a teacher to the children of elpatrón. Whenever that maestro came into the kitchen to eat, I would askhim to repeat the story, and it became so important to me that I memorizedit until it became a part of me. Now I’ll tell it to you completely, but pleasedon’t interrupt me because, if I stop speaking, I’ll lose the thread of thestory and be forced to begin it again.”Juana sat with her eyes riveted to Orlando’s face, which soon appearedtransfigured as he began the story. She now stared at him without inhibition,because she saw that his eyes were closed and that he was no longer awareof her presence, much less her gaze. He sat cross-legged, with his handsresting on his knees, palms cupped upward, as if he were lost in prayer.“This story begins in Cancuc, Chiapas, in 1712, when the woman I speakof was sentenced to a lashing for having claimed to have heard the voice ofthe Virgin Mary commanding her to lead our people to freedom. She did notresist when she was strapped to the pillory by the soldier’s rough hands. Sheremained calm, her frail back naked and exposed to the lashes of the whip.Her body shuddered with the first blow, but when the next strokesdescended, her limbs refused to feel pain. What she did feel was the blood
trickling down her back onto her buttocks, coursing past the rear of herthighs until it saturated her ankles, finally seeping into the dirt, drenching ituntil its brown tones turned black. The whipping went on, biting into thewoman’s back. Only the lashing sounds broke the silence.“And still she stood, enduring the searing pain of the whip, her foreheadpressed against the pillory in such a way that the scar over her left eyebrowbegan to ache almost as much as the lashings. She tried to forget the miseryby concentrating her eyes on the people witnessing her punishment. Shesaw that she was surrounded by men and women of the commune whosefaces reflected rage and frustration at seeing one of their own people enduresuch meaningless and undeserved suffering.“As she swiveled her head from one side to the other, stretching her neckto get a better look, she saw that there was a multitude of people on everyside, and that their presence extended even beyond the range of her vision.They had come to witness the ordeal, and they did it respectfully, becausethe woman was now to them a special person. They had walked from as faraway as Chilón and Ocosingo to pay homage to her because she hadreceived and told of visions of freedom for our people.“The hissing of the lash was the only sound to shatter the silence whilethe whip ate at her flesh. Despite the pain, she focused her mind onwhatever she could see. She looked at the people, concentrating on thoseemaciated, dark faces, masks carved in wood, slits in the place of eyes,veiling pent-up rage. She suddenly realized that oppression and hatred hadtransformed the faces of our people; they no longer resembled ourancestors.“‘¡Infiel diabólica! ¡Que Dios Santísimo te perdone este pecadomortal!’“She turned around to see who had shouted those condemning words.Behind the soldier who was whipping her stood Brother Simón de Lara, aDominican priest, the only white man in the village of Cancuc. It was hewho had ordered the whipping with the intention of cleansing her of herdangerous ideas, and it was he who spoke. It was a lesson, he had toldeveryone, for those villagers who would not abandon their bent towardstheir ancient ways.“Brother Simón, spitting accusations of sin and devilish deeds at her,stood erect. His big jaw pointed toward the pillory while he held his arms
crossed under the long black cloth that covered his white gown. He noddedas each lash bit into the woman’s skin, but to his angry dismay, she did notcry out.“Unexpectedly, a shrill voice rang out from the crowd. Startled, she andeveryone, even the soldier, looked at each other and in every directiontrying to identify who had screamed, trying to make out what the voice hadyelled. But they heard only silence. And so the soldier returned to his task,and his grunting, along with the whirring sound of the whip, again broke thesilence. Then the faceless voice rang out again.“‘¡Cabrones! ¡Asesinos! ¡No tienen derecho! ¡Mátenlos!’“This time the woman heard the words clearly and she saw that everyoneelse had also understood. It was a signal to take vengeance. Our peoplemurmured and shifted, moving one foot, then the other. Brother Simónlooked into the crowd and saw its growing agitation. Then he raised hisarms high over his head as if defending himself against an invisible enemy.“‘¡En nombre de Dios… !’“His words were cut off by howling. She did not hear what he was aboutto say because our people lifted their arms and screamed out the pain ofgenerations of bondage. The wail was loud, anguished, and she heard herown cracked voice as it joined the clamor. Years of paying tribute tofaceless masters became intolerable. It was as if famine, scourgings,uprootings had become a gigantic knot that was strangling them. They wereLacondones, Tzeltales, Tzotziles, who would not tolerate that burden anylonger.“The woman was cut down from the pillory in time to catch a glimpse ofthe soldier as he dropped his whip and ran towards the forest. She also sawthe expression of horror stamped on the priest’s face as he realized whatwas happening. He stumbled over his long garment, trying to escape behindthe soldier, but Brother Simón was not fast enough. Rough hands took holdof him, knocking him to the ground. Hardened feet stomped on him untilblood spurted from his nose and cheeks while he rolled in the mudscreaming for pity.“The woman, bloodied and weakened by the flogging, was one of thefirst to accost him, tugging at his hair until she felt a handful rip away fromhis scalp. The others pushed, tearing at the priest’s garments, leaving himstripped. Men and women struggled, trying to at least dig their nails into the
white skin that had caused them so much misery, but the priest wiggled andthrashed his legs against our people until he was able to free himself. Nakedand bloody, he disappeared into the jungle.“From that place the news spread throughout the province of Zen-dales,reaching disbelieving ears and filling hearts with hope. The woman was oneof the messengers who traveled from village to village, telling of how thepeople had lifted their voices in outrage and forced the soldier and the priestto flee in fear. She, along with the other messengers, stirred the hearts of thepeople to courage, calling them to Cancuc.“It was in that village, in August of that same year, 1712, amidst thecrowd, that the woman who had been flogged gave the signal to begin thestruggle against the Spanish rulers. The women and men of the villages ofLos Zendales, Las Coronas, Chinampas and Huitiupán rose up in anger.They rebelled, overcoming the Spaniards and mestizos with the weight oftheir numbers and causing them to flee in terror to take a last stand inCiudad Real.“Later that month, our people marched on Ocosingo and Chilón andprevailed over their former masters. They fought with machetes and sticks,beating, hacking, screaming and terrifying the enemy. Emboldened by theirvictories, our ancestors pressed forward with one thought in mind: to castout the Spaniards once and for all.“After these encounters, the patrones tried to engage our people but werebesieged in Huixtán, and from there they retreated back to Ciudad Real,where for three months they languished, imploring help from their brothersin Tabasco and Guatemala. During that time, our people formed a newcountry, one free of menace, one joined by Tzotzil, Tzeltal and Chol. It wasat that time that messengers again went out to the multitudes with thewoman’s counsel. Everyone listened attentively because her words werefilled with truth.“‘Believe me and follow me, because there is no more tribute, or king, orbishop. The prophecy of throwing off the yoke and restoring our lands andliberty has been fulfilled.’“But the end came in November, when the Spaniards were reenforced bysoldiers from Guatemala who were armed with stone mortars and othermore advanced weapons. The first defeat of our people happened atOxchue, then another at Cancuc. After that, one village after the other
surrendered, despite our people knowing that what awaited them was worsethan death. The rebellion weakened, faltered, and ultimately was squashedby the soldiers. Not long after that, a report reached the Bishop of CiudadReal assuring the patrones that order would soon be restored.“‘Your Excellency,’ the message said, ‘the natives have been overcome;we are once again in control. But it must be noted that this has been themost extensive and most serious challenge to the presence of His Majesty’sauthority since our arrival in these lands. We must do all in our power toguarantee that the natives never again raise a hand against our sovereignrule. May Almighty God preserve us from another such rebellion.’“The woman and the rebels fled into the Lacandón Jungle and soughtshelter in the vastness and thickness of its growth. Soldiers and houndspursued them relentlessly, not caring that their swords slashed and slayedwomen and children, as well as men. The woman ran, exhausted by hunger,but kept on the move only out of fear of falling and being torn apart bythose dogs. That is where the story of the woman ends.”When Orlando ended the narrative, his eyelids fluttered as if he werecoming out of a deep sleep. After a while, he put his hands to his eyes,rubbed them and opened them as he focused on Juana. He licked his upperlip while staring at her, evidently waiting for words that might tell him whatshe was thinking. All he saw, however, was that she sat cross-legged andhunched over her hands, which she held clasped in her lap. He reached out,hesitated, then lifted her chin with his forefinger. He was surprised at thebrilliance of her eyes, but more by her words.“Why are we persecuted? What have we done to be so hated? Why dotheir dogs want to destroy us?”Orlando shifted his weight while he pondered Juana’s questions. Whenhe began speaking, his words baffled her because they appeared not to beanswering what she had asked. Nonetheless, she listened.“Compañera, when I was a boy still working on Finca Las Estrellas,Don Absolón Mayorga, el patrón, had a sister. She was so young thateveryone thought she was his daughter. One day, all the workers wereassembled out in the field where a post had been planted. All of us,servants, maids, laundry women, everyone that served inside and outside of
the main house, were ordered to that pillory. We didn’t know what wasgoing on, but I remember hearing the older people say that somethingterrible was about to happen.“Then, the sister of el patrón was brought out from the big house. Wecould all see that it was by force, because it was Don Absolón himself whowas pushing her forward. I remember that she was crying, that her face wasswollen and smeared, as if she had been struck many times. When theyreached the pillar, el patrón tore off her clothes until she was naked.Ashamed for her, we turned away, but he scolded us and ordered us to lookat his sister. We obeyed. Then he tied her to the pillory and whipped heruntil she fainted. After that he cast her into the jungle.”Orlando fell silent, leaving Juana more baffled than before. She tried totie his words to her questions, but could not find the connection. What shedid see, however, was a repetition of the scourging of the woman inOrlando’s story, only this time it was a mestiza, the sister of el patrón.“Compañero, what does this sad story have to do with the hatred thepatrones have for us?”“You see, Juana, Don Absolón’s sister was discovered to have been inlove with another woman. She was a manflora, a woman who loved one ofher own kind. I remember that he shouted for everyone to hear that whatshe did, what she was, and what she called love was a sin, that it wasrepugnant, that she was an animal with no reason to live.”Juana sucked in a deep breath, feeling frightened without fullyunderstanding why. She, herself, had never experienced love, much less hadshe ever imagined that a woman could have such feelings for anotherwoman. Hearing and knowing this made her heart pound. She thought ofher mother, of her sisters, of all the women of her village, and she wasunable to grasp what it would be like to love one of them.Orlando narrowed his eyes as he concentrated on Juana’s face,discerning her astonishment at hearing the story. Without waiting for her tosay anything, he continued.“Juana, after many years spent in cities and villages in search of theanswer to questions like yours, I now see why Don Absolón was soenraged. His sister had gone against his and all the other patrones’ rules andreligion. She was different and had dared to do what was forbidden, so hepunished her even though she was of his own flesh.”
Juana’s silence was deep. She had withdrawn so much into herself thatOrlando thought she was no longer listening to him. He waited for her toreturn to him and his words, but when she remained silent, he went on.“I also see that to the men who want to be our masters, being una indiaor un indio, being poor and forced to scratch a life out of a piece of dry dirt,being a manflora or a man who loves men, being anyone contrary, is all thesame. In their eyes, we share a common destiny in which we are hated,persecuted, tortured and condemned because we threaten their way of life.In the end, los patrones are severe and unforgiving.”Orlando moved closer to Juana and raised his hand to touch the scar onher forehead. It was a fleeting, tender touch. After a few moments, hecleared his throat.“Will you stay?”“Yes.”
Chapter 13 He even owns a mule.Juana, under the guidance of Orlando Flores, became TenienteInsurgente Isabel, and embraced the life of a guerrilla without reservation.Along with men and other women, she rose daily before sunrise, atetortillas and drank black coffee—the usual breakfast fare—and put in a fullday of training. Getting used to wearing pants and a man’s shirt posed adifficult obstacle for her; she found those garments tight, restraining, hot.But she soon realized that dressing like a man also gave her more mobilityand protection than did her long dress. Another hardship for her waswearing boots in place of the huaraches she had worn all of her life. Herfeet blistered, they became swollen, almost hobbling her, but in time sheadapted, and she enjoyed being able to step on sharp or prickly rocks andplants without worrying about her soles or ankles.Soon she learned to slither on her belly, almost silently, and crawl on herhands and knees as she approached mock targets, or enemies. Her elbowsbled, and her hands and arms ached from the pressure of carrying theunaccustomed weapon until her skin became coarse, scabbing over withnew bleedings on top of those wounds.Juana had never held a rifle and felt awkward when she was first orderedto take hold of one, but she soon became acquainted with its weight andfeel. She practiced shooting long hours, beyond what was expected, untilshe was able to place the bullet on the exact mark on the designated tree orbranch. This was also the case with running, ducking and leaping, all ofwhich she did with more success than any of the other new recruits, thesame compañeras and compañeros who in the beginning had laughed at herbecause she was short. That scoffing soon turned into admiration when itcould not be denied that no one could match Juana’s accuracy and speedduring maneuvers.Through the years, she changed. Not only was she transformed from thegirl who had sustained the blows of a morose husband into a woman nowtrained as a guerrilla, but during that time she had also developed her mind,
concentrating on learning to read, write and expand her skills in speakingSpanish. It was Orlando Flores who provided her first lessons, guiding heruntil she was capable of reading newspapers, written notices and otherarticles.Her face had also undergone a change; once round, it became elongatedand angular. Her nose had also thinned to a point, and her eyes were nearlyalways veiled by caution. Only her mouth remained the same. It was still asfull as when she had been a girl, and appeared always on the verge of asmile. This characteristic caused confusion in those who did not know herbecause her lips contradicted the seriousness of her other features.After a few years, when Orlando Flores and other members of theleadership noticed her dedication, and even more important, her successfultransformation into a guerrilla, Juana was included in the small group ofleaders. Shortly after that, supplies were purchased, brokered and evendonated for la lucha; they came from different parts of Mexico, and evenfrom other countries. Food, clothing, medicines, stockpiles of firearms andexplosives grew steadily. They were warehoused at strategically hiddenpoints, where they were held to be transported to the Lacandona. This wasdone by train, boat, and even on the backs of mules.It was determined that Juana would be the best of the group to bring inthose materials because of the self-assurance with which she walked andtalked, and because she was a woman, a Tzeltal, who would hardly drawattention. Teniente Isabel accepted the mission, but not until she trainedherself, learning the terrain, the cities, the rivers, the lakes, the borders thatmight present potential obstacles. When this had been accomplished, shechose to travel by herself, accepting the company of others only whennecessary to return with supplies.It was at those times that she mingled, dressed in a native skirt, blouseand huipil. Unnoticed, she traveled to hidden caches in Tabasco, Veracruz,Oaxaca, north to Monterrey and south across the border to El Petén andFrontera Echeverría in Guatemala. She forged rivers: Río Negro, Río SantaCruz and others that flowed in various directions, but that always yieldedfresh supplies. Strangers often saw her leap on barges or rafts, ride into avillage on the bare back of a burro, unsuspecting that she was no ordinaryTzeltal woman but someone on a mission.
Juana outwardly threw herself into the life of an insurgent, but inwardlyshe found herself trapped in loneliness, which grew as time passed, and herisolation deepened as she became obsessed by the memory of her fatherbartering her. She tried to understand why this feeling gnawed at her. Afterall, it was tradition; she was not the only girl to be exchanged. It hadhappened to her mother, to her sisters, to all the women she knew.He even owns a mule, which he has offered to sell in exchange for you.Juana was tormented by those words; they were engraved on her spirit, theytortured her, and no matter how much she tried, she was incapable offorgetting those lisping sounds as they dripped from her father’s lips. Afterseveral years, she understood that unless she confronted that memory, shewould never be free. That was when she went out in search of her father.During one of her trips to claim weapons and supplies, Juana reached theregion where Río Santa Cruz nears Lago Nahá, the site of her native village.She had been on a barge making her way toward Monte Líbano, when shewas filled with an urge to return to the place where she would find herfather, where she would ask him the questions that had haunted her foryears. When the boat stopped at Monte Líbano, she got off and walked tothe road leading to her village.On the way, she blended into clusters of people who walked the muddyroads, either making their way to the marketplaces of Ocosingo andComitán, or traveling in the opposite direction toward the lake villages ofTs’ibatnah, Mesabak, or Ah K’ak, as well as Nahá. It was a long walk,taking her an entire day.As Juana made her way, she observed her people, taking in the men andwomen who crowded the intersecting paths in that part of the LacandonaJungle. She scrutinized the men, those coming toward her heading in theopposite direction and those traveling her route. Some held reins pullingemaciated burros, or oxen; others pushed dilapidated carts loaded withsacks of beans or vegetables. She focused on their worn, wrinkled faces,their eyes downcast in dejection, and she mused how that look becametransformed once a person became an insurgent, someone convinced thatlife could be changed.Juana looked at the women especially. Some of them were just girlsalready burdened with hefty loads of goods meant for the market, or bybellies heavy with child, or by children that dangled from a backpack or
clutched at a skirt. In each one of those women, Juana, remembering herlife, saw her reflection first as a girl carting goods, then as a wifeexperiencing one ill-fated pregnancy after the other, all the time toiling inthe fields or by the river of El Caribal.Juana trekked along with everyone else, her feet pounding the hardenedmud, her throat coated with the fine dust lifted by the tread of countlessfeet. She felt energized by the sound of thumping huaraches, murmuringvoices, creaking carts, squalling children, but she was also filled with anger,knowing that such a life had been going on for decades, for centuries, thatthe pathway she and others now trod had been pounded into the ground byenslaved ancestors whose names were now forgotten.She wore the long woolen skirt of her tribe as well as a fadedembroidered blouse and huipil. She knew that outwardly she was justanother Tzeltal woman, but inwardly, she was different from them. Thisthought empowered her and reconfirmed her mission of finding her father.As she neared Nahá, however, her resolve began to falter because shewondered what she would say to him, how she would let him know that hehad condemned her to unhappiness for the price of a mule.When she neared Lago Nahá, Juana’s nose picked up the scent of waterand her ears caught whiffs of voices that skimmed the lake, reminding herof her childhood. Without having to ask, she took the path that rimmed thelake, heading for her family palapa, but when she arrived at the place, shefound nothing, only faded remnants of what used to be her family’sdwelling.Juana, astounded and not understanding, looked around, but there was noone; the place was abandoned. What she remembered as a flourishingcluster of huts was now a heap of rotting poles and palm fronds entangledin fetid mud pits. She looked toward the trees that had surrounded thedwellings and noticed that in their place were saplings growing out fromunder felled trees. Other than that, there was only silence broken by thesound of the breeze, rustling bushes and low-growing ferns.Bewildered, Juana paced the short distance to the rim of the lake, whereshe walked until she came across a group of women doing their wash. Theygawked at the stranger until the one who appeared to be the oldest spoke.“Demetria Galván?”“No, abuela. I’m her sister, Juana.”
“¡Ahhhhhhh!”A hushed expression that sounded like a sigh passed through thewomen’s lips, but Juana was not able to interpret its meaning. She noticedthat they stared at her, then one after the other, faces turned toward thewoman who had taken the lead.“You’re the wife of Cruz Ochoa, who lives in El Caribal.”Juana stiffened at the sound of the name that she never uttered. She knewthat, cutting through vast distances of jungle and mountain, there was atight system of communication between villages and tribes. Knowing this,however, had not prepared her to hear that name thrown in her face so soonafter her arrival.“Tongues said that you left him, but that he found you and brought youback to El Caribal.”“Those who speak say the truth, but only part of it. I left him again yearsago.”“¡Ahhhhhhhh!”“But that is not why I’ve returned to Nahá. I’ve come looking for myfather and my mother.”The faces again snapped in the direction of the elder woman. After thisthey glanced furtively at one another, their expressions betraying anxiety.Juana gazed at them in an effort to guess the meaning of those looks, butshe decided that asking questions would be more effective.“Where are they, abuela?”The old woman wiped soap from her gnarled fingers and dried her handson a faded apron. She was obviously filling time while she thought of herresponse.“Your mother is dead, niña. Drowned by the waters of this lake.”Juana felt a strange pressure in the pit of her stomach, which quicklyspread, becoming a profound sadness. She was also afraid, and sherecognized the feeling; it was what she felt after a torrential downpour,when the jungle and its animals fell so silent that she filled withapprehension. Her mother’s pained expression, when her father hadfinalized his bargain with Cruz Ochoa in the marketplace, became vividlyclear.“How did it happen?”
“A deluge of rain came, causing the lake to sweep away the palapas andsheds that fringed it. The torrent flooded us during the blackest hours of thenight; few down here survived. Your mother disappeared into the deepestpart of the water and her body was never found. Everything was gray andwrapped in mist that day.”“How long ago did this happen?”“Three years ago.”Eager to know her father’s whereabouts, Juana forced herself to putaside her grief. She would not, after having journeyed so far to see him,allow sadness to erase the reason for her coming.“Where is my father?”“Niña, do you see that path? If you follow it through those trees, youwill come to several palapas. The last one on the path is where your fatherlives.”“Muchas gracias.”Juana turned away from the group and headed for the trail pointed out bythe elder woman. As she walked, she felt her heart race, knowing that witheach step she was losing courage. Words she had rehearsed for this momentnow, one by one, escaped her mind, making her fear that she would bestruck dumb by the time she faced her father. Nonetheless, she walked,following the path to its end, until she arrived at the last of the huts.Juana paused at the entrance, long enough for her nose to pick up thesmell of smoke and tortillas. She knew what was going on inside: the sameas in her childhood days. Her father would be sitting cross-legged, silentand brooding, not because he was alone, but because he had always beenturned in on himself. She remembered, and for the first time she saw that heand Cruz Ochoa shared an impenetrable isolation. These thoughtsthreatened Juana’s resolve to face her father, even more because theyopened the door to her girlhood dread, which returned vivid and strong. Allwomen, she knew, shared this fear of the men in their family. She realizedalso that this condition resulted in isolation: the men from the women, andthe women from the men.Was that the reason why it was so easy, Tata? Juana heard herself talkingout loud. She hesitated for a moment, then instead of entering, she decidedto call out.
“¡Tata!”Juana waited, listening for a response, but all was silent in the hut. Shecalled out again, but this time she thought she heard movement. She movedaway from the low opening, expecting someone to emerge. When her fatherstepped out into the light of the early dusk, he seemed shrunken, muchsmaller than she recalled. He looked at her and responded as if she had beenwith him that morning, as if the years that had passed had been only hours.After a few moments, he gestured with his head for her to follow him intothe palapa. Once inside, they both squatted facing each other across thesmall fire.Juana was now used to speaking whenever she had something to say.She nonetheless observed the tradition of waiting for her father to speakfirst. A long time passed before he began to murmur, time during which herthoughts fell into place. As she waited, she felt relief that she no longerlived under the pall of deference to someone who did not return that samerespect. Thoughts of other women filled her, people who, like her, had takenone step after the other, leading them to fight for their worth. Her father’svoice brought Juana out of her musing.“You have brought the family shame.”“How?”“You have abandoned your husband.”“He was not my husband.”“You married him!”“You chose him!”Although quiet, their voices were charged with recrimination, withunspoken anger. Juana fought off rising emotions by trying to focus on herreasons for this encounter. She realized that her father had no notion that anew wave was washing over the minds of other women like her. It was hewho spoke again.“It is the duty of a father to choose for the daughter.”“What if Cruz Ochoa had not offered the price of his mule?”This time his eyes snapped away from the fire to glare at her. She couldnot discern if what she saw was anger or confusion. What she did know wasthat she had crossed a forbidden line.“If I had not found you a husband, you would have starved.”
“I left him many years ago and, look, I have not starved.”Her father backed away from the sparring and returned his gaze to thefire, giving Juana an opportunity to observe his face and body. He had agedsince she had last seen him, but his face had not lost its bony angles and sherealized for the first time that she looked like him. An inexplicablesensation overcame her when she saw that her nose, her eyes, her ears, wererepetitions of the same features of his face. She was amazed that she hadnot seen the resemblance before, and she inwardly asked how he could haveso easily traded off his own reflection. Then she looked at his body, seeingthat it was emaciated, and his hands were covered with scars, his fingersgnarled. He spoke again, and this time he looked at her, seemingly knowingher thoughts.“A daughter should not question her father.”“Tata, why did you sell me?”“I did not sell you! It was an exchange!”“Were you exchanged for the price of a mule by your father?”“I’m not a woman!”Juana could not speak anymore. It was clear that her father, like the othermen of her people, did not give the same value to a woman as to a man, andthat from that conviction flowed their every action.But knowing this did not help her find a way to contradict or to correct him;she did not know the words to reach him.Juana rose, left the palapa and walked in the opposite direction, towardthe jungle. She traveled until darkness forced her to take shelter in the nookof a giant ceiba tree. There, she spent the night thinking, straining to findwords that would ease the pressure draining her mind. She reflected on themotive for which she had returned to face her father. Was it to change him?Was it to make him experience the same misery she had felt? Why had shecome?As night moved toward its end, Juana thought that she had at last found away out of the labyrinth into which she had been cast after seeing her father.She understood that it was useless to expect him to change or to feel herbitterness or sadness. Yet, to live with anger was bound to destroy her. Shealso knew that if she was to find peace, another road was necessary; sheneeded to go in another direction.
How are fathers forgiven? How does it happen? Is it in their time, theirworld, their thinking?These questions took shape in Juana’s mind, but they remainedunanswered. She saw that night had crept by and daylight was filteringthrough the overhead canopy of branches. Although she had not slept, sheknew that she had gained some understanding with the notion offorgiveness. Juana decided that she would reflect more on it. She rose,brushed dried leaves from her rump, and turned toward Ocosingo, and fromthere, northbound to receive a new cargo of armaments and supplies.Years passed during which her father’s image began to fade as well asthe bitterness, liberating her to follow the path of insurgency. Her feeling offreedom was not complete, however, because she remained apprehensivethat one day Cruz Ochoa would track her, find her and again try to dominateher. This lingering feeling was realized one day when she was at the riverbathing. She was stripped to the waist; soap dripped from her long hairdown her neck, shoulders, and over her breasts. As she rinsed the suds outof her hair with a gourd, Juana suddenly sensed something: a presencenearby. Her body tensed, but without betraying her uneasiness, she inchedtoward the riverbank and reached for the revolver that was always by herside. With her other hand she got a towel and slid it over the weapon. Sheremained still but poised to spring, if necessary.“Juana!”She recognized Cruz Ochoa’s voice immediately. It was soft, as always,but still filled with anger. She was not surprised; she had been expecting hisreturn for years.“Juana!”She slowly raised her face as the soap continued to drip from her hair toher shoulders and breasts. As she did this, Juana cautiously got onto herknees, gaining balance as she judged the distance between herself and Cruz.Beneath the towel, her thumb cocked the revolver’s trigger.“¿Qué quieres, Cruz Ochoa?”“You! You’re still my wife, Juana, and I’ve come for you!”“I’m your wife, but I am not returning to your palapa.”“You are returning with me!”
As Cruz lifted his arm in hostility, Juana drew the weapon with bothhands and pointed it at his face. The sight of the gun unnerved him as if hehad been struck by an invisible fist. He reeled backward, eyes wide open,pupils dilated. When Juana spoke, her voice was steady, quiet, determined.“Turn around, Cruz Ochoa, head for your village and never return. If youdo, I’ll kill you. Te lo prometo.”Cruz was stunned as he stared at Juana. He saw, for the first time, thatshe had changed, that her face was different and that her eyes weretransformed. Her words cut into his brain, convincing him of herdetermination and ability to kill him. He turned in his tracks and vanishedinto the bushes.Juana waited until her heartbeat normalized before she dressed. Thesight of Cruz Ochoa’s face had filled her mouth with bitter saliva, butknowing that he would probably never return calmed her. To steady herselfeven more, she reminded herself that she had an assignment to carry outthat day. Focusing on this idea helped clear her mind. Word had reached thegeneral command of a photographer, a woman, who was living inPichucalco. Juana had been given the task to recruit her into their ranks.Dawn was breaking, and early light was seeping into Juana’s palapa.She was thinking that now she knew the name and face of thatphotographer. She now realized that she had spent the night relivingimportant moments of her life while searching for an explanation for thefeelings she was experiencing for that same woman, Adriana Mora. Withoutanswers, Juana shrugged it off for the moment and left her palapa toprepare for the day.
Chapter 14 Kap jol, the anger of the people.Lacanjá, a village in the Lacandona Jungle, 1963.Even before he knew it, Orlando Flores was to be among those who gaveenergy and life to tzak’ bail, the armed movement against los patrones. Intime, his followers would number in hundreds, even thousands, but in thebeginning it was his hand alone that first wielded the machete, lifted not toclear the paths of undergrowth, but to bring down the long line of masterswho had come to that land centuries before. Even as a boy, when he wasknown as Quintín Osuna, he would often smell the biting stench of kap jol,the anger of the people, as it seeped from palapa to palapa, as it snaked onits belly through rows of coffee plants in the highlands, as it coiled itselfunder the green gold of the giant mahogany trees in the heart of theLacandona Jungle. Even then the boy wondered how long it would takebefore his people rose in defiance of the masters.Orlando’s first recollections really began when he was fourteen yearsold, in the village of Lacanjá, where he was born and named Quintín Osuna.The cluster of huts was planted on property owned by Don AbsolónMayorga, a mestizo who sprang from a line of patrones dating from the firstdays of colonization. The Mayorga family lived on a vast estate, a finca,known as Las Estrellas. There, the men and boys of Lacanjá toiled on thecoffee plantations, or in the jungle as boyeros, those forced by the patronesto rob the forest of its precious mahogany known as green gold, oro verde.The women labored under similar stress in the household of the finca,where they were in charge of cooking, weaving, laundering and caring forthe Mayorga children. When a woman was not able to bring enough moneyto her palapa from her work in the big house, she was forced to join thehorde of men who daily trekked up the mountain to harvest coffee. Such awoman did this two or maybe three days out of each week. And if she hadan infant to care for at the time, she lashed the child to her breast andworked, stooped under the charring sun, as the baby suckled, first from onebreast, then from the other. Orlando Flores had been one of those children,
and it was from there, from his mother’s milk, that he sucked the outragethat coursed first through her veins, then through his own.When the boy was fourteen, he was called by el patrón to serve as ahouseboy. That was the day when Orlando’s memory began to record hislife, because he understood at that moment that his was a privilege notshared by many other boys of his tribe. Most of them were forced to trudgeto the highlands to tend the coffee plants, or worse, become boyeros in thejungle. Orlando became a good servant because he knew that his was a frailprivilege, one that had to be guarded lest it shatter. During the day, hepolished countless silver ornaments and dishes, he washed windows twicehis size, and he dusted glossy mahogany furniture, rubbing each piece untilhe could see his reflection peering back at him.In the evenings, he was instructed to put on a starched white cotton suitand to wait on Don Absolón by bringing him a glass of sherry. The old manroutinely took the after-dinner drink in the hacienda’s elegant parlor—avast, ornate room with glittering chandeliers where he sat by the recordplayer, savoring the tasty liqueur and listening to the music of Europeancomposers.After performing this duty, but before he was free to return to hisfamily’s palapa, Orlando had to report to the kitchen to help mop floors andclear away the dinner pots and pans. Each evening, the kitchen crew waitedfor the boy with anticipation, knowing that he would make them laugh,something those workers seldom did as they labored during the day. It hadbecome a routine. Orlando would saunter into the kitchen, holding himselfin the aloof manner of el patrón, pretending to sip his drink, the pinkie ofhis hand held stiffly in the air. All eyes were on him as the boy, acting out,placed an invisible record on the turntable, pretended to raise the volumeand danced as he and the others imagined white people danced. Orlandoswiveled, pirouetted and leaped high into the kitchen’s saturated air with hisarms held gracefully above his head, a snooty expression pasted on his face.Sometimes, because of the strain of leaping as high as he could, a tight,squeaky fart would escape from his rear, sending his audience intoconvulsions of laughter.Las torteadoras, women who spent their days kneading masa for theproduction of countless dozens of tortillas meant to feed not only theMayorga family but the entire army of household servants, clapped their
weary hands with each of Orlando’s escapades. Los cargadores, men whototed firewood for the giant ovens and stoves, and whose job it was to washgriddles and cast-iron caldrons, grinned widely at Orlando’s mocking theirmaster, their blackened faces contrasting with white teeth and glisteningeyes.It was during those days that Orlando met Rufino Mayorga, who was hisage. At first, when Rufino suggested that they go somewhere, Orlando washesitant, knowing that it was forbidden for someone like him to mingle withthe son of el patrón. But despite this forbidding rule, Orlando gave in andthe two boys often roamed the fringe of the jungle, playing or hunting smallgame. Then, as they grew older, they fished together in Río Lacanjá, andwhen the bites were few, they abandoned their poles and went swimmingand diving into the water from high branches. The forest rang with theirvoices as they shouted, daring one another to do different feats.“Epa, Rufino, I’ll bet you can’t dive from up here!”“Hey, Quintín, I’ll bet you can’t pee as far as I can!”As time passed, Orlando became more aware of the differences betweenhim and Rufino. The mestizo boy’s body was straight, with long legs, andhis skin was as white as milk. When Orlando began to notice this, he oftenglanced down to gaze at his own body, seeing that his legs were not longbut short and slightly bent at the knees. He saw also that his skin was dark,like the furniture he rubbed daily.It happened one evening as Orlando glided on sandaled feet over agleaming marble floor. He carried a crystal snifter filled with sherry,balanced on a silver tray. He carefully stood in front of Don Absolón,slightly bent forward as he offered him the drink. As always, el patrón wasdressed in evening attire with a starched white shirt secured at the neck by asilk bow tie. When he looked up at the boy, Orlando thought that the heavybags under the old man’s eyes were puffier than usual.Don Absolón gingerly took the glass with thumb and index finger whilehe riveted his glance on the boy’s face. His bulbous eyes narrowed as hestudied Orlando’s face. He did this in silence, taking his time, knowing thathis servant would not move away until he was excused. Seconds passed, butbecause this was unusual behavior for el patrón, Orlando began to sensetrouble. He shifted from one foot to the other as he hid the tray behind his
back, trying to conceal his hands that were beginning to shake. The boy’sgrowing apprehension eased when Don Absolón finally spoke.“How long have you been working in this house?”“Nearly two years, patrón.” “How old are you?”“Sixteen. I think.”“What do you mean, you think? When were you born? What year?”“No one is sure, but my Tata tells me it was during the years ofPresidente Alemán.”Don Absolón lifted the tiny glass to his jowls and sniffed its contents. Hewas calculating, remembering the dates of the Alemán administration. Allthe while, Orlando moved his weight from one foot to the other.“Yes, that makes you sixteen or so.”“Sí, patrón.”The old man drifted off into silence once again, but since he had notmade his usual hand motion excusing Orlando from his presence, the boyknew he was to stand there for as long as was necessary. Finally, DonAbsolón spoke, but only after draining the glass of its contents.“Why have you been keeping company with Rufino?”Orlando froze, his hand in mid-air as he was reaching to take the snifterfrom his master’s fingertips. Although Don Absolón’s voice was hushed,the boy heard the rough edge of accusation in the words that had drippedout of the old man’s lips.“We’re friends, patrón.”“Friends? Since when is someone the likes of you friends with aMayorga? Who gave you permission? What are you thinking?”The roar in Orlando’s ears prevented him from hearing the rest of whatDon Absolón was saying, and he found himself struggling against theintense desire to run and not stop until he had escaped those bulging, wateryeyes. When he saw the old man get to his feet, Orlando squeezed shut hisown eyes, expecting blows to come down on his face and neck. But nothinghappened. Instead, he was startled back into opening his eyes. He detectedthe sound of the soft leather of his master’s slippers shuffling on the marblefloor. Before disappearing into the darkness of the long corridor, DonAbsolón stopped and stiffly turned toward Orlando.
“En esta vida, siempre hay que guardar nuestro lugar.”In this life, it is always necessary to keep one’s place. The old man’swords echoed, bouncing off the vaulted ceiling, crashing down on Orlando.Once alone in the room, however, he responded to the urge to escape, andturned and fled through the huge dining room with its polished silver andcarved furniture. He ran through connecting hallways and parlors, untilreaching the vast kitchen. When he streaked by the cooks and dishwashers,they hardly recognized the blur of speed, and Orlando kept running until hecrashed through the low entrance to his palapa, panting and out of breath.“¿Qué pasa, Quintín?”“Nada, Mamá, nada.”He knew that his response to his mother, that nothing had happened,would not be enough. He was covered in sweat, gasping through a gapingmouth, and his face was twisted with fear. He knew she would not besatisfied until he told her the truth.“El patrón, Mamá… ““¿Qué del patrón, Quintín?”The boy’s heart began to return to its normal rhythm, allowing him tospeak. He swallowed a large gulp of saliva before telling her what hadhappened.“He knows that Rufino and I are friends.”“¡Ay, Dios Santo!”“But he didn’t do anything, Mamá! He just walked away from me whenI told him the truth.”“¡Ay, Dios Santo!”“Mamá, don’t worry. Nothing will happen. Maybe el patrón likes me asa friend for his son.”Orlando watched as his mother slid down onto her haunches and rubbedher hands together. She kept quiet, and her silence scared him. He wanted tohear that she agreed and that everything was fine, that nothing bad wouldhappen because of his friendship with Rufino Mayorga. Mother and sonremained in silence for the next few minutes as night drew near, and evenuntil Orlando’s father slipped in through the entrance. With a glance, hismother let Orlando know that he should wait outside, and he obeyedwithout saying a word. Once outside of the hut, however, he could hear the
soft murmur of his mother’s voice; he even thought that he heard herweeping.The next day, the boy’s ingenuousness was shattered when his father methim as he was leaving for work. Orlando was alarmed when he saw astranger standing not far behind his father, but curiosity overcame his fearalmost immediately. He leaned his head to the side as he peered at the man,who was too tall to be a Lacandón, but too dark-complexioned to be amestizo. The stranger stared at Orlando out of beady, onyx-colored eyesthat appeared not to have eyelids; those marble-like eyes were shadowed bybushy eyebrows that coiled upward like tiny horns. His nose curveddownward; it hung over a bulbous harelip through which the man’s frontteeth protruded. Orlando stared at that mouth because he had never seenanother like it, and he saw that although it was fringed by a mustache, theugliness could not be disguised.The man was dressed in khaki, with a revolver hanging on his belt.When Orlando looked down at his feet, he saw that the man wore heeledboots with pointed toes. His eyes snapped upward to again look at thatscary face, and he focused on the stranger’s large, northern-style sombrero,which he wore pulled low over his brow.Orlando’s father finally spoke. He did it calmly, but the boy detected fearin his words. Father and son stared at one another.“Hijo, el patrón has assigned you to work as a boyero, and this man ishere to take you to where you will be working from now on.”“¡Tata!”“Go, Quintín! Take care of yourself because now you’re a man and noone will be there to help you. Come to see us whenever you can.”“¡Tata!”Orlando saw grief stamped on his father’s face. When he turned to lookat the man to see if his reflected similar emotion, he saw only hardness anddetermination in his eyes. Suddenly, the boy was overcome with images ofwhat he had heard about the burden of a boyero: labor along teams of oxenthat pulled the giant mahogany trunks through the mud of the jungle; thedanger of being sucked in by mire to suffer a hideous death, either bysuffocation, or by being crushed under the hooves of the straining beasts;the pain of being devoured by carnivorous mosquitoes that tear at humanflesh, bit by bit; the agony of indescribable fatigue that can never be
relieved because the work is endless. Orlando had overheard grown menweep, telling how even one trunk of mahogany is known as oro verdebecause of its high cost in lives of men and animals, as well as for the highprice paid for its lumber.The stranger gave Orlando a short time to put a few belongings in a packand to say goodbye to his mother and father. After that, he found himselftrekking behind the sullen man, who was to lead him into the heart of theLacandona Jungle where the mahogany was harvested. Orlando followedhis guide, lost in silence, wondering if he would ever see his mother orfather again, asking himself if Rufino would try to persuade Don Absolónto bring him back to la finca. As he hiked, Orlando felt scared, and thesaliva in his mouth was dry and bitter.When they arrived at the campsite, Orlando saw a few dilapidated hutsclustered against a long shed that held more than a dozen hammocks. It wasnightfall, and there were scattered campfires, around which the boy madeout other young men, most of them close to him in age. He saw by the wayin which they crouched, or slouched on the ground, that they were dejectedand exhausted.As they neared the place, the man made a gesture with his hand, and aboy appeared out of the darkness.“This is the new boyero. Take him to your place. Show him what he’s todo. If he dies in the first week, you will be held responsible.”“Sí, señor.”Orlando felt a terror he had never before experienced when he heardthose words, and he bolted, intending to escape, but several bodies accostedhim almost immediately, tackling and knocking him to the ground. The boywho had been put in charge of him grappled with him until Orlando settleddown, breathing heavily through his mouth.“¡No seas pendejo! There’s no escape from here, so what’s the use ofbeing stupid? Come on, I’ll show you your hamaca.”Orlando followed the boy, who wore only pants cut off above the knees,taking in his back and spindly legs. He saw that his hair was encrusted withmud and that his ears and neck were streaked with caked slime. Orlandostared at the network of mosquito wounds that showed on the boy’s neck,back, chest and arms. He could tell that some of the scars were old, but thatothers were so fresh that blood still glistened on the scabs.
“My name is Aquiles Rendón. What’s yours?”“Quintín Osuna.”“Come on! Don’t hang your head that way. Soon you’ll get used to thisshit camp and make the best of it. I’ll teach you to stay alive, and that’s allyou have to know. Lots of the boyeros that come here don’t stop to thinkthat there’s only one important thing here, and it’s not food, not sleep, noteven money. The only important thing is not dying, staying alive. And I’llteach you how to do that, I promise. You know what, Quintín? You’re onegoddamn lucky boyero because El Brujo has put you in my hands.”Orlando, who had been walking alongside Aquiles, listening to what hewas saying, suddenly stopped, wondering why the man with the harelip wascalled the sorcerer. He looked at the other boy with curiosity.“Ah, sí, you want to know why he’s called a brujo. Well, for one thing,just look at his eyes and you’ll see that they’re the eyes of a bat. They’resmall, beady and black like those of a murciélago. Have you noticed thathis teeth are pointed? The guys around here all say that he never sleeps, thathe’s always watching so he can run to the patrón with whatever bad thingshe can say about us. Maybe he is a bat, or maybe he’s a brujo who knowsstinking witchcraft. Maybe at night his arms turn into webbed wings and heflaps over the caoba trees, spying on the whole goddamn jungle. I don’tknow. All I know is that wherever the giant caobas grow, that’s where heleads us. Another thing about him: If he even begins to hate a boyero, that’sit for that poor cabrón; that guy mysteriously is sucked into the mud neverto be seen again. Believe me, Quintín, I’ve seen that happen many, manytimes.”Orlando felt frightened by Aquiles’ talk of El Brujo and his sorcery.Such things happened, he knew. Knowing this added to his apprehensionabout the camp and the work he was supposed to do. To fight off his fear, heshifted his attention from the sorcerer.“What will I have to do? I’ve only heard of boyeros, not what they do.”“Well, amigo, a boyero is the poor cabrón who pushes the oxen to dragthe caoba trunks through the mud to a river so they’ll float away to thenearest port. You and I are boyeros, which means we’re less strong than anox, and because of that we’re less important. Don’t worry. Just do what I doand listen to what I tell you, and you’ll be safe.”
As Aquiles spoke, Orlando concentrated on his face and head: unrulyhair spiked by countless coats of slime; a broad, flat forehead; tiny, slantedeyes out of which a silvery spark flashed; high cheek bones and a broadmouth filled with large white teeth.“How long have you been working here?”“I was thirteen years old when my father got drunk and got into a fightwith one of the patrón’s servants. My father disappeared. No one knowswhere he is. I was sent here because I am the only son and had to take hisplace. That was three years ago, but I still have five more years because Iwas sent here for eight. How many years will you have to be here?”Shocked that he did not have an answer, Orlando gaped at Aquiles. Hedid not know how long he would have to be in that camp; no one had evenmentioned a term. He felt his chest tighten.“I don’t know. El Brujo didn’t say.”“¡Qué chinga, amigo! I never heard of any of the guys coming herewithout knowing for how long. You better find out, but not right away.Later on, when El Brujo sees you doing a good job, you can ask him. Hewon’t put the evil eye on you that way. Now, we’d better get to sleepbecause day after tomorrow, we head for the jungle at dawn and we need torest as much as possible. We’ll stay there for four weeks working, andbelieve me, there are no hammocks there. A boyero sleeps where he falls inthe mud at night, when he can’t walk anymore because he’s so tired. Thenat dawn El Brujo comes with his prong and sticks it into you until you getback on your feet to work for the day.”That night, Orlando hung listless in the swinging hammock as his mindwrestled with unanswered questions: Why am I here if my only mistake wasto be a friend to Rufino Mayorga? Why is Aquiles in this camp if he hasnever done anything wrong? Are the other boys here for similar reasons?What are the chances of escaping from this place?“Compañero, don’t think of it.”Aquiles’ voice cut through the darkness, startling Orlando, who suddenlythought that his companion had been hearing his thoughts. He rolled overon his shoulder to peer across to where Aquiles swayed in his hammock.Orlando squinted in the dark, trying to discern the expression on his face.“I know what you’re thinking. It’s what goes through all our minds whenwe first get here. But the camp is guarded at all times. Even if you don’t see
them, they’re waiting for any one of us who tries to run away.”Orlando felt his chest well up with frustration and rage, anger atsomething unseen, a presence he could not identify. Then Don Absolón’spuffy face appeared in the gloom, its baggy eyes leering at him, his slackmouth grinning. Orlando’s stomach ached when he swallowed the bittersaliva that had filled his mouth. He was miserable and confused as he hungin the flat, humid jungle air, not knowing that years would pass before hecould free himself from the mud of the boyero’s life.
Chapter 15 I’ll see that he’s taken care of.Young Rufino was standing next to the stone sink taking a drink of waterwhen he overheard the maids gossiping about his friend Quintín Osuna.When Rufino realized that they hadn’t seen him because he was standing ina dark corner of the kitchen, he decided to eavesdrop on them.“They took the boy. Several people saw El Brujo come after him.”“Comadre, are you certain?”“Sí.”“That overseer is a devil. He could only bring harm to Quintín. Butthen… well… maybe… I think you’re mistaken.”“Well, don’t believe me if you don’t want to, but others were standingnear the Osuna palapa and even swear that they caught a glimpse of theEvil One’s eyes.”“¡Virgen Santísima! If that’s what happened, we’ll never see youngQuintín again.”Rufino’s eyes widened as he listened to the women’s soft murmurs. Hecould not make sense of their words, but they filled him with fear. Thethought of his friend being taken away by his father’s overseeroverwhelmed him so much that the last gulp of water he had taken was stilltrapped in his mouth; his throat had clamped shut.“¿Por qué? What could the boy have done to be sent away with that evilman?”“Not much! Everyone knows what el patrón is like, and that any littlething can cause him to do the most terrible things. Remember his sister? Ifhe was so cruel to his own flesh and blood, what can anyone else expect.”In his mind, Rufino also asked the woman’s question: Why would hisfather punish his friend by sending him away from his mother and father?He remembered his aunt and her punishment, but that was different becauseshe had done something bad and deserved what she got. Quintín had donenothing except be a good friend to him.
Suddenly this thought froze in Rufino’s brain. He remembered that everytime he and Quintín had gone far into the jungle to play, it had been behindhis father’s back because he had known all along that he was not supposedto act as if Quintín was like him. He had not paid attention to any of thewarnings. Shaken, he put down the glass he was holding and dashed out ofthe kitchen, startling the maids and cooks as he rushed by them.Rufino found his father sitting at his desk in the study. The day wasending, but there was still enough daylight filtering through the tallwindows, allowing Don Absolón to read the document he held in his hands.When he heard the door close, he looked up as he removed the smallreading glasses that perched on the bridge of his nose.“Hijo. Come in.”“Buenas tardes, Padre.”The old man squinted as he focused on his son’s image. As always, hefelt a pang of emotion just looking at Rufino, his youngest, his favorite, thecenter of his hopes. There were the three older brothers, but Don Absolónhad long ago pinned his attention on Rufino as his successor. The old manabsentmindedly rubbed his chin with one hand and beckoned his son tocome nearer to him with the other.“¿Qué pasa, Rufino? You look upset. Are you feeling sick?”“No, Padre, I’m fine. It’s just that I’ve heard words that I think are onlygossip.”Sensing an awkward moment, Don Absolón sat up in the armchair as hemotioned to Rufino to sit in a nearby chair. He had expected that his sonwould require an explanation regarding the Indian boy, but he had notthought that the moment would come so soon. Nonetheless, the old manwas prepared.“What is it that you’ve heard?”“That Quintín Osuna was taken away by El Brujo.”“El Bru… Rufino, the best overseer on our property has a name. ¡Porfavor!”“I’m sorry, Padre, but I don’t know it.”Don Absolón was only trying to put Rufino on the defensive whilebuying time in which to discern his son’s feelings. The truth was that evenhe did not remember the overseer’s name. He sucked his teeth and shrugged
his shoulders, letting Rufino know that he should go on with what he wassaying.“¿Por qué, Padre? Quintín was my friend.”Don Absolón was momentarily taken off guard by Rufino’s looks andwords filled with emotion. He saw that his face had drained of its usualcolor, and he thought that the boy might even be close to tears. But insteadof moving him to sympathy, this impression of deep affection of his son forthe Indian boy only reinforced the old man’s decision to have done awaywith him.“Precisely!”“Precisely?”“Yes, Rufino! That the boy has cleverly made his way into yourfriendship is precisely why he should be sent away. His likes should neverforget their place when it comes to mingling with our families. In fact, Hijo,we, too, must be held to the same rule. We must not lose the place we haveoccupied for so many generations by letting those under us believe that theyare our equals.”Don Absolón abruptly halted his harangue when he saw that Rufino’sface was betraying confusion, and somewhere hidden behind the pupils ofhis eyes, the old man thought he detected resentment, even resistance towhat he was saying. When his son kept quiet, Don Absolón decided to takeanother route.“At any rate, Hijo, this is really only a trivial incident, one that you’llforget as soon as you go to the academy. As a matter of fact, this letter I’mreading is your acceptance as a cadet. Isn’t this what you’ve alwayswanted?”The tactic worked. Rufino’s eyes changed almost immediately onhearing that not only was he accepted by the military school in Mexico Citybut that his father was actually agreeing to it. But he was jarred by thesudden change in his father, since he had always said that he wanted Rufinoto stay on the finca to learn its ways of operation. Quintín Osuna’s absencebegan to recede to the back of his mind.“I thought you wanted me to stay here.”“Well, yes, that’s what I want. On the other hand, Hijo, it would be goodfor you to mingle with the men that have always been our right hand. Who
knows, you might even be a colonel or a general, eh? That’s it! GeneralRufino Mayorga!”Don Absolón’s bloated face contorted into a grimace as he patronizedRufino, humoring and condescending to his boyish wishes. He knew,however, that his youngest son would ultimately be his inheritor; he wouldassure this against whatever obstacles might arise. He knew that a few yearsaway from Las Estrellas would cure Rufino of his outlandish dream ofbeing an officer. The boy’s calling was to a much higher status.Rufino got to his feet as his heart raced with joy because he would bejoining the academy. As he turned to leave the room, however, heremembered the reason he had come to speak to his father in the first place.Quintín’s brown face flashed in front of him; it seemed to be waiting forRufino to do something.“Padre, what about my friend?”Don Absolón, who had already returned his attention to his papers,looked up. His expression was neutral, revealing nothing.“Don’t worry about him. I’ll see that he’s taken care of.”
Chapter 16 There was only emptiness.“Hey, Quintín, tomorrow I go out to do my last four weeks of shit work.What do you think of that, amigo? Eight years of this hell. ¡Qué chinga!And now I’m going back to my palapa. I wonder if there’s anyone left toremember me.”Orlando and Aquiles were ending a week of rest and ready to undergoanother four weeks of harvesting mahogany. Orlando sat cross-legged,leaning against a tree, staring into the campfire that crackled with burningembers. Though he appeared not to be listening to Aquiles, he was hearingevery word. As his companion rambled, Orlando felt torn between joy forAquiles because he would soon be free, and envy because he, himself, wasto remain locked into that life of captivity which he had now endured forfive long years.Orlando now remembered how he had worked up the courage to go to ElBrujo to ask him the length of his term as a boyero. He had dared toapproach the man just a day after his arrival, only to be told that el patrónwas thinking about it and would give word of his decision. When dayspassed and Orlando received only the bat-like glares of the overseer, hewent to him again.He approached El Brujo, afraid, but his desire to know what was tobecome of him overcame his apprehension. He swallowed a large gulp ofsaliva as he neared the man who, as always, stood apart and silent.“Señor.”“¿Qué quieres?”El Brujo beaked his upper lip as he glared at Orlando, who shifted hisfeet in nervousness, thinking that the man was deliberately toying with him,pretending to have forgotten their talk of a few days earlier. He breatheddeeply, trying to overcome the anger that was welling up in his chest.“I want to know what Don Absolón has decided about me.”“About you?”
“I mean, how long will I have to be a boyero?”“Until he decides that you have paid for your crime.”“Crime? I haven’t committed a crime!”“Are you defying Don Absolón’s wisdom?”“No, señor. I’m only asking a question.”“The answer to your question is that I didn’t ask el patrón what heintends to do with you, so I’m sure he’s forgotten all about you andwhatever you did.”El Brujo’s words stunned Orlando, who felt that his legs were about togive out and that he would crumble at the overseer’s feet. The boy held hisbreath, struggling to get control of his racing heart and the overwhelmingsurge of hatred flooding him. Aquiles’ words came to him: If he even beginsto hate a boyero, that’s it for that poor cabrón; that poor devil mysteriouslyis sucked into the mud, never to be seen again.Orlando turned away from the man without a word, knowing that hishatred had leaked out of his eyes, and that El Brujo was now sure to put theevil eye on him. Orlando didn’t care, however. Don Absolón and El Brujohad put him there for nothing, and what was worse, he would remain aboyero until he died, either with mud clogging his throat or from snake bite.What did it matter if the sorcerer put a hex on him? Nothing mattered now.It was only his second day in the camp, but Orlando knew he was a deadman. His hatred for El Brujo intensified with each step he took away fromthe man, and his body grew so cold that by the time he reached the campfireAquiles had started, he thrust his hand into the burning branches.“¡Epa, amigo! ¿Estás loco?”Aquiles lunged toward Orlando and yanked his hand from the embers,but not fast enough to prevent it from being scorched. The burn did nothingto lessen the chill that had invaded Orlando’s insides. His teeth rattled oneagainst the other, and his body shivered as if he were buried in ice.“¡Ese cabrón! ¡Ese cabrón! ¡Qué chingue a su madre!”Orlando stuttered, hurling insults at El Brujo, mumbling profanities thateven Aquiles had not heard. His friend, mouth open, stared at hiscompañero, not understanding the cause of his fury, but when Orlandoregained some composure, he told Aquiles what had happened, launchinginto more obscenities.
“¡Ay, amigo! This is not good! This is very bad for you. Be carefulbecause one day that devil will try to kill you.”Orlando could not bring himself to accept the sentence that El Brujo hadhurled at him. If Don Absolón had forgotten him, then it would be true thathe was to stay at the caoba camp until he died, by accident or at the handsof the sorcerer. A separate idea took hold of him: What about his motherand father? If the old patrón had indicted him so severely for doing nothing,what about them? Understanding this compelled him to begin a plan ofescape. He spent weeks spying on the guards that surrounded the camp.When he detected sloppiness in one or two of them, he concentrated ontheir every move: how they snoozed while the overseer was not keeping aneye on them, how they were careless with their weapons, how they becamedistracted when they joked and gossiped while on guard.After staking out the guards’ day shift, Orlando decided that if he wereto escape, his best chance would be after dark. So for countless evenings,while everyone slept, he crawled from his hammock and spent hours spyingon the night guards. He discovered that they were even more negligent thanthe day watch, and that they slept most of the time.One night, after waiting for Aquiles and everyone else to fall asleep,Orlando rolled a petate, lashed it to his back and tied a gourd filled withwater to his waist. He crawled away from the palapa, past circles of fadingembers in the center of the camp, past snoring boyeros, all the while grazingarms and legs that dangled from hammocks. Orlando slithered on his belly,clawing at the soggy earth with elbows and knees, struggling to muffle hisstrained breathing, knowing that the sound of a cracking branch might alertat least one of the snoozing sentries.As he moved, he felt joy surging through him, knowing that each strokeof his arms and legs dragged him further away from the camp, away fromthe hateful sorcerer. When he judged that he had penetrated the ring ofguards, he gingerly got to his knees and looked around him. The jungle wasespecially dark that moonless night, and there was only the humming ofnocturnal reptiles and the occasional whelp of a howling monkey. He got tohis feet and began to walk, carefully at first, then picking up pace until hereached a brisk rhythm, in spite of his sandaled feet sinking into the ooze ofthe jungle floor, hindering his speed.
Orlando’s heart beat wildly because of the exertion, but more so becausehe understood that he would soon be free, that no one would be able to findhim once he buried himself in the jungle, that never again would he fear asorcerer or any patrón. His mind raced at the same speed as his heart,thinking, planning, rejoicing, knowing that he was no longer a captive.He was suddenly yanked from his thoughts when something stoppedhim, and his legs seemed to be paralyzed as his ears tried to decipher astrange noise, something different, foreign to the night sounds of the jungle.He squinted his eyes as if this would sharpen his hearing. It was a rasping,flapping noise, like that of a bat’s webbed wings beating against the humidnight air.Orlando’s head jerked upward trying to see, but his vision was cut shortby the dense canopy of tree branches. Terrified, his eyes searched, eager topenetrate the gloom from which the whipping sound grew stronger andnearer; he even felt a swirling current of air graze his face. He began to turnin circles, arms outstretched, gnarled fingers groping wildly in the dark ashe strained to recognize the sound that was increasing his terror with eachmoment. His eyes were wide open, pupils dilated, as he scanned thetreetops until he thought he caught a glimpse of a bat’s silhouette. As hespun full circle away from the hateful image, his mouth open and gasping,his heart beating uncontrollably, a voice brought him to an abrupt halt.“Boyero, ¿Qué haces?”Orlando knew who it was. The shrill, hissing voice was unmistakable.When he gained control of his body, he turned toward the voice and he sawthe bulbous, onyx-colored eyes of El Brujo shining in the blackness. Evenin the dark, Orlando was able to make out the revolver in his hand. El Brujoheld it high, pointed at Orlando’s face.“¡Vámonos!”Nothing else was said. Orlando was so shaken that his tongue wassticking to the roof of his mouth. He could hardly force his legs to obey hismind, but he walked, nonetheless, stiffly at first, then at a brisker speed. Ashe moved, his mind was a swirl of confusion, fear and hatred. He could notunderstand how El Brujo had caught him, how he had known where to findhim in the jungle’s density and darkness. Orlando could not account for theflapping sounds he had heard, nor for the bat’s image he was sure he hadseen. He wondered if it had only been his imagination.
As he marched, he felt the sorcerer’s gun grazing the nape of his neck;he could even smell the man’s heavy breathing. Aside from that sound,everything was quiet. The jungle creatures were watching in silent awe, asif they, too, were wondering what would become of Orlando Flores.When Orlando and El Brujo reached the camp, it was bristling with thecomings and goings of men, no matter that it was before daybreak. At firstit was only a rumor that got around that someone had tried to escape, andthat it had been the new boyero Quintín Osuna. Few men were alarmedbecause a first infraction by a boyero usually received a mild punishment:five days without nourishment, except for water. But it was always El Brujowho decided on the severity.At dawn the gossiping among the boyeros stopped abruptly, when wordwent from mouth to mouth describing what was said to be Orlando’spunishment. It was to be the worst, not the mildest. Aquiles rushed to ElBrujo with the intention of intervening for his friend, but he saw that thesorcerer, two armed guards by his side, could not be approached. Besides,Aquiles also saw that Orlando was already being led to the pillory, where hewould be flogged until he lost consciousness.The lashing began in view of all of the workers; it was to be a lesson. Asthe whip cut through the air, each one of those men could feel the steel-tipped leather bite into his own flesh. Orlando at first was able to stay on hisfeet, but as the lashing increased, his knees began to buckle and eventuallycave in, so that he was hanging with the entire weight of his body held upby his wrists, which were strapped into an iron ring at the top of the post.Orlando’s knees had failed him, but his heart continued to burn withhatred for El Brujo and all he represented. Orlando stayed conscious byrepeating a promise to never forget what was happening to him, and whathappened every day to men like him, and what had happened to his peoplefor generations. His eyes fluttered, opened, fluttered and opened once again,letting everyone know that he refused to surrender to unconsciousness. Theguard who was whipping him tired and had to be replaced, but Orlando stillwould not faint. The flesh on his back was in tatters, yet he would not allowhimself to fall into darkness, despite the pain.The men around him began to shift and move in indignation as thewhipping continued; they cast angry eyes at El Brujo, but Orlando remainedalert, aware. The sorcerer, urged by the other overseers, finally gave the
order to cease the punishment. After all, his intention had been reached:Orlando was pulp and blood; the other boyeros had seen and learned theirlesson. Yet, he had one more detail to add to that example.“¡Córtenle un dedo de cada pie!”To have a toe severed from each foot gave Orlando intolerable pain andeven long after the wounds healed, the memory of that agony inhabited hisheart and mind, and would do so until the day of his death. He never forgotthat his was a solitary pain, but the suffering that anguished his people wasuniversal, and this thought mitigated his own agony. These were thethoughts that caused Orlando to cease being a boy.Now as he listened to Aquiles, Orlando realized that time had crawledfor him since then. He had aged as if more than five years had passed. Onlytwenty-one years old, his body had taken on the appearance of a much olderman. The constant labor of dragging chains through dense ooze whilestruggling against the pull of oxen had stunted Orlando’s growth; only hisfeet had developed, but they were now out of proportion with his body size,and each foot missing a toe. His arms were long and sinewy, their veinscoiled from elbows to hands like blue snakes trying to slither around untoldpockmarks left by relentless mosquito attacks. His face had broadened,flattened; his lips had also changed, clinging to the hollows caused byknocked-out teeth; and his eyes had lost the light that had been there on theday he left his palapa.Orlando’s greatest change, moreover, took place within him: somewherearound the heart, in the niche where his spirit lingered. The punishments hehad endured, as well as countless unanswered questions, had left him with agrowing anxiety, which surfaced masked as bitter rage. He often pickedfights with his compañeros, battering anyone who would so much as glanceat him.Because his intelligence had been stunted, neglected, his mind oftengroped blindly for a way out of its dungeon, and he looked for reasons, foranswers, but there was only emptiness. Orlando would often howl indesperation. He did this almost always when he was on a team of men,struggling, pulling at the chains that guided straining oxen. At those times,his screams disappeared into the din, swallowed by the clamor of grunting,cursing men, snorting beasts, shouting overseers and groaning, creakingtree trunks.
Now, listening to Aquiles, Orlando’s mind drifted; he was thinking ofwhere the mahogany trees grew. His thoughts traveled to the heart of thejungle, where torrential rain and humidity gathered in ravines and crevices,where that moisture penetrated the earth. There, fallen leaves rotted, mixingwith dirt, dead insects, and reptiles, becoming impenetrable mud. It wasthere that for thousands of years, the mahogany had flourished. Theirgrowth had been silent and secret until the patrones had discovered itsworth: a wood more precious than gold to people beyond the ports andrivers of the Lacandona.Orlando was thinking of how many boys he had seen perish, devouredby the mud of the jungle. His mind was looking at the gangs of workersresponsible for prodding and pushing teams of oxen into dragging a trunk,and how that tree became caked with mud, rendering it heavier with eachstep. He was used to seeing boyeros risk tripping just to goad the oxenahead, even if falling meant death under the beast’s hooves, or asphyxiationby mud.When the gang of workers finally cleared a section of trees, their taskturned to chopping at the jungle to make a path, a calzada, from the freshcaoba grove to the river. It was only at those times that the overseers, underthe bat’s eye of El Brujo, armed the boyeros with machetes. Because themorass was so dense, this work was just as awful as goading oxen. As eachman hacked at stubborn giant palms and undergrowth, he did so notknowing if he might be disturbing a nest of poisonous ants or falling into asnake pit. The overseers coaxed and pushed the workers forwardrelentlessly, shouting profanities and threats, commanding them to finishthe path, never allowing time for rest or a drink of water. Many times aboyero collapsed, drained of all energy, and this meant that he would be leftbehind to die.Now, as Aquiles chattered cheerfully, Orlando’s fingers massaged thesores on his arms, wounds caused by swarms of blood-sucking mosquitoes.As he did this, his memory brought back the image of the pinkish ooze thatdripped from a boyero’s skin, aggravated yet more by the demanding pokesof El Brujo, who used his prodding stick insistently.“¡Ándale, cabrón! ¡Jala! ¡Jala!”Come on, son of a bitch! Pull! Pull! These words, which he heardcoming from El Brujo’s mouth, snapped Orlando back to the present and to
the awareness of Aquiles’ presence. As he looked over to his friend, he triedto smile, but realized that his face was stiff, unwilling to bend to such agesture. He got to his feet and headed for his hammock, hoping that sleepwould erase the intolerable images invading his mind. Dawn came, but timehad dragged for Orlando that night because he had been unable to rest. Heknew these would be his last weeks with Aquiles, and he was saddened,knowing that his friend would leave, that he would probably never see himagain.When Aquiles and Orlando joined the gang of boyeros, they saw thatalthough they had been in the jungle for only a week, they were alreadyexhausted beyond endurance. They sluggishly lined up, listening for ElBrujo’s shrill commanding voice. The men began the trek into the densityof the jungle, followed by teams of oxen that looked as if they, too, sensedtheir own impending death. Two of them squatted on the ground, refusing tomove, and no amount of prodding or pulling could make them get to theirfeet. The drivers lost patience with them and ordered those remaining in thecamp to look after them. When Orlando saw this, he wondered what wouldhappen if he got down on the ground and refused to move.After a day’s march, El Brujo signaled that they had arrived at theharvesting site. As the boyeros looked over the surrounding area, they sawcountless prime caoba trees. Many of the boys secretly exchanged glanceswhich confirmed: I told you he’s a sorcerer. Other workers scratched theirhead, wondering how El Brujo always managed to find such rich reservesof timber, when others often lost their lives searching. Someone in the rearmuttered, “¡Cabrón brujo!”Orlando always kept his eye on the sorcerer, knowing that he, in turn,was continually spied on by those unblinking eyes. Years had passed sincehis attempted escape, but Orlando knew that the sorcerer planned to kill himand that Aquiles’ prediction would some day come true.Time passed, but nothing happened until the day foreseen by Aquilesarrived. At dawn, the caravan of boyeros and oxen struck a path toward thejungle, El Brujo, weapon in hand, at its head. The shift would begin withtheir dragging to the river a trunk left over from the night before. It wouldend with the beginnings of a path. Three men carried the necessarymachetes.“¡Ándenle! ¡Jalen! ¡Jalen!
El Brujo’s shrill call to pull the trunk shattered the first rays of light thathad begun to filter through the mesh of vines and trees. At his command,men and beasts strained to dislodge the tree that had doubled in weight asthe mud coating it had hardened overnight. The hooves of the oxen plowedinto the slime beneath them, sinking deeper each time the boyeros drovethem on. As the animals struggled, the ooze beneath them churned,deepening, thickening. Its sucking sounds struck fear in the men, and theyinstinctively kept a distance while trying to reach the oxen with theirprodding irons.The struggle was at its peak when Orlando, straining at his section ofchain, saw Aquiles slip; one of his ankles had buckled under his weight. Hesaw that his friend tried to regain his balance but the momentum of the pullworked against him, causing him to plunge headlong into the churningmire. Orlando dropped the chain and rushed to the edge of the mud, soclose that he felt the haunches of an ox brush his torso. He thrust his armsinto the slime, grabbed one of Aquiles’ shoulders and raised him up farenough so that he could gasp air through his opened mouth.As Orlando did this, the blast of a shotgun stopped all motion; even theanimals froze. He looked over his shoulder in time to see El Brujo lower theweapon he held in his hands. In that second, Orlando snapped his face backto look at Aquiles and saw that part of his friend’s face had been blastedaway. It was at that moment that Orlando realized that the shot had beenmeant for him.“¡Boyero Osuna! ¡A la chamba!”The gang stood in stunned silence as they saw that Orlando refused toobey the command to return to work and that he no longer cared what ElBrujo was ordering. They watched as he pulled Aquiles’ body from themire, dragged it to a small patch of solid ground, and there laid the remainsof his friend. They followed his movements, watching as he wipedwhatever mud he could from the bloodied face, and then gently crossed hisfriend’s arms over his chest.Orlando got to his feet, still not caring that the sorcerer was watchinghim, weapon in hand, with his bat-like gaze defying Orlando to dosomething. But then, with a speed that even El Brujo’s eyes could notfollow, Orlando leaped at the hold of machetes and, armed with one of the
sharpened long knives, he sprang toward the sorcerer, reaching him beforehe could raise his shotgun.Orlando’s arm, grown tough with five years of hacking and chopping,raised the machete and brought it down on its target. The cut was clean,swift. El Brujo’s head hit the ground while his body was still on its feet.Moments passed before it slowly crumbled to the soggy jungle floor, whereits blood oozed through severed arteries into the mire. Years later, thosewho witnessed the execution swore that the sorcerer’s blood was not red butwhite, like the milk of the yuca.Orlando looked around him and saw that the boyeros as well as ElBrujo’s underlings were paralyzed into inaction by what had happened. Noone moved or showed signs of daring to apprehend him. They only stared,mouths agape. Seeing that no one intended to accost him, Orlando, themachete still in his hand, approached Aquiles’ body and got down on hisknees. He placed the machete by the body, taking its inert hand and closingit around the weapon’s handle. He then got to his feet and disappeared intothe jungle.
Chapter 17 The night in Tlatelolco had shaken him.It was late October and the diffused autumn light filtering through tallwindows accentuated the reflection in the full-length mirror. Twenty-one-year-old Rufino Mayorga stared at his image and was pleased with what hesaw. His hazel-colored eyes took in his blond hair, oval-shaped face, longstraight nose, wide mouth highlighted by lips clasped in a jaunty smile. Hisglance slipped downward, pausing on his broad shoulders, slim torso, longlegs planted apart on the tiled floor. Rufino gawked at his mirrored image,gratified with how the officer’s uniform, knee-length boots and shinymedals rendered him an exceptionally handsome figure.He suddenly snapped out of his reverie when he remembered that he andother officers were expected at Los Pinos to dine with El Señor Presidente.The 1968 Olympic Games had ended and with those events a turbulentmonth had just closed in Mexico City. Rufino Mayorga had distinguishedhimself as a young officer, emerging from the bitter violence of those dayswith a sterling record, proving himself an enemy of the rabble that had triedto embarrass the country in the eyes of the world. Dinner with the presidentwas his reward.Rufino sniffed contentedly and looked at his watch, noting that there wasstill time before the driver was due to arrive. He walked to the window andstared out at the steel-colored sky while he waited. Soon it would be dark,but there was still enough light for him to make out rooftops, and fartheraway the silhouettes of the Tower of the Americas and other tall buildings.He craned his neck to look down at streets, now eerily silent after theturmoil of the past month.He turned his gaze north of the Zócalo, to Tlatelolco, and his thoughtsdrifted back to the mass student demonstration of October 2. The toweringsilhouette cut into the night by the church of Santiago de Compostelaloomed in his memory, its giant wooden doors slowly creaking shut. Thesquare was jammed with people chanting, shouting, singing, protesting. Inhis memory, Rufino looked beyond the left flank of the church and focused
on the building known as El Chihuahua; its balconies were filled withscreaming, ranting university students, its walls draped with insultingplacards and banners. Over tinny microphones, hysterical voices poured outscorn, all of it aimed at the government, at the ruling class, at the military.“¡Asesinos!”“¡Gorilas!”“¡Puercos!”“¡Gobierno de mierda!”When Rufino received the order to be one of the officers in charge ofdispersing the crowd, he felt proud, but when he actually confronted thatoutraged mass of people, he was filled with terror. Face to face, he realizedthat the troops he commanded were identical to the mob filling the plaza,except that his men were uniformed. Amid the turmoil, Rufino had lookedat them as if for the first time, seeing their flat, brown faces, accentuated byslanted eyes, broad mouths with lips that barely covered buck teeth. What ifthey turn on me? His soldiers did not turn on him; they obeyed his orderswhen he commanded them to fire into the crowd, leaving him wonderingwhy they fired on people who looked just like them.Rufino, standing at the window, thought he now heard the echo of panic-stricken voices floating in the chilly air, and his eyes conjured images ofbodies falling, riddled with bullets, others trampled by those trying toescape the carnage. He remembered looking upward and seeing thescramble of young men and women, leaping from an upper balcony to theone below, some making it, others falling two and three floors.The battle—his men against the students—lasted the entire night, andwhen it was over, Rufino felt sickened, not by the deaths and maiming ofpeople, but because he discovered that he detested the sound and stench ofviolence. He was convinced that the insurgents deserved to be crushed, andthat force was the only way. He wondered, however, if it was for the likesof him to carry out such tasks.Rufino turned away from the window, glanced at his watch, then lookedagain at his image in the mirror. He absentmindedly fidgeted with the topbutton of his tunic, then straightened one of the medals while his train ofthought returned to the subject of living a military life. He had to admit thatthe night at Tlatelolco had shaken him and deeply eroded his resolve to be
an officer. He had discovered that he found the experience too untidy, toomessy—not at all for him.Rufino stood in the middle of the room, lost in thought; his mind wastoying with an idea that had emerged on that violent night: My father wouldrejoice if I returned to stay at Las Estrellas. This thought conjured an oldmemory of his friend Quintín Osuna, of whom he had heard nothing. Overthe years, whenever he remembered to ask his father, Don Absolón wouldshrug his shoulders or merely change the subject. Rufino, as always whenthinking of his boyhood friend, discovered that he barely remembered hisface. He imagined that it now might resemble that of one of the soldiersunder his command, or he might even look like one of the dead students.Rufino was yanked out of his thoughts by a soft rap on the door,announcing that his car was ready.Before leaving, Rufino stepped over to the chair where he had laid hiscap and gloves. As he turned, he could not help but see his reflection in themirror once again. He was tall, handsome, refined, soon to reach the primeof his life. The image told him that a life in the barracks was not for him—perhaps for others, but not for him.
Chapter 18 We call him Tatic, Little Father.Orlando Flores became a fugitive in 1968, the year of the massacre atTlatelolco. It was also in that year that the Catholic bishops of LatinAmerica met in Medellín to ask one another how the Church was to spreadnot only the word of God, but also the word of God’s people. But thoseprelates were mostly perplexed; they had only the old ways to talk aboutGod. One of them knew what to do, nevertheless, and it was he whosignaled the exodus to freedom of the congregations he shepherded.Led by a bishop, the journey of the tribes that inhabited the canyons, thehighlands and the jungle was difficult; it took years. The spiritual centers ofthe movement became Ocosingo and San Cristóbal de Las Casas, whereteachers, organizers and social workers congregated after heeding thebishop’s call to catechize in a new manner, a way in which the people werebrought together not to hear but to be heard, not to erase their culture but toremember it, not to disdain their mysticism but to rediscover it.When this new spirit swept through Chiapas, Orlando was only twenty-one years old, but he, like his people, had already sustained indescribablephysical and mental pain; he had also killed a man. He knew that DonAbsolón would not be lenient, much less forgiving, of the native whomurdered his favored overseer. El patrón would not rest until he hadOrlando’s severed head dangling from a ceiba tree.These thoughts collided with concern for his mother and father. He wastorn between the certainty of death for himself if he went back to Lacanjá,and the fear that his family might be punished in retribution if he did notreturn. He pondered this dilemma and finally decided to flee into thedeepest part of the Lacandona Jungle, away from Lacanjá. This choicewould gnaw at Orlando thereafter, growing as years passed, filling him withguilt and sadness.Orlando wandered through the jungle, feeding on fish he captured fromrivers or small game he ensnared in traps he constructed. He emerged fromthe density from time to time, entering villages or rancherías where he
would accept food or a garment in return for small jobs rendered. In time,people grew to recognize him; they knew that he was a fugitive, shieldinghimself from a patrón or any of the many catxul who prowled in search ofnatives they hungered to punish.Orlando hid in the jungle for five years, and during that time he becamehaggard, deep wrinkles surfacing on his face. As time passed, solitudebecame a burden to him, growing until he decided that he had changed somuch that he would not be recognized if he emerged from hiding. Hedecided to head for Ocosingo, a town with streets and houses, a place wherehe could more easily disappear into the crowds of Tzeltales, Choles andeven other Lacandones. In an effort to make his capture yet more unlikely,he did away with the tribal tunic he still wore and put on faded trousers anda cotton shirt. He cut his hair short around the ears and neck, and combed itback on his forehead, making him look less like a Lacandón and more likean ordinary laborer. It was then that he changed his name to Orlando Flores.He worked in whatever place would give him a job: in the fly-infestedbutcher shops that lined the main market street, on construction sites layingbricks and smearing plaster on walls, on plantations picking beans.Countless times, Orlando stood on corners, along with other day laborers,waiting to be picked up by paneled eight-wheeler trucks that transportedgangs of men to work places, sometimes as far removed from Ocosingo asPalenque, where luxury hotels were in construction as a result of the flow oftourists.It was on those long trips when the fatigued men were given a break toeat a lunch of cold tortillas stuffed with beans to be swallowed with gulps ofwater, that Orlando began to concentrate on the workers’ talk. At first, hedisregarded their conversations, judging them to be mere babble, tuningthem out and taking the moment to catch a bit of sleep. But soon, he beganto listen, to take in what he was hearing as well as to witness the impact ofthose words; such talk had never before reached his ears.He heard, for the first time, mention of a bishop who had sent out hisrepresentatives to help the people, and that changes were happeningbecause of the new ideas being spread by those envoys. Slowly, Orlandobegan to understand that those men around him were speaking with onespirit, that they were no longer separated by tribal customs and beliefs, but
united by the conviction that, together, their lives could be changed for thebetter.¡Tierra! ¡Educación! ¡Salubridad!Land! Education! Health! When Orlando began to take notice of thattalk, he realized that his fellow workers were speaking of privileges enjoyedonly by the patrones and their offspring, and that now the natives weremurmuring of the possibility of having those same rights. He felt a mix ofreactions: disbelief, yearning, disdain, hope. Soon Orlando began to join inthe conversations by asking questions, challenging glib answers, raisingdoubts. Each time, to his surprise, his queries were satisfied with abelievable response.“Hey, amigo! Why don’t you come to our meetings? Sometimes we meetin Ocosingo, at others in San Cristóbal.”Orlando eventually did join the meetings, which were held in places noteasily observed by the police: sometimes in assembly halls, but mostly inchurches. At first, he only listened as the bishop’s representatives spoke,leading groups in discussion of different issues and concerns. He especiallyconcentrated on his fellow workers, men and women, who had bornewitness to family memories and histories, presenting testimonies andexperiences. Orlando kept silent for almost a year; despite his wanting tospeak, he felt inhibited. He feared bringing attention to himself. He wasafraid that his hatred and bitterness might spill out of his mouth, but most ofall he dreaded that he was not intelligent enough to speak. So his tonguestuck to the roof of his mouth.One evening his compañeros and compañeras met in San Cristóbal deLas Casas, in the Church of Santo Domingo. Orlando, who had never beenin that place before, was staggered by its huge altar and tabernacle. As heswiveled his head in all directions, his eyes reflected the glow of the goldleaf covering the church’s massive walls. He squinted as he gazed, firstupward at the ornate pulpit, then downward at the stone floor polishedsmooth over the centuries by bare feet and mendicant knees. As he walkedin, side by side with dozens of workers—the men with sombreros in hand,the women with heads covered by rebozos—he knew that they, too, wereequally amazed. He saw that they looked up and around, pivoting heads andcraning necks to get a better look at the paintings of saints, popes and
angels. Next to them, Orlando felt puny, diminished in the presence of suchgrandeur.“¡Órale, compañero! Don’t forget that our people made this place withtheir own sweat and bent backs.”Orlando swung around to see who had whispered those words to him,but he caught only a glimpse of a short woman who winked at him as shewalked by. He tried to catch up to her to speak to her, but she haddisappeared into the milling throng of natives. Then someone tapped himon the shoulder, letting him know that everyone was expected to sit, so hesquatted on his haunches and concentrated on the first speaker of theevening, the same woman who had spoken to him.“¡Hermanas y hermanos! Tonight I bring words to you that will makeour bishop better known to all of us. We will discover that he has been withus before, that he has felt not only our own pain but that of our ancestors ofmany generations ago. Look! Look up there!”As she spoke, the woman pointed a short finger at the pulpit that hadcaptivated Orlando; it was lodged in the upper part of the wall and rose highabove their heads. A surge of faces turned at once, lifting to observe thesmall, rectangular box shrouded at that moment in darkness.“It was from that pulpit that our bishop first spoke out in defense of ouranguish. It was from these very stones on which you sit that our ancestorslistened to him. This is my testimonial, words which I received from mymother, who received them from her mother, and she from her mother, andso on from the mothers beyond memory, reaching back to the year 1545,when our bishop walked up these steps and spoke. Please listen with yourhearts as well as with your ears.“At that time, one of our compañeras sat with our people in this place.She knew that there, close to the pulpit, stood the slave masters, the landand mine owners, the capitanes, those who kept order and received favorsfrom those above them, the maestros and priests who absolved a man fromsin if he paid the proper amount, or excommunicated him if he failed tohonor the system.“Behind those men stood their women, elegant and stiff, fluttering fans,playing with a loose end of lace, or tugging at underwear that was too tight,cutting into soft parts of their flesh. Those women attended mass daily
along with their servants, and it was the task of those maids to bring cups ofhot chocolate to their mistresses to fortify them during the long ceremony.“Our compañera’s mind wandered during the service; she was thinking,remembering. She had returned to her valley twenty years before, a timewhen she was searching for her family members who had vanished. Theyhad been among those who chose death by flinging themselves over cliffsrather than being snared into slavery. But she was prevented from killingherself, so there was nothing left for her to do but work for and obey thenew masters.“As our compañera’s thoughts drifted, her fingers touched a scar on herarm, and she remembered the searing pain caused by the boiling water, nomatter that it had happened years before, when she was only a child. Toforget her pain, she stared up at the statues: saints, women as well as men,with faces which resembled no one among her people. Then she shifted hereyes, squinting as she focused on the gold covering the walls of this verychurch. She let her vision focus on the altar and its golden tabernacle;everywhere she looked there was that yellow metal prized above all thingsby the masters. Look, compañeras and compañeros! The gold is still there.Just as she saw it!“Her attention at that moment was drawn by a boy, dressed in the samegarments as the priest, who walked onto the altar with a long pole to lightthe candles. Soon the front part of the church glowed with the amber andred tones set off by the tiny flames. She looked toward the elevated pulpit,concentrating on its ornate depiction of angels, devils, apostles, virgins,centurions, swords, lances and wheels—all of it snarled together like snakesin a pit.“Suddenly, the altar bell rang out telling everyone that our bishop wasabout to begin the mass. Our compañera stretched her neck to get a betterlook, because she had heard the rumor that this priest was different, that heoften scolded, even punished those of his own kind for injustices done tothe natives.“‘¡Indios, levántense!’“¡Compañeros! How well we know those words, eh? The skinny clericbarked out the order for our people to rise to their feet in sign of respect.Sighing and grunting, they got up, most of them struggling to straighten
backs so used to being curved and stooped. A young Lacandón man helpedour compañera to her feet.“Our bishop intoned the opening of the ritual and he was answered bythe congregation. Our compañera listened as the masters respondedvigorously, loudly, making certain that those around them took note of theirpresence. Our people, however, could only mumble the words because, likeus, they could not understand what they meant, nor could their tonguesrepeat the strange sounds. But they made sure to move their lips, becausethe cleric in charge watched them with eagle eyes.“As the mass moved forward, everyone continually stood, knelt, returnedto their feet, and then did it all over again. While the up-and-down rhythmadded to our compañera’s weariness, the motions appeared to invigorate themasters. As our bishop followed along with the ritual, his flock becameagitated, acting as if they were at a fiesta. Some whispered, others madeeyes at one another, smiling, flirting. Our compañera snorted through hernose when she observed how the women shuffled and twittered, slurpingloudly as they took their chocolate, making sure that everyone understoodthat their brew was made from a superior crop of cocoa beans. All thewhile, the service continued.“Soon, our bishop ascended that very same pulpit we now see to readfrom his holy book, but he refused to begin until there was completesilence. Minutes passed before the masters and their women realized thatour brother was waiting. When they finally hushed, he began to read. Atthis point our compañera opened her ears, deciding that she wanted to knowwhat he would have to say.“‘A lesson taken from the Apostle Saint John.’“By now our compañera realized that the tone of our bishop’s voice washarsh, even intimidating. She was happy when she saw the elegant men andwomen startled, staring up at the small figure, which seemed to become agiant with each passing moment, and whose eyes were filled with outrage.His purple vestments appeared to darken as he read. Our people listenedcarefully as well, trying to understand the lisping sounds of that otherlanguage, the sounds we all now know so well.“‘Come now, you, the wealthy, weep and howl over the miseries whichwill come upon you. Your riches have rotted, and your garments havebecome moth-eaten.’
“Our compañera saw the masters shift from one side to the other. Whenshe returned her gaze to our bishop, she saw that he sensed their agitation,and, interrupting the reading, he looked down at the upturned faces; heglared at their raised eyebrows, their pursed lips. Running his tongue overparched lips, he continued the reading; his voice was filled with risinganger.“‘Your gold and silver are rusted; and that rust will be a witness againstyou, and it will devour your flesh as fire does. You have laid up treasure inthe last days. Behold! The wages of the laborers who reap your fields,which have been kept back by you unjustly, cry out; and their cry hasentered into the ears of the Lord of Hosts!’“‘¡No!’“‘¡Shsss!’“‘¡Silencio!’“‘¡Abominación!’“Our compañera felt her heart racing when she saw that our bishop wenton reading, unafraid of the hissing and the irreverent shouting hurled at himby the congregation. Inexplicably, she understood every word, and sheclosed her eyes, hoping that he would not lose courage.“‘You have feasted upon the earth, and you have nourished your heartson dissipation in the day of slaughter. You have condemned and put to deaththe Just!’“Our bishop slammed shut the holy book that he held in one hand, andwith the other he gesticulated vigorously. He waved his clenched hand in anarc, swinging it from one side to the other, encircling those beneath him.Our compañera saw that everyone was staggered, first by the words of thereading, then by the priest’s hostile gestures. But he was not afraid. Hespoke again, this time with more anger.“‘Before I continue, I ask the maids to remove the cups, saucers and jugsfrom this House for this is the House of God! I command the rest of you tosit on the floor, just as those who serve you have done, for in this House weare all servants of God!’“Our compañera marveled when she saw that the congregation obeyedhim and got down on their rumps, but something in their bodies told herthat they hated our bishop, despite their obedience, and she knew the
reason. They despised him because he was our protector, and understandingthis made her put her fatigue aside. She could only think of what had justbeen said by our brother. Suddenly her concentration was interrupted by theyoung man next to her who wanted to know our bishop’s name.“‘Compañera, who is that priest?’“‘His name is Brother Bartolomé de Las Casas, but we call him Tatic,Little Father.’“Our bishop breathed in deeply, filling his lungs as he prepared to speakout again. He looked toward the rear of the church, and our compañerathought that his eyes met hers, but then he returned his gaze to thosehuddled beneath him, their fine garments wiping the dust off the floor.“‘It is a mortal sin to enslave the natives of this land! Blind cowards,whom Satan holds deceived, put down what you have stolen, or at least stopstealing! I command you to do this now! Otherwise, I shall excommunicateyou right here in this sacred House! Almighty God is my witness!’“Our compañera’s eyes widened because she understood our priest’swords, every one of them, and as she looked around, she saw that the othersalso had understood. Their eyes, too, were wide open, and filled withexpectation.“‘Traitor!’“‘Liar!’“‘Cut out his tongue!’“‘No! Cut out his heart!’“She heard the rumble of insults and threats, first in low, whisperingtones, then louder, and finally they were hurled against our bishop inpitched, shrill voices. The slave masters, capitanes and maestros, as well astheir women, got to their feet, faces red, veins puffed up with the blood ofoutrage, as they screamed their fury at our priest. Fists were raised indisgust, slashing the heavy air. They shuffled back and forth, like cattle.Soon, several men broke away from the crowd, daggers drawn. They leapedover the altar rail heading for the pulpit.“Our compañera rose to her feet with a speed that she thought her limbshad forgotten and, without thinking, she plunged into the milling,screeching crowd that shoved her back and forth. Suddenly she lost herfooting and she fell, pressed to the floor where the heeled slipper of one of
the ladies squashed her hand. She let out a groan but got to her feet again,forgetting the sharp pain in her hand. When she looked back, she saw thatmany of our people had followed her.“The attackers’ lunge toward our bishop had been halted by threesoldiers who had been standing behind the pulpit, giving him time todescend the narrow steps onto the floor of the church. He headed for thevestibule, but before reaching safety, his path was blocked by a beardedslave owner. As the man raised his dagger, our compañera and the othersjumped on him, all of them falling in a heap, rolling in the dust, amid theclamor of curses, obscenities and threats. This break gave our bishop timeto escape into the sanctuary at the rear of the church, leaving his enemiesinfuriated and filled with hatred.“Amigas y amigos, you can imagine how, at that violent moment, ourcompañera’s memory must have conjured the years during which she hadwandered, looking for what she and our people had lost. She thought of themany deaths, mutilations and floggings which she had witnessed. Now, herthoughts were riveted on the image of our bishop, who had dared to unmaskthe evils that had gripped our land. She had no way of knowing that hewould live many more years, never ceasing to decry what his countrymenwere doing, never halting his stinging words that assured the world that sheand her people were humans, with souls that wept because of pain inflictedon their bodies and for what was gone from their lives.“The next day, our compañera did not resist when she was strapped tothe pillory by a soldier’s rough hands. She looked around hoping to inspirethe others awaiting punishment, but she saw that she was surroundedinstead by a multitude of white faces, some bearded, others partiallycovered by mantillas. To one side was the front of this cathedral, its ornatepillars and niches staring down at her like empty eyes. In the oppositedirection, close to where she stood, was the huge cross that still rises nearlyas high as the cathedral. Soon its shadow would be cast over her. Shewaited patiently for its darkness to overcome her.“And so you see, my compañeras and compañeros, our bishop wasamong us then, just as he is living with us now. And then as now, ourhermanas and hermanos were, and are, punished for defending him. In thisvery place, if one listens, one can still hear his voice raised in our defense,as well as the sounds of whips cutting into the backs of our people. If he has
the courage now, as he had it then, to speak against injustice, I ask you:Why do we not have the strength to follow the path that he is again carvingout for us? If our compañera had the will to defend him then, why are weafraid to do so now?”The woman ended her testimonial with two images that danced in thechurch’s dim light: a compañera, overshadowed by a cross, awaitingpunishment, and a bishop who, in his attempt to stand up for the rights ofhis people, was living a repeated life. The narrative left the listeners stunnedby its challenging words that churned up memories of ancestral injustice.Silence prevailed within the ancient walls of Santo Domingo, while thecompañeras and compañeros listened to echoes of words from the pasttrapped in the church’s vaulted ceilings.Orlando Flores sat as if in a trance. He was remembering the story of thewoman who had led the insurrection generations ago—another testimoniallearned in the kitchens of the Mayorga finca. He was also struck withadmiration for the woman who had just spoken. Her memory, her gesturesand her way of speaking had unlocked his heart, allowing the fearsinhabiting it to spring loose to escape into thin air. He felt strong again,fearless, new, and he wanted to speak out.
Chapter 19 They crush us but we also crush ourselves.The Las Casas Indian Congress was scheduled to convene in SanCristóbal in October of 1974. It was the bishop who had called togethersuch a conclave, and although he declared that it was in memory of BrotherBartolomé de las Casas, its primary purpose was to hear the voices of thenatives, which had been silenced for nearly five hundred years.The year before the congress, when Orlando Flores had first experiencedthe bishop come alive in the storytelling of his compañera in the Church ofSanto Domingo, his own life took a new path. For days, even weeks, hecould not stop thinking of the man who was inhabiting this world in arepeated way. The repetition of life was not a new idea for Orlando; hispeople knew that this was a common occurrence. What baffled him,however, was his own role in the events that were swirling around him.What am I to do? Should I return to the jungle to protect myself? ShouldI remain here in the city or on the fincas to listen, to speak, to help? Thesewere some of the questions that robbed Orlando of sleep despite hisweariness beyond words from hard days’ labor. His body and legs achedfrom carrying loads on his back, or from countless hours spent stoopingover bean plants.He decided the least he could do was to become a part of the excitementthat was taking hold of the people: the Tzeltal, Tzotzil, Chol, Lacandón.Despite his fatigue after work, he joined the groups of men and women whogot together in back rooms or in churches. He found that at those timespeople talked without restraint; everyone seemed to have something to say—except for him. Although he had wanted to speak right from the firstmeeting he attended, he found himself surrounded by the masses andlistening to the inspiring stories of others. Orlando still found himselftongue-tied.As his reticence struggled with his desire to speak, his attention wasriveted on the organizers whose presence became more apparent each timea meeting took place. Orlando saw that among them were women, as well
as men, and that they were mostly mestizos educated in cities, who wereresponding to the bishop’s call to prepare the people for the Indian Council.He observed those persons closely, listening to their words, scrutinizingtheir moves and gestures, because he distrusted them. He noticed that atfirst they visited workers only in the field or on the job site. But as 1973moved on, they became bolder, appearing at evening meetings as well.Their presence, Orlando realized, spurred everyone into questioning,planning, even expecting changes in their lives, and this disturbed himbecause he saw that the organizers did not give solutions but only gaveshort sermons about Christ and his apostles, and often about Bartolomé delas Casas. This forced Orlando to wonder where such words would lead. Helistened to the questions and remarks often provoked in his companions bythe organizers, but he thought most of their talk was essentially withoutdirection.The pressure caused by hearing so many things and not speaking upintensified in Orlando. With each meeting, he came closer to tellingeveryone that he thought that they were on a mistaken path. The truth wasthat in his heart Orlando doubted that any one of those organizers, with talkalone, could change what centuries had given to his people as their burden.Yet the misery experienced by his people was undeniable and growingwith each day. So he listened to the voices of the women and men who werelike him, and he remembered the years he had spent dragging mahoganytrunks through impenetrable mud while being prodded and driven as werethe oxen. He remembered El Brujo and his severed head and its staringeyes. He remembered his days of wandering in the jungle and DonAbsolón’s face.“¡Compañero! What about the land the mestizos stole from ourancestors? When will we get some of it back? They have the best land; weget rocky barrancas in which to plant our seed.”“I get paid only seven pesos a day for working like a burro, and most ofthe time I don’t even get money, just a paper that I can exchange for a kiloof beans at the company store.”“And what about us women who have to work like oxen, along with ourchildren, for even less than that?”“That’s right! Don’t forget us women! We want education for ourchildren. We need medicine for them when they’re sick. We want to be
heard!”Men and women uttered afflictions which cycled and repeated. Peopleused different words but said the same thing over and again until the timedid come when Orlando was finally able to put words together to say whathe wanted. This happened when one of the organizers again spoke ofBrother Bartolomé de las Casas.“I tell you, hermanas y hermanos, he walks among us.”Orlando felt a knot of words coursing from his heart toward his mouth,and got to his feet. He stood quietly, sombrero in hand, but the organizersaw him almost immediately. The man interrupted what he was about to sayas Orlando spoke.“No! That bishop died many generations ago!”Orlando’s voice rang out with such vigor that it bounced off the vaultedceiling, echoing through the church. Everyone turned in his direction. Manytwisted on the rickety pews on which they sat, trying to look at the face ofthe one who had uttered such a terrible thing.“Hermano, why do you say that?”“Because we all know that Brother Bartolomé died many years ago.”“Do you not believe that our lives repeat?”All eyes were pasted on Orlando. He felt their rounded pressure pushingin on his skin. Instead of feeling intimidated, however, he experienced asurge of energy moving through his body. During the first seconds it washot and slow, but then, as if it had broken through a barrier, his couragesoared.“I do believe that we repeat ourselves, but just as the bishop left us thefirst time, so will he leave us again with empty hands.”“¡No! Cabrón mentiroso.”“¡Fray Bartolomé se ha repetido!”“¡Él está con nosotros!”The gathering shouted, hurled insults at Orlando, protesting what he hadsaid. Many of them got on their feet; the shorter ones even jumped on chairsand pews to look at Orlando and to contradict what he had said.Orlando would neither be intimidated nor silenced. “Hermanos,hermanas, don’t be offended, for I am one of you.”
“Then why are you trying to discourage us?”“No, compañera, I’m not trying to dishearten or to make any one of usback down or turn away in fear. I’m only trying to find a way in which wewill have a true chance to overcome the patrones.”“If that’s so, why are you saying that our bishop is dead?”“Because he is dead. But, hermana, listen carefully to me. To understandthat he’s dead is not a bad thing. We all know his spirit is still with us. WhatI’m saying is that now it is our turn.”Orlando paused because he saw that the compañeras and compañeraswere baffled by his words. He was searching his mind for the words neededto say what he meant. He wrinkled his brow and licked the dryness from hislips.“What I mean is that we must be new Bartolomés. We must now take hisplace, stop our talk and do what he did. We must be the ones to care for oneanother, and defend one another with words, yes, but with actions as well.We must begin by loving ourselves and stop thinking of ourselves as stupidburros born to be slaves.”An uneasy silence followed his words as they reverberated in thetransparent, warm air. The compañeras and compañeros were amazed atwhat Orlando had said and by the conviction of his ideas. They gaped athim, some with open mouths. The organizer narrowed his eyes and pursedhis lips as he concentrated on what he had heard. An expression ofadmiration rapidly replaced one of disbelief.Even Orlando was astounded by the words he heard flowing from hismouth, because they gave life to thoughts that had nestled deep inside ofhim since his days as a boyero. He now realized that each time he hadwanted to describe what he felt inside, rage would render him speechless,and because of that, he had become as silenced as the oxen that churnedtheir hooves in the mud.“Amigo, come here where we can all see you. Tell us who you are andencourage us with more of your words.”The organizer walked toward the rear of the crowd where Orlando wasstanding. The man beckoned with both hands, inviting him to come to thefront of the group. Shyness, however, overcame Orlando, and he hesitated,not wanting to bring yet more attention to himself. Apprehension also creptinto his mind as he thought of the possibility that Don Absolón might have
spies among those gathered in the church. But the organizer would not backaway. He approached Orlando, gesturing all the while for him to comecloser.After a few moments, Orlando put aside his timidity. He began to move,and, twisting his sombrero in his hands, he made his way to stand in front ofthe group. There he saw, for the first time, a sea of brown faces upturnedtoward him. He took in the brightness of those eyes, the high cheekbones,the flat foreheads, many covered with the straight overhanging bangs of hisown people.“My name is Orlando Flores. I am a Lacandón, born close to the LacanjáRiver. I am one of you. I may not have suffered as much as some of you,but I, too, have been hurt.”Silence followed his words. Eyes were riveted on him, telling him thatthey were expecting more from him. Those looks were filled with suchintensity that Orlando felt himself losing his nerve, and he began edgingtoward the rear to regain his seat.“Wait, hermano Orlando! How are we to become new Bartolomés, if ourstomachs are so empty and flat that they cling to our backbones? How arewe to defend one another, when we are so weakened by hunger ourselves?How are we to see ourselves as more than burros when the patrones crushus with labor and disdain us each day?”Orlando returned the look that was in the woman’s eyes. He understoodthe meaning of her words and recognized the suffering in her plea. Heexperienced doubt and hesitated, because, although he wanted to answer herquestion, he did not know how to do so.“Compañera, I don’t have a cure for such pain, but I do have thebeginning of a response. Everywhere I look these days I see unity. WhenI’m laboring in the field or building a wall, when I sit to eat my tacos or totake a drink of water, I see harmony and hermandad in my compañeros. Ican forget that I’m a Lacandón, or that he is a Tzeltal, or that she is a Chol.I see only that I am like them, and that they are like me. I believe that if allof us can think this way, we’ll form a strength never before seen by thepatrones. Yes, they crush us, but we also crush ourselves by thinking ofourselves as they do. We must stop thinking that way. If we come together,remembering that our ancestors were good and powerful, we will be thenew Bartolomés.”
Orlando held his breath when he saw that most of the men and women inthe crowd turned to one another in heated talk. Some got on their feet,trying to reach someone in the rear, or farther up the aisle. There was handwaving, wagging of heads and pointing towards Orlando, who stood, feetplanted apart on the stone floor, as he tried to decipher his own words. Helooked over to the organizer, who stood a few paces away, and saw that hiseyes were focused on him. Orlando tried to discern the man’s thoughts, buthis expression was blank. The organizer blinked, as if trying to clear hisvision, and walked over to Orlando’s side.“Amigo, you have said important things.”“Others have said the same thing.”“Not as you have done. Look, the compañeras and compañeros haveunderstood you.”Orlando did as the organizer asked and turned again to look at the crowd.This time it was clear to him: They were happy, excited, nodding andsmiling. Now and then, glances were thrown his way, looks that told himthat he was trusted and that where he would lead, they would follow.“Compañero Orlando, why don’t you join our group of organizers? Weneed you.”“Why do you need me?”“Because already you are trusted.”“How do you know that, amigo?”“I have eyes and ears. I can see and hear.”“I’ll think more about what has happened here.”Orlando pondered the events of that evening for days. At the time, hewas working as a bricklayer with a gang that was trucked from Ocosingo toPalenque, where the laborers stayed for up to a week on the job. As heworked, he revisited his life, as if each brick he laid marked a differentmoment of experience. He saw himself as a boy, playing childish gameswith Rufino, then serving Don Absolón. This memory made Orlando’sstomach churn as he realized the power of that patrón. He asked himself,What if Don Absolón had not sentenced me to the caoba camp? Brick bybrick, he repeated this question over and again as his mind erected a wall ofunderstanding: it was not the sentence itself that was significant to Orlando.The important thing was that Don Absolón could do it, that he held that
authority in his hands, that there was nothing to rein in the power he heldover people like Orlando.When the job was done, he returned to Ocosingo with his minddetermined to accept the organizer’s invitation. That evening, he reported tothe meeting and began training as a leader of his people. In the beginning,he accompanied one or another of the organizers on trips out to remotevillages and settlements as well as to less distant communities. Orlandoobserved his companion as he or she spoke to the people in preparation forthe Indian Congress, which was now scheduled to take place in SanCristóbal de las Casas. He listened to words used, reflected on them,making them part of his own language.More importantly, he took in ideas regarding equality and ownership,health and education. The name of Emiliano Zapata was often invokedwhen speaking of land and liberty, and Orlando was gratified when he wastold that a native of the state of Morelos, a man like him, had fought anddied so that his people might have a piece of land and the freedom to farmit.Orlando caught on quickly and became an organizer himself, taking careto stay far away from the Lacanjá region. He gained confidence knowingthat his looks had changed almost entirely. Don Absolón, he was certain,could no longer recognize him, and he believed that even Rufino would notbe able to identify his boyhood companion. Nonetheless, Orlando journeyedwestbound, in the opposite direction of Lacanjá, concentrating on theTzotzil region.He went to the larger places first: into the northern areas of Simojovel,then down to Ixtapa, and over to Chamula. In between those centers,Orlando visited small villages, settlements and even clusters of palapas,with his message to unite and to prepare for the congress. He reached out tothose men and women who hesitated, some in fear, others in skepticism. Heknew when to back away, if necessary, hoping that when he returned, hiswords would be better understood. He spoke convincingly to anyone whowould listen, reminding them always of their worth as men and women,stressing the power and organization of their ancestors, often invoking thelegends of his people.He met with serious resistance several times from overseers of fincasand haciendas. He often had to cut off whatever he was saying to a gathered
group just to duck into a hiding place out of sight of a lackey of a patrón.Only once did Orlando come close to being captured. At that time, he wasin the community of Santa Marta speaking to a cluster of young women.“The gods made men and women of maize, but the catxul becameenvious.”Orlando had just begun to speak about the origins of their people,intending to push his lesson to the point where his listeners wouldunderstand who were the maize people and who were the catxul. Suddenly,a woman ran to him, and even though out of breath, she stammered awarning.“Hermano, someone is looking for you. Run!”Orlando dove for cover but not before he was spotted. He heard severalblasts of a shotgun as he disappeared into a thicket of bushes and from thereinto a wide span of trees. As he ducked and crawled, vivid memoriesreturned to him of the time when he was hunted by Don Absolón Mayorga.Orlando was saddened and angered by those recollections because hewondered if his life as a fugitive would ever end. Despite these thoughts,however, he did not give up, and after that incident, he always made certainto have a companion with him to watch his back, to warn him of anyimpending danger.After that, Orlando plunged deeper into his mission of bringing morenatives into the preparations for the congress. Primary in his strategy wasthe recruitment of leaders who were members of the different tribes: menand women who felt what was being said, who knew what suffering meant.The people trusted those native organizers, recognizing them as their own;and they followed them, wanting to be part of the congress. The barriersthat separated the city-bred mestizo organizer from the trust of the peoplemelted away in the face of someone who spoke of similarly experiencedafflictions, in their language. This tactic proved effective, especially overthe long run, since it was from this group that leaders would emerge twentyyears later: women and men who would follow Orlando into the LacandonaJungle, from where they would mount the new struggle.
Chapter 20 There cannot be equality in a false peace!The debate was heated but orderly as the members of the IndianCongress took their turns in explaining their positions regarding health,education, land and commerce. Orlando Flores sat at his place, listening,pondering what the other delegates were submitting. He felt proud ofhaving been elected to represent the Ocosingo delegation, but because hedid not know how to read or write, he felt intimidated. He knew, however,that sooner or later his ability to speak would lead to his participation in thedeliberations.He followed as the various views were explained by women and menrepresenting different tribes. He felt moved to hear the clarity of thosevoices reading declarations and summaries, or simply speaking from theheart, proving what the organizers had always said: The natives of thoselands had a mind with which to think, a tongue with which to speak, andgiven the opportunity, they would let their ideas be known.The hall was large. Its seats were placed in rows so that everyone couldsee the main stage where the speakers sat on either side of the president.The place was packed, there were no empty chairs. Orlando looked around,concentrating on the delegates’ faces and expressions. He saw men andwomen, most of them wearing tribal garb, who appeared uncomfortable inthe enclosed environment of the hall. Their eyes squinted, unused to theharsh glare of neon lights. Their hands fidgeted with a sombrero, or thefringe of a huipil, and they sat awkwardly on the metal folding chairs towhich they were assigned. Despite this, they seemed eager to adapt, tolisten, to be heard. It was only when the time came for each sector toforward their grievances, that the members grew restless and theenvironment in the hall became tense.“We are treated like slaves!”“Our customs are trampled on!”“We get the worst land.”
“Our children are sick and uneducated.”“We women are excluded from all planning!”Many times voices became shrill, and some people even got to their feetin frustration, babbling or waving a hand to get the attention of the speaker.Whenever that happened, the president of the congress hammered his gavelon the table and repeatedly reminded the members to respect the speaker’sright to be heard.“Hermanos, hermanas, please remember our goal: Equality in peace!We see it written above the entrance to this auditorium as we enter. We mustrespect each other if we are to be respected.”Those words cast a pall over the members, and Orlando wasdisappointed; he thought that the president should allow voices to rise andbe heard, even if they were speaking out of place. Otherwise, what goodwas the meeting? Each time a woman, or a man was silenced, Orlandobecame increasingly impatient, and he wondered what direction was beingtaken by the congress. He was also displeased to see that after the firstsessions, words seemed to be repeating, spinning, and their importancefading.Discussions dragged on, and after several days Orlando felt that littlewas being accomplished. He had anticipated the opportunity to be one ofthose who would speak out as he had in the past, but that chance nevermaterialized. He waited patiently, hoping to be pointed out by the presidentwhenever he raised his hand to speak, but he was not acknowledged. As hewaited, he became distracted and his mind wandered; thoughts swirled,entangling with memories.“I say that there cannot be equality in a false peace! That’s shit!”Orlando was yanked from his thoughts by the harshness of the voice aswell as by the crude expression. So far everyone had been careful not to usevulgar words. His face jerked toward the direction from which the wordshad come and he saw a man who stood in the middle of the audience.Orlando narrowed his eyes as he concentrated on the figure. He saw thateveryone else was doing the same. He took in the man’s shirt, trousers andeven the hat, which he had not removed from his head. What he saw toldOrlando that the man was from the city, that he was a mestizo, and thatmore than likely he was educated.
Everyone gawked at the speaker, some open-mouthed, but they werestartled back to attention when the president smashed his gavel on the table.Its crashing noise had never been so loud or explosive; it forced all faces toturn to the stage.“Amigo, we’re all here to listen and to be heard, but your words aredisrespectful. I will tell you not to express yourself in that manner again!”“Señor Presidente, I’m here in good faith, so I beg your pardon, butwhat I’ve been hearing during the past few days has made me losepatience.”“Identify yourself before you say any more.”“My name is Pedro.”“And your last name?”“I’m only Pedro. May I speak?”The president went into a huddle with the other speakers who shared thetable, some wagging their heads negatively, other shrugging their shoulders.They whispered and interrupted one another until the president spoke up.“We agree that at this meeting all the compañeros have a right to speak.Say what you must, but you must be brief, and watch your language.”The man looked to the uplifted faces that were concentrating on hiswords, turning in a circle as he spoke. Orlando saw that the man wasassured in his manner, relaxed but intense. He plunged his hands into thepockets of his khaki pants as he spoke.“Whatever accords you offer, whatever agreements you reach, if you doso in so-called peace, you are fooling yourselves into believing that yourlives will change. What here is being called peace is a false peace. It is thecondition that keeps you bound to the yoke, like dumb beasts. It is yourmasters’ tranquility, not yours! They will never share their prized land withyou! They will never erect schools for your children! They will alwayscheat you when you sell your beans and coffee to them. Your sweat, yoursilence, your suffering is your masters’ peace!”The gavel slammed on the table once again, signaling the protest of thepresident, who now got to his feet. He circled around the table and stood atthe edge of the stage.“Do you speak against the plans we’re making because we propose tocarry out our action in a peaceful manner?”
“Yes, Señor Presidente.”“What do you propose in the place of that plan?”“War!”The man hurled the word at the president and it exploded in midair, asdid the assembly. That word triggered an energy buried deep in the hearts ofthose people, shattering any semblance of orderly debate. The forbidden,feared, yet desired word had at last been uttered! Men and women got totheir feet, shouting, wagging heads, craning necks, stumbling over eachother as they strained to move from one place to the other. There waspandemonium. Orlando, lips pursed and scowling, glared at the man whohad dared to articulate the word. The man stood without moving. His calmdemonstrated that he had expected, and even wanted, the chaotic responseto his proposal.“This session is closed!”The president shouted above the din and banged his gavel repeatedly,bringing an end to the day’s meeting. People hardly heard the gavel as theyargued with one another, already engaged in the debate of war versus peace.The ushers opened the doors of the hall and the delegates plunged towardthe exits, shoving and pushing while excitedly engaged in feverish talk.Orlando, still seated, waited for the hall to empty. He did not want to bedragged by the crush, but most of all he sat quietly as he wrestled with histhoughts, which were in turmoil. The idea of armed resistance was not newto him; he had pondered it many times, but especially when he becameimpatient with incessant talk and little action. More recently, the reality ofbeing hunted by the Mayorga people had incited him to think of ways inwhich to fight back, to defend himself. Somehow, negotiation andbargaining did not provide the answer to his own dilemma.At last, the auditorium had emptied but Orlando remained seated, lost inthought until he was interrupted by a voice that startled him.“Amigo, are you thinking about what I said?”Orlando turned in his seat to see the man who had almost thrown themeeting into a riot. At close range he saw that he was in his mid-twenties,of medium height, and that his eyes were shrewd.“Yes. I’m thinking that maybe you’re right. That maybe we’re stuck inthe mud of injustice, and that the only way to free ourselves is to raise the
machete and cut off the head of the beast that keeps us down.”Orlando stopped abruptly, surprised at the intensity of his words, whichhad come straight from his heart. As he spoke, he relived having cut off ElBrujo’s head, he relived the mud he had wiped from Aquiles’ face, herelived the feeling of having placed the machete in his friend’s dead hand.The other man nodded, seemingly reading Orlando’s thoughts.“Come. Join us.”“Where?”“In the Lacandona, where we’ve been gathering for years.”“What do I have to do?”“Recruit for us.”“I’ll think about it.”“We’ll be waiting for you.”The man walked away from Orlando, but before he exited, he lookedback at him and said, “You’re a good recruiter. I’ve seen how you work.Instead of people from towns and streets, you can help us gather men andwomen from the villages and canyons. They’re the ones who are sufferingmost.”“How can we stand up to the power of the patrones?”“With an army of men and women.”Orlando gazed at the man, doubt stamped on his face. But his racingmind was already beginning to accept the man’s proposal as the way to self-defense and survival, his people’s as well as his own.“When you’ve made up your mind, go to our camp in the Lacandona.Tell them El Bombardero sent you. That’s me.”
Chapter 21 He wondered if he would ever see her again.Orlando did not join the guerrilla forces right away, as The Bomberwould have liked. Instead, he took time to consider what path he wouldtake. Four years passed before he became disenchanted with the directionthe activists had taken. He had finally concluded that their words and advicewould not change anything, much less transform the misery of his people.Everywhere Orlando looked, he saw hunger, sickness, ignorance. Men sankdeeper into debt and drunkenness; women became more oppressed byconstant pregnancies and battering. And no one did anything. To speak ofliberation and not provide a way seemed to him cruel and futile.During the four years of his discernment, Orlando taught himself to readand write. He mastered those skills to the point of being able to understandnewspaper articles as well as to compose simple pages expressing hisviews. This made it possible for him to follow the guerrilla movement thathad sprung from the ranks of university students, mainly in the city ofMonterrey in the state of Nuevo León, and had spread to other parts of thecountry. By reading newspapers, he learned of reports damning those menas traitors and insurgents—enemies of the state.Orlando discovered that the movement was not new, that it had begunsometime in 1971, had grown and spread from city to city. He learned thatpolice had recently arrested culprits in a clandestine cell somewhere on theoutskirts of Mexico City, then in Veracruz, and also in Tabasco. One of theaccounts asserted that other centers were suspected as far south as theLacandona Jungle in Chiapas, and that it was only a matter of time beforethose, too, would be discovered and eradicated by the army.One of those newspaper articles in particular attracted Orlando’sattention because it was accompanied by photographs of two men suspectedas leaders of the Puebla cell. When Orlando took the paper in his hands, hestopped what he was doing to concentrate on those pictures. One displayedthe corpses, mutilated beyond recognition by multiple gunshot wounds. Ashe held the page to the light, he made out dangling arms, ruptured
stomachs, protruding intestines, shattered and bloodied faces. To the side ofthat grim scene, the photos of the same two men, still students, wereprinted.The culprits, stated the article, were university-trained, one in biologyand the other in political science. One of them stirred Orlando’s memory.He did not recognize the man’s name, but despite the passing of four years,his face riveted Orlando. It was El Bombardero, the same man who hadconfronted the Indian Congress and declared that war was the only way tochange. Orlando stared at the picture, whispering the man’s fictitious name:The Bomber.Instead of being frightened, Orlando felt that what he was reading andseeing was a message indicating which direction he should take. He sawthat there were people already fighting a war, already dying for what theybelieved, and that it was a national movement with a name, with leaders,and that those people were ensconced somewhere in the Lacandona Jungle.At that moment he decided to abandon the organizers’ mission and join theguerrillas. He did not know where to find them in the vastness of theLacandona, but he had no doubt that he would encounter them. He wasdetermined to become part of the force, so he journeyed to the Lacandonain search of his insurgent compañeros.He returned to wearing the white tunic of his people and left behind thekhaki trousers and cotton shirts typical of the organizers. After months, hishair was finally long enough to dangle from his forehead to his eyes and theback of it reached toward his shoulders. He wandered, sometimes visitingvillages where he exchanged fish or small game for tortillas or a bowl ofbeans, but Orlando mostly stayed hidden in the jungle. Whenever he askedvillagers about the camp, his questions were answered with blank looks orshrugged shoulders. He did not know if those people were uninformed orunwilling to give him directions, but after a while, he stopped asking.It occurred to him that he was not looking in the right places, nor was heasking in the right way. He remembered that The Bomber had singled himout as a recruiter. This led Orlando to believe that others would be doing thesame thing, and that those recruiters would be concentrating on the villagesand canyon settlement most likely to respond to their message. He thenbegan going into those places that he judged to be ripe to listen and respondto the insurgents’ message. When he found such a settlement, he stayed to
mingle with the people for days, hoping that a recruiter would appear andlead him to the guerrilla compound.It was in El Caribal that Orlando noticed a group of women and menclustered around a man dressed in the Lacandon way. His plan had finallyworked. As he approached the gathering, Orlando caught snippets of theman’s speech.“I tell you, compañeros, we have to band together and fight back!There’s no other way.”Orlando looked at the villagers and saw that the recruiter’s words werenot having the effect he expected. The men and women barely looked at theman, and most of them fidgeted distractedly.“Do you want to go on living like burros?”One or two in the group walked away; others began to talk amongthemselves, losing interest in what the recruiter had to say. The manappeared frustrated to the point of following those who were leaving thecircle. He neared one man and put a hand on his shoulder.“¡Compañero! Aren’t you at least going to ask a question? Why aren’tyou interested in what I’m saying?”The man, annoyed at having been stopped, pushed the recruiter’s handaway. He glared at him, hostility stamped on his face.“Do you think we’re fools? It’s easy for you to tell us to fight back, buthow can we overthrow the patrones? They’re the ones with the power.They have the catxules, too. Those jackals are ready to kill all of us andtake what little we have.”Orlando saw that the recruiter had lost his audience because he was notdelivering his message in a manner that might be understood. He sensedthat his time had come, that he had at last found his way into the insurgents’group. He stepped forward as he raised his voice.“Amigos, I have heard what this man is saying and I believe in hismessage. We must fight if we are to free ourselves from the burden that thepatrones laid on our ancestors. It will not be an easy task; many of us willdie, but we must fight and not give up.”Although Orlando had spoken almost the same words as the recruiter,something in Orlando’s voice captured the group’s attention. Those whowere about to leave turned to look at him and listened to what he had to say.
Others, men and women, seemed to come out from the shadows of the treesand from behind huts. The recruiter, at first taken by surprise, soon regainedhis composure, recognizing an ally in Orlando. He walked up to him,reached out his hand and shook it warmly.“Compañero, I’m Rodrigo Vázquez. Who are you?”“Orlando Flores. The Bomber sent me.”Orlando saw Rodrigo’s eyes narrow suspiciously and he realized that theman was backing away from him even while his hand was still in Orlando’sgrip. Orlando tightened his grasp.“I know that The Bomber is dead. Don’t think I don’t know, but I saythat he sent me because it’s the truth. I’ve come because of him. We met atthe Indian Congress in San Cristóbal de las Casas four years ago.”Rodrigo relaxed with that, backed away and allowed his new compañeroto take over. The task came effortlessly to Orlando as he applied thetechnique and style that had won him so much approval when he wasorganizing. He spoke to the villagers and they responded, wanting to knowmore, asking questions, speaking among themselves. There were somequestions that Rodrigo had to answer, but Orlando’s listeners neither lostinterest nor confidence.The day was turning to evening, but Orlando and Rodrigo were still inconversation with men and women who were now so interested in joiningthe ranks of the insurgents that they had forgotten about time. When theyrealized that it was nearly night, the women ran off to put togethercampfires, to heat comales, to knead masa for tortillas. The men, in turn,headed for their palapas, where they would sit by the fireside waiting forthe food that was being prepared.Orlando and Rodrigo accepted the villagers’ invitation to stay for onemore night so that their conversations could continue. After eating, they sataround the center campfire, shoulder to shoulder with the others—men inthe inner circle, women in the outer one. The talk went from expressions ofgrievances to tales told by elders, remembered and passed down fromgeneration to generation.Orlando told of his work with the Las Casas Congress, of hisdisappointments but also of the many things he had learned. Rodrigo spokeof how he had joined the insurgents, who were still so new that they hardlyhad a dozen guns to go around, and he told of their plans to expand as they
organized for an uprising. His honesty finally won him the people’sconfidence.When the talking ended, both men were given a petate on which to sleepby the smoldering fire, but Orlando stayed awake for a long time, listeningto the jungle, staring at the sky, which was intensely black and studded withglittering stars. He knew that his life had taken yet another turn, and that itwas the right one. Knowing that, he was content. Finally, he rolled onto hisside and drifted into a dreamless sleep.At dawn, Orlando was awakened by the comings and goings of womencarting water and snapping twigs to set fires, men moving silently aroundthe camp and babies crying. He rose, rolled up the petate and headed to theriver, where he took off his clothes and bathed. As he was drying himselfoff, he saw a man nearing the center of the village; a few paces behind himfollowed a woman.Orlando dressed quickly and followed them, his curiosity aroused by thewoman’s dejected appearance. As he walked, he saw that she held her headerect despite the villagers, mostly the women, glaring at her and pointing.He was able to overhear whispering and mumbling as he moved along,trying to keep up with the couple.“Evil woman.”“She deserves to be punished.”When Orlando saw the man and woman disappear into a palapa, heturned to someone standing next to him. He feared it was rude to pry, but aninexplicable feeling of compassion for the dejected woman urged him toask.“Who are they?”“That’s Cruz Ochoa and his wife, Juana Galván. She ran away some timeago, but there you see—he’s found her.”After, as Rodrigo led the way into the jungle toward the insurgents’camp, Orlando thought of the woman and others like her. Years later whenworking side by side with Juana Galván and Adriana Mora, Orlando wouldremember this encounter, knowing that it was then that his mind had turnedto the possibility of recruiting such women as part of the insurgent force. Itwas at that moment that he realized that women were more oppressed thanthe men. As he marched behind Rodrigo, Orlando reserved his idea for
another time, but he remained curious about Juana Galván, wondering if hewould ever see her again.
Chapter 22 It was quick. It was merciful.After leaving the military academy, Rufino returned to Las Estrellas.Don Absolón welcomed his arrival with days of fiestas filled with displaysof horsemanship and bull riding, as well as dancing and music. His othersons had not surprised him in turning out to be failures; he had expectedthat since their youth. When each one chose to drift away, the old man didnot object nor resist; he was relieved. Hidden in his heart was the hope thatyoung Rufino would return to take his place. When that happened, DonAbsolón ordered every man and woman on his vast properties to celebratewith him.Rufino adjusted easily to the life of his class in Chiapas. He mingledwith the best families of San Cristóbal de las Casas and even with thoseacross the southern border, whose daughters were prime for marriage. Hedid not miss the military life; on the contrary, he was grateful that he hadreceived the wisdom to see his way of life as necessary. In a short time,Rufino married and began his family, never leaving the company of DonAbsolón.As years drifted by, the old man’s trust in his son deepened, seeing hiscapacities and eagerness not only to maintain the Mayorga properties buthis evident ambition to expand and modernize them. Don Absolón nowinvited Rufino to join him daily during his evening drink. It was duringthose moments of comradeship that both men exchanged views and plans.One night, Don Absolón abruptly brought up Rufino’s nearly forgottenboyhood friend.“Hijo, have you ever again heard from Quintín Osuna?”The question was so unexpected by Rufino, so out of context of theirconversation, that the younger man gawked at his father, trying to recallwho it was that his father was mentioning. When Rufino finally focused, hegot to his feet and went over to the record player to lower the volume, thenhe returned to the armchair facing his father.
“No, padre, I haven’t heard from him. Not ever. Why do you ask?”Don Absolón puckered his bulbous lips, savoring the tangy sherry tastecoating his tongue. He leaned his head against the back of the chair, eyeshalf closed, evidently weighing his thoughts.“You probably are unaware that he murdered our best overseer, El Brujo.It happened during a day of work in the caoba fields.”Surprised and shaken, Rufino put down the glass he had been holdingand shifted his weight forward to the edge of the chair. His father’s wordswere so blunt and hard that he had difficulty dealing with their power.“Quintín? He murdered an overseer? How long ago?”“Not only an overseer, but the best overseer Las Estrellas has everclaimed, and it happened years ago, shortly before you returned home.”Rufino retreated into silence for a few moments in an attempt to processwhat he was hearing. Quintín’s boyish face flashed in his mind as did theirpranks, their games, their swimming, their competitions. But as he allowedthese thoughts to fill his memory, other considerations pushed them aside: Amurder had been committed. A great loss and affront had been dealt toMayorga family integrity. A common Indian had defied their authority.Rufino leaned back and crossed his legs.“Why didn’t you tell me this before?”“To be honest with you, it’s not something that preoccupies me.”“Then why are you telling me now?”“Because I believe that these people, these indios, are rancorous,vengeful creatures. I would not want you to be caught unaware.”Rufino again took the drink in his hand. This time he drained its content,then he stood up to go refill his glass. When he returned to his place, hecleared his throat.“What did you do about it, padre?”“When I mounted a search for the murderer, it proved futile. We came upwith empty hands. When I offered a reward, we received only blank staresin return. When I threatened reprisals, there was only silence. The murdererslipped through our fingers into the vastness of the jungle, where I’mcertain he still survives.”“After that, what did you do?”
“I did the only thing left for a man in our position. If a son must pay forhis father’s sins, then the contrary is also true. In this case, Quintín’s motherand father paid for their son’s vile act.”“How did you punish them?”“I was kinder to them than Quintín was to our overseer.”“Were you a witness?”“No! I don’t like seeing such things.”“Then, how can you be certain?”“Oh, I’m certain. You know that I put only those whom I can trust incharge of important matters.”“Were the Osunas shot to death?”“Hijo, why are you asking for details?”“Because I must know how Quintín’s mother and father died. I can’texplain it, padre.”“Very well. They were executed as their son would have been had hebeen apprehended. They were marched to the mud fields of the caoba campand drowned. It was quick. It was merciful.”“What about their palapa?”“It was burned, the earth dug up and turned over until no sign of thedwelling was left.”“Are there other family members?”“None that we could find.”“Someone must have helped Quintín; someone must have fed him, givenhim clothing. Did you investigate thoroughly?”“Yes. But you know these people. They’re silent, just like burros andmules. They’re stubborn and too stupid to understand what is right andwrong.”“Have you thought that Quintín more than likely will be looking for youto take revenge?”“The thought has crossed my mind.”“He’s my age. He’s a man now, no longer a boy.”“Hijo, if he returns, it will be to join his mother and father’s bonesburied deep in the mud pit.”
Chopin’s piano concerto was ending; its poignant last notes combined toexpress deep romanticism and sentimentality as the two men paused tolisten. When the long-playing record came to an end, a scratching soundfilled the empty air that bonded father and son. Neither paid attention to thenoise; instead, they sat in silence, looking at each other, weighing thesignificance of their words and deeds. Finally, it was Rufino who got to hisfeet, approached the record player and turned it off. He did this in silence,without emotion. Then he went to Don Absolón, put his hand on the oldman’s shoulder, and nodded in affirmation.“I’ll see to it that Quintín Osuna is caught. I promise you.”“Gracias, hijo.”Rufino began to leave the room, then paused to look at his father. “Fromnow on, let me be in charge of these duties.”“Ah, yes. I like that very much. However, the boyeros are still myresponsibility. Remember that.”“Sí, padre. Buenas noches.”“Buenas noches, hijo.”
Chapter 23 In these parts the only thing that matters is asignature.Orlando had recently experienced an encounter that had left himnervous, and his thoughts returned to it time and again, no matter how muchhe tried to concentrate on other things. Orlando had overheard gossip aboutDon Absolón Mayorga’s death after being gored by an ox.“I’m telling you it was the old patrón of Las Estrellas.”“No!”“Yes, I tell you!”“Don Absolón Mayorga?”“That’s the one. I heard that the beast penetrated him first in thestomach, then down there, right through the big ones.”Orlando, attracted by the name Mayorga as well as the mention of LasEstrellas, edged discreetly closer to the two men exchanging news from theterritory they had recently covered. He listened carefully, hungry for details.“I heard that he was out in the field, overlooking a team of boyeros.”“Oh, that’s bullshit! Why would he do that? That’s what overseers arefor.”“That’s how I heard it! People were saying that ever since someonecalled El Brujo was murdered, the old man never trusted anyone else in hisplace. But maybe this is all gossip. What matters is that he was where heshouldn’t have been. He was old, fat, and he could hardly move. I mean,what’s an old iguana like him doing out in the field, anyway?”Orlando’s mind raced as the image of powerful hooves and sharp hornsappeared in his mind. He remembered Aquiles’ false step and how he hadplunged into the deep mud churned by those beasts. He could see the hairymonsters slashing into Don Absolón’s obese gut, plunging once, twice, untilfinally ripping open and mangling his vulnerable groin. Orlando could notrestrain himself. He moved closer to the men.
“Amigos, forgive my intrusion but I used to work on that finca. Are yousure it was Don Absolón who died?”“I’m positive. In fact, everyone was talking about the new patrón, DonAbsolón’s son, Rufino.”This news surprised Orlando for several reasons. For one, Rufino wasnot the oldest of the Mayorga brothers. For another, Rufino had always saidthat he wanted to be a general in the army, not a landowner.“What about the other sons? There were three boys who were older thanRufino Mayorga.”“Well, compañero, of that I’m not sure, but everyone knows how it iswith those rich families. Who knows? Maybe the old patrón disinheritedone or two of them. Or maybe someone drank himself to death. But I’mcertain about this: Don Rufino Mayorga is now the owner and new patrónof the Mayorga estates. And that means nearly all of the Lacanjá region.”That conversation had turned Orlando’s mind again to thoughts ofreturning to his village. After that he began to move closer to Lacanjá. Hemade his way to the town of San Quintín, which was as close to LasEstrellas as he dared to go. He kept his ears and eyes open for news ofRufino Mayorga, but especially hoped to find out something about hisparents.Orlando’s reputation as a recruiter had preceded him, gaining him thetrust of the local cacique and other native leaders. At the eveninggatherings, he spoke of preparation for the uprising, but he also took time toask questions regarding Las Estrellas and its new owner. Orlando receivedmore information than he had expected. He was given photographs, writtendocuments and newspaper clippings. But when he asked about Domingoand Ysidra Osuna, no one could tell him anything. This made him uneasy,but for the time being, he decided to concentrate his efforts on Rufino.Orlando discovered that Rufino Mayorga had indeed stepped into hisfather’s role as the patriarch of the family, and that he had done so with anenergy and a ruthlessness that even the old patrón had not possessed. Hefound out that he had been absent from his family as a youth; some of thearticles explained that he had been sent to the United States. One newspaperstated that Rufino had been studying in Mexico City at the militaryacademy.
Rumors abounded regarding the fate of the three older Mayorga brothers.One tale claimed that the oldest one was poisoned. Another brother waskilled in an airplane crash, and since he was the pilot, tongues speculatedthat he had been a victim of foul play. Gossip had it that the engine hadbeen damaged intentionally. The last of the Mayorga boys had turned out tobe a drunkard who mysteriously disappeared from Las Estrellas. Onceagain, gossip had it that someone had murdered him. Orlando discovereddifferent versions of these stories, but all had one element in common:Rufino’s unspoken name was at the root of the explanation for the deathsand disappearances of his brothers.Soon after Orlando’s arrival in San Quintín, the city clerk was calledaway on business, but he told Orlando that he was welcome in his office touse any files that he needed. He accepted the offer one evening, when hetook time to go through files looking for photographs. When he stumbledupon a thick dossier filled with pictures of the Mayorgas, he took the topsheets and slipped them into his knapsack. After that, he focused onpictures of the Mayorga family.Orlando thumbed through black-and-white prints, most of themyellowed and fly-speckled. He recognized the one of Don Absolón with hiswife and children, all of them seated on the vast lawn in front of the mainhouse. Orlando narrowed his eyes as he concentrated on the image ofRufino, guessing that he was fourteen or fifteen years old at the time.Orlando wondered if the photo had been taken before or after his exile intothe jungle.He sifted through the pile of pictures until he came across a more recentone of Rufino. In it, he appeared tall, dressed in white casual but eleganttrousers, and a loose-fitting shirt, and he had his head to one side asOrlando remembered he used to do. By Rufino’s side was an aristocratic-looking woman with blond hair, also elegantly dressed, and between thetwo of them was a child dressed in white knee pants.“¡Mierda!”Orlando snorted the disdaining word through his nose as he experienceda deluge of disgust for Rufino, for his wife, and for the child with the round,overfed face that stared at him from the picture. Feeling overcome by theintense heat and flickering dingy light of the office, Orlando pushed aside
the pile of photographs, got to his feet, and headed for the door, where heclicked off the naked bulb and left the place.Once outside, Orlando stepped down off the uneven curb and beganwalking at a brisk pace. He turned the corner, crossed the cobblestone streetand headed for a small room with a light glowing in the window. Heknocked.“¿Quién?”“Orlando Flores.”The heavy wooden door creaked open to let him in. His eyes squinted asthey adjusted to the light of the small room that was shared by otherrecruiters. He nodded to two women and a man that were bent overdocuments; one was reading out loud and another was transcribing notes.Not trusting his own interpretation of the papers he had gathered, Orlandoturned to one of the recruiters.“Amiga, I have some papers here that I would like you to read to me.”“Now? We’re almost finished with this project. Can you wait?”“Of course.”Orlando plopped down on a chair as he extracted the sheets from his bag.He waited patiently, still thinking of the images he had just seen. After awhile, one of the women approached him, sat on the floor and extended anopen hand. Orlando handed her the short stack of papers.“Let me see. This one says that a certain Bonifacio Zaragosa owes theMayorga finca ten sacks of coffee beans. This other declaration states thatthe son of a Berta Espinoza was caught trying to steal food from thepatrón’s kitchen. And this one… hmm… this one is more serious.”“What does it say?”“It’s a warrant for the arrest of a certain Quintín Osuna. He’s chargedwith murder. It doesn’t state the name of the victim, only the date of thecrime. 1968.”Orlando stared at the woman. She looked up at him, startled by theexpression on his face. His pupils dilated, and she thought she saw darkrings forming around his sunken eyes.“1968. Is that the date of that paper?”“No, compañero. This document is recent. It’s dated only three monthsago.”
“But if it doesn’t name the person who was killed, or any witnesses, orother details—doesn’t that make the paper invalid?”“Maybe somewhere else, compañero. In these parts, however, the onlything that matters is a signature. And here it is: Rufino Mayorga.”“What if this paper disappears?”“Another copy will surface. Tell me, why are you so interested in thisdocument?”Orlando shrugged and rolled his eyes without saying a word. He got tohis feet, and without retrieving the reports, he excused himself.“Buenas noches, amigos.”“Adiós, compañero Orlando.”Orlando walked out of the tiny room into the darkness of the night. Thevillage was quiet, and its only light came from the small yellow bulbs thathung from spindly posts located at each street corner. His sandaled feetsometimes tripped on the cobblestones as he walked aimlessly. Finding thatpaper had triggered new emotions and thoughts in him. Orlando realizedthat, despite the passing of the old Mayorga, he was still a hunted man.Rufino would not allow his father’s hatred to disappear; he had inherited therage and vengefulness from El Viejo.Orlando asked why this had to be: Why did a son take on the hates of afather? To understand this, he knew, would explain why families repeatedwhat their ancestors had done before them. It was the same with his people;they followed in the steps of their fathers and mothers.This thought evoked the images of his own mother and father, and fearfor them filled him. The idea that they might come to harm because of himwas more intolerable than ever for Orlando, and he did not know how todeal with what he was feeling. He finally stopped pacing and took refugefrom his anxiety under the yellowish circle cast by one of the street lights.
Chapter 24 They were innocent!Orlando went on with the work of recruiting for the insurgents. Duringthat time he enrolled men and women, from regions covering the length andbreadth of the Lacandona. When he finished his east-west trek, he began acampaign taking him from north to south and back again. When this wascompleted, he crisscrossed the paths leading him to untouched areas of thejungle. As the months turned into years, Orlando grew to know the floor ofthe jungle by heart; he could recognize trees and distinguish one from theother.His work yielded a profit as the insurgents’ ranks grew almost dailywhen men, as well as women, trekked into the camp and pledged to follow.The unique quality of Orlando’s work, compared to that of the otherrecruiters, was that the people who followed him stayed. Rarely did theyexperience a change of heart, no matter how difficult they found the life ofa guerrilla. Not one of Orlando’s recruits wavered in the conviction that oneday they would rise, weapons in hands, to shatter the yoke that hadoppressed them from birth and even before that time.Most of Orlando’s anguish during his first years as an insurgent wasrooted in the disgust he felt because he had not had the courage to return toLacanjá to his mother and father after his escape from the caoba fields. Hismoment came, however, when he was in Yaxchilán, a village close toLacanjá. It happened when he was recruiting a group of Lacandones andone of them approached him.“Compañero Flores, you must be careful.”At the moment, Orlando thought that the man was warning him becauseof his message to rise against the patrones, but he was struck by the look inthe recruit’s eyes; it was different from that of all the others who hadcautioned him. Instinctively, Orlando stepped closer to the man. When hespoke, his voice was a whisper.“What do you mean, amigo? Of what should I be careful?”
“Are you not the son of Domingo and Ysidra Osuna?”Orlando was startled to hear his parents’ names. He had not identifiedhimself as being an Osuna since the days when he was an organizer and hehad changed his name.“Why do you ask?”“Because my father remembers you. He was a boyero with you in thecaoba fields of the Mayorga family. Are you not Quintín Osuna?”Stunned into silence, Orlando took hold of the man’s arm and nudgedhim over to a place far removed from anyone who might overhear theirconversation. He was silent for a while as he wrestled with a decision: to behonest with this stranger and risk capture, or to be false and save himself,yet miss the opportunity to discover news for which he had spent years ofhis life waiting. Orlando’s desire to know at least something about hismother and father compelled him to decide on a middle road.“I once knew a Quintín Osuna, of these parts I believe. What I don’tknow is why he should be careful.”The man nodded, and with an understanding smile, played along withOrlando. Now it was his turn to walk toward an even more secluded fringeof the village so that both men might be able to speak openly.“I understand the caution you show for that man. My father was awitness to the murder of the Mayorga overseer, a sorcerer often called ElBrujo. My father has told me this story from the time when I was just a boy.He swears that the sorcerer received justice on that day when QuintínOsuna cut off his head, and he also swears that El Brujo’s blood was white,like the milk of the yuca.”Orlando had turned partially to one side so that all the man could see washis profile, chin jutting out, eyes clamped into slits. He held one hand,fingers outstretched and palm flat against his throat; he did this to disguisethe wild beating of his heart, which was making the thick vein in his neckthrob visibly.“Amigo, what does this have to do with me?”“Since you know Quintín Osuna, it might be a good idea to tell him whatold Don Absolón did to Quintín’s mother and father, when, after searching,he was unable to find him and punish him.”
The mention of his parents made Orlando flinch. He turned to face theman. He wanted to speak, but he felt heat racing up from his stomach. Hefeared being sick in front of the stranger, so Orlando chose to keep silent.His silence, however, signaled the man to continue talking.“The villagers of Lacanjá were witnesses to el patrón’s rage when heburned the Osuna palapa to the ground. Then he sentenced Domingo andYsidra to death.”Orlando felt that his knees were buckling, but reminding himself that hehad long feared what he was hearing, that it was really not unexpected,revived his strength. He spoke despite an overwhelming urge to vomit.“How did they die?”“They were dragged to the site of a caoba camp by overseers. There theboyeros were forced to witness the fulfillment of the sentence.”“I asked you, how did they die?”“They were drowned in a mud pit.”Orlando kept silent, weeping inwardly as he remembered the last day hesaw his mother and father. He knew the cruelty and pain of dying in a mudpit, and the thought of their torment was intolerable. He waited until heregained his composure.“How long ago did this happen?”“Only a few months had passed since the death of El Brujo.”Shortly after finding this out, Orlando returned to Yaxchilán, and fromthere he made his way to Lacanjá. Keeping cover in the jungle, he traveledsecretly day and night. He was clear as to what he intended to do, and heunderstood the risk involved. The worst that could happen, he remindedhimself, was death by execution, an end that was certainly his destinyanyway. Memories of Don Absolón, of his son Rufino, of El Brujo, andeven of his friend Aquiles, filled him with an insatiable desire forvengeance, making him forget his commitment to justice, to freedom—allthe ideals that had led him to join the insurgents. He was accosted by regret,knowing that years earlier, when he had been so close to Lacanjá, when hehad discovered that he was a wanted man, his mother and father, unknownto him, were already dead and he had done nothing. Above all, he was filledwith disgust, knowing that old Don Absolón was now dead, ripped apart by
an ox, and that he, Orlando, had been cheated of the pleasure of executingthe old man.It was dusk when he arrived at Lacanjá. As he skirted the village, he feltsome comfort in seeing women stoking campfires, men and children cartingwater from the river; the fragrance of fresh tortillas made his mouth water.But, he could not stop to visit; it was too dangerous. He pushed on towardthe fringe of the village, heading for Finca Las Estrellas.It was past the family’s dinner time when Orlando quietly made his wayonto the property. He moved stealthily over the darkened parts of neat,manicured lawns, gingerly stepping over plush flower beds, avoiding theareas where he remembered watch dogs were kept. He moved cautiously,slowly, crouching, as if walking on brittle telltale twigs. He halted everyfew steps, eyes peeled wide open, ears tense and vigilant for any noise thatwould alert him to his being discovered. Nothing. The dogs, bellies filledand asleep, ignored him as he stole closer and closer to the room with theglittering chandeliers.The entrance used by house servants was open. There was no one insight. Orlando paused to remove his huaraches and made his way barefootthrough the kitchen, heading for the parlor. He still remembered the way.The house was wrapped in silence; Rufino’s wife and children were alreadyasleep or elsewhere on the finca.He rounded a corner and entered the dining room, now shrouded inshadows. From there he caught a full view of Rufino Mayorga sipping froma tiny goblet. Seeing how much his boyhood friend now looked like oldDon Absolón, Orlando’s memory zoomed back in time. In the samebrocaded armchair, he sat dressed in similar white linen trousers and shirt.Orlando took his time to observe his prey, savoring the moment, taking inthe details: graying blond hair that had begun to thin, well-fed paunch notyet as pronounced as the old man’s, polished fingernails, white leatherslippers, one of them dangling from a leg elegantly crossed at the knee.Orlando then moved his gaze away from Rufino to scan thesurroundings, remembering the elegance and rich security each piece offurniture and ornament conveyed. He saw himself, still a boy of fourteenyears, dusting, rubbing, carting. He envisioned that boy courteouslybending to offer the small tumbler of sherry carefully placed on a silvertray.
Orlando had time, and so he looked and remembered. Rufino waslistening to music as did his father, and there was yet plenty of time beforehe would begin to make his way toward his bedroom. As the minutespassed, Orlando looked down at himself: his overgrown bare feet werecallused and mutilated; his legs were bowed; his belly was flat, emaciated,as was his chest; his tunic was frayed and threadbare. He put his hand to hisface and felt the scars he had received during his years as a boyero, laborerand insurgent. He took a hard look and saw the difference between himselfand Rufino. He reflected on how both of them had been born close to oneanother in date and place, yet how the similarity ended there. He now sawwhy the old man and his kind forbade intermingling; the differences wereso vast that only the blind could ignore the gap. Someone might get ideaswhen the truth was realized. With this thought, Orlando moved toward thearmchair, the music covering the sound of his naked feet treading themarble floor.“Rufino!”Orlando’s voice was drowned out by the music, which had reached aloud crescendo of shrill piano notes backed by even louder violin chordsfilling the room, floating upward to linger on the vaulted ceiling. Suddenly,the concert ended and only the repeated scratching of the needle on the diskcould be heard. Rufino stood and headed for the record player.“Rufino!”The man’s body jerked, turning abruptly. He was so startled that hishand, midway to lifting the arm of the record player, froze. A scratching,hissing sound filled the space separating the two men as the record spun,the needle yawing from one edge to the other. Paralyzed, Rufino gawked,confusion and fear dilating his eyes.“Who are you? What are you doing here?”Orlando had now taken the pistol from his waist and he held it, notpointed at Rufino, but hanging from his hand. He moved toward the frozenman slowly, putting one foot in front of the other, knees slightly bent. Hisslanted eyes narrowed, allowing Rufino to see only the flint of their pupils.“Who are you?”Rufino’s voice had grown thick with apprehension, intensified evenmore by Orlando’s silence and constant motion toward him. He began to
back away, knocking a vase to the floor and almost losing his balance.When his back touched a wall, Rufino knew he had nowhere to go.“Don’t you recognize me, amigo? Is it because we all look alike? Doyou see the same miserable face on all of us?”Rufino’s skin had paled to nearly match his white shirt. His lips began toturn blue as his breathing became more and more irregular. Orlando’s wordsseemed to confuse him even more because he could not remember; he couldnot identify the angry-looking native who stood confronting him with somuch hostility.“Domingo and Ysidra Osuna. Do these names remind you of anything,Don Rufino?”Rufino’s face crinkled like a mask, aging him, nearly transforming himinto his father’s image. Now he knew who it was he was facing. He knewwhat awaited him. He followed the unspoken order when Orlando jerkedhis head toward the back, to the kitchen, where the servants had entered andexited the mansion for decades.Orlando was calm as he followed Rufino out the door. He took time toslip into the huaraches he had left at the entrance. With the pistol in onehand, he nudged Rufino with the other until they were standing under amoonless sky.“Move!”Rufino moved as if in a trance, mechanically putting one foot in front ofthe other. He kept silent, his breathing thickening as they headed toward thedarkness of the jungle. Feeling Orlando’s prodding hand, Rufino marchedin the direction of the caoba camp, but as they approached it, Orlandograbbed Rufino’s shoulder.“Turn! Go in that direction!”“There’s nothing there.”“There’s mud. Go!”Rufino, knowing what was coming, could not contain himself. Hecoughed time and again, evidently trying to suck air into his paralyzinglungs. Once, he halted and emptied his stomach; his vomit glistened whiteagainst the blackness of the moist earth. Submitting to Orlando’s thrustinghand, he tried to speak as he moved forward.“It was justice!”
“This is justice!”“You murdered a man!”“Your father murdered a man and a woman!”“Why me?”“Why my mother and father?”“You’re guilty!”“They were innocent!”The two men exchanged angry accusations as they moved until theycame to muddy ground; a few paces more and both of them sunk to theirthighs unexpectedly. Rufino looked at Orlando but saw only the glint of hiseyes and a portion of his large white teeth. Orlando pushed the barrel of thepistol brusquely against Rufino’s stomach, shoving it in and out, causing theman to retch again. Orlando then waded to one side as he spoke.“Taste the food eaten by so many of your boyeros! Know what mymother and father were given to breathe!”“You’ll pay for this!”“¡Muévete!”With unexpected swiftness, Orlando stretched and lifted his arm,bringing down the weapon squarely on Rufino’s neck. Rufino yelped withpain and began to back into the center of the quagmire. He was shaking soviolently that his hair stood on end with horror. Orlando lifted the pistol andaimed it at el patrón’s face.“¡Muévete! ¡Más!”Rufino was up to his neck in mud and sinking inch by inch. His chin wasnow grazing the surface of the slime that nearly reached his mouth. Then,without uttering a sound, he closed his eyes and disappeared into the ooze,followed only by the slapping sound of mud closing in on mud.
Chapter 25 Why is the day moving in reverse?The Lacandona Jungle, 1993.Orlando Flores stood facing the firing squad; he was afraid but calm. Hewanted to etch those faces into his memory. But no matter how much hesquinted and focused his eyes, all he could see were blurs in the place ofeyes, noses, mouths, chins. He tried to see, realizing that soon a blindfoldwould be wrapped over his eyes, and then it would be impossible for him toidentify his executioners.He struggled against the growing mist that interfered with his vision, butday’s end was approaching and everything was growing darker. Suddenlyhe became confused, remembering that it was dawn, not night. He mumbledto himself, despite his having been instructed not to say a word: Why is theday moving in reverse?Orlando swiveled his head to one side when he perceived that thecommanding officer had approached to give the final order. This timeOrlando’s vision was clear, focused, precise, and he saw that it was RufinoMayorga, dressed in a captain’s uniform, who was to give the word. Hetwisted his neck to one side to look, blinking over and again because hethought that his eyes were deceiving him.At that moment, he realized that Rufino was still a boy, and that theuniform he wore was that of a man; it was too large, giving him a comicalappearance. He saw that the adult-sized cap on his head had slipped to hisears, almost covering his eyes. The tunic hung nearly to his knees, as if itsmedals were weighing it down, and his trousers were rolled up tocompensate for the boy’s short legs. When Orlando looked at Rufino’sshoes, he burst out laughing because their oversized toes curved upward.“¡Epa, Rufino! ¿Qué pasó, amigo? ¿Eres ahora payaso?”Clown! The word became the order to fire and Orlando’s eyes bulged ashe saw the bullets flying toward him; they were missiles from an unknownworld. They wiggled, pirouetted, shimmied, as they traced their course
toward him. Suddenly, everything stood still, and he had time to jerk hishead to the side to take one final look. The last thing Orlando saw beforehis chest was blasted open by the torrent of bullets was that it was notRufino after all. In his place stood the bloated figure of Don AbsolónMayorga, covered in gleaming medals, baggy eyes concealed behind green-shaded dark glasses, mouth twisted in a grin. The ugly visage smirked athim.Orlando awoke, panting and covered in perspiration; it took secondsbefore he realized that his hands were desperately massaging his chest.When he saw what he was doing, he clenched his fists, forcing himself tostretch his arms rigidly into the darkness. Slowly, he allowed himself to rolloff the hammock onto the earthen floor, where he remained for severalminutes, trying to separate the nightmare from reality. He sat, legs sprawledout in front of him, while his breath stabilized. All the while, he pressed thepalms of his hands against his chest, still feeling the intense pain caused bythe nightmare bullets.Trying to anchor himself to what was real, Orlando blinked and rubbedhis eyes. Then he looked to the sides, downward and upward, but it was stillso dark that he was barely able to make out the supporting beams of thepalapa he shared with the other compañeros. As he ran his fingers throughthe sandy dirt, he wondered if anyone had awakened, but he saw thateveryone was asleep and that some of the men were even snoring.Orlando needed more assurance of where he was. He forced his eyes toadapt to the gloom. He took in the stand where a gourd was placed next to atin basin; that was where he washed. His eyes shifted along the side of thepalapa, concentrating on the sleeping forms of his fellow insurgents, thenstopping at the narrow, low-cut entrance; through it, he could make out apiece of the jungle, still bathed in moonlight.As soon as he was able to get a grip on his surroundings, Orlando rolledto the side where he could rest his back. He concentrated on the present, onthe palapa, and beyond it to the jungle. Still inundated by the fear causedby the nightmare, his thoughts shifted from the past to the present, thenback. He again looked out through the palapa’s opening and saw that it was
still deep night. He was grateful because he needed time to think, todecipher the bad dream that had just accosted him.His mind drifted back to the time of his childhood, to the village wherehe lived with his mother and father. Orlando remembered that before fallingasleep, instead of saying buenas noches, his mother or father would say: Becareful of what you dream tonight. He thought now of those words and oftheir meaning, and he longed to speak to someone who knew how toexplain dreams. But there was no one. That he would be executed sooner orlater was clear, but the other parts of his nightmare, what did they mean?Orlando closed his eyes and meditated, listening for a voice that mightexplain what he had experienced. His mind drifted, neither awake norasleep, as words formed.Why were the faces of my executioners blurred?Because evil has no face.Why was the day moving in reverse?Because time is round and curls in on itself.Then time stood still.No. It only appeared to do so as it repeated itself.Why was Rufino still a boy?Because he died unchanged.Why was he wearing clothes that were not his?Because he clothed himself in the identity imposed on him.Orlando opened his eyes and sucked in a large breath; he held it for afew moments as his mind settled. He exhaled slowly, thinking that now thedream was clear. The one question that continued to haunt him was whetherhe would always feel like an animal, constantly tracked by a predator.Still sitting on the ground and leaning against the side of the palapa,Orlando finally dispelled the fearful feelings caused by the nightmare. Helooked toward the entrance and saw that daylight was beginning to seepthrough the mesh of palm fronds and treetops. He got to his feet, wiped hishands on his shirt and looked for his sandals as he prepared to go down tothe river. He did this silently, although he knew that his compañeros wouldsoon be milling around the campfire, getting ready for a day of maneuversand tactical planning.
Orlando made his way toward the water, listening to its cascadingrhythm as it crashed against muddy banks. He breathed in deeply, smellingthe river’s dampness mixed with the pungent fragrance of decaying flowers.When he was not away from the camp on recruitment, this was where heliked to rest and spend time.At river’s edge, he pulled off the tunic in which he had slept. He sniffedit, taking in the sharp odor of his sweat, and the nightmare unexpectedlyreturned with its phantom firing squad. He shook his head to erase thoseimages, and he plunged into the warm water, where he abandoned himselfto its current and to thoughts of the winding path that had brought him tothat place and time. He had begun as a servant on the finca of Don Absolón.He had been condemned to the life of a boyero. He had killed a man andexperienced the life of a fugitive. He had organized and recruited. He hadbecome an insurgent. He had settled the score with Rufino Mayorga.Wanting to dispel this last thought, he shut his eyes and conjured theimage of Juana Galván, who, he thought, had grown more beautiful over theyears. Nothing in her life as a soldier had hardened her spirit, he mused. Herface had changed; this he acknowledged, but on the inside, she was tenderand joyful. There was a time, in the beginning, when he had desired her ashis companion, even loved her, but the hope that she would ever return hisfeelings had vanished years before when he realized that her heart, trampledby Cruz Ochoa, would never belong to any man.Orlando then concentrated on the day’s order of business as planned bythe general command. There would be discussion and decision regardingthe crisis that had arisen from the murder of two military policemen;discussion and drafting of a declaration of the insurgents’ position;discussion and decision regarding the bishop’s proposed massdemonstration. The list was short, and when his mind came to its end,Orlando’s thoughts drifted to the previous day, when Juana had returned tocamp, bringing with her the photographer named Adriana Mora.He thought of the photographer for whom he had felt some distrust. Hehad voiced this sentiment when the general command had initiallydiscussed recruiting her. He feared that she would betray them if she werecaptured, and now that he had seen her, his apprehension was even stronger.She was frail and foreign, but that alone was not what bothered Orlando.There was something else. He shook his head, gave up thinking about
Adriana Mora and climbed to where he had left his clothes. It was time tojoin the compañeros for breakfast and to prepare for the meeting.
Chapter 26 What about me?Insurgent Training Camp, Lacandona Jungle, August, 1993.Adriana Mora concentrated on the faces of the members of the generalcommand as they drafted the declaration of war that would be read to townsand cities, once the offensive began. Her camera clicked time and again,capturing the expression of El Subcomandante; his large nose dominated hisface. The lens moved from Major Ramona over to Colonel Orlando, then onto the other officers.Click! Click! Click! The repeated sound merged with muffled words,paper scraping against the rough table top, someone sneezing. Adrianacircled the table to focus on the opposite side of the panel. When shepointed her camera toward Juana, she felt her heart beat faster, and shestopped what she was doing. Still aiming the camera, she saw that Juanahad tilted her head; her eyes were looking at her. Adriana lowered thecamera and returned the intensity of her gaze.Suddenly, a deafening explosion tore the air, nearly rocking the shed offits foundation. Seconds of stunned surprise followed the blast, but beforeanyone could make a move, more detonations shook the ground. Adrianahit the floor on her rump, the camera still gripped in both hands. As shetumbled backward, she saw others dive under the table and benches,weapons already in hand.El Subcomandante signaled everyone to leave the building and go on thedefensive. Orlando was the first to crawl out; the others made their waythrough a panel in the floor boards. The room had filled with dust andsmoke, and Adriana lost sight of Juana. She rolled over, slithered on herbelly, and tried to escape the asphyxiating fumes. All the while she feltpanic gripping her heart as her lungs constricted.Without letting go of the camera, Adriana thrashed around, flinging herfree arm in space, inching her way on her hands and knees until shediscovered the exit. Throughout, she was aware of a torrent of bullets,
signaling that the camp was under siege. When she emerged, she stretchedout on her back, mouth agape gulping air, hoping to regulate her breathing.She could hear the searing noise of bullets cutting through bark and leaves,then she was shaken by another blast that she could not identify.Voices clamored. Orders were shouted. Muffled groans were beginningto emerge. Adriana finally regained composure, realizing that she wasmissing the moment for which she had joined the insurgents. She scrambledbehind a tree, breathing through her mouth, trying to forget her asthma anddeflating lungs. She moved her head slowly to catch a glimpse of what washappening and she saw that she was positioned at a vantage point.Adriana felt her hands and fingers trembling as she raised the camera,pointed and focused. In the center of the lens were two men garbed ingovernment army fatigues; their arms blurred as they jerked back and forth,piston-like, while their weapons repeatedly blasted flames from reddenedcylinders. Click! Zoom! Click! Zoom! Adriana twisted her head and bodyto pan the camera from one angle to another, capturing images ofinsurgents, who returned fire with as much ferocity.The air was polluted with the stench of burnt gunpowder as well as withan ear-shattering din. Snap! The camera recorded the picture of a bodyslammed against a tree. Click! That frame captured Major Ramona, sawed-off shotgun held against her small frame, blasting fire with both barrels.Everywhere Adriana turned to focus her camera, it snapped weapons firing,smoke streaming toward treetops, palapas engulfed in flames, soldiersfalling, running, insurgents firing their weapons at will, ripping bodies.Gaining courage, Adriana ventured more and more into open space, fearreceding from her mind with each second. She focused, clicked andrefocused, oblivious to the danger of being shot. She turned in differentdirections, pointing upward, sideways. Her body became a blur of motion.Somewhere in the back of her mind, she was already processing thepictures, already sending them to journals and newspapers; names andaddresses of publishers surfaced clearly in her mind.Suddenly, she caught sight of forms, shady figures running through thetrees. She looked around, camera held mid-air and ready to shoot, buteverything had become silent; everyone was gone except the apparitionsshe had just glimpsed. Confused, Adriana turned in circles, her eyes wide
open, her mind trying to decipher the sudden silence as well as thetransparent shadows.Without knowing from where it came, she heard the racket of three loudblasts; she felt hot, searing pain ripping open her stomach. The camera fellfrom her hands as she looked down at her abdomen. It was bloody, and hershirt was ripped to shreds. Her legs lost all strength as she crumpled to theground.Knowing that she was about to die, Adriana closed her eyes and waited,but nothing happened; there was only stillness. When she sensed thatsomeone was beside her, she opened her eyes and she found herself cradledin Juana’s arms. Adriana raised her head and saw that the camp was serene,orderly; there were no signs of battle, except that she knew that she wasdying. The sun was setting when she felt the pressure of Juana’s lips onhers. She opened her mouth, matching Juana’s passion.Adriana’s head swirled and she began to lose consciousness as she rolledher knees up to her bloodied stomach, but she was startled back to alertnesswhen she realized that she was sitting cross-legged facing Chan K’in; hewas seated and listening to her. Adriana saw that they were no longer in thecamp but in the jungle; its shade and sounds wrapped itself around them.Dumbfounded, she stared at him, waiting for him to speak. Instead, hesignaled with his eyes for her to look to her side. Adriana did as he asked.When she turned, she saw her mother seated next to her. She, too, was onthe ground, cross-legged, and she looked at Adriana with sad eyes.“Adrianita, I’ve been looking for you. Have you not seen me?”Adriana stared at her mother, not understanding what was happening.She was confused. She felt strange emotions seeping through her heart,sentiments that she could not identify, but she did not feel fear—of that shewas certain.“No, Mamá, I haven’t seen you.”“I’ve been with you many times, because I know that there is somethingyou want to know.”This time Adriana turned to Chan K’in, yearning for direction, wantinghim to explain to her what was happening. The old man, however, onlylooked down at the earth in front of him as he etched a design.“What happened that night, Mamá?”
“Don’t you remember anything?”“Only the noise.”“I killed your father.”“I know, Mamá. What I don’t know is why.”“He betrayed me.”“Why did you kill yourself?”“I had no reason to live.”“What about me?”Adriana’s question was filled with longing and pain that turned intoanger. When she saw her words seep out of her mouth, she saw that theywere enraged. They left her lips and furiously crept upward, leaping likemonkeys from branch to branch, tree to tree, climbing higher as they madetheir way to the highest parts of the jungle. Up there her words reverberatedas they elongated, widened, deepened, finally bursting into an echo thatfloated away, out of Adriana’s hearing.Adriana awoke. Her eyes snapped open to see pale light coming throughthe palapa’s entrance. She had been dreaming again. Adriana forced herbody to be still while her brain raced, trying to understand the meaning ofthe dream. She concentrated on the fleeting shadows, the same ones thathad inhabited her other dreams, but this time one of them had been hermother. What about me? Adriana put her hands to her ears, trying toretrieve the echo of her words, but instead her eardrums vibrated with theblasts of gunfire and bomb explosions.She wiggled her nose, feeling it scorched and plugged up with the odorof gunpowder. Then her head jerked downward because the pain of thewound was still on her mind. She examined her stomach, rubbed it, heavedit up and down, testing its strength, but she saw that it was intact. It had allbeen a dream. The violence of men and women slaughtering one another,the conversation with her mother, her own unflinching determination—ithad all been a dream.Adriana stretched, then rolled off the hammock exasperated andmumbling under her breath. She felt shaken and near tears, aware that herdreams were becoming an inexplicable obsession. She longed to speak to
Chan K’in; he would know what to make of her dream. Unanswerablequestions swirled in her head: Had she already experienced such violence?Was it a portent of what was yet to come? Did Juana kiss her? Was hermother one of those shadowy figures always tracking her? Why had hermother abandoned her?Adriana’s head ached, but she put her pain and nervousness aside,hoping to anchor herself in reality by reminding herself that a council hadbeen called for seven that morning. She had been commissioned to record iton film as well as in her notes. While she bathed, and later on as she atebreakfast, her mind could not erase the images of her dream; they wereetched on her brain as clearly as those she captured on film.When Adriana entered the room, the members of the general commandwere already at their places. Loaded down with camera, film and note pads,she made her way to an empty seat, trying not to disrupt the discussion. Shenoticed, however, that all eyes were on her. She smiled sheepishly as sheput her gear in a corner and then greeted the committee.“¡Buenos días!”“¡Buenos días!”The response was simultaneous but uneven, male voices outweighing thefemale. She looked around, taking in faces and other details, marveling athow her dream had constructed such a different scenario. In her dream, theroom had been large, with smooth plastered walls, its ceiling high andvaulted. In reality, the room was small, its ceiling low, and its walls nothingmore than rough poles lashed together. In the dream, there were only ahandful of insurgents: El Subcomandante, Major Ramona, Colonel Orlando,and Juana. Now, as Adriana scanned the room, she saw that the committeewas much larger. When she looked toward Juana, she saw that she waslooking at her, just as she had in the dream; Adriana got the impression ofwarmth in Juana’s gaze. Before she could give it any more thought,however, her attention was taken away from Juana by the murmuring ofvoices, low-pitched but intense. Some of the officers seemed agitated,others restless.The whispering stopped when El Subcomandante spoke. As he did henodded his head in Adriana’s direction, signaling his permission for her tobegin her work. She stepped to the rear of the room and began shooting as
she moved to take in different angles: first, individual faces, then in twosand threes. As she worked, the committee went on with its discussion.The camera’s shutter clicked so frequently that it soon became inaudibleto everyone in the room: El Subcomandante, one hand bracing his jaw, theother holding an unlit pipe; Colonel Orlando, head leaned to one side, adrooping mustache emphasizing the slits of his eyes; Captain Juana, profileturned toward the camera at such an angle that the half-moon scar over hereyebrow appeared to glow; Major Ramona, unconsciously holding thefringe of her huipil to her mouth and nose. Click! The shutter opened andshut, capturing faces, profiles, hands, furrowed foreheads, blinking eyes,pinched lips.Adriana lowered her camera. The film had run out and she needed toreload. As she did this, she was aware of the heated discussion that wasgoing on. It was agitated but orderly; no one shouted nor argued. Opposingpoints of view were listened to and then responded to as necessary.The demonstration by the bishop’s priests and missionaries.Military policemen captured, murdered, mutilated.Compañeros accused and arrested.The review of insurgent troops by El Subcomandante.Hours passed and the committee continued its work, allowinginterruptions only when the officers needed to go out to relieve themselves.Other than that, no one left or took time out to eat. Adriana decided that shewould follow that example, using the time to take notes and to snap morephotographs.Her headache persisted, growing worse as the day passed. Although shetried to resist, she continued thinking of her dreams.Chan K’in’s words, vividly clear, came back to her. The heat of the junglebecame oppressive, and she felt stifled inside the room. Adriana left hergear behind and walked out onto the compound. Suddenly, she felt a littlelightheaded and she began to ache. Without warning, nausea overcame her.She ran to the edge of the jungle and emptied her stomach. Fatigued andsweaty, she sat on a fallen tree while she tried to gather her thoughts.“Compañera.”Adriana whipped her head toward the voice and discovered Juanastanding beside her. She could not help herself. She stared at her without
inhibition, scanning her face, then down to her uniform shirt, her trousersand boots.“I’m sick, Juana.”“It’s the heat.”“No!”“Then what is it?”“It’s dreams that hound me and don’t let me sleep.”Juana sat by Adriana’s side and they remained in silence. The heat hadby that time saturated the jungle. The animals were also silent, as ifsleeping, only the faraway murmur of cascading water breaking theafternoon languor. In that quiet, Adriana felt an inner door opening, lettingout a flood that had been trapped there, and tears rolled down her cheeks.Embarrassed, she tried to turn her face from Juana, but before she couldturn completely, Juana took hold of her shoulder and placed her arm aroundher.“Talk to me.”“This morning I woke up from a dream in which my mother came to me.She spoke to me.”Juana released Adriana’s shoulder and put her clasped hands in her lap.Her face tilted to one side so as to look fully at Adriana. She lifted hereyebrows inquisitively.“She died when I was a child, and I was left alone. I’ve always felt thatshe abandoned me.”“But she died, Adriana. She didn’t abandon you.”Adriana looked at Juana but feared revealing what she had never beforedared to tell. She had never told anyone of her memories of being locked inan apartment with her dead mother and father, of her childhoodrootlessness, of her fear of abandonment.“She didn’t just die, Juana. She killed my father, then she killed herself.”Juana again put her arm around Adriana’s shoulders to communicate herunderstanding of what she had heard, and remained silent. Adriana turnedher head toward Juana, thinking that perhaps Juana had somehowexperienced similar feelings and truly understood her pain.
“Last night she came to me for the first time. I think that she was tryingto explain why she did what she did, but because I felt anger at her, shedisappeared. I awoke before she could speak.”Juana listened to Adriana’s words, apparently understanding heremotions. She tightened the grasp on her friend’s shoulders.“My people know that dreams say something to us; their words andactions are explanations. We take them seriously. Your anger has meaning;maybe it’s a discovery.”Now it was Adriana’s turn to look at Juana. She stared at her, againunabashedly. She was thinking that, until the dream, she had never feltanger at her mother. At least, she could not remember experiencing thatsentiment.“Discovery?”“Maybe it will lead you to understand, to forgive your mother for killingyour father.”Adriana pulled away from Juana. She needed to explain to her the realreason for her anger.“It was not her killing my father that filled me with anger in the dream. Itwas that she killed herself, abandoning me, leaving me alone.”“Adriana, no one knows what was in your mother’s heart. Perhaps that iswhat she’s trying to tell you. Maybe that is why she cannot rest until youaccept that she had a reason for what she did.”“But to accept it, I must first know the reason.”“You’ll know. Your mother will reveal it to you.”Adriana thought of Juana’s words. She closed her eyes, returning to theembrace that had given her strength and pulled her away from the gloom ofabandonment. She was not yet ready to accept what Juana had said; sheneeded time to ponder those words, to understand their meaning. Buried inthose sentiments was the explanation for what her dreams held.That evening, while mingling with the women, Adriana was finally ableto dispel the shakiness caused by her dream. There was tension in the campcaused by a sense of approaching conflict. People talked of nothing else,and no one doubted that war was close. They wondered what day would bedetermined by the general command for its beginning. In the meantime,
orders were given for some insurgents to leave the camp to gatherintelligence.
Chapter 27 Emboldened, Juana mingled with the crowd.As far as Juana’s eyes could see, a multitude of people covered the sidesof the canyon. The beaten paths that marked the hillsides had disappearedunder the throngs which had come and were still arriving, responding to thebishop’s call for dialogue and prayer. From where she stood, she was notable to see where the mass of people ended; she could only focus below, onthe floor of the canyon, where an altar had been erected.Adriana stood beside Juana. She spotted Orlando Flores nearby, whenshe occasionally glanced back. They had been assigned to join thedemonstration, mingle with the crowd and get a sense of the people’s mood.With that instruction, Juana, Adriana and Orlando had trekked from thejungle campsite to the highlands, blending in with the pilgrims as they madetheir way to the convocation.Juana scanned the swarm of people, identifying tribes by their dress: theblack woolen skirts of the Tzeltal women; the white cotton tunic of theLacandón men. There were other groups represented; even city people hadcome. The cut of their dress and shoes gave them away.Juana had replaced her uniform with her native dress. She inwardlyadmitted that she was happy to kick off the heavy boots and replace themwith huaraches. It was not so easy, however, when the time came totransform Adriana. Her hair was too curly and short, her legs were toostraight and unblemished, and she was so gangly that Juana had a difficulttime finding a skirt long enough for her. The other compañeras had giggledwhen they first caught sight of Adriana dressed like a native, but when theysaw her sincerity, they patted her on the back and said she looked fine.Sharing in their humor, Adriana laughed with them as she made sure thatshe had a camera tucked under her huipil.Looking down on the color-speckled sea of people, Juana felt herself inturmoil, mainly because she, like the other insurgents, knew that war wasnow inevitable. There had been too many tortures and killings, too many
breaches of agreement. Fear of war was the reason for the bishop’s call tothe people; he hoped to prevent through dialogue a bloody explosion.It’s too late, Tatic, too late. Five hundred years have passed and nowwe’re armed and angry. Nothing can stop the torrent that is about to fall onus all.Juana’s thoughts were so intense that her lips mouthed what was goingthrough her mind. But there was another reason why she was so inwardlystressed: her conversation with Adriana of the previous day. From thebeginning, she had felt deeply moved by affection for her, and now hersentiments were drenched in sympathy because she, too, had been uprootedand alone during her life. Juana longed to tell Adriana about herself, abouther life with Cruz Ochoa, about her father and how she had returned to himlooking for an explanation, but she was not used to speaking about herselfor such personal things.She glanced sideways to look at Adriana and saw that she was takingfurtive shots with her camera. She felt apprehensive, but sensed that thiswas a special moment and that Adriana should capture whatever she could.Juana again turned to examine the growing crowd, guessing that there werethousands of men, women and children, and that the massive convocationmight be critical to the insurgents’ war. She knew in her heart that no matterwhat the bishop preached, his words would not halt the momentum ofinsurgency. It was too late.Led by seminarians standing in a circle around the altar, each with aportable microphone in hand, the people began to sing hymns. At first, thesinging was thin, tinny, but as the swell of voices joined in, the chantingrose and flowed, at times becoming thunderous as the petitions of thepeople elevated beyond the mist, soared up to the mountain heights.¡Alabaré! ¡Alabaré! ¡Alabaremos al Señor!Juana stretched her back, and stood on tiptoe in order to see more. Shewas moved by the faces of her people, especially the women. In the crowdwas a girl, no more than thirteen or fourteen years old, who reverently helda bunch of wildflowers. Next to her stood an old woman, perhaps the girl’sgreat-grandmother; both of them were singing piously, offering their voicesin prayer.Everywhere Juana looked she saw faces worn out before their time bymisery and overwork, bodies covered with threadbare cotton and frayed
woolens, feet shod in raggedy sandals or even bare and callused. Shelooked at children’s bloated bellies, ill-fed and ruined by parasites, and herown stomach sickened as she relived her childhood when she was weigheddown by burdens meant to be carried only by burros. Juana wanted to pray,but she could not because her guts were on fire with anger and rancor.“The poverty of our people and their deplorable living conditions, whichare even more serious in the indigenous areas of our diocese, are explainedby the structures that have been formed over the length and breadth of fivehundred years of history.”A deacon, making time for the bishop’s arrival, had begun to read fromthe prelate’s pastoral letter. The words, nasalized by the sound system,mixed with the continued praying and chanting of “¡Paz! ¡No Violencia!”The shouting swelled as lines of people crowded down the sides of theravines, snaking their way across the mountainsides, closer to the altar.“For the Indian peoples, the conquest meant that the colonizers broughtsubjugation and exploitation, as well as varying degrees of brutality and theviolation of the dignity of the indigenous.”Juana turned to Adriana and saw that she was riveted by theoverwhelming sight and sounds. Again, she turned to look at the girl withthe flowers, wondering if she might have looked like her that day when herfather had exchanged her to Cruz Ochoa. She returned her attention to thebishop’s letter and the people’s response to his words. She wanted todiscover the real mood of the congregation, wondering if their shouts infavor of peace were sincere.“Our communities have discovered that, united, they have the capacity tosolve the problems that affect them. In the end, they will be the ones todecide their own history.”Juana listened carefully, puzzled as to why, despite the meaning of thebishop’s words regarding her people’s unity and their obligation to forgetheir own future, he still advocated peace. Her mind filled with questions.Is he not recognizing the enormity of grief suffered by our people for somany centuries? Is he not acknowledging that we are the ones to ultimatelytake control of our own lives? Why can he not admit that war is the onlyway to solve the grievous problems afflicting our people? War is the onlyway that will lead to defining our own history.
She was nearly talking to herself when the deacon abruptly stopped thereading and joined the other seminarians as they moved toward a mass ofpeople churning in expectation. The bishop, vested to celebrate Holy Mass,had arrived. He had been transported by car from San Cristóbal de lasCasas, but had chosen to walk the last miles down the mountain into thecanyon. As he penetrated the crowd, uproarious cheering arose.“¡Tatic! ¡Tatic! ¡Tatic!”The bishop was jostled back and forth, and countless hands, hungry totouch even the hem of his vestment, reached out to him. He was patted onthe back and his hands were kissed or shaken. As he inched his way throughthe multitude, making the sign of the cross in every direction, hymns wereagain entoned and led by the seminarians, and the people sang with theirhearts. Now, their chant rose yet higher than the ravines and mountainpeaks. Behind the sad-looking prelate a long line of priests, also vested forthe service, followed smiling, waving, nodding, blessing.When he finally arrived at the podium, a hush fell over the multitude.The only sound to be heard was the hum of the wind as it snaked its wayfrom the mist-covered peaks down through the ravines. Juana surveyed theright and left sides of the canyon and again was struck by the upturnedbrown faces, all of them filled with hope.“¡Viva Tatic!”“¡Viva!”A massive response followed the lone voice that had shouted out itstribute to the Little Father. Minutes passed while the crowd opened its heart,cheering and shouting support for the man most of them believed had livedamong their ancestors and who had returned to defend them.Juana squinted, trying to focus on the tiny figure clad in white vestments.The day was ending; the northern wall of the canyon was now shrouded in apurple mantle. Torches were being lighted around the altar and beyond it.She saw that the breeze was ruffling the bishop’s thinning hair and that hepatted it down with his right hand from time to time. She waited as dideveryone for his words as he adjusted the microphone that had been pinnedon his shoulder. Then he cleared his voice.“I am your shepherd and I say to you that dialogue is one of theconditions for fraternal relationships. Let us speak to one another, not killone another.”
A thunderous roar of applause and shouting ripped through the earlyevening. Here and there small groups sang; others prayed Hail Marys andOur Fathers. Juana shook her head in disagreement. She wanted to reach fora microphone and bring her people to their senses, but she saw that most ofthem were nearly hysterical in their approval of what he was saying.“En nombre del Padre, del Hijo y del Espíritu Santo.”“¡Amén!”The bishop turned to face the altar and began the prayers of the mass.When Juana heard the response from the crowd, she turned away, nearlyconvinced that her people saw the resolution to their misery through theeyes of the bishop. As she began to move toward the fringe of the throng,she thought she heard voices speaking. Curious to know why they were notpraying, she edged closer to the mumbling.“I tell you, the time for praying has passed.”“What do you mean?”“I intend to arm myself and fight.”“¡Estás loco!”“The overseer of my patrón took my last pesos a year ago. I had nothing,and my two little sons died of hunger. You say I’m crazy because I want tokill that overseer. Well, then, I’m crazy!”“¡Shsss!”“¡Cállense! ¡Tatic está rezando!”Juana neared the knot of men and women who were whispering despitethe ongoing prayers. Behind her was Adriana, and Orlando was another fewsteps away. Taking a chance of being put off, she tapped the man who hadbeen speaking on the shoulder.“Amigo, you’re right. Praying will do no good. It’s time to fight. Are youready to leave your palapa and follow us into the mountains?”“¡Shsss! ¡Qué vergüenza!”“¡Respeto para Tatic!”Juana, undaunted by the complaints, looked at the man who returned hergaze. He was surprised but not put off. He looked around at hiscompanions, then back to face Juana.“What’s in the mountains?”
“Others who think like you. Women and men preparing to fight thepatrones. Come! Follow us! It’s time.”She moved slowly, knowing that the man would follow her as sheheaded toward more voices. This time Juana did not look, she merely stoodstill and listened.“What did you think of the demonstration in Tuxla the other day?”“How should I know?”“Because you were there. I saw you.”“No, I wasn’t.”“I saw you!”“How could you? There were more than a thousand compañeros andcompañeras there.”“Ha! So you were there!”“So I was there! So what?”Juana aimed an ear toward the two men who were nearly arguing, andshe approached them close enough to whisper. As she did this, she lookedover to Orlando, then to Adriana and yanked her head in her direction.“Why are you afraid to admit that you were at Tuxla, when so many ofyour own people were there?”“Afraid? Yes, I’m afraid. The patrones are filled with anger and they willbe unleashing the catxul on us. That’s why I’m afraid!”“Join us up in the mountains and fight back. The catxul are afraid of us.”“Who are you?”“We’re insurgents, but first we are the natives of this land. Don’t forgetthat our ancestors—yours and mine—have inhabited this land since beforethe catxul had memory.”“Memory is not as important as power. The catxul have power.”“They have power because you give it to them. Without that they arecowards! They fear the insurgents because we will take away that power.Follow me!”Emboldened, Juana mingled with the crowd as prayers were chanted andhymns entoned, realizing that she was in the midst of a sea of discontented,lost people who had nowhere to go and who were longing for direction. Shelistened to whispering men who bitterly cursed their burden but who were
disoriented as to what to do about it. She knew that she had been mistaken;nonviolence was not what her people wanted.Juana moved toward women speaking about laws needed for theirdefense. She looked at them, knowing that despite the prayers that swirledabove their heads, they whispered about change. They were now gesturingenergetically, head to head, obviously agitated by their own words.“They say that we can take part in the revolution, even if we arewomen.”“What about our children?”“Those same laws say that we have the right to have others care forthem.”“¡Dios mío!”“I hear that there’s even a law against anyone beating us.”“Even a husband? A father?”“Even they will be punished.”“¡Santa María! Is that possible?”While this was happening, Orlando nervously kept Juana and Adrianawithin sight. He listened to the words of the pastoral letter, along with thesinging and other muttering that was going on, while his eyes focused onJuana, who moved from group to group, cautiously at first, then with moreease, saying words that apparently encouraged people. He saw thatsometimes she held Adriana’s hand when she changed direction.Orlando frowned, understanding that Juana was developing a specialfeeling for the foreign reporter. He had never seen Juana so interested inanyone. He thought of Adriana, and his earlier reservations about herreturned. When the council had discussed bringing a photographer to jointhe insurgents, he had objected because he believed that no one except oneof their own, someone who had suffered the blows of a patrón, couldunderstand their cause. In spite of his disapproval, he had been overruled,and she had been brought to the insurgents by Juana.On the other hand, Orlando was now experiencing mixed feelingsbecause he saw Adriana’s willingness to risk danger for their cause; hercommitment was becoming clear to him. Also, the thought that peoplesuffered in different ways—patrones and their world were not the onlyoppressors—pushed him toward accepting her because, although he did not
know her story, he sensed that she had already undergone her ownunhappiness.Still, he worried, believing her too frail, too unused to their ways in thejungle. Adriana appeared to have difficulty speaking, even in Spanish.Despite all of this, Orlando had already begun to accept Adriana, especiallysince his mind had changed regarding the need to compile a photographichistory of the events they were facing. He only wished that someone elsehad been chosen to do the work.He was thinking about this as he watched her and Juana moving in andout of small groups, speaking and listening, while the mass was proceeding.Then, something drew his attention away from the women, and he focusedon two men who seemed intent on following the prayers. Something aboutthem caught his eye, and he watched them as they made the sign of thecross, mumbled responses, knelt and stood at the right times; they evenjoined in the singing of hymns. Something about them was not right, butOrlando could not decipher what it was.When he saw one of them looking at him out of the corner of his eye,Orlando cautiously slid behind a group of women. He forced himself tolook in another direction while mentally reviewing the men’s appearance.They were dressed like laborers, yet there were details that did not fit in.Orlando took another furtive glance, just enough to gather new impressions.The shirt on one was new; the creases where it had been folded were stillevident. The other wore boots with pointed toes and elevated heels; thosewere not the shoes of a laborer. Orlando, pretending to participate in thereligious service, considered the discrepancies. When he glanced in theirdirection again, he was startled to find them gone. He spun around andscanned the crowd; this time he spotted them behind him. Convinced thatthey were stalking him, Orlando plunged toward Juana and Adriana.“Juana! Adriana! Some of these people are spies. We must leaveimmediately.”With Orlando at the head, Juana, Adriana, and several men and womenrecruits followed as they pushed their way through the crowd, heading uptoward the ridge of the mountain. Orlando kept his eye on the rear, but thespies had disappeared. He continued to move at a steady pace. By the timethe group reached the highest point, the blaring voice of the microphonehad receded, becoming almost inaudible, as had the prayers and singing.
When Orlando glanced back for a final look, he saw a squirming mass ofpeople, and he imagined that the canyon was a bowl filled with ants; thecountless torches were sweets that had attracted them.No one spoke as they made their way deeper into the jungle; only oncedid they stop long enough for Orlando to pull out the pistol he hadconcealed under his tunic and adjust it around his waist. Juana did the samewith the weapon she had hidden under her huipil. The new insurgentslooked on, amazement and apprehension pasted on their faces, whileAdriana jotted down notes with only the light of the moon to make out herwriting.“¡Vámonos! Juana, I’ll bring up the rear.”Orlando looked at Juana and Adriana, then at the recruits; he was stillfeeling jittery because of the encounter at the rally. He did not want to admitit, but he was shaken because of the spies, who were most certainly on histrail. He hated this apprehension because it recurred frequently, to the pointthat sometimes he wondered if it was his imagination playing tricks on him.He also detested feeling weak and vulnerable; his concentration shattered,distracting it from the plans of the insurgents.These experiences had been going on since the day he had killed ElBrujo, forcing him to become a fugitive. The nightmare he had experiencedrecently only confirmed his feeling of being stalked and one day beingcaptured and executed. Now, following the small troop through the jungle,Orlando plodded in the dark. His breathing was heavy as he walked,nervously looking back to assure himself that no one was following. Nearlyimpenetrable darkness, hissing insects and screeching monkeys intensifiedOrlando’s apprehension, forcing him to clench his jaw painfully.Trying to shake off his agitation, Orlando turned his thoughts to the dayhe had faced Rufino and watched as he died. He remembered thegratification it had given him, how it had relieved him of the burden of guiltfor having abandoned his mother and father. But his satisfaction was short-lived. Each time he remembered, he was forced to admit that even whilestill elated, he had realized that something inside of him had drownedalongside Rufino, that the death of his parents had not been vindicated afterall, that a hollow would always remain inside him, like a wound refusing toheal. Orlando understood that taking vengeance had transformed him intothe image of Rufino and Absolón Mayorga; he had become like them. As
always when remembering this period in his life, he became saddened andisolated. The memory filled him with hatred for the way of life that createdsuch wickedness.It was dawn when Orlando, Juana, Adriana and the new recruits made itto camp. The women went in one direction, the men in another. The campwas still poised for war.
Chapter 28 You are my blessing.Ocosingo, January 1, 1994.The day came. Juana, with an M-1 carbine held in the assault position,crouched behind a corner facing the plaza of Ocosingo. Next to her stoodAdriana, a camera in her grip, and across the street from them stoodOrlando, a weapon also in his hands. It was nearly two in the morning onthe first day of 1994, and the insurgents had been placed to cover strategicpoints by their commander, Insurgent Captain Irma. They were waiting forword from Insurgent Major Ramona, commander of the column taking SanCristóbal de las Casas; the plan of attack pivoted on the successful captureof that city. The insurgents, males and females, waited with apprehension.They were eager to fight, and although the night was frozen, perspirationslid down their spines, and minutes felt like hours.“We have recovered the flag.”That was the signal. Juana, Orlando and Adriana, along with their squad,followed their commander as she moved to execute the double-prongedattack on Ocosingo’s central radio station, as well as its main garrison,which was located inside the municipal palace.With the element of surprise on the insurgents’ side, everythingproceeded smoothly. The federal soldiers guarding the radio stationsurrendered their weapons without resisting, and the same happened at thegarrison. By the time sunlight flooded through the cobblestone streets of thetown, Captain Irma had reported full command of Ocosingo. LasMargaritas, Altamirano, Chanal, Huixtán and Oxchuc had also fallen intothe command of the insurgents before daylight awakened their inhabitants.In Ocosingo, it took only a few minutes before the federal soldiers wereherded into the central patio of the building. There, surrounded by ornatebalconies and columns, Captain Irma faced the commander of the garrison.Juana stood behind, watching her take command, observing how she turneda full circle, assuring herself that her troops were with her. She was backed
by her force, all holding their weapons, all masked. Stunned and frightenedby the covered faces, the commander handed the rebel leader his weapon.“¡Feliz Año Nuevo, cabrón!”Juana saw that the officer was sickening. She knew that it was becausethe insult of that moment would haunt him for the rest of his life. Howwould he explain that it had been a woman who had disarmed him, revilinghim, calling him a son of a bitch? Even more humiliating, how would headmit that she was an indigenous woman? Juana discerned the turmoilstamped on the man’s face and felt pride that her compañera had been theone chosen to disarm him.The man cleared his voice, apparently wanting to say something, and theinsurgents, whose attention had been riveted on the scene, moved in closer,not wanting to miss what he was about to say.“How old are you?”Someone sucked on his teeth, others muttered, showing that they hadexpected words regarding the officer’s loss of power. Instead, they heard aquestion they considered stupid. Captain Irma, known for her humor andboldness, looked at the officer. She stood with her feet spread apart,showing disdain for his question.“I’m five hundred and two years old, cabrón!”Her voice was strong, filled with mockery, and her troops chuckled whenthey saw that she was playing with the man’s fear. Embarrassed, the officerfrowned as he lowered his eyes.“We all know our positions. Let’s take them. We’ll wait until we get neworders.”Captain Irma spoke concisely as she moved toward the central office ofthe garrison, while the commander was whisked away and the insurgentcolumn was ordered to wait. Adriana, left to move at will through the vastpatio and its porticos, took shots continuously, stopping only to reload thecamera. She concentrated on the faces of the federal officers, capturingexpressions of disbelief and disdain, but mostly fear. She also took portraitsof the insurgents, men and women who demonstrated by the way theystood, looked, moved, that this was the moment for which they hadprepared.
Several hours passed, during which Orlando and others left the garrisonto gather people in the main plaza. There, they read the “Declaración de laSelva.” When they returned, they reported that the townspeople had fled;word had come to them that federal troops were on the way.Adriana, in the meantime, realizing that everything had suddenlybecome quiet, stopped what she was doing. Concerned, she made her waytoward Juana, who was sitting on a stone bench.“What’s happening, Juana? It’s too quiet.”“Yes.”Juana tensed, holding her weapon as if she were about to fire. Adrianalooked around and saw that the other rebels were also taut, expectingsomething. Captain Irma reappeared and fixed her eyes upward, lookingthrough the open roof of the palace. Without warning, the sudden whirringof helicopters canvassed Ocosingo, growing louder each second. Soon thesky was speckled with the flying scorpions that descended lower and lowerover the rooftops.Irma did not have to give an order; the insurgents dove for coveranywhere possible: under heavy office tables, behind ornate corners.Knowing that the open roof provided targets for the helicopters, Juana andAdriana had time to slide under the stone bench.The choppers hovered over Ocosingo, their mounted guns launchingrounds of ammunition and even rockets at whatever target came into theirrange. Plaza, cathedral, marketplace, municipal buildings, every structureconsidered a shelter for the insurgents was strafed and bombed, and theattack went on for hours. The blasts and detonations shook the ground,sending civilians and insurgents alike scurrying for cover. The air was filledwith an impenetrable stench of sulfur and burning; everywhere peoplescreeched, and children cried out in terror. But the assault would not cease,as one helicopter wave followed the next one.The patio was by now littered with chunks of stucco and fragments ofsculptured angels and animals. Shards of colored glass were strewneverywhere. Suddenly, the terror stopped, and there was only silence,shattered by whimpering and weeping. Still under the shelter of the stonebench, Juana and Adriana looked at one another, wondering what washappening. They were startled when Orlando appeared by their side; he hadcrawled from the other side of the patio.
“More than likely, government soldiers are on the way into town.”“What about our installations?”“We’ve lost communication. We’re isolated. Irma has passed the wordthat each one of us should head for the mountains on our own.”Juana and Orlando whispered, as if spies were already prying close tothem. Orlando removed his mask from his sweat-and-dirt smeared face.Adriana’s face had traces of smoke around the eyes and nose. Juanaunmasked and put her hand to her forehead, trying to imagine what shelooked like, but all she could feel was the scar over her eye.“Orlando, I think we should find a place to hide until night, when escapemight be easier. Adriana, what do you think?”“The same thing!”Orlando rolled over on his back, thinking of the countless times he hadbeen in Ocosingo for meetings and rallies. He knew the place, its sidestreets and alleys, as well as the different school rooms and assembly hallsthat could provide safe hiding places. He looked around and saw that mostof the column had already abandoned the building.“I think that’s a good idea. There’s a church, not far from here. We canhold out there till things calm down. Follow me.”The three got to their feet. Juana and Orlando put their masks on again,despite this marking them for the enemy. They were still in uniform, whichwas just as much a telltale sign. If they were spotted, nothing could hidetheir identity, anyway. Adriana, in the meantime, strapped her gear to herback. Orlando led them down to the cellar of the ancient building, wherethey would make their way out of one of the countless doors. The womenfollowed him in single file.Adriana, while filled with apprehension, was not so frightened that shedid not see the antiquity of the halls and floors through which they weremaking their way. At one point, the ceiling was so low that Orlando and shehad to crouch. Juana was the only one who could walk upright. Small cellslined one corridor; tiny windows with wrought-iron grates told her that theyhad been holding pens for prisoners at one time or another. The odor ofmildewed stone permeated the air.Orlando chose one of the exits, a small door with a rounded top. Whenhe tried to open it, however, he discovered that it was padlocked with an
antiquated, rusty lock. He reached into his belt for a knife and pried itspoint into the lock, pressing until the iron snapped. The three pulled at thedoor several times until it creaked open. From there they made their waythrough deserted streets covered with rubble.The two women followed Orlando on the trek that took them throughcurving streets that intersected with alleys. They encountered no one;houses were shuttered and doors were bolted shut. There were signs of theattack everywhere: walls pocked from strafing, chunks of concrete blownaway and scattered in every direction, windows shattered, burning carsreduced to frames of molten iron. Once they saw a goat skitter by,frantically trying to find its way out of the violence that had terrorized it.There were no humans. Silence hung over Ocosingo in a mournful pall.It was dusk by the time Orlando had led Juana and Adriana down a flightof narrow stone steps that ended at another tiny door. Once again Adrianasaw that it would open into an ancient stone building. She looked up andmade out a cupola housing giant bells. They had arrived at one ofOcosingo’s many churches, all dating back to the early days of Spanishrule.“We’ll be safe here until later in the night.”Orlando stepped forward to enter the dimly lit chamber, which wasmostly underground. Juana and Adriana followed close behind him.Showing them that he had been in that place before, he gestured for them tofollow him into the cavernous chamber, leading them to a corner where awindow showed high above them.“Let’s rest here. We’ll know when to leave.”Adriana unstrapped her backpack, placed it against the wall and squattedwith her back pressed to the wall. Orlando and Juana yanked off theirmasks, showing heavy perspiration coursing down their foreheads andcheeks. They followed Adriana by also leaning against the stone wall.Orlando closed his eyes, appearing to doze off to sleep, but Juana, restingher head on the wall, looked at Adriana, who returned her gaze. Their eyesshared their secret. They had become lovers. It had happened months beforeon a trip from the campsite to Pichucalco. They looked at one another,wondering if they would survive this day of war. They closed their eyesremembering.
Juana and Adriana clung to the seat as the dilapidated bus made its wayover potholes in the road. The passengers, those seated but especially thosecrowding the center aisle, were jostled back and forth, up and down, roundand round. The two women were picked up on the road heading towardPalenque after having trekked through the jungle on foot. From there, thebus would stop at Pichucalco, where Adriana planned to drop off film andnotes.They traveled in silence, each woman focused on the events of the pastweeks and months. Juana and Adriana had become inseparable during therecent weeks. They were drawn to one another by preparations for theimpending war, but also by the powerful attraction one had for the other.The only times they separated was when Juana journeyed to meet with freshsupplies, but other than that, the two women always worked together.When Juana led practice maneuvers, Adriana followed her, takingphotographs, talking to the insurgents, jotting down notes. She wasfascinated by the presence of women among the ranks; they made up nearlyhalf the force. She admired their confidence in what they did, whether itwas practice shooting or exchanging ideas. She frequently thought of themany village women she had met during the past months, of their reticenceand passivity, and she wondered how it was that the women of the force hadtransformed themselves, how they had built the bridge necessary to crosssuch a huge separation. It seemed to Adriana that she was seeing twospecies of women, each one from a different people, from a different land,from a different time. These were the thoughts that filled her note padduring that time and that became part of her conversations with Juana.Now on the bus, Adriana, thinking of these things, turned to Juana. Shesaw that her compañera had her eyes closed, but she knew that Juana wasnot asleep; she was lost in thought. Adriana edged even closer to Juanabefore she spoke, taking care that no one would overhear what she wassaying.“Juana.”“Yes?”“I’m thinking of you and the other women of the force. How is it thatyou’ve made such a change in yourselves?”Juana smiled wryly as she gazed at Adriana, her expression lingering fora while as the swaying of the bus forced her head to wobble comically.
“It’s difficult to answer your question. I think every woman might have adifferent answer.”“How was it for you?”Juana moved slightly, giving a little space between herself and Adriana.She was no longer smiling; her face had taken an expression that reflectedseriousness as well as recollection. Despite the closeness of their everydayactivities, Juana and Adriana had not yet exchanged the stories of theirlives. Now, as she looked at Adriana, she felt a powerful desire to bring herinto her confidence, to take her back to her girlhood, to her years with CruzOchoa, when she had felt betrayed by her father, and to her later encounterwith him. She looked around, suddenly becoming aware of the cluttered busand the countless ears that were undoubtedly tuned in, eager to catchwhatever gossip might be floating in the air.“I want to tell you that, and even more, but let it wait until later, whenwe’re alone.”Adriana nodded, leaned back in the seat and stared out the crackedwindow. She looked at the sights that whizzed past as the bus picked upspeed: here and there a cluster of palapas; chickens, ducks and sometimeseven a stray pig rummaging in the undergrowth skirting the road; smallgroups of laborers, hoes and shovels propped on shoulders, silently walkingin single file; kneeling women scrubbing clothes as the bus turned the bendoverlooking the river.“Pichucalco!”The cranky voice of the bus driver shouted out their arrival. Juana got toher feet and waited while Adriana reached to retrieve her bag from the rackabove the seat. Then, both women made their way towards the exit of thebus.“Gracias, señor.”“No hay de qué.”They waited until the bus had disappeared, followed by billows of dust,before making their way toward the path leading to the village. Juana tookthe lead as they walked in silence, each woman aware that they wereexchanging thoughts. In a few minutes, signs of the village began to filterthrough the growth: children shouting and laughing, women’s voices,aromas and sounds. All of a sudden, Adriana and Juana walked into aclearing and encountered Pichucalco, where Adriana felt at home.
As they walked, people became aware of them, smiled and gatheredaround them. The women, especially those who had been photographed byAdriana, expressed excitement at her return. They brought out gourds filledwith water and invited the visiting women into their palapas to sit andrefresh themselves with a serving of beans and yuca. With each invitation,Adriana explained that they were heading for Chan K’in’s hut.Adriana and Juana finally arrived at the palapa, but found that ChanK’in was not there. It was Juana’s idea to go to the river’s edge to find him;and that is where he was, sitting on a large rock as he whittled a branch.When he saw the women, he unsteadily got to his feet to greet them.“¡Hola, viejo! I’ve returned.”“¡Buenas tardes, niña! ¿Cómo estás?”She accepted his hands outstretched in greeting. At the same time, helooked at Juana and nodded his welcome.“¡Buenas tardes te dé Dios, niña!”“¡Buenas tardes, abuelo!”Chan K’in sat down again on the rock as he gestured to the women to sitby his side. They kept silent for minutes, listening to the rushing current ofthe river, which mingled with village sounds and jungle murmurs. He spokefirst.“Niña, you’ve returned from the mountain. You’re different, I see.”Adriana was taken by his words. It had only been a few months since shehad left the village with Juana on her way to join the insurgents, and shereally had not detected a change in herself.“In what way have I changed, viejo?”“You are close to finding that which you lost. Your spirit knows it even ifyour mind does not.”Still baffled and a bit embarrassed, Adriana looked at the old man, thenat Juana, who was looking at her; her expression was a mix of curiosity andaffection. Not knowing what next to say, Adriana turned to Chan K’in andchanged the subject.“I’ve come with these things, which I want to leave with you. Will youtake care of them along with the others I left you?”Chan K’in smiled wryly, letting Adriana know that he noticed the changein conversation. He nodded in affirmation as he pointed a bony finger in the
direction of his palapa, indicating that she should deliver her bundles there.After that, he returned to his task of whittling.The women got to their feet and headed toward the palapa, whereAdriana stacked the bag containing film and notes next to her other bag.From there they joined other women, who shared food and water with them.At nightfall, Juana and Adriana went to the fringe of the village, where theymade a place to sleep under a grove of young ceiba trees. The night wasilluminated by a full moon. Its light cast fragile shadows and shapes thatdanced on the women’s faces and arms as they reclined on the petates theyhad spread on the ground.They spoke to one another in soft tones. Juana talked first about why somany of the women of her people had chosen to be part of the insurgency,even at the risk of their lives, even at the cost of leaving families. Adriana,entranced by Juana’s voice and words, listened carefully, admiring herviews. In light of what Juana was saying, Adriana felt she had little to sayabout her own experiences, so she opened herself to what she was hearing.Juana’s words suddenly shifted from speaking of other women to herlife. She spoke of her girlhood; of how her father had contracted her tomarry a man whom she came to hate, the one who had inflicted the scarover her eye; her failed pregnancies; the confrontation with her father,which she considered also a failure; her joining the insurgents. She sighed,then edged her body closer to Adriana, who was now on her side, recliningher head on her hand.“Tell me about yourself. You see how I’ve told you about myself. You’rethe only person I have ever spoken to in this manner.”And so Adriana opened her heart to Juana, telling her about beingwitness to the death of her father at the hands of her mother, of herentrapment in the apartment for days until being rescued by a neighbor, ofher life with one family after the other, of being scarred with boiling water;of the dreams in which she felt pursued by fearful dogs; of her search forwhat she had lost; of Chan K’in’s wisdom. She paused for a moment beforegoing on with her thoughts.“Have we lived together before?”Juana appeared perplexed by Adriana’s abrupt question, and shewrinkled her brow inquisitively. She looked at Adriana, thinking that herbeauty was such that even the moonlight diminished as it bathed her face.
At this point, Juana recalled Orlando’s words regarding the sister of DonAbsolón Mayorga and how she was brutally beaten and shamed by himbecause she was the lover of another woman. Juana remembered this,causing her to fear her own intense attraction to Adriana.“Perhaps. My people believe that we repeat ourselves, but I’m curious.Why do you ask?”“Because I feel deeply for you. I can’t explain it. It’s as if we haveknown one another from another time, another place.”Still trying to appear unperturbed, Juana stretched out her legs andfolded her arms behind her head as she looked up at the moon, its lightdancing on the tallest branches. She was still listening.“Just before you came to Pichucalco, Chan K’in told me the tale of awoman of your people who lived centuries ago, when the Spaniards firstarrived. In that story, the woman witnessed events of great importance, andlater on, in her wanderings, she even attempted to join others in taking theirlives. That happened nearby, in the valley of Ixtapa.”“Yes, I know that story. We all know it.”Adriana, captivated by the thought that Juana also knew of the woman ofwhom Chan K’in had spoken, went on with what she was saying.“The woman in Chan K’in’s story had a scar on her arm caused byboiling water. Like me.”“We repeat ourselves, Adriana. Listen to me. When I was a girl, mymother often told me the story of one of our sisters who lived in the earlyyears of the Spanish masters. She, along with countless other women, totedstones that went into the construction of the Church of Santo Domingo.That woman, the story says, had a moon-shaped scar over her eye, like me.At the time my mother told this tale, I didn’t have this scar; that came later.“After that, when I was a woman and fled to the mountains to join theinsurgents, Orlando Flores continued the story of that same woman, the onewith the scar on her forehead, but this time she appeared as the leader of aninsurrection. That happened generations later, when the Spanish mastersthought they were secure. When the masters overcame our people, thatwoman fled to the jungle, where she was pursued by ravenous dogs.”Adriana tensed at the mention of the woman running through the jungle.Flashes of her dream returned. She was the one desperately running, trying
to escape the baying dogs, conscious of other women fleeing alongside her.“Even Orlando tells of a time when he was an organizer. One of thecompañeras told the story of a woman with a scar on her arm. That womansaved the old bishop, Bartolomé de las Casas, from being torn to pieces bygreedy Spanish masters. Orlando describes how that woman plunged into acrowd of bearded white men in defense of Tatic, and how she was followedby others of our people.”Adriana was now completely taken by what Juana was saying. Sheconcentrated, trying to tie the threads together in a way that would explainthe possibility that she and Juana had inhabited the world together in othertimes.“That woman had a scar on her arm?”“Yes.”“Juana, my head is spinning.”Adriana flopped onto her back as she pressed her head between thepalms of her hands. Her eyes were closed and her forehead was furrowed asshe concentrated on what Juana was saying.“Why can’t it be true that we have been together before, Adriana, andthat we’re now living repeated lives… and that I was by your side whenyou tried to take your life but went on to live as a slave? Now, as I think ofit, I can tell you that I believe it. You were by my side when I was bentunder the weight of stones, and when I led the insurrection. You were withme, I know, when I ran through the jungle pursued by dogs. Even you havefelt this. You have dreamed it, haven’t you? I believe that you and I togetherscratched and pulled and bit at the hairy skins of the masters in futiledefense of the bishop. I believe this to be true!”Almost out of breath, Juana again stretched out on the petate. They bothfell into a long silence, listening to their thoughts and to the cacophony ofjungle sounds. They were experiencing an inexplicable emotion thatelevated them as it shed light on the dark moments of their lives.“Tell me about this.”Adriana broke their silence as she put her finger on a bracelet Juanaalways wore. It was a narrow strip of woven wool colored in hues of blueand purple.
“This is a gift from a young Tzeltal woman who was standing at theentrance of the Church of Santo Domingo in San Cristóbal one day as Ipassed. She looked impoverished, and since I had a few extra coins in mypurse, I gave her half of what I had. As I walked away, I heard the soles ofher feet treading against the stones as she ran after me. When I turned tolook, she took my arm and tied this bracelet around my wrist. She said,‘This is a blessing!’ I have never taken it off.”Adriana looked at Juana, feeling a surge of emotion. She admired howJuana shared whatever she had with those who had less, even when she,too, faced need. She was not surprised that the other woman had blessedher, and secretly she wished that it had been she who had given Juana thatbracelet. Adriana was thinking this when Juana touched her.“You are my blessing.”Adriana slowly moved her hand close to Juana’s face, grazing the scarover her eyebrow, now knowing how it was inflicted. The two women drewcloser, softly touching each other’s face, breasts, until Juana raised hermouth to Adriana’s, who responded with the same passion, and sheembraced her, clung to her, feeling that she had finally found her losttreasure. Adriana knew that never would she allow that richness to dripthrough her fingers, that never again would she lose what she loved.That night, Juana and Adriana made love to one another, exploring theirnaked bodies, wrapping themselves around one another. The junglecelebrated their love with the murmurs of cicadas and cascading water,while the moon spilled its light on them as it climbed towards its pinnacleand from there to its descent. The passing hours intensified their passion,making them understand that neither had ever experienced such happiness.A sweet joy flooded their spirits, shedding light on their loneliness,expelling it forever.Metallic rattling followed by the blast of an explosion shook thefoundations of the church where Orlando, Juana and Adriana waited. Theyhad been resting, eyes closed, expecting the night to give them cover asthey escaped the city. The new round of explosion now told them thatOcosingo was under siege and that a battle for the streets was in progress.
Orlando scrambled to the window, where the women saw flashes ofexplosions and fire reflected on his taut face. The night was ripped apart byblasts of grenades, blaring sirens and staccato of machine guns. The din wasintolerable, forcing them to cover their ears with their hands. They knewthat government forces had returned to regain their tarnished honor. Noweveryone would pay for the affront that had embarrassed the government inthe eyes of the world. Orlando muttered as he adjusted the weapon on hiswaist. Juana silently slipped her mask back on her face.They went out into the night, realizing that they were targets, but alsoknowing that others of their own were battling to save their lives. Juana,Adriana and Orlando crept through streets, dodging and returning fireaimed at them from machine-gun nests perched on rooftops. No one spoke,but each one was appalled at seeing bodies slumped against walls, otherstrapped in doorways, some still moving. At one point, they crouched underthe cover of a low archway, unsure of what to do. They spoke briefly, thendecided that they needed to first make contact with the insurgents’ position,then double back to Ocosingo to assist the living. After that, they moved onuntil they made it to the outskirts of town, and from there they strucktoward the Lacandona.
Chapter 29 The leash snapped!The muttering and undertone of rage lifted toward the opaque sky as thethrong walked nearly shoulder to shoulder, seemingly locked in step, feetpounding dust high into the air, still polluted by the stench of spentammunition and the unmistakable foulness of decaying human flesh.Frightened, but forced to return to look for fallen relatives, the men andwomen of Ocosingo revisited the devastation. Planted among them werecountless insurgents, indistinguishable to government troops because oftheir garb and brown faces.Juana, Orlando and Adriana joined the stream of men and women whowere returning to Ocosingo only hours after the firing and blasting hadceased. They were dressed ordinarily, he in the white tunic of dozens ofother Lacandón men, Juana in the Tzeltal woolen skirt and huipil, andAdriana, walking separately, in fatigues that distinguished foreign reporters,journalists and photographers. Their mission, and that of other disguisedinsurgents, was to rescue their own, those left behind, the dead as well asthe living. Orlando, Juana and Adriana had agreed that if separated, theywould meet in the crypt of the same church where they had taken shelterduring the battle.As a foreigner, Adriana had more freedom than anyone. The governmentwas anxious to prove that it was the insurgents who had caused such chaosand was inviting foreigners to the scene to record the mayhem. Her camerawas welcomed; her photos were supposed to show to what extent the rebelshad punished their own people.As she walked, she looked up to see walls crumbling from bombings,strafing and fires. Streets were empty of civilian cars; only military vehiclesclogged the intersections and plazas. Her nose filled with the stench thathad polluted everything, putting her on the verge of retching. People’sfaces, she saw, were stiffened by fear and rage. No one spoke or looked up,and there were hardly any children to be seen.
Adriana, nevertheless, was not entirely free to wander the streets of thetown because she and the other foreigners were closely watched. Once,when she neared Juana to exchange a quick word, an officer appeared fromseemingly nowhere, making her freeze and turn away from what she wasabout to do. The man’s glare was intimidating, full of suspicion.“There’s no need to speak to the natives, señorita. Let me assist you.”She struggled to normalize her pounding heart by pointing her camera ata small statue that had been reduced to rubble. After several shots, she feltin control of her voice.“¡Gracias! I would like to take photographs of the town and perhapseven of people.”Taking her bag in hand, the man steered her in the direction of the centerof town. Adriana, knowing that Orlando and Juana watched her everymove, felt confident, not fearful.“Teniente Palomón Cisneros at your service. May I ask your name?”“Adriana Mora.”“A good name, but you’re not Mexican, are you?”“No, I was born in the United States. It was my mother and father whowere from Mexico.”“Ah, yes. There are many like you. Even I have family up there. Let meshow you the way, so you can take as many pictures and ask as manyquestions as you wish. You’ll see for yourself the atrocities the rebels havecommitted, even against their own people. Do you have a strong stomach?”Adriana paused to study the man’s face before responding. It was that ofa native: dark, leathery skin, oblique eyes, high cheekbones, a stringymustache that shadowed a wide mouth with thick lips. She wondered whyhe allowed himself to be instrumental to the misery of his own people. Sheturned away before responding to his question, knowing that she wouldnever forget his face.“Yes. I’ve seen terrible things. I’m ready.”Over and again Adriana glanced back furtively whenever the lieutenantwas not looking; she wanted to assure herself that Juana and Orlando werenot far off. But the last time she had a chance to check, they were out ofsight, and she realized they were separated. As they moved, she saw that the
place was teeming with other foreign reporters, each of them with an escort,and this returned her confidence.The officer guided Adriana past the central plaza, through streets leadingto the marketplace. As they approached the open square, she became awareof the rank odor of decaying flesh saturating the air. She abruptly stoppedwalking, as if riveted to the cobblestones. A flashback had pushed her mindback to a locked apartment.A little girl is standing on a chair, feeling overcome by the vile smellclogging her nose. She pounds on the door, but no one hears the thumpingof her small fists.Adriana reached in her pocket for a handkerchief to hold against hernose and mouth. Despite the handkerchief’s protection, she was forced toopen her mouth to take in air.“Señorita, I told you that you had to have a strong stomach. Do you wantto return to the palace, where there’s more calm and where you may takewhatever shots you need?”The little girl runs to hide under the bed, trying to escape the foulnessthat follows her with its sickly fingers, creeping into her nose and tricklingdown to her throat.Adriana’s eyes had begun to water as she struggled to suppress hernausea and the painful image of herself as a child. Saliva gathered in hermouth, forcing her to gulp it down until she knew that she could no longerhold it. She turned away from the lieutenant and spit gobs of it onto thecurb.“Are you sure you want to go on?”“Yes. I’ll be okay in a minute.”She realized that they were approaching a killing field and no matterhow horrific it was, she could not turn away. Adriana pressed herself toclose down her memories and take control of her sickening stomach. Theofficer took the lead as they turned the corner onto the main marketplace,where she saw a ring of photographers, people jotting notes in pads, armedmen in uniforms, all of them staring at something under a canvas canopy.The lieutenant stopped and glanced sideways at Adriana.“Look for yourself! This is what the liberators have done!”
Adriana nudged her way through the onlookers until she came upon ascene so terrible that she felt her breath catch in her throat and animpending asthma attack. As she tried to regulate her breathing, shestruggled with the horror brought on by images of her dead mother andfather.Stretched out side by side on the ground were fourteen cadavers, femalesas well as males. Their hands, fingers painfully gnarled, were bound at thewrists, and each victim had a gaping wound in the forehead. The heat of theday had already brought on advanced stages of decomposition so that fliesand insects buzzed around the bodies, some feeding on distorted, stiffenedmouths, wide-open or clamped-shut eyes. The bodies looked hard, limbsrigidly twisted in grotesque ways.The little girl looks at her mother’s puffy face. Its mouth is purple andhard, and she has a big red hole in the side of her head. The girl runs to thekitchen and sees her father’s dangling arm.Adriana turned away from the scene she found intolerable. Then, on theverge of running away, she forced herself to stop and waited for the strengthto get a grip on her crumbling nerves. She thought of Juana, of Orlando, ofher mission to record the events of the war. These thoughts gave her ameasure of control, and she returned to the site, feeling more in control.When Adriana focused, she saw that an attempt had been made to putitems on each body that could be construed as an insurgent’s uniform: a cap,a gun belt, a hastily slipped on shirt. Despite this artifice, it was obvious tothe onlookers that the dead had been civilians and that they had beenexecuted, one by one, with a shot through the head. She pulled her eyesaway from the grim sight and saw countless spent casings littering theground. She bent down and picked one up and held it in a fist.“These bodies are not insurgents.”“No. They are the victims of the insurgents.”“Then why has someone tried to make it look as if they are rebels?”Momentarily taken by surprise, the officer remained silent. He rubbed hiseyes in an effort to gain time to come up with an answer, so as to explainthe blunder, but chose instead to side-step the issue. He sucked his teeth,letting Adriana know that he was irritated by her question.“Señorita, this is war. Strange things happen. I guarantee that these poorsouls were murdered by the insurgents.”
“Are these not army casings?”Adriana held the spent bullet up to the officer’s face who, withoutanswering, took Adriana by the elbow and began maneuvering her awayfrom the site. She resisted, and as she pulled away from him, she took holdof her camera and began snapping photographs of the murdered men. Shehad taken several shots despite the officer’s displeasure. There were toomany witnesses present for him to force Adriana to stop.“I’m finished. I’ll return now to the municipal palace. I know my way,thank you.”Adriana left the man standing as she walked away at a brisk pace. Sheturned back to look at him several times and she saw that he was standing,feet planted apart, in a posture of indecision. Before he could make up hismind to follow her, she sped around several corners, picked up speed untilshe was jogging, heading for the church where Orlando and Juana would bewaiting for her.Adriana took some wrong turns, but finally she found the church andwent down to the door leading into the crypt. She tried the latch; it wasopen, and she cautiously entered the darkened room. Adriana stood with herback to a wall, so still that she hardly breathed while her eyes became usedto the gloom.Pale light filtered through the window, cutting through the darkness, andforms slowly began to take shape: a table with a broken leg in the farcorner, two mismatched chairs to its side, other broken things strewn aboutthe floor. When her vision finally adjusted, she made out a bulky object.She realized that it was a sarcophagus. The stone coffin sent a chill throughher. She forced herself to look elsewhere. Her eyes scanned the room,stopping at the wall where Juana, Orlando and she had waited out theattack. The objects she was now making out had been in the chamber whenthey were there, but she had not even noticed them.After a few moments, Adriana was certain that neither Juana norOrlando was in the room. She went to the far wall and sat down on thefloor, relaxing her back against the stone wall. She had to be patient, shetold herself. Fatigue began to overcome her and she closed her eyes, just torest them, but the dreadful scene she had just witnessed replayed behind hereyelids. Distorted faces grimaced; split, purple lips opened in silentscreams; gnarled fingers clasped and unclasped as they appeared to reach
out from the stone coffin. These forms were pushed aside by the inalterablememory of her dead mother and father, of herself as a child trapped andterrified. One by one, the images paraded behind her closed eyes, andthough she did not want to look at them, their invasion would not stop.Horrified, Adriana curled her body, in defense against the grim formsthat floated above and around her. She prayed that Juana and Orlandowould soon come. She needed to be with them, to weep with them for theloss of those innocent women and men, for the memory of her dead motherand father. When her eyes snapped open, she looked up to the window andrealized that it was dark outside. She looked at her watch and confirmedthat the evening had moved toward night and her compañeros still had notappeared! Suddenly cold and numb from sitting on the stone floor, sheshifted her body, bringing her knees up against her breasts, where shereclined her head to think of what to do next.Adriana was folded in on herself when she heard the creak of the door.She quietly rose to her feet, alert and waiting to see who had come into thechamber. Her eyes were adjusted to the dark, so she was able to make outJuana’s form as she moved forward.“Juana?”“Yes.”The women embraced for a long time, feeling each other’s heartpounding, until Juana abruptly separated herself from Adriana. She gesturedfor them to sit down. When she spoke, her voice was husky.“Orlando has been captured.”“Are you certain?”“Yes. I saw it happen.”“How?”“He was betrayed.”“One of our own?”“No. Someone else. I don’t know who, but not one of our own. We wereheading in this direction; he was a few paces in front of me when three menapproached him. They were dressed like civilians, but I could tell they werespies. After they stopped him, I heard one of them say, ‘Aha! We finallyfound you. Did you think you could murder Don Rufino and live to be anold man? ¡Indio desgraciado!’”
“When did it happen?”“Hours ago. I followed to see where they put him. A long time haspassed.”Adriana sucked air through her teeth. She looked at Juana and saw fearetched on her dark face. It was the first time Adriana had detected dread inJuana, and that, in turn, frightened her.“What are we going to do?”“We have to stay close to him.”“Where is he?”“In the garrison. In the municipal palace.”“Let’s return for weapons so we can free him.”“No. We’re better off looking like ordinary women. Besides, there’s notime. We know how to get into that place from the bottom chamber, sothat’s what we’ll do. There’s a chance we can get to him.”The women got to their feet and embraced, trying to inspire courage ineach other. Then they left the crypt to retrace the path they had taken thenight of the battle. It was past midnight when the women finally reached theside of the municipal palace. It was dark, but they saw at a glance that itwas thick with guards and military police. When they crept around to theother side, they found the same fortifications, so they decided to approachthe front of the palace. They sped around the corner only to bump into athrong of people milling in fear and confusion. Towering neon lights hadbeen erected to flood the plaza so that people appeared to multiply as theirshadows darted back and forth, churning like agitated insects.Juana, no longer caring about her own identity, took hold of Adriana’shand and led her into the crowd. The situation was chaotic; neither womancould make out the babbling and gesturing that was going on all aroundthem. Juana, still holding her partner’s hand, moved close to a Chol manand tugged at his sleeve.“Amigo, what’s happening? Why are there so many people here?”“Haven’t you heard? The chingones captured a prisoner.”“A rebel?”“I’m not sure. All I know is that they’re calling him a traitor, and he’sgoing to be executed.”
“A traitor to whom?”“To them. Who else?”Juana backed away from the man and turned to look at Adriana. Thewomen knew that they were too late, that nothing could save Orlando.Caught up by the press of the crowd, they allowed themselves to be sweptto the inner fringe of the square, where a squad of shooters was alreadylined up, waiting to execute their task. Adriana and Juana looked, trapped inthe horror of knowing that their compañero was about to die. They stared,helpless to do anything except to stand by him.A drum roll silenced the mob, which gawked in shock as they sawOrlando Flores appear between two soldiers. They were pushing himforward, but his body demonstrated his disdain and hatred for them. By theway he walked and held himself, he showed that he was not frightened,even when the same soldiers ordered him to stand against a wall. Heshrugged off the blindfold that was offered him.The presiding officer came on the scene and stood to the side of thefiring squad. He was a short, malformed man whose uniform was oversized,and he wore green-shaded glasses even though it was night. It was apparentby the way he held out his chin and sucked in his belly that he desired toappear taller. As he was adjusting his posture, Orlando’s voice rang out; itwas so powerful that it silenced the murmur that had begun to sweep overthe horde. So compelling were Orlando’s words that the presiding officerstopped in the middle of straightening his jacket, and the shooters slackenedthe hold on their weapons.“¡La cuerda se reventó, cabrones!”A shocked silence floated over the onlookers because Orlando’s wordshad said it all, all that was burning in their hearts. The leash snapped, yousons of bitches! It’s over! Your grip has been broken!In an attempt to silence the prisoner, the officer raised his hand to getattention. He held a sheet of paper in his other hand, from which he beganto read.“Orlando Flores, because you are a communist intruder from anothercountry…”“Cabrón, since you’re going to murder me, call me by my true name:Quintín Osuna!”
Nearly unnerved, the officer looked around, first toward the shooters,then toward the crowd, then straight at the prisoner. He frowned, confusedabout the name, and not knowing what to do next. He brought the documentcloser to his face and removed the shaded glasses, squinting his myopiceyes. He chose to ignore the prisoner’s name and continue reading.“You have been found guilty of instigating…”“¡Pendejo! Don’t you know anything? If you’re going to assassinate me,do it for the right reason. I am Quintín Osuna, the executioner of one ofyour masters, Rufino Mayorga!”Mention of the death of the Mayorga patriarch stunned the officer, whofinally demonstrated that he understood that the prisoner was the huntedmurderer of Rufino Mayorga. Within seconds, the man squared hisshoulders, drew his pistol, aimed it at Orlando, and shouted his order.“¡Fuego!”Orlando’s riddled body reeled backward against the wall, where itremained propped up for a few seconds while spots, like black roses,blotched his white tunic. The body teetered, then plummeted face forwardonto the stones of the plaza floor.“¡No! ¡No!”Before his face crashed against the ground, Juana’s voice rang out,emitting a grief-filled howl that so rattled the throng it momentarily froze infear, then suddenly snapped, panicking, screaming, pushing, tugging,running in every direction. The pandemonium became huge, frightening themilitary police, who knew they were outnumbered and that control was outof their hands.Juana and Adriana pushed blindly through the frenzy, through legs,torsos, arms, everything moving and churning. They shoved, using theconfusion that had gripped the soldiers, trying to reach Orlando’s body.When they did, they took hold of him by the underarms and dragged him,inch by inch, along the wall of the building, aiming for its corner, searchingfor cover.The chaos escalated, and the thrust of the crowd overturned the towerssupporting the neon lights on one side of the square. The structures crashedto the ground, wounding and frightening the swarm of people even more.That side of the plaza became darkened and it was into that blackness thatJuana and Adriana dragged Orlando’s corpse.
The women pulled at the body of their compañero, but its dead weightbecame increasingly unmanageable. Suddenly, the burden became lighter,easier to carry and Juana looked back to see the same Chol man to whomshe had spoken; he had plucked up the body’s legs and was helping thewomen. Neither Adriana nor Juana paused to speak, or to thank the man.They knew only one thing: that they had to remove the body as far away aspossible from the streets of Ocosingo. They halted when the man suddenlyspoke.“Hermanas, wait! I have a wagon nearby. We can use it to take ourcompañero from here.”The women looked at him, relief and gratefulness stamped on theirfaces. They did not know his name, nor did they ask. Juana and Adrianaagreed and followed his lead to the cart, which was stationed behind a smallchapel at the edge of town. Between the three of them, Orlando’s body wasplaced on the flatbed of the wagon, which was hitched to an emaciatedmule. With a jerk, they began their journey.Hours passed as Juana, Adriana and the Chol man walked beside thecreaky cart in silence. So much grief filled them that they found itimpossible to speak. Adriana grieved because there was so much deatharound them. She mourned for Orlando and for all the innocents who weresuffering and dying, and for all those who had lost and searched for a fallenloved one. Juana relived the years in which she had walked in Orlando’spath, the early days when he spoke of the people of maize and the womanwho had led the first insurrection against the patrones. She thought abouthis feelings for her, and she knew that, although he had never said it, he hadunderstood her love for Adriana.The blackness of the night slowly turned into the milky light that awaitsthe first rays of the sun; by that time, the cortege had entered the fringe ofthe Lacandona Jungle. They moved steadily without stopping for anyreason, not even their own bodily needs. Neither thirst nor hunger nor theurge to relieve themselves halted the sad journey that was leading them towhere they would stop to mourn and say their final farewell to the man theyhad loved and respected.Without knowing when, Adriana and Juana realized that others, men andwomen, had joined the funeral march. No one spoke nor asked questions,yet they knew whose body it was and where it was being taken. They
walked the distance in silence. Morning turned to afternoon, then toevening, and it was not until they reached the edge of a river, when thesliver of a new moon appeared over the treetops, that Juana signaled a haltto their journey. Without question or murmur, the cortege stopped.Juana, Adriana and several other men and women assisted in takingOrlando’s body from the wagon to lay it on the damp earth, near the water’sedge. There the women disrobed the body and anointed it with watercupped in palm fronds. Juana and Adriana wept silently, their tears bathingOrlando’s wounded body. Many of the mourners murmured prayers thatwould accompany him on his journey to the other side. Then, with freshbranches cut from giant ferns, the body was wrapped and fastened withvines until it was shrouded against insects and other predatory creatures.Together, men and women carried the body to the river and waded to itscenter, where the current was strongest. They held on to Orlando Flores fora few minutes, cherishing the feel of his weight against their bodies as theyprayed in their native languages: Chol, Chamula, and Lacandón. Juanachanted in Tzeltal. Adriana did not grasp the words of that soft prayer, butshe understood their meaning. Then the mourners released their grip andallowed the current to take possession of Orlando’s body, leading itdownstream towards the land of his birth.
Chapter 30 In lak’ech. You are my other self.The insurgents went into negotiations with the government after ten daysof war. Countless agreements and accords were devised only to bediscarded. Promises were made only to be broken. Documents weredeveloped, then rendered obsolete. The insurgents’ ranks diminished asmen and women returned to their settlements, attempting to halt thecollapse of what was left of their lives.Juana contemplated returning to Lago Nahá, but she knew that her fatherwas still alive and she did not want to live under his shelter. It would havebeen her obligation as would have been the tasks of weaving and plantingand selling goods in the marketplace. She could no longer do this; she wasdifferent. The years of fighting and leading others had transformed her.Most important of all other considerations was the presence of Adriana inher life. Juana knew that she could no longer live without her.After much reflection, Juana saw that the struggle for Chiapas was notover. People were still living in misery; in many ways they were worse off,because multitudes were now uprooted and lost. Juana realized that the onlything that had changed was the place of battle, that it had shifted from theshootings and bombings of the streets to the mountain peaks that shelteredthose fleeing for their lives. She decided to ask Adriana to join her as shewent on fighting against the misery that was devouring her people.Adriana could not conceive of a life without Juana, either. She followedher compañera wherever she went, working with volunteers and agenciesthat had swarmed into Chiapas to assist the victims of the conflict. Sheknew that with her photography she had a special way to be part of thestruggle. Hers was a unique way of alerting the world to the anguish thatwas tormenting Chiapas. She had no doubt that the portraits she broughtforth were a graphic and undeniable testimony of truth.Shortly after the war, Adriana submitted her work outside of Mexico,establishing connections with journals and newspapers hungry todisseminate her prints. She wired and mailed her work from San Cristóbal
de las Casas to publishers in New York, Houston, Chicago, Los Angeles.Her portfolios included action pictures of the war, the insurgents, theembattled cities, the refugees as they clogged roads, hopelessly roaming thecountryside in search of sanctuary. The publication of her work spread,opening promising doors for her work beyond the United States, extendingto Europe, Canada and Australia, all of which resulted in stipends on whichshe and Juana were able to live.After 1994, the two women migrated from one refugee camp to theother, staying mainly in the highlands north of San Cristóbal de las Casas.They focused on Chenalhó and Acteal, where they ministered to peoplewho were living under deplorable conditions. There, famine had led todisease, which in turn caused plagues. The extreme cold and fog of themountains exacerbated the refugees’ misery, leading to the deaths of infantsand children and to widespread anguish among adults.Juana and Adriana traveled back and forth between San Cristóbal de lasCasas and the camps, bringing food, blankets and medicines. The trek wasnot easy. Sometimes they walked, other times they were taken aboarddilapidated vehicles slowly meandering from one village to the other. Oncein the city, they searched for sources of supplies. The luxury hotels thatsurrounded the main plaza and connecting streets of the city were Adriana’starget, as she had established connections with cooks and room managerswho put aside sacks of beans, rice, potatoes, and blankets that could nolonger be used for hotel guests. Often, she would pass on a portion of herlatest stipend as compensation.Juana, in turn, had tight contact with groups that worked for the samecause. One of these was known as “Las Abejas,” the Bees, and they wereunmatched in their success in bringing assistance from foreign donors.Working with Las Abejas, Juana soon became known for her efficiency, andshe was always given supplies to transport north. But those donations,however generous and constant, were just drops in the deluge of povertythat had escalated in the camps day by day. During those months, neitherJuana nor Adriana was discouraged; they worked openly, publicly, withoutthinking what the consequences might be for them. It was then that word oftheir personal relationship began to seep out. The refugees saw andunderstood the love Adriana and Juana shared, but unsuspected by the twowomen, rumors mounted, making their way to hateful ears.
On December 22, 1997, Adriana and Juana were based in Acteal.Adriana had not accompanied Juana on the trip to the city, but had stayedbehind to take pictures of the refugees. She worked during the morning,making use of the early hours of sunlight before the fog rolled in. When shefinished the shoot, she decided to venture out to the surroundingmountainside to take shots of the impressive panoramas. Some of thechildren followed her on the trek, romping and playfully posing for her. Shewas touched as she snapped frame after frame, seeing that hardly any ofthem were glum, that they had not forgotten how to play, despite their beingill and emaciated.“¡Allí viene Juana! ¡Allí viene Juana!”Juana had arrived, leading a convoy of two run-down vans filled withsupplies. The clamor and cheering that signaled her return reached Adriana,who gathered her equipment and made her way up to the road to meet her.By the time she reached the village, Juana had already climbed out of thevan and was surrounded by children and adults, who embraced her,squeezing her hand, patting her shoulders. Her arrival was always a causefor celebration because of the food and other supplies that she brought.Adriana stood at the fringe of the crowd snapping pictures: Juana’sradiant face with strands of her coarse black hair fluttering in the mountainbreeze; a child holding her, his head buried between her breasts; a womannestling her head on Juana’s back.Once the vans were unloaded and their contents distributed, most of thewomen and children went down to one of the shelters to pray. Juana andAdriana, with a camera still hanging around her neck, decided to go on awalk in the forest, where they found a spot covered by heavy overhangingbranches. They sat there in silence for a few minutes.Juana, nearly whispering, got very close to Adriana. “A woman came towarn that we take care. She said our enemies often speak of you and me, ofour connection.”Feeling bewildered and afraid, Adriana stared at Juana, but Juana smiled.“In lak’ech.”Adriana felt a pang of intense joy at hearing Juana utter words telling herthat she was her other self. But her happiness suddenly melted away whenshe felt inexplicable alarm, as if a shadow standing behind her hadwhispered, ¡Ten cuidado! Be careful! She was so shaken by the feeling that
she looked around, expecting to find someone, but there was no one,nothing. She had imagined it. Was it nerves? She put aside her apprehensionand smiled at Juana.Suddenly, a ricocheting blast shattered the mountain tranquillity. It was aquick volley that echoed down the ravines and bounced off peaks, returningin distorted, rebounding sounds. Juana’s eyes rounded as she stared atAdriana; she knew what had caused that rapid, violent noise.Ratt-tatt-tatt!The women got to their feet and they ran toward the firing guns. Theypassed a pickup truck that had been hastily parked, its doors still swingingopen, its engine running.Ratt-tatt-tatt!Juana outran Adriana and was the first to come onto the killing scene.Adriana, rushing behind her, had a clear view of the carnage that was goingon. She saw bodies piled one on top of the other, limbs entangled butstruggling to escape. She heard the screaming of women and the wailing ofchildren. She smelled the rank stench of sulfurous ammunition. She saw thebacks of the shooters, men dressed in civilian clothes. In a fraction of asecond, she caught a glimpse of one face. His sombrero was pulled downover his brow, his nose, mouth and chin masked by a bandanna. Then, in anightmarish flash, she saw that all of the assassins were dressed alike.The machine guns would not stop vomiting lead and fire, although therewas no longer any movement or sound. Behind the assassins stood Juana,who had witnessed the crime. Behind her stood Adriana, whose eyes hadalso captured the unspeakable deed. Suddenly, one of the faces snapped intheir direction; its bandanna had slipped off, revealing the shooter’s identity.Adriana saw the yellow eyes of evil glaring at Juana, but she saw more; itwas a face she had seen before.Adriana recognized Palomón Cisneros, the soldier who had lied aboutthe murdered civilians in Ocosingo. Without thinking, she lunged towardJuana, who was planted on the ground motionless, paralyzed by the horrorshe had just witnessed. Adriana was able to reach her but not before thevicious barrel was lifted, aimed and fired. Ratttatt! Two bullets hit Juana,but the weapon jammed and could not spit out more of its deadlyprojectiles.“¡Manflora! ¡Come mierda!”
Cisneros spat out the hateful word manflora, lover of women. Now itwas Adriana who froze. Fear seized her for a second, but Juana was stillmoving when Adriana finally reached her to put her arm around her waist.With a strength she did not know she possessed, she lifted Juana anddragged her toward the forest, leaving the assassin cursing his weapon forfailing him.Terrified, Adriana carried Juana, oblivious of the ruts and holes in theground, aware only that Juana was weightless in her arms, that she wassomething fragile and light. Adriana ran, sensing with each moment thatothers were running with her, and that they were also being pursued. Theshouting of the assassins became barking, snarling. Dogs were chasing afterher and Juana.Suddenly she stopped; her feet dug deep into the jungle slime as shehalted abruptly, running in circles, arms rigidly outstretched. She had lostsomething, but she could not remember what it was that had slippedthrough her fingers. She dropped to her knees, groveling in the mud,digging, trying to find what it was that she had lost. Her fingers began tobleed when her nails ripped from her flesh, and her desperation grew,looming larger than even her pain, greater even than the terror of beingovercome by the dogs.The dream flashed through Adriana’s mind. Her thoughts were clear asnever before, and she knew now the meaning of that distant dream. Adrianasaw her life clearly for the first time. She knew now that Juana was whathad once slipped through her fingers and who had returned to her.She laid her compañera at the foot of a tree and took her in her arms,holding and rocking her, wiping her forehead and face, which was streakedwith mud and sweat. Her left side was saturated in blood. Her eyes wereshut but she was still alive.“No me dejes, Juana.”Unable to speak, Juana moved her head, letting Adriana know that shewould never leave her. Then stillness overcame her, and Adriana knew thatJuana had passed on to the other side of the rivers and mountain peaks, thather spirit had returned to the Lacandona Jungle.Adriana, still swaying to and fro, pressed Juana’s inert body to herbreast, struggling to cope with the dry ache that had gripped her heart. Herbody, convulsed by the uneven rhythm of her breathing, shivered
uncontrollably, and anguished sounds from deep inside gripped her throat.Adriana wanted to cry out, to let the pain escape from where it was trapped,but she was mute; only short moans slipped through her lips.She had no sense of how much time had passed before three villagersfound her. When she first became aware of their presence, she panicked,thinking that they were the assassins, but when she recognized them, shefinally began to weep, trying to describe what had happened.“Cálmese, Adriana, sabemos lo que pasó.”They attempted to calm her, telling her they knew what had happened,and that she had no need to explain. They had come, they said, to help herwith Juana. As they spoke, one of them disappeared for a while and laterreturned with a shovel. Taking turns, they dug a hole under the tree.Adriana, although wasted by grief and the fear of an asthma attack, insistedon helping to dig down through the rugged, rocky soil. After hours ofexcavating, the grave was deep enough.Adriana wanted a part of herself to remain with Juana forever. She alsodesired to keep something of hers to hold for the rest of her life, so she tookthe woven bracelet from Juana’s wrist. From her own wallet, Adriana pulleda photograph someone had taken of the two of them. She gazed at theirsmiling faces and their intertwined arms, then she put it to her lips andslipped it between Juana’s breasts, near her heart. On her knees, Adrianastooped down to press her cheek against Juana’s, where she stayed for atime, reliving the first time they had met.Juana’s body was lowered slowly into the ground until it rested on thebottom. Adriana was aware that her companions were murmuring prayers,but she was incapable of anything except feeling grief and rage. The soundof dirt and rocks striking Juana’s body crept into Adriana’s ears. It was asound that would rob her of sleep for the rest of her life.She returned to Acteal to find it swarming with strangers and soldiers.Word had leaked out about the massacre. There was weeping and moaningeverywhere because the bodies of the slaughtered had been stolen; they hadnow “disappeared.” Hysteria prevailed, but the military police insisted thatthey knew nothing, had seen nothing.Without speaking to anyone, Adriana gathered her things and began towalk the twenty miles towards San Cristóbal de las Casas. She did not stop,even when the day became night and then dawn. She kept moving, thinking
only of Juana, not caring about anything, not even the fear that, in her haste,she might succumb to a breathing attack. She hiked without precaution,hoping to be killed. When she reached the city, she went to the bus stationand from there she traveled until reaching Pichucalco and Chan K’in.Time blurred for Adriana. She lost track of what day it was, how long ithad taken to walk to San Cristóbal, how many days had passed before shereached Pichucalco. Her mind cleared only when she stepped off the busand images of other visits to the village returned.As she made her way toward Chan K’in, the aroma of maize andcooking beans reached her, reminding her that she had not eaten in days.With clarity came the awareness that she did not care about eating oranything else. All she desired was to face the only man who could decipherthe enigma of her loss.He was sitting under a ceiba tree, cross-legged as was his habit. Hehardly glanced at Adriana, but as she stood looking down at him, hegestured that she sit down. She struggled to unbuckle her backpack and putit on the ground. After a few moments, she was facing him, sitting as sheused to at the beginning of their encounters.“Niña, you have found what it was that you lost in your dream.”“Yes, but as in the dream, I have lost it again.”“When you and I first spoke, you searched your memory to see if itcould have been someone in your past life. At the time, you said that therewas no one, not even your mother or father, yet the loss inhabited yourdream. Do you remember what I said to you?”Adriana’s head was hanging, tears dripping from her chin. Her mind waschurning, and she found it impossible to speak.“I said that perhaps it could be someone whose path had crossed yours inanother time, another place, and who would again come to you in thefuture.”“She’s gone, viejo!”“But not forever. We repeat ourselves. She’s waiting for you in anotherlife, where your paths will cross again.”Adriana’s heart ached, wanting to believe Chan K’in, desiring with allthe strength of her being that she and Juana would again meet in a repeatedlife. Instead, all she felt was hurt for having their present time together cut
so short. She stared at the old man, hoping that his unshakable belief wouldpenetrate her. After awhile, she lowered her eyes to look at Juana’s braceletas it clung to her wrist. She understood that it would take time, that shecould do no more than wait.“You must be patient, niña. In the meantime, let me give you myblessing.”Adriana shuffled closer, head bent, longing to receive Chan K’in’sbenediction. When she felt the weight of his gnarled hands on her head, shewas impressed by their frail touch, and she prayed.“Viejo, I’m leaving now. I must go home.”“Yes, but you will return.”Adriana, perplexed by the old man’s words but comforted by hiswisdom, got to her feet, wiped her face and went in search of her things.After emptying bags and rearranging rolls of film, note pads, two shirts andsome underwear, she tucked it all into her backpack. Before leaving, shewent to the center of the village to take leave of the people who had beenpart of her beginnings in the Lacandona Jungle. Word spread quickly frompalapa to palapa. Soon, women, children and men came to wish her ahappy trip, inviting her to return and reminding her that she would alwayshave a home in Pichucalco. Adriana accepted hugs, hand clasps and smallgifts. One child brought her four eggs wrapped in a handkerchief. When sheturned toward the main road, she was crying again.
Chapter 31 The anguish, too, was the same.After Pichucalco, Adriana began her journey back to Los Angeles. Shestill had enough money to make her way by land to Palenque, where sheboarded the small craft that flew daily to Mérida, Yucatán. On arriving atthat airport, she discovered that she had missed that day’s only flight to LosAngeles. She was forced to stay over in the city.It was still early, and she would need a room for the night. She asked thetaxi driver to take her to a hotel. He nodded without saying a word, andafter a short drive from the airport, he left her at Hotel Casa de Balám.Adriana liked the place; its Mayan decorations and its location off the mainsquare and cathedral suited her. After checking in, a young man showed herto her room. While chatting amiably, he remarked on the weight of herbackpack. She smiled, knowing that his words were a hint.Once inside the room, Adriana gave the boy a tip and closed the door,grateful for the dark coolness of the room. She was even happier when shepeeled off her shirt, bra, trousers and panties, which had become saturatedwith sweat during her trip. Afterward, she stood in the middle of the room,naked and barefoot for several minutes, her head buzzing with thoughts andunanswered questions. Then she went to the shower, where she let thecalming spray wash over her for a long while. Splashing water on porcelaincreated a rhythm to which her memories swayed, thoughts dislodged andideas surfaced.As she abandoned her body to the chill of the water, dunking her headand face over and again, she realized that she had several hours on herhands and she could, during that time, look up a camera shop. There wererolls of undeveloped film in her pack, and she was anxious to see what shehad taken.Among those rolls were the photographs she had taken in Pichucalcoyears earlier, the day on which Juana had invited her to join the insurgents.Adriana remembered that afternoon so well that she could still see thewomen at work. She vividly remembered the young mother, the indigenous
madonna with a child at her breast. Adriana even recalled her thoughts ofwanting to be that child.Then there were the last of her photographs, taken on the day of Juana’sdeath. Those she wanted to see more than anything. Adriana yanked herhead from under the spray, wiped her eyes, nose and mouth. She got out ofthe shower, dried herself, put on clothes, and went down to the lobby to findthe address of the nearest photo lab.“Sí, señorita. Aquí a la vuelta está un laboratorio. Pero, ¿No deseaalmorzar antes?”Expressing gratefulness for the information regarding the lab, as well asfor the invitation to have lunch, Adriana sped around the corner, hoping tofind the shop open. It was, and the man at the counter was happy to assisther.“Vuelva en dos horas. Estarán listas sus fotografías.”With two hours to spend before the pictures would be ready, Adrianawalked to the plaza. It was not large, but it was beautiful. The cathedraltook up all of the space on one side of the rectangle, and the street in frontof it served as parking for horse-drawn buggies available for tourists. Thesquare itself was bustling with vendors, shoppers, children, and stray dogs.It was market day, and the place was filled with stalls and booths. Adrianaconsidered returning to the hotel for her camera, but decided against it. Shewould just take in the colors, sounds and smells with her mind’s eye andpreserve them in her memory.She walked up the steps elevating the square from the street, and ambledfrom stall to stall, looking, touching, listening, smelling. She admiredblouses, shawls, tablecloths, intricately laced doilies—all handmade, all forsale. She stopped to gaze at women sitting on their haunches in front ofsmall heaps of peppers, lemons, seeds, bunches of herbs, tempting cooks insearch of ingredients for the day’s meal.Adriana concentrated on the faces of those women: oval shapes withskin the color of cocoa beans, eyes shaped like almonds, braided hair thecolor of onyx. She was struck by the thought that although separated byhundreds of kilometers, these were the same people that inhabited theLacandona Jungle, the highlands and canyons of Chiapas.She looked up beyond the tops of the trees shading the square and slowlypivoted her body, studying the architecture of the stately buildings, once
mansions, now mostly banks, offices and small restaurants. When sheturned to look at a child sitting on the curb, Adriana’s attention wassuddenly jerked away from him. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Juanaslipping behind one of the stalls. She caught only a glimpse of her roundedbody, and the long black braid that twisted with the sway of herunmistakable way of walking.Positive that it was Juana, Adriana felt her breath catch in her throat, andwithout thinking, she lunged toward the place where Juana had disappeared,moving so abruptly that she knocked over a small table piled high withlemons. She made an attempt to fix things but she could not waste time.Adriana sprinted over mounds of sarapes, heaps of shoes, bunches ofbananas, until she reached the rear of the last stall.Adriana turned the corner with such haste that two young women, sittingthere snapping green beans, were so startled that one of them spilled thevegetables she had gathered on her lap. They stared at her face, which hadthe expression of having seen someone gone from this world, and theybecame frightened. For her part, Adriana realized at once that she had madea mistake. Although one of the women did resemble Juana, it was clearlynot her.“¡Mil disculpas! ¡Perdónenme, por favor!”Adriana helped gather the vegetables as she mumbled apologies. Shewas embarrassed, but remained convinced that it had been Juana whom shehad seen. She must have gone somewhere else. The women, oncerecuperated from the initial fright, smiled, saying that everything was fine.Adriana walked away toward the opposite edge of the plaza and stoodthere for a while. She felt lightheaded, and her thoughts were unclear.Finally, she remembered she had not eaten for hours. Perhaps her emptystomach had caused Juana’s image to appear. Adriana was not reallyhungry, but she understood that she needed to eat something. She bought acone filled with fruit from a vendor and sat on the street’s curb.As she munched on chunks of mango, papaya and watermelon, Adrianabegan to stabilize; her mind was clearing. She was still shaken by Juana’sapparition, but she was profoundly happy as well, taking pleasure in thememory of that fast-moving figure that must have been Juana. Adrianastopped chewing for a moment, closed her eyes, and prayed that she would
never stop seeing her beloved compañera, if only for fleeting seconds at atime.Adriana looked at her watch. She still had a few minutes to wait and soshe concentrated on the structures facing her. Her eyes focused on thelargest, obviously the grandest of the mansions. She scanned the carvingsover the main entrance, where, chiseled deeply into the façade, she madeout helmeted, armored Spanish conquistadores, lances in hand, their feetcrushing the heads of indigenous men, who were depicted with stiffenedtongues crying out in anguish. Behind the Spanish masters, in miniaturecontour, were ravenous dogs, menacing horses, other war-like figuresintertwined with vines, classical sculptures, even some cherubs.She rose to her feet, stretched, and walked to a plaque on the wall, thatexplained the origins of the mansion. Casa de Montejo, primerconquistador del Yucatán. She tried to read more description but gave up;the script was too ornate, too intricate, and too old.She stood in front of the building, pondering why so little had changedfor the people of that land. Although there were no longer conquistadores,there were mestizos. Now, instead of lances, there were machine guns, andin place of horses and dogs, there were armored vehicles. The anguish, too,was the same.It was time. Adriana looked one last time toward the stall where she hadseen Juana, then she turned her back on the Casa de Montejo and headed forthe photo lab, where she found her package processed and ready. She paidthe bill, made her way to the hotel, and went directly to her room. She tooka few minutes to take off her clothes that had become sweaty again, and shetook another shower. In a bathrobe and with her hair still dripping wet,Adriana sat down on the bed, propped herself up on a pillow against themetal headboard, and opened the large envelope. Inside she found twosmaller ones.She ripped open one and emptied the pictures onto her lap, verifying thatthe photos were still good, although somewhat marred because the film hadaged. She looked at those pictures and saw that her camera had capturedfaces concentrated on weaving, on sewing. She held one showing a womanwith sticky masa smeared on her hands and arms up to the elbows as shesmiled broadly at the camera. Adriana looked at another photo showing apregnant girl whose face was sad.
Studying the glossies carefully, Adriana realized how her work and shehad matured. No longer doubtful of her skills, she compared those earlypictures to her later work taken during the war and its aftermath. She wasreflecting on the weaknesses of her earlier endeavors when she was forcedto interrupt her train of thought by the next photo. It was of the youngmother with the child at her breast. Adriana became transfixed, even elatedby the image. The luminous eyes of the young woman captivated her, as didthe child’s mouth sucking her breast, its eyes closed, its tiny hand limp andrelaxed. Adriana realized that, unlike the others, this take was not shallow.It was deep, mature; it had captured the spirit of the moment, of the woman,of the child.Adriana, with some hesitation, next turned to the pictures in the otherenvelope; they were the last taken at Acteal. Children’s faces looked out ather from the prints, some smiling, others bewildered. She became saddenedby the certainty that they had perished in the massacre. She moved on tothose of Juana’s welcome to the camp on that same day, remembering howthe people had converged on her, hugging and patting her back, touchingher face.Adriana felt the tears pushing at her eyes, pressing to be freed from theprison of her heart. She looked at one, two, three, four shots of Juana, someclose-up, others taken at more of a distance. A few of the photos showedher profile, her face turned first to one side, then to the other, smiling,looking at her. Other shots pictured her, arms lifted, giving out blankets, apackage, food. Juana became alive, eternal in the photographs taken byAdriana.Wiping tears from her face with the palms of her hands, Adriana closedher eyes and leaned back on the pillow, where she fell into a deep sleep thatlasted through the night. She awoke startled from a very real dream, but sheshook it off seconds later, remembering that she needed to be at the airportby ten to make her flight. When she focused her eyes on the clock by thebed, she was relieved; she still had time.
Chapter 32 She asked me to be the lips through which theirsilenced voices will speak.In flight. Merida/Los Angeles, January 2, 1998.The execution of Orlando Flores four years ago was an act of purehatred. He was not murdered only because he was a rebel, or because hebrought Rufino Mayorga to justice, despite what they claimed. Orlando wasassassinated for one reason only: He was a Lacandón, un indio whohappened to be captured, and he was put to death only because the mestizosfear and hate his kind.The massacre at Acteal was about hatred for women, for mujeres indiaswho had proven themselves as leaders, activists and movers of their people.Those killings were committed in revenge for the embarrassment thosemujeres brought down on the heads of the wealthy, the powerful, lospatrones, and their lackeys in the military and politics. Acteal was nothingbut payback for Comandante Insurgente Ramona, the Tzotzil woman, andthe way she and a hundred other women under her command took SanCristóbal de las Casas back in 1994. And there were the other cities, alsotaken by women in command. Acteal was a hateful response to a womaninsurgent being the one to break the army’s cordon around the LacandonaJungle in 1996. Those slayings were filled with loathing because la gente,the natives of that land, had dared to say ¡Basta! Enough! Acteal was aboutpure hatred.Juana’s murder was caused by hatred, but it was even more thanloathing because dangling from it, like poisonous snakes, was therepugnance and disgust for women like us. Her love for me was discovered;word had got around and Palomón Cisneros’ evil snout had picked up thescent of those rumors. She was erased because she had been strong,because she had been a leader, because she was una india, but most of allbecause she had committed the forbidden act: She had been in love withanother woman.
Moved and deeply shaken by her own words, Adriana stopped writingand put the pen down beside the journal propped on the vibrating table. Sheleaned her head on the headrest of the seat, then she stretched to look out ofthe cabin window. Her eyes were inflamed and swollen from sleeplessnessand crying, but she made out the cloud cover below; land was now beyondher vision. She craned her neck to look back toward the south, whereChiapas lay under its pall of hatred and fear, but all she saw was a milkyvoid. The engines of the craft hummed now that its intended altitude hadbeen reached. The flight was less than half-filled, so passengers settled infor the long trip to Los Angeles.She picked up the pen to go on with her latest entry. This would be theend of her writing, now that she was leaving Mexico. She took time to readwhat she had written and noticed how much Spanish had taken over herthoughts and expression. It had been five years since she made her way toMexico, a time when she had been nervous about speaking the language shehad left behind with her childhood. Now she rarely spoke English. She stillwrote it, but it was an English sprinkled with words and inflections fromher ancestor’s tongue. She thought of correcting what she had written, butdecided to let it go.December 22 was the day when those rabid dogs attacked Acteal. Theywere armed men, some of them not much than children, dressed in civilianclothes, faces covered by bandannas so that we could see only their eyes,yellow with hatred, as they came at us. They held weapons that spit fire, andthey did their evil deed knowing that the inocentes they targeted weremostly mujeres and niños who were defenseless. And they murdered JuanaGalván.Adriana’s fingers cramped, she had been holding the pen so tightly thatthey ached. She loosened her grip and stared at her hand, the pen danglingbetween her fingers inertly. Her chest was hurting, as it did when shesuffered asthma attacks, but she knew that it was the pain of trapped sorrowthat was now pressing her heart against her ribs.I felt that a limb had been torn from me. She was part of me. I felt that Icouldn’t breathe, that my lungs were collapsing. I had found what I hadsearched for only to lose it again.After writing those words, Adriana reclined her head against the back ofthe seat and did not resist the tears she felt wetting her face; she did not
even make an effort to dry them. She sat inertly, reliving the excruciatingpain of having lost the woman she had loved with her total being, with herheart and her mind. Adriana let the tears flow, emanating from the sea oftorment that was flooding her inwardly. If she did not cry and let them spillout, her heart would rupture.It had been only ten days since that dreadful moment, and the sensations,sounds, smells were still with Adriana. She stopped writing for a while,waiting for the surge of grief to pass. She closed her eyes, hoping to getsome sleep, but it was impossible. She had not truly slept since the Actealmassacre. Her eyes could not stop looking at the mangled bodies of thevictims. Her vision burned with the vile face of the murderer. Her mind’seye finally settled on the forest and on Juana’s body lying inertly in herarms. This parade of grim images played and replayed itself behind herclosed eyelids.Juana and the other women were on the frontlines of the war, leadingtalks in the cathedral and meetings with journalists and photographers fromall over the world. Those mujeres not only inspired other women, but menas well, and this was what ate at those other cabrones. Esas mujeres werebrave, bringing themselves together in congresses and dialogues, writingup documents that challenged all the laws that had oppressed them forcenturies. They met time after time—hundreds, thousands of mujeres—theirfaces erased by masks so that their sisters might find faces of their own.When Major Ramona traveled to Mexico City in 1996, her body alreadyhalf eaten by cancer, thousands of men and women were waiting for her;multitudes listened to her. But the snake eyes of los patrones were watchingher, Juana and all the other mujeres who, in the eyes of those vipers, wereworse than the male insurgents simply because they were women.The battles for the cities and prisons ended within ten days, but the war,la guerra, did not go away. La gente, uprooted and dislocated, shifted fromone side of the land to the other. Roads were clogged with lost people,begging for a tortilla to give their niñitos, taking refuge from rain and foganywhere they could. And los patrones never stopped hounding them. Theyunleashed their rabid dogs, the paramilitaries, to prowl the land, looting,raping, and burning palapas and whatever shelters could be found. Andtheir special targets were mujeres, because they were the ones who
recognized those dogs even after they disguised themselves like laborers,like campesinos.“Ladies and gentlemen, the captain has turned on the seat belt light as webegin our descent into Los Angeles. Please be sure that your tray tables arestowed and that your seat backs are in their upright positions.” The flightattendant’s nasalized voice sounded out, alerting the passengers of theirarrival. Adriana sat up and was able to see the outskirts of the city, but shehad time, so she put her journal on her lap to make her last entry.Last night I had a dream. I dreamed that I was surrounded by mujereswhose faces were erased by masks. One of them was Juana, who came closeto me and whispered beautiful words. She reminded me of our lastconversation, when she told me that I was her other self. She spoke of whenwe had slept in the jungle, when we had recalled our other lives among thefirst patrones, our losses, our discoveries.In my dream, Juana and I sat apart from the others, rememberingOrlando Flores, Chan K’in, and all the other mujeres and hombres who arestill masked, still fighting, still dying. She told me that until she and I meetagain in our next life, she will always be with me when I show myphotographs, while I speak to others about la gente in Lacandona, aboutthe atrocities in Acteal and in all the other places of misery. She asked meto be the lips through which their silenced voices could speak.Then the dream unfolded into another dream, one that had been in mymemory. In it I ran, frightened and terrified because I was pursued by dogs.It was the jungle dream in which I felt that others surrounded me and I waspowerless to discern their identities. This time, when I stopped and begansearching for what I had lost, Juana appeared.My dream ended when she put her arms around me and told me never toforget her or the mujeres who have chosen to erase their faces with a mask—not out of fear, not out of shame, but inspired rather by dignity and thecourage to show the way to other mujeres.Adriana closed the journal and tucked it into the backpack placed underher seat. She felt serene; she understood her mission. She touched Juana’sbracelet as she looked out the window. This time the massive sprawl of LosAngeles met her gaze. To her left she made out the half-moon curve ofRedondo Beach and, stretching her neck to look out the window across theaisle, her eyes caught the eastern regions of the city.
The craft began its descent and landed smoothly, moving until it came toa halt. When they were given clearance, the passengers stood to deplane.Adriana had her bag ready when the door was opened. She and everyoneelse marched through the tunnel leading to the terminal. Still pensive, stillrerunning the details of her dream, she waited for immigration to clear her.“Hmm! You’ve been away a long time.”“Yes.”“Doing what?”“I’m a photographer. I’ve been on assignment in Mexico.”“I see. Welcome home.”“Thank you.”Adriana trudged along with the other passengers to clear customs. Thewait was long. Passengers from other flights had been put on the sameinspection line. While she waited, her mind returned to her dream. Shewondered why her mother had not come to her with the other women.Adriana would have liked that very much. She would have told her that therage was gone, that although she still did not understand why she hadchosen to leave, Adriana wanted her to know that she realized now that shemust have had a compelling reason.Someone tapped her on the shoulder; it was her turn to approach thecounter.“Anything to declare?”“No.”“Meat? Seeds? Food?”“No.”“Okay! Welcome home!”Adriana picked up her gear, placed it on her back, made her way up theramp, down the escalator, then out the door of Tom Bradley Terminal. Sheblinked at the unexpected sunlight, but her vision cleared as she looked upat the new Controllers’ Tower. To its side she saw the sky-high restaurant,now being remodeled. The street in front of the terminal was congestedwith shuttle buses and taxis. Cars streamed in and out of the parkingstructure, causing snarls, honking horns as they cut off and passed oneanother. Adriana looked around, feeling like a foreigner in her own town, a
stranger among her own people. She took a deep breath, adjusted the bag onher back, and disappeared into the crowd.
Books by Graciela LimónLa canción del colibríThe Day of the MoonEl Día de la LunaEn busca de BernabéErased FacesIn Search of BernabéLeft AliveThe Memories of Ana CalderónSong of the Hummingbird
About the AuthorGraciela Limón is the critically-acclaimed and award-winning author ofLeft Alive (2005), Erased Faces (2001), The Day of the Moon (1999), Songof the Hummingbird (1996), The Memories of Ana Calderón (1994), and InSearch of Bernabé (1993), the recipient of an American Book Award.Limón is Professor Emeritus of Loyola Mary-mount University in LosAngeles, where she served as a professor of U.S. Latina/o Literature.
ana castillomassacre of the dreamersessays on xicanisma20th anniversary updated editionforeword by clarissa pinkola estéswomen k chicana and chicanouniversity of new mexico • 800-249-7737ISBN 978-0-8263-5358-0900009780826353580>massacre of the dreamerscastilloGustavus Myers Outstanding Book Awardfrom the Gustavus Myers Center for the Study of Bigotry and Human RightsThis new edition of an immensely influential book gives voice to Mexic-Amerindian women silenced for hundreds of years by the dual censorship of being female and brown-skinned. Castillo introduced the term “Xicanisma” to replace “Chicana feminism,” including mestizas on both sides of the border. In history and myth, interviews, and ethnography, she explores all aspects of their identity. Her book remains a compelling document, enhanced here with revisions throughout and a new afterword.“It is easy to accept traditions as a jail called Destiny, but you need courage to conquer your identity as a road to freedom. . . . Fighting for her past, fighting against her past, Ana Castillo helps clear a collective way out. This is a book of footprints.”—eduardo galeano, author of the Memory of Fire Trilogy“Brilliant and powerfully written. . . . These essays are testimony and proof of a . . . revolutionary consciousness signaling change and real hope.”—ms. magazine“Castillo goes after our hearts and minds, not territory or power.”—village voice“What I admire about this book is its insistent demand for justice.”—matthew rothschild, The Progressive“At times brilliant, at times angry, at times poignant, but at all times riveting.”—maría herrera-sobek, coeditor of Chicana Creativity and Criticism: New Frontiers in American Literatureana castillo, a novelist and poet, is also the author of Give It to Me, The Guardians, So Far From God, and Peel My Love Like an Onion. In 2013 she received the Gloria E. Anzaldúa Award from the American Studies Association for her essay “The Real and True Meaning of Our Lady of Guadalupe,” the afterword to this book.Robert A. Molina ©
massacre of the dreamers

massacre of thedreamersessays on xicanisma 20th anniversary updated editionana castilloforeword by clarissa pinkola estésuniversity of new mexico press • albuquerque
© 2014 by Ana CastilloForeword © 2014 by Dr. Clarissa Pinkola EstésAll rights reserved. Published 2014Printed in the United States of America19 18 17 16 15 14 1 2 3 4 5 6Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication DataCastillo, Ana. Massacre of the dreamers : essays on Xicanisma / Ana Castillo. — Twentieth Anniversary updated edition. pages cm Includes bibliographical references. ISBN 978-0-8263-5358-0 (pbk. : alk. paper) — ISBN 978-0-8263-5359-7 (electronic) 1. Mexican American women. 2. Feminism—United States. I. Title. E184.M5C369 2014 305.48’86872073—dc23 2014006361cover photograph: Milky Way over Bromo by Abdul Azis, courtesy of Getty Imagesbook design: Catherine LeonardoComposed in ScalaOT Reg. 10.5/15Display type is ScalaSansOT
For my ancestors and to the next seven generationsin Her Name, Nuestra Madre Diosa

viiAnyone dreaming anything about the end of the Empire was ordered to the palace to tell of it. Night and day emissaries combed the city, and Tenochtitlán paid tribute in dreams. . . .But finding no good in the thousands offered, Moctezuma killed all the offenders. It was the massacre of the dreamers, the most pathetic of all. . . .From that day there were no more forecasts, no more dreams, terror weighed upon the spirit world.—laurette sejourne, Burning Water: Thought and Religion in Ancient MexicoQueen Xochitl . . . legendary queen of the Toltecs. During her reign women were called to war service. She headed the battalions and was killed in battle; legend has it that as she died, blood streamed from her wounds, foretelling the scattering of the Toltec nation.—marta cotera, Profile on the Mexican American WomanPerhaps the greatest harm patriarchy has done to us is to strife, co-opt, and reform our powers of imagination. Moralisms, dualistic dogmas, repressive prohibitions block our imagination at its sources, which is the fusion of sexual and spiritual energies.—monica sjöö and barbara mor, The Great Cosmic Mother: Rediscovering the Religion of the Earth

ixcontentskForeword by Clarissa Pinkola Estés xiAcknowledgments xixIntroduction 1chapter one A Countryless Woman: The Early Feminista 17chapter two The 1986 Watsonville Women’s Strike: A Case of Mexicana/Chicana Activism 39chapter threeThe Ancient Roots of Machismo 65chapter four Saintly Mother and Soldier’s Whore: The Leftist/Catholic Paradigm 91chapter five In the Beginning There Was Eva 113chapter sixLa Macha: Toward an Erotic Whole Self 131chapter sevenBrujas and Curanderas: A Lived Spirituality 153
xchapter eightUn Tapiz: The Poetics of Conscientización 173chapter nineToward the Mother-Bond Principle 191chapter ten Resurrection of the Dreamers 219Afterword: The Real and True Meaning of Our Lady of Guadalupe 237Notes 245
xiforewordClarissa Pinkola EstéskIt wasn’t supposed to happen.No new/old voices allowed once the histories of a conquering, ancient and modern, have been authorized and more or less carved in stone by the few for and about the many.For generations in our world, regarding the historias y true cuentos of the past . . . dead is supposed to be dead and done is supposed to be done.“History,” by the ideations of some, was supposed to be held in a leakproof dark box, written down on a noneroding medium by the one or ten or one hundred—for and about the literally millions of souls on earth (without their commission or parity)—then nailed shut, and the prevailing “stories” by those few taken as the only facts—about what was actually very different: a vast panorama of fissioning, severing, fus-ing and living, striving, laughing, weeping, hoping creative tribal chil-dren, mothers, fathers, elders, artisans, seed keepers, hunters, water finders, weavers, dancers, musicians, poets, politicians, sacerdotes, and more.In all, for long and long, a history of a people was considered immutable—not changing, and more so “unchangeable.”And/but, I would affirm strongly from being first witness to the phe-nomenon time and again regarding those gifted in story, which is what history is made of: there is in many an exceptional writer, in their
xiihuesos, in their bones, a beautiful charism of being able to still hear the ancient cantus firmus from long ago.Cantus firmus means “firm song,” the original grouping of ascend-ing and descending ground notes that form the basis for all variations of that melody yet to come. The cantus firmus are the bones and basis of a transmission, the heart of a person, the magneto of a people—that stays and stays and stays, long after any deletions and ornamentations, errors, or veerings are made to it.Certain historias, cuentos are cantus firmus: they represent not a flat-tened transmission but the heart composition, the ground of riches, that lie at the center of a music, a land, a people of great heart.My studies over seven decades now lead me to see unequivocally that every tribal group of any time and place in this world has also been over-written, erased, represented falsely . . . and both slaughtered and enslaved—by a more powerful group—often using as tactics terror, murder, and starvation.The names of those tribal groups have often been long forgotten by “the traipse and trample” of the few who “wrote” the history of vast numbers of persons subjected but not allowed to speak or write their own histories without harm to themselves or their families.Because we are all descended from once loving, brave, perfectly imperfect, and challenged tribal groups, and that many of us are still standing is a miracle of fact, fight, and somehow inextinguishable “can-dle in the dark” luck.That the old tribal names, clans, and groups belonging to any people of any delineated or water nation yet on earth in Ireland, the Balkans, the Caucuses, the Mediterranean, the island continents, the Northlands, China, India, Siberia, Africa, the Middle East, and . . . the Americas—and more, are buried now, covered over by other names regarding both peoples and land masses and natural water sources and mountains, is also a truth.And yet . . . some souls with a tether to true self can still remember the cantus firmus of their ancestors. And we are blessed that some still pour those transmissions with a certain pride of politic, dances, sacred
xiiiobjects, modern means while preserving the cantus firma . . . that is—I don’t believe, I know—brings brave and inquiring voices dredging into the buried past and working hard to carry old and new treasure into the present light of day.The toil is great for those who dare into being the stories. But then, in great magnitude also is the treasure of the stories forgotten, hidden, buried, forbidden for so long. It is the latter treasure of the past genera-tions brought before present and future generations that, I believe, is the matter that matters most. And the souls who dare.kBoth Ana Castillo and her work, Massacre of the Dreamers: Essays on Xicanisma, were sudden, bright melodies of the old cantus firmus when the book was published in 1994. An essential heart opened for reexam-ination the “acceptable” stories that were previously understood by some to be “all there is to say.” But Castillo showed there was far more to show, far more to say. And said it. In spades.Her work was conceived, written, and unleashed at a time when what I call the “overculture” was still barricading against new voices, barri-cades built for decades to protect the nailed shut and approved boxes of histories . . . but built, whether meant or not, to severely limit fresh ideas, to bind accountability, to muffle diverse voices from reaching through to educators, ethnic groups, readers, and viewers—to add to the whole story, from the roots upward.It was a time when too often the old tropes of insisting on a narrow range of stories about “how it all went, how it all goes” was the accepted wisdom of its day. Yet readers and thinkers, artists and teachers, and some of the farseeing presses, such as the one that would publish Massacre of the Dreamers—were looking for not more—but different—and deeper. Very different. Much more excavatory than one-inch-deep ground.Thus Ana Castillo was one of a small handful of thinkers able to keep almost insanely running for daylight no matter the barriers thrown
xivup by others. She was able to break open battened doors, rip open the boxes we were all expected to fit into, save, an arm or leg draping over the sides without fit.Any day an artist, thinker, healer, teacher, press, voice keeps running for daylight in a darkened world, as my old father used to say, “is a day that lights the stars so we can all see at night.”I am thankful for the runners, not indefatigable, but enduring, through travail, injury, triumphs. I am thankful for them all.Thus I hope I can serve the history of this book, Massacre of the Dreamers, and the history of those who today are still running for blue sky and open road, hoping to crash through barriers with hard work and some lick of luck too . . . to bring the work, and to bring it and bring it . . . the vision, the stories that have been buried, to just see/teach about how talented persons are sometimes shut out/shut down for no reason other than that their set of stories do not match the prevailing set of sometimes far too rote stories. kIn that spirit, I’d like to tell you a story to dream into—one from my father’s side, one that I think is characteristic of the drive underlying this book. In my families—four groups of immigrant, deportee, and refugee souls—stories are held in oral tradition because most of my elder family could not read or write, or did so haltingly.But wisdom is not only in letters. They knew how to foal their horses, how to sow and grow wheat in winter, how to choose and bend the wood to make their eight-foot-tall bows and hunt for their food, and how to build a house of mud bricks and paint larger than life on its foremost wall an image of one of their guiding icons: either our thousand-hectare winged eagle, or the proud white stag who could be hunted, but ought never be killed; or what my grandfather called “the majesty-horse” who runs like the wind and leaves flames of fire in his hoof prints. All the
xvancestors—yours and mine—had icons that guided them, stories to lead them back into the world of the living in strength again.Like those iconic guides who were persons who were animals who were forces of nature, both human and divine, we fashioned the family stories and rolled them out like a yeast dough to the proportions and nourishments needed. This story as related to “breaking through” is a story we called Red Boots (Las Botas Rojas), a story that was carried from my father’s family life in the village to the city life that would have killed them if not for a story like this. I’ve tucked Red Boots as a literary story into my spoken word series, The Dangerous Old Woman, for it is a wis-dom story that is about every man, woman, child, creature, weather . . . who and which causes a disturbance of the status quo, and the discovery of treasure—by daring to “go out . . .” past the “safe” boundaries—beyond which the overculture incessantly drones: “there lies doom.”In the story, an old tribal Swabian/Magyar woman wears red boots, as is the custom for the women farmers and horsewomen in near times past. The red boots are embroidered with bird wings and spinning los vientos/wind symbols that look like flowers. She is thereby the icon of wind and of wings.She is told by others that now that she is old, she must sit by the fire and never go out, for it is too dangerous. But she hears an inner prompting (a cantus firmus) and goes out anyway. When she returns, the villagers scold her for having worried them. They tell her again, “Do not go out. Stay home where it is safe. You are too old now. Stay home.”But the old woman continues to go out, to walk and walk over desert and wasteland and forest and stream. And one day, as the villagers warn, some-thing does happen. The old woman becomes so tired from walking and walk-ing, she cannot go on. She is not sure she can walk back to home, for she has walked out farther away from the village than ever before.So she sits down on a boulder to rest. But seeing a little rill of dirt sticking up from the ground, she drags the toe of her dusty red boot across it. And lo and behold, a dampening of the earth takes place, the ground growing darker as some underground moisture seeps upward.
xviStanding now, no longer tired, the old woman scrapes the toes of her red boots across the darkened soil, digging deeper, and suddenly a small spring of water roils up and begins to flow over the dry ground downhill. She bends and brings water to her lips; it is so sweet tasting, and her touching the water with boots and with hand has somehow restored her.The short of the story, which in our family tradition takes many nights to tell, is that she returns to her village oddly restored and tells the story of the sweet water. Though many and most are at first fright-ened to go that far from home, some few though afraid, trek to the water, drink the fresh water, lie in what now is a stream of the water, and they are restored from illness and travail of mind and tiredness of body also. kAna Castillo is one amongst the few who long ago did not listen to the “do not go out there, it is too dangerous.” She did not listen to the “your ways of seeing ought be limited to ways certified by the overculture.” She lived in a time, as many did back then, wherein one was constantly cautioned, especially women, not to do anything weird or wild or wise. For Ana and others of that time, the cautions were not as in the Red Boots story that they were old, but because it was thought that any gifted person hearing and speaking about the cantus firmus, the firm song, the heart of it all, would undermine the establishment, which liked to control cultural expression.Thus Ana Castillo with her original sight and original voice refused to be “curated” by the overculture, or put more plainly, refused to “sit at the fire to be ignored, debased, or mocked”—as has been done to most and many original thinkers and artist/inventors, since time out of mind and across the world, by not allowing the cantus firmus a strong voice in the lyceum, the marketplace, not granting rank to it on the curricu-lum, not inviting the singers of such to the panel, the stage, the
xviipublisher’s list. We have all been there, in some way, and in our time, as well as our parents, grandparents, and our los ancianos’ time.And yet . . . because of those who continued, kept on . . . Ana Castillo in the vanguard of that trajectory . . . and rejecting the notions that had been used by previous overcultures aiming to silence others; for instance, to “forget” to invite, to limit time to speak, “forgetting” to remember that all souls carry a story worth hearing, considering, remembering . . . not for a pretty pastoral picture, but a real way of knowing the world, by knowing the depth and diverse ways of souls who have walked and who still walk this earth who are here not just to live, but also to teach, to tell, to create a fire that warms and cooks . . . for all who care to partake.Back to the Red Boots (Las Botas Rojas) story—any man, woman, child, creature, weather . . . that causes a discovery of treasure—by dar-ing to go out past the safe boundaries beyond which the overculture claims is doom—as Ana Castillo has done—is doing the hard work both of the digging and of standing in the prevailing crosswinds of cul-ture while doing so, no small feat. Often, much scar tissue. Yet, true treasure also.Those who dare to go out, return to speak to those waiting to recog-nize themselves in the past and the present and the future, waiting to see the ways of their ancianos, their abuelos y abuelitas, their mamis and papis in serious and compelling works that give out the longitudes and latitudes of travails and triumphs, that also dug open an artesian well—forward to dignity, truth, and pride in one’s ways and heritages.It wasn’t supposed to happen.No new/old water sources, no other voices allowed once the stories have been flattened, organized, authorized, and more or less carved in stone by the few for the many.For many generations in our world, regarding the historias y true cuentos of the past . . . dead is supposed to be dead and done is supposed to be done.But then come those rare hearts who can hear the cantus firmus. And unlock and unfurl it.
xviiiThe work Massacre of the Dreamers: Essays on Xicanisma speaks for itself, for Ana Castillo’s vision, and for many of our world as well. May all who have ears to hear, eyes to see, senses to sense, find goodness and courage in and from this work.clarissa pinkola estés, phdPost-trauma specialist and author of Women Who Run with the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman ArchetypeJoseph Campbell Keeper of the Lore Awardee
xixacknowledgmentskI thank the University of New Mexico Press for bringing out the twen-tieth anniversary edition. My gratitude goes to my family for love and faith; friends, for their support; and of course, the readers. They keep me writing.

1introductionkWomen in the United States who are politically self-described as Chicana, mestiza in terms of race, Latina or Hispanic in regard to their Spanish-speaking heritage, and who number in the tens of millions in the United States, cannot be summarized nor neatly categorized. I have applied my ideas as broadly as possible, ever mindful that at the same time they are my own reflections. Because the critical essay format demands it, where possible I have attempted to corroborate some of my ideas with data from a variety of resources, from U.S. Census Bureau reports to ethnographic studies.Mexican descendants in terms of genetic makeup and appearance range from white to black, with the majority falling within the La Raza rubric of mestizaje, that is, brown skinned and mixed race. Although México is overwhelmingly Catholic, there is a growing trend toward Protestantism. In addition, many people do not practice their religion. For the purposes of this book, the idea of formulating a Chicana identity (when Chicanas don’t share race, religion, class, culture, and in some cases, nationality) seemed impossible. Such an identity must be based on common experiences but common experiences that demand a com-munity so as to work toward change as a common goal. The issues dis-cussed here center on women’s social struggles, and I have tied in the spirituality that seems intrinsic to most women’s sense of being.Throughout the history of the United States, “I” as subject and object has been reserved for white authorship and readership. However, when I speak of woman within these pages, I speak very specifically of the
2women described above, unless otherwise indicated. (This also holds true for the use of the words men, children, people, and so on. I refer at all times to Chicanas and Chicanos/mexicanas and mexicanos unless otherwise specified.) I distinguish terms such as Chicana, Xicanista, Mexican, Latina, and Hispanic according to the context of the discus-sion. Within the confines of these pages, “I” and the mestiza/Mexic Amerindian woman’s identity become universal. It is to that woman to whom I first and foremost address my thoughts. Traditionally, U.S. fem-inism has been controlled by those in power and those in power have been reticent, or have failed, to invite groups considered outsiders to be part of the conversation. Unfortunately, this is the case and will be so across society unless or until a major reconstruction of how we view resources and humanity takes place. Within the pages of this book, how-ever, the subject(s) are not “Other,” but are the center of the conversation.When I embarked on the writing of the first edition of this book in the 1980s, that decade was predicted by the media to be the decade of “the Hispanic.” This was due to the fast-growing population of Hispanics in the United States. While this did not exactly happen, the latter years of the 1980s did mark an unprecedented visibility for the U.S. Latina devoted to Letters. Until then, owing to a general view regarding our historical lack of formal education, money, and poor language skills, among other reasons, publishing companies did not see the U.S. Latina as a consumer in the book buying market. By the late eighties, however, U.S. women of color and immigrant writers of all stripes and colors were being published. Globalization was the game changer. All manner of international businesses began looking beyond traditional demo-graphics for consumers. Furthermore, Latinas began to outnumber their male counterparts in higher education. An unprecedented gener-ation of educated women wanted stories about themselves.Assimilation into the fabric of the WASP American Dream had been the rule of thumb for all immigrants. A number of factors, such as affir-mative action and diversity programs, the media focus in the eighties on
3decade of the Hispanic, and Asian immigration to the United States after the end of the Vietnam conflict, caused new interest on the part of white Americans in other ethnic groups. By the late 1980s, book buyers (still arguably mostly white and educated) were growing more interested in the stories of people outside their own experience. The growing Latino population was mostly from México, but because of the ramifications of U.S. intervention in Central America, people came from that region in rapid numbers too. The United States also received an increasing num-ber of South American immigrants because of the dictatorships and political disruption in countries there. In 1980 an exodus from Cuba brought as many as 125,000 people to the United States. Puerto Ricans, whose island is a U.S. commonwealth, are not immigrants. “Migration and return migration mean that island and mainland identities have become mixed.” Then and now, Puerto Ricans are found to have the low-est income of all Hispanic groups in the United States.1 Chicanos for the most part were also not immigrants. Many who identified themselves as Chicanas were activists working toward the fulfillment of the democratic promise of their country—the United States.Opponents of the Chicano movement rejected many of its goals, which included seeking entrance into political, education, and civic arenas and a return of illegally appropriated lands in the Southwest. However some opponents may want to view Chicanos (those whose families resided in the Southwest at the time of the Mexican-American War), as well as the flow of Mexican labor since, as a source of ongoing surplus labor, to be curtailed or increased as needed by the neocolo-nial state.Hispano natives of the Southwest are the only people, besides the Native Americans, who have a treaty with the United States. As with many of the treaties between Native Americans and the U.S. govern-ment, ours, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, has been largely violated. This appropriation of territory came as a result of what is known on this side of the border as the Mexican-American War (1846–1848). In México it is known as the North American Invasion. Again, we see that history depends on the chronicler. Following the Mexican-American War, most
4of the Mexicans living in the newly annexed territories expected the Spanish language to remain prevalent there. Perhaps current lawmakers in Southwestern states that vehemently defend English-only laws are not aware of different interpretations of the historical agreement between their government and México, or perhaps they don’t care about the argu-ment regarding the rights granted to the Hispano population left behind in Texas, New Mexico, Upper California, California, Arizona, and parts of Utah, Colorado, Nevada, and Wyoming after the U.S. invasion.Early Chicana feministas have had, at best, a conflicted relationship with the United States. Their activism by necessity then and now includes seeking equal opportunities for their communities as much as for their gender. White women writers of the feminist movement, such as Kate Millett and Germaine Greer, made arguments that resounded through-out the West, regarding their rage against white, male-dominated soci-ety and claimed their right to be angry. “Woman” had for too long been forced into quiet complacency. In the 1960s, what was the purpose of the campus bra burning, after all, if not to demonstrate their militant refusal to be continually sexualized by male culture? Yet when femi-nists of color showed their intolerance of racism, they were accused by some as being “too” angry. Furthermore, feminists of color were expected to focus on struggles with which their entire ethnic commu-nity were dealing, such as racism and socioeconomic discrepancies. While Germaine Greer went on national television expressing her desire for women and “little” men—knowingly shocking the viewing audi-ence—African American activist Angela Davis did not make public her lesbianism until the late 1980s. To claim a desire for women was regarded by activists of color as a betrayal or undermining the goals for justice on the basis of race.Equally crucial was the fact that most renowned white feminists came from privileged backgrounds. Their place in society could not be excluded from their understanding of it. I would like to note that when I speak of “white feminists,” I do not limit myself to North Americans but to the international white feminist movement, including México
5and Latin America. Women of color activists addressed this and even-tually, in the late eighties, this led to the First Voice concept. Like other ideas that aim for political correctness, First Voice sought to find ways for people who are systematically excluded from society to speak for themselves. The omission in most literature of the history and pres-ence of millions who inhabited these lands long before European occu-pation forces us to read between the lines. If reading between the lines was what white feminists had to do with the “classics,” U.S. Mexic Amerindians/U.S. Latinas had to become excavators to begin their work as Xicanistas. Starved for affirmation about our legacies, we early feministas began to research our ancestry, becoming akin to archae-ologists. These efforts were strenuous because indigenous perspec-tives were omitted from the material we were handed in our formal schooling.People with Spanish accents have often been treated as if they are not very smart or educated, while on the other hand, people with European accents, especially British, have been assumed to be intellectually supe-rior. Today, because of the rapid growth in Spanish-speaking viewers of the media, and the slight crossover of star Latin American journalists and celebrities with Spanish accents, this attitude has changed somewhat.We are not the only people wronged by racism and conquest, whose records have been destroyed, who themselves, in fact, were nearly all annihilated. The black diaspora is a long, mournful wail reminding us of the inhumane history of greed. In México, too, there had been slavery and a slaughtering of millions of indigenous people. Latinos and Hispanos from the United States, originally from the Southwest, share this legacy with the African American. Off the mainland United States, the Aleuts and Inuits north of us and the Polynesian ancestors of the native Hawaiians have also been stripped of their ways and Christianized.Feminism was never a doctrine or an ideology that fit all. Arguing on behalf of a politic of partial inclusion in the reader, Feminist Postcolonial Theory, scholar Ien Ang puts it this way:
6Feminism must stop conceiving itself as a nation, a “natura” political designation for all women . . . it will have to develop a self- conscious politics of partiality, and imagine itself as a limited political home, which does not absorb difference.2However, today we are in a position to work toward affirmative action for other women. Learning about our indigenismo was a way of accep-tance of oneself. More important, it showed us another way of seeing life and the world. The remaining indigenous communities south of the border and into Central and South America, however, are still oppressed. Their traditions, too, have long been threatened. Among Mexican immi-grants in the United States, we now have indigenous people whose sec-ond language is Spanish. English is their third. Globalization has shaken the world.Today intranational interests dictate the importation and exportation of goods. More than 80 percent of the world’s export manufacturing labor force are impoverished girls and women of color. Their health, safety, and earning rights are often unprotected. They are truly country-less women.Although I descend from Mexic Amerindian lineage, I was born and raised in the inner city of Chicago, which meant I was alienated from my indigenous connection to the Americas. There was then in that city a large Mexican community. As a graduate student at the University of Chicago I was to prepare a final thesis entitled “The Idealization and Reality of the Mexican Indian Woman.” I researched and used docu-mentation from two fields: imaginative literature and anthropology. Unfortunately, the writings of mestizos, criollos,3 Spaniards, and Anglos from the nineteenth century up to that time (1979) did not include much more than stereotypes. Since anthropology is traditionally based on the objectification of its subjects, I found at best ethnographic data that ultimately did not bring me closer to understanding how the Mexic Amerindian woman truly perceived herself. Furthermore, to my mind,
7the Mexic Amerindian woman had been gagged for hundreds of years. I not only refer to the literal silencing of the Mexican indigenous popu-lation, economically impoverished and therefore powerless and voice-less, but also the censorship that results from double sexism, being female and indigenous. In neither the creative literature nor the ethno-graphic documentation did I hear her speak for herself. Only in 1992, the quincentenary of European conquest, was the world delivered the voice of one Mesoamerican woman, the Maya Rigoberta Menchú, whose family was slaughtered in Guatemala’s land reform movement and who received the Nobel Peace Prize for her ongoing activism on behalf of her people’s human rights.In graduate school, perceiving myself as a Mexic Amerindian woman, even if culturally far removed, I wrote the autobiographical poem “Entre primavera y otoño.” In poetry I found the freedom to speak both from my mind and heart. In this poem, I likened myself to the silenced indigenous woman of México. It begins:La india carga su banderasobre su caramanchada de sangresus cicatrices correncomo las carreteras viejasde su tierray la india no se queja.4The Indian woman carries her flagover her faceblood stainedher scars runlike old roads through her landand the Indian woman does not complain.
8Most Mexicans are mestizos and mestizas and by and large have some Mexic Amerindian blood ties. During the colonial period of México, a mestizo with money could buy his whiteness, thereby also purchasing the privileges reserved for criollos and Europeans. While mestizos came to comprise the majority in México, in the United States, genocide of the Native American was the preferred alternative for the Anglo for establishing a new nation.In 1979 the first generation of college-educated Chicanas was in the making. Although I had no interest in pursuing a doctorate after receiv-ing my master’s degree in social science (Latin American and Caribbean Studies), my informal investigations as a creative writer and my own analyses with regard to being Chicana continued to feed the search for my Mexic Amerindian woman sense of self. Something significant was also happening across the country. Like Reconquistadoras, Chicanas throughout the country, whether in isolation, in academic institutions, or in grassroots communities, were on the same track. It was the hun-dredth monkey effect—ideas whose time had come.5a treacherous road toward inclusionI began teaching college right after receiving my bachelor’s degree in 1975 at the age of twenty-two. It was shortly thereafter that I was intro-duced to the writings of Paulo Freire, the renowned Brazilian educator who espoused a pragmatic teaching philosophy for the “masses.” Along with a formal education, he proposed a raising of political conscious-ness, which would enable the Brazilian population, the majority of whom lived in poverty, to become empowered by understanding their social conditions. He called this consciousness raising process, consci-entización. There is no single-word equivalent for this verb turned noun, and in the United States it was translated to consciousness raising. Like the internationally used term, machismo, conscientización transcended translation. Education as the road toward self-empowerment was not a new idea. Freire’s ideas, however, resonated with Latinos.6 The majority
9of Freire’s impoverished population in Brazil were mulattos, people of mixed European, indigenous, and African blood. In this country, too, the majority of the population that has traditionally been marginalized, who are poor and working class, are people of color.7By the beginning of the next decade, however, many Latina activ-ists, disenchanted, if not simply worn down, by male-dominated Latino politics, began to develop our own theories of oppression. Compounding our social dilemmas related to privilege and race were gender and sexuality. Feminism was not a term embraced by most women who might be inclined to define themselves as Chicanas and who, in practice, had goals and beliefs founded in feminist politics. By the nineties, most women of Mexican descent did not use the term Chicana, seeing it as an outdated expression weighed down by the particular radicalism of the seventies. The search for a term that would appeal to the majority of women of Mexican descent who were concerned with the social and political ramifications of living in a hierarchical society was frustrating. While people of Latino back-ground widely use Hispanic or Latino today, these labels are restricted to ethnic identification alone.In this text I have chosen the ethnic and racial definition of Mexic Amerindian to assert our indigenous blood and the cultural source, at least in part, of our spirituality. I also use interchangeably the term mestiza, which has been used among Mexican intellectuals as a point of reference regarding our social status since the Mexican colonial period. Mestizo in México took a positive spin from the philosopher José Vasconcelos in 1925. Borrowing from Darwin, whose ideas were popular at the time, Vasconcelos called the future people of México La Raza Cósmica. La Raza today is commonly used by Mexicans and Chicanos to embrace our mixture after the Conquest. This mixture includes, in addition to Indigenous and European, North and South African and Asian.When analyzing culture and traditions, I may use mexicana for both Mexican nationals and women born in the United States. When discuss-ing activism I often use Chicana. Finally, I employ the word, Xicanisma,
10a term that I invented in the first edition of this book to refer to the con-cept of Chicana feminism. It was a collapsing of two terms in the epoch of the “ism.” Although discussions of Chicana feminism have been taken up by the academic community, where I believe it has fallen prey to theoretical abstractions, I hope that it can be rescued from the suffo-cating atmosphere of pedantry and carried out to our work places, social gatherings, kitchens, bedrooms, and the public sphere.If the argument of postcolonial feminists of color is that inclusion politics don’t work because they seek to acculturate and do away with peoples’ ways, a woman’s personal guide to moving away from the exclusion she experiences may ultimately be pragmatic. Above all, Xicanisma seeks balance. The place to start is always with yourself.Four to five thousand years ago, humanity began shifting away from the feminine principle. While all had masculine and feminine within, only the masculine was allowed to reign. Among those who identify as Chicano and Chicana, we have looked to our indigenous heritage in search of a possible feminine connection. All early societies seem to yield traces of Mother worship. The Aztec/Mexíca people did as well. Tonantzin, Mother Earth, was worshipped on hills and mountains. Iztaccihuátl, the volcano near Pueblo, was another version of Mother. The goddesses of the Mexíca pantheon were transformed into various facets—from being numinous to an earthly or male version. Like the Ixcuiname—the four sisters–sex goddesses—each represented a phase of the moon with its own significance.However, it is imperative to understand that the Aztec Empire in the fourteenth century at the time of the Conquest was firmly entrenched in a phallocracy. By the Conquest, the militant Mexíca transformed Coatlicue (another version of the Mother) into a ghastly, hostile force. The death aspect of the dual power of Mother—fertility and death—had taken over. Around her neck a necklace of men’s hearts and hands was symbolic of her insatiable thirst for human sacrifice. Let’s keep in mind that that image of Coatlicue was created in the context of a war-oriented,
11conquest-driven imperialism. While Coatlicue, like all fierce goddesses of ancient cultures, is a favorite of feminists, historically speaking, here is the juncture where the creative power of woman became deliberately appropriated by a military power-driven empire. Woman in the flesh, thereafter, was subordinated.A crucial distinction between labels we have been given by officials of the state and our own self-naming process is that only doing the latter serves us. The very act of self-definition is a rejection of colonization. To more accurately describe what we seek for ourselves perhaps we may turn to another female divinity of that era, Moyocoyotzin: She Who Invents Herself.The Chicano/Latino movement of the late sixties to midseventies served as the catalyst for the Xicanista’s sociopolitical perspective. In the fol-lowing pages I have added to the Chicano/Latino movement theme an examination of how Catholicism has shaped our identity as well as our political activism. In the first and last chapters, I introduce and conclude my reflections along these lines. El Movimiento, influenced by Marxist-oriented ideology (which was overshadowed admittedly by nationalism), focused on our economic and class struggles as a people. While that socialist influence rightly understood the connections between institu-tionalized religion with a surplus-based society and therefore, rejected the church (at least on principle)—El Movimiento simultaneously con-fused spirituality with the church. In practice, the majority of activists did not give up Catholicism. Spirituality and institutionalized religion are not the same. Spirituality is an acutely personalized experience inherent in our daily lives.Also, I suggest here that we have been forced into believing that we as women only existed to serve man under the guise of serving a Father God. Furthermore, our spirituality has been thoroughly subverted by institutionalized religious customs. The key to that spiritual oppression has been the repression of our sexuality, primarily through the control of our reproductive ability and bodies. Woman’s ability to give birth to a
12human being was acknowledged as sacred in the earliest traces of human history. What greater act may we as human beings perform if not that one of further replenishing the Earth that sustains us?As male-dominated societies moved further away from woman as Creatrix, the human body and all that pertained to it came to be thought of as profane. How human sexuality has been repressed, distorted, and exploited both by the leftist ideology of El Movimiento and the Catholic Church are examined, specifically in chapters 3, 4, 5, and 6, which take up our political activism and religious practices. These are “The Ancient Roots of Machismo”; “Saintly Mother and Soldier’s Whore: The Leftist Catholic Paradigm”; “In the Beginning There Was Eva”; and “La Macha: Toward an Erotic Whole Self.” Inasmuch as woman’s religiosity directs her life, la Xicanista is creating a synthesis of inherited beliefs with her own instinctive motivations. In chapter 7, an essay on our spirituality, “Brujas and Curanderas: A Lived Spirituality,” I explore this topic with personal viewpoints. Spirituality that departed from institutionalized religion became very popular among conscienticized women but is by no means practiced by the majority of women of Mexican background, who continue to adhere to Christianity.Conscientización in México, as well as in the United States among Latino activists, usually meant a move toward some form of socialism. However, efforts at understanding socialism did not give women the kind of humanitarian restitution predicted by the designers of commu-nist doctrine. We can cite the cases of the Soviet Union, Cuba, and China to show how women continued to struggle for equal social status after their respective social revolutions. We can look at current alarming numbers everywhere today regarding violence against girls and women to see that we are not in a postfeminist era. In the U.S. military, where women now stand shoulder to shoulder with men, the statistics of rapes of women are at critical rates.In the Watsonville chapter I use the successful cannery strike of 1986 to demonstrate how the conscientización process can be activated through a specific social struggle. What I highlight in the account of the strike and with interviews of women activists of Watsonville is how
13conscientización did not fully recognize the depth of sexism that per-meated not only dominant society but also the attitudes of political activ-ists. In this edition, I have updated this account in view of globalization and its affects on workers worldwide.Machismo is another important subject to investigate. As a writer who has been professionally introduced with the labels “Chicana” and “feminist,” I am asked to define “machismo.” Fair enough, but the label of feminist, a term ever misunderstood, also caused people to equate feminism with hating men. To stand up for the female gender was taken as an attack or the result of personal contempt for the opposite sex. Early Chicana feminists often looked no further than the Mexican Catholic Church when tracing the origins of machismo. Many were reluctant to acknowledge male supremacist practices of the Aztecs because of romantic ideas of pre-Conquest society, nationalist bias, or lack of information, but mostly because European culturicide rendered Mexíca practices ineffective to our lives. Today the Conquest remains the unhealed wound in the psyche of all mestizos.But it seemed to me that the influences on our social behavior went way beyond the legacy of Catholicism, Spanish culture, and our indige-nous background. In the chapter, “Ancient Roots of Machismo,” I attempt an investigation into our Arabian heritage and make compari-sons with the early North African clan practices (that have influenced Iberian, Mediterranean, and subsequently Latin American and Caribbean cultures because of Islamic conquests) and our own Mexican culture. In chapter 8, “Un Tapiz: The Poetics of Conscientización,” I sug-gest that we look at our particular use of language to see how it perpet-uates how we perceive ourselves. Breaking with traditional use of language allows us to move beyond the concepts and definitions we have for ourselves. I use three books in my examination, including one of my own. Two are memoirs and my own is fiction, written in the sec-ond person.No role in relationship to the female has been viewed as more impor-tant than that of Mother. While the concept of Mother is idealized, Mother in society is denigrated. Early societies throughout the world depended
14on the harvests. Consequently, they yielded religious rites around fertility. Over the millennia, woman’s fertility, therefore her sexuality, was con-trolled by society and regulated by religion. While she is abandoned by society, woman as Mother continues to have the monolithic task of pre-serving the human race. In chapter 9, entitled “Toward the Mother-Bond Principle,” I propose that by using Mother as our model to guide us in place of an abstract, amaterial, distant Father God (that all Christians are called to obey, if not to attempt to emulate in his incarnation as Jesus), it may be possible to have a vision of a truly nurturing society.dreamers and magicians, brujas y curanderasOurs is a formidable and undeniable legacy. Among our most ancient ancestors are the Olmecs, whose origins in the Americas predate 1000 BC and who “we might possibly call Magicians,” as Frederick Peterson refers to them in his book Ancient México: An Introduction to the Pre-Hispanic Cultures.8 The “Magicians” cultivated the use of rubber and tobacco and were masters of stonework. What was clear from the tremendous sculpture legacies left by the Olmecs was that theirs was a sophisticated, powerful, and mystical society. Frederick Peterson spec-ulated regarding the religious beliefs system of the Olmecs that “coin-cidence of the dreams with actual happenings” may have given an individual (whose dreams seemed to prophesize occurrences) a reputa-tion as an oracle with a privileged position in society.More than two millennia later in Tenochtitlán, Moteuczoma called on the thousands of dreamers who were sharing the same premonition. The emperor relied heavily on mysticism and having received various omi-nous omens about the fall of his empire, also consulted with his greatest wizards and magicians. These, unable to advise Moteuczoma as to how to prevent what had already been divinely decreed, were imprisoned. But being magicians they mysteriously escaped. Moteuczoma avenged them by having their wives and children hung and their houses destroyed.9 Moteuczoma’s order to have the dreamers murdered en masse did not
15stop the landing of those alien ships that were already on their way with those whose intentions were to take whatever riches found at any cost.Dreams may provide guidance. The recurrence with so many may not have been a sign of premonitory gifts but the fact that much of the populace knew their nation was in trouble. Moteuczoma knew that the dreamers and magicians were not responsible for the awaited demise of his kingdom but he murdered them out of his own sense of despair and because of his abuse of power, which had already been demonstrated in many other shameful ways. When the time came to act, it was Moteuczoma’s fatalism that debilitated him and caused the end of the Mexíca world.The dreamer, the poet, the visionary is banished at the point when her/his society becomes based on the denigration of life and the extinc-tion of the spirit for the sake of phallocratic aggrandizement and the accumulation of wealth by a militant elite. This is accompanied by a fierce sense of nationalism and “ethnic pride.” However, our collective memories and present analysis may well hold the antidote to that pro-found sense of alienation many experience in a globalized economy where more people have more stuff than they ever had before that they don’t need and yet there is more poverty and exclusion of humanity—if mostly because there are now more people. No culture or society today exists without Western influence. Ironically, an Islamic terrorist may be found wearing American labels. Moreover, those clothes were quite likely assembled in underdeveloped countries. It calls to mind the fol-lowing excerpt of my poem, “While I Was Gone a War Began”:Who is the bad guy? Who is the last racist?Who colonizes in the twenty-first century best:The Mexican official over the IndianOr the gringo ranchero over the Mexican illegal?10Women inherited the fierce religious convictions brought by the Conquistadors during the Age of the Inquisition. Where they came to reign, death was the alternative to accepting the Catholic faith. At the
16time of the Conquest, the indigenous people of central México lived in a theocracy where all facets of their lives were also dictated by celestial forces through the rule of priests and kings. It is no wonder that women today, whether we adhere to Catholicism, have converted to another reli-gion, lapsed in religious customs, or practice other rituals, nevertheless, are overwhelmingly (male) God fearing and adoring of Our Lady of Guadalupe. It is worthwhile revisiting the significance of the Mother, above all Mexican Mothers. In this edition I have included as an Afterword a keynote address I gave in 2012 at the Association for the Study of Women and Mythology in San Francisco, California. It is called “The Real and True Meaning of Our Blessed Lady of Guadalupe.” My thesis respectfully moves away from the unconditional acceptance of Our Lady as the Virgin Mary as well as the story of her apparitions. Instead, I followed a thread that led me to the same stars that were observed by the Maya, Egyptians, Greeks, and the Sumerians, among others. As we work toward leading quality lives while sustaining our planet we may keep in mind that the Creatrix continues to nurture us all.In the following pages I have revisited my reflections on the history of Chicana activism, our spiritual practices, sexual attitudes, artistic ideology, labor struggles, and education-related battles. Without pre-tensions to producing empirical analyses, I continue to offer my thoughts to perhaps serve as reference work for future laborers in the vineyard. Lest all our dreams become self-fulfilling prophecies of doom, together we must form the vision that all dreamers share, tho’ ever so briefly, as in the following pre-Conquest canto, which invokes the moon goddess:So Coyolxauhqui left it said:Soon we come out of the dream,we only come to dream,it isn’t true, it isn’t truethat we come to live on Earth.11
17chapter oneA Countryless WomanThe Early FeministakI would have spoken these words as a feminist who “happened” to be a white United States citizen, conscious of my government’s proven capacity for violence and arrogance of power, but as self-separated from that government, quoting without second thought Virginia Woolf’s statement in The Three Guineas that “as a woman I have no country. As a woman I want no country. As a woman my country is the whole world.” This is not what I come [here] to say in 1984. I come here with notes but without absolute conclusions. This is not a sign of loss of faith or hope. These notes are the marks of a struggle to keep moving, a struggle for accountability.—adrienne rich, “Notes Toward a Politics of Location,” Blood, Bread, and Poetryin the 1980s i could not call myself a citizen of the world as Virginia Woolf, speaking as an Anglo woman born to economic means, declared herself; nor did I make the same claim to U.S. citizenship as Adrienne Rich does, despite her universal feeling for humanity. Today, in my own
18nation of birth and citizenship, as a mestiza born to the lower strata, at best, I am often mistaken for an immigrant, at worst, as a nonentity. Moreover, this occurs not only in the United States, the country of my birth, but also in European countries. In Latin America, including México, I am taken for a foreigner.Nationhood aside, there is a visceral connection within me for the land of my ancestors. If in search of refuge from the United States I took up residence on any other continent, the core of my being would long for a return to these lands. The collective memory that I share with other indigenas and mestizos and mestizas makes me yearn to claim these territories as my spiritual homeland. In the following pages I would like to review our socioeconomic status, our early activism and feminism, and begin the overall discussion that progresses toward a Xicanista vision.Leftists and liberals recognized the atrocities of U.S. intervention in Central America during the 1980s, as similar sympathizers did with Vietnam in the 1960s. Their support was also reminiscent of North American leftists and liberals in the 1930s who struggled against fas-cism during the Spanish Civil War. Yet, mestizas on U.S. soil, immi-grants and native, are viewed less compassionately, even skeptically. We are advised to assimilate.Racism polarized into a black-white issue. Mestizos in the United States were seen by many white people as having the potential to “pass” for white. This opinion was based on assumptions, lack of information, and misinformation that accompanied policies, media control, and dis-torted historical documentation. The United States cannot deny its early history of importing Africans as slaves; however, censorship continued regarding the extent of genocide of Native Americans. Mestizos and mestizas were identified as a mixture of the dispensable Amerindian race and the lowly Spaniard. (In colonial times, according to the caste system, the ruling Spaniards designated the criollo, an individual of Spanish blood born on Mexican soil, as having genetically inherited lazi-ness by virtue of his/her birth.) Little is known by the general public
19about how these attitudes caused ongoing persecution of Mexic Amerindians and mestizas on land that was México and later became U.S. territory. For example, while it is well recognized that in the South there were lynchings of African Americans, it isn’t common knowledge that Mexicans were also lynched and hung in Texas and throughout the Southwest. Today there is a common belief that the civil rights move-ment succeeded in creating a true democracy and that increasing poverty and unemployment are primarily a matter of the repercussions of world economics and the lack of motivation of certain racial and ethnic groups.peregrinationsWhile I’ve had more in common with a Mexican man than with a white woman, in many ways I have more in common with an Algerian woman than with a Mexican man. Although women everywhere experience life differently from men everywhere, white women are heiresses to the priv-ilege granted by colonization. We have lived in a polarized world of con-trived dualisms, dichotomies, and paradoxes: light versus dark and good versus evil. We as Mexic Amerindians and mestizas have been the dark. We are the evil . . . or at least, the questionable. Ours is a world imbued with nationalism, real for some, yet tenuous as paper for others. Nonwhite women—Mexicans/Chicanas, Filipinas, Malaysians, and others—who comprise 80 percent of the global factory workforce, are the greatest dis-pensable resource that multinational interests own.1 The women are, in effect, represented by no country. We have been the invariable targets of every kind of abusive manipulation and experimentation. As a mestiza, a resident of a declining world power, I have the same hope as Rich who, on behalf of her country aims to be accountable, flexible, and learn new ways to gather together earnest peoples of the world without the defenses of nationalism.I was born, raised, and spent most of my life in one of the largest cities in the United States. Despite its distance from México, Chicago was
20the third most frequent U.S. destination of Mexican migrants after El Paso and Los Angeles. A great influx of Mexicans occurred during the first half of the twentieth century when the city required cheap labor for its factories, slaughterhouses, and steel mill industry. In an effort to minimize their social and spiritual alienation, Mexican communi-ties developed and maintained solid ties to Mexican culture and tradi-tions. This was reinforced by the tough political patronage system in Chicago, which was dependent on ethnically and racially divisive strat-egies to maintain its power. Thus I grew up perceiving myself to be Mexican despite the fact that I did not visit that country until the age of ten.Assimilation into dominant culture, while not impossible, was not encouraged nor desired by most ethnic groups in Chicago—Mexicans were no exception. We ate, slept, talked, and dreamed Mexican. Our parishes were Mexican. Small Mexican-owned businesses flourished. The spiritual and psychological needs of a people so despised and unde-sired by white dominant culture were met in our own growing commu-nities with the establishment of small businesses and parishes. During the seventies, arts, community centers, nursery schools, and such that were bilingual and bicultural were established by grassroots activists.As I was growing up, Mexicans were the second largest minority in Chicago. There was also a fair-sized Puerto Rican community and a fair amount of Cubans and other Latin Americans. In those years, however, before the blatant military disruption of Latin American countries such as Chile and El Salvador, a person with “mestiza” characteristics was considered Mexican. When one had occasion to venture away from her insulated community to, say, downtown, impressive and intimidating with its tremendous skyscrapers and evidently successful (white) people bustling about, she felt as if she were leaving her village to go into town on official matters. Once there she went about her business with a cer-tain sense of invisibility, and even hoped for it, feeling so out of place and disoriented in the presence of U.S. Anglo, profit-based interests, which we had nothing to do with except as mass-production workers. On such occasions, if she were to by chance run across another mestiza
21and mestizo, there was a mutual unspoken recognition and, perhaps, a reflexive avoidance of eye contact. An instantaneous mental communi-cation might sound something like this:I know you. You are Mexican (like me). You are brown-skinned (like me). You are poor (like me). You probably live in the same neighborhood as I do. You don’t have anything, own anything. (Neither do I.) You’re no one (here). At this moment I don’t want to be reminded of this, in the midst of such luxury, wealth, this dis-orienting language; it makes me ashamed of the food I eat, the flat I live in, the only clothes I can afford to wear, the alcoholism and defeat I live with. You remind me of all of it.You remind me that I am not beautiful—because I am short, round bellied and black eyed. You remind me that I will never ride in that limousine that just passed because we are going to board the same bus back to the neighborhood where we both live. You remind me of why the foreman doesn’t move me out of that tedious job I do day after day, or why I got feverish and too tongue-tied to go to the main office to ask for that Saturday off when my child made her First Holy Communion.When I see you, I see myself. You are the mirror of this despica-ble, lowly subhuman that I am in this place far from our homeland, which scarcely offered us much more since the vast majority there live in destitution. None of the rich there look like us either. At least here we feed our children; they have shoes. We manage to survive. But don’t look at me. Go on your way. Let me go on pre-tending my invisibility, so that I can observe close up all the possi-bilities—and dream the gullible dreams of a human being.2at seventeen i joined the Latino/Chicano movement. It was 1970, and as a high school senior, I rallied around City Hall along with hun-dreds of other youth screaming, “¡Viva La Raza!” and “Chicano Power!” until we were hoarse. Our fears of being recognized as lowly Mexicans were replaced with socioeconomic theories that led to political
22radicalism. Yet our efforts to bring unity and courage to the majority of our people were short lived; they did not welcome the ideology. Among the factors contributing to this were the desire to succeed, the consumer fever that overrides people’s fundamental needs, and the competitive American premise that encourages individual versus community efforts. The temptations of the rewards of assimilation and the internal-ization of racism by the colonized peoples of the United States remain devastating. Society has yet to acknowledge the trauma it engenders. The United States, has allowed to some extent for the representation of people of color in the institutions that influence and mandate peoples’ lives, such as government, private industry, and universities. It has grad-ually relented to fulfill its professed democratic ideals and include the descendants of its slave trade, the Native Americans, mestizas and mes-tizos, and North and South Africans and Asians (who also come from a wide variety of countries and social and economic backgrounds and who, due to various political circumstances, are immigrating to the United States at an rapid pace). It will do so because the world economy will not permit anything short of it.Today, it may be argued that immigrants do not necessarily share the sentiments expressed above formulated throughout the late sixties through the eighties. They know they are citizens of their homeland and have willingly come to and may embrace their new country. The Reagan era altered the way politics were thought about in the United States. The Republican administration managed to dismantle most of the grass-roots organizations supported by the government. With the shrewd dex-terity managed in a con’s cups and balls game, the dismantling of a communist “threat” took place in Central America. The average U.S. citizen did not know what country their government was for or against there. (Indeed, the average U.S. citizen does not know where to locate the countries in Central America, often mistaking them for being part of the Mexican Republic.) The influx of Central and South Americans escaping horrors visited on them by their governments (as well as oth-ers, who did not disagree with the horrors) altered the previous agenda of the Latino movement. Activists born on U.S. soil, whose antecedents
23trace back to before annexation of their home states, had a different per-spective. “We didn’t cross the border,” the Southwest saying goes, “the border crossed us.” Across the ocean, in a staged production, Reagan challenged the leader of the Soviet Union in 1987, “Tear down this wall, Mr. Gorbachev.” No such cries by Republicans or Democrats are made regarding the U.S.-México border in 2013. To the contrary securing the border is a main point of contention regarding passing any kind of immigration bill.México has been nothing if not cooperative with the needs and demands of the free enterprise system, evident most recently with the NAFTA Agreement, and yet the U.S.-México border is the sorest point of contention for conservatives regarding an immigration bill. The pub-lic is aware of the complaints of ranchers regarding the trespassing of Mexicans who are crossing illegally. We do not often hear of the gener-ations of mestizos who exist in a nether-state along the border. Subjected to prejudices, racism, and poverty, complacency is mostly the rule. Contrary to the perspective that the majority of a population changes policy, voting does. Voting requires conscientización.The resident Hispanic population in the United States totals nearly 52 million. In 2011, according to the PEW Hispanic Center, the female population of native and foreign-born Hispanic/Latino identified resi-dents was more than 26 million.3 According to the same source there was an estimated 11.2 million unauthorized immigrants living in the country. These individuals are from all over the world, but according to the PEW report, more than half of the undocumented population are from México.Hispanic as the ethnic label for all people who reside in the United States with any connection to the culture brought by the Spaniards during the conquest of the Americas was established in the 1980s by the U.S. government. In my opinion, bundling together a vastly diverse group resulted in a gross misnomer. The label was chosen over the activists’ preference of Latino or U.S. Latino (for native born). The term Hispanic is a misnomer because one-fifth of South America—Brazil—does not
24speak Spanish. A large population of Guatemala speaks indigenous dia-lects as a first language and maintains its own indigenous culture. Chicanos and mainland Puerto Ricans, having been brought up in an English-dominant society, having attended its monolingual schools, and discouraged from pursuing the language of their ancestors, may have some or no fluency in Spanish. In fact, even though Spanish speakers in the Southwest expected to retain their native tongue following annexation of the territory in which they lived in 1848, Spanish was prohibited in schools and workplaces. The debate rages on among educators and gov-ernment alike.If Hispanic refers to all natives and descendants of persons from Latin America, it includes no less than twenty countries—whose shared patterns of colonization may allow them to be called Pan-American, but whose histories and cultural attitudes are nevertheless diverse in very particular ways. The economies of Caribbean states and coasts in Latin America, which were dependent on the slave trade, explain the African makeup of many in the areas. The middle class and wealthy that first fled from Cuba after the Revolution were white. Today, many in Cuba are notably of African ancestry. Citizens of the Dominican Republic are considered Hispanic because they speak Spanish, but the residents of the other side of their island, Haiti, speak French (and more commonly, patois). Are there enough major racial differences between these two nationalities on the same island to justifiably classifying one as Hispanic but not the other? The Philippines were once colonized by Spain (and consequently some have Spanish surnames) and now have English as a dominant language, but they are not classified as Hispanic. They are placed in another catchall group, Asian.For the purposes of census taking, Hispanic gives us all one ultimate paternal cultural progenitor: Spain. The diverse cultures already on the American shores when the Europeans arrived, as well as those intro-duced because of the African slave trade, are completely obliterated by the term. In the U.S. Census there are Hispanic subcategories divided by race or ethnicity. This is reminiscent of other legislated racism efforts. Shortly after the Conquest of México, Spanish rule set up a
25complex caste system in which to be of mixed-blood virtually excluded people from full rights as citizens and protection by the law. Jews and Moors in that Catholic society also experienced racist attitudes.4 Just as with today’s African Americans, among Mestizos, mestizas and Amerindians, the result of such intense, legislated racism throughout centuries is demoralization. As one historian puts it regarding the Mexic Amerindian people, “Trauma and neuroses linger still, and may not be entirely overcome. For the Spaniards, in México, did not commit genocide; they committed culturcide.” 5Except for the historical period characterized by Manifest Destiny, fate is not part of U.S. Anglo-Saxon ideology. But the United States does have a fate. Sir John Glubb in his book, A Short History of the Arab Peoples, suggests reviewing world history to see how frequently great empires reach and fall from their pinnacle of power, all within two hun-dred to three hundred years. According to Glubb, for example, the Greek Empire (330 BC–ca. 100 BC) lasted 230 years; the Spaniards endured for (1556–1800) 244 years; and the British Empire lasted 230 years, (1700–1930). It is sobering to note that no great power simply lost its position as number one then to slip into second or third place, nor has any for-mer great power ever resumed its original, unchallenged position. They all have ceased to exist as a world power. After the fall of the Roman Empire, Rome became little more than the home of the pope for the past fifteen centuries. Moreover, regarding his figures, Glubb tells us, “It is not desired to insist on rigid numbers, for many outside factors influ-ence the fates of great nations. Nevertheless, the resemblance between the lives of so many and such varied empires is extremely striking, and is obviously entirely unconnected with the development of those mechanical devices of which we are so proud.” 6 “Mechanical devices” means military might.Arguably, signs of the decline of the United States as the leading world power were apparent since the phenomenal growth of the public debt in the 1980s. As reported by the U.S. Department of the Treasury, during the Reagan-Bush years the public debt of the United States
26climbed from $907.7 billion in 1980 to more than $3 trillion in 1990. By 2012 the country’s national debt was more than $16 trillion.7 In the second decade of this century, after a recession period felt by the major-ity of the residents in the modern world, such figures may not be shock-ing. Described another way, however, in personal terms (and how most of us tend to assimilate financial information as consumer debt), in 2010 the national debt at $2.4 trillion broke down to about $7,800 for every single individual.8Along with the ongoing general view across the board that women are second-class citizens are the ramifications of globalization. Outsourcing as well as the installation of international industries in developing countries exploit impoverished populations, numbering more than 2 billion in 2010.9 Illegal enterprises, such as a drug industry that includes slave trade and human smuggling, reap mind-boggling revenues of more than $300 billion annually. Every Latina in the Americas, indeed most women worldwide, are affected by these realities in some manner. This is the basis for the observations and conclusions given in the following chapters.The largest movement in the history of the United States to force the government to reckon with its native Latino population was the Chicano/Latino movement of the late 1960s and 1970s. In recent times we may point to the millions who turned out in protests demanding a compas-sionate immigration bill to deal with the undocumented resident work-ers. However, demonstrations alone do not constitute a movement. Other than the issue of passing an immigration bill, native and foreign- born Latinos are widely divided on all significant civic concerns that affect their families and communities. Education, medical care, voting rights, housing, and discrimination are issues that remain critical for people of Hispanic/Latino identification, but there is no general consen-sus as to the best methods to approach these matters.In the mid-1970s, however, there was some consensus. Many of the goals dealt with recompensation and affirmative action in correcting his-torical segregation and prejudice against Latinos in the United States. In
272013 it is understandable if an undocumented Mexican worker in the United States does not comprehend why a ninth-generation Tex-Mex is complaining about his economic disenfranchisement. The Mexican worker has come here for economic opportunities and many are sold on the American Dream, at least as an ideology. In other words, everybody can have a piece of the pie if they are willing to work for it. The immigrant has a sense of nation, his homeland. No one questions his nationality. If he experiences prejudice along the way or even persecution, to an extent he understands this is because he is on foreign soil. The hypothetical ninth-generation Tex-Mex, Hispano of New México, Californio, or native of Arizona may indeed enjoy most of the opportunities afforded native-born citizens. However, instances of racial profiling, for example, such as Sheriff Arpaio of Maricopa County, Arizona, was convicted of, stopping brown-skin drivers with intent to check their IDs, stereotyping on a day-to-day basis because of your ethnicity, the pigeonholing of people with Spanish surnames as being Other, impact the lives of native-born Latinos.The effects of stereotyping may sound like whining about a little ignorance shown by a handful amongst the public, but people of color know all too well that our being offended cuts to the core of our charac-ter. Moreover, social exclusion results in economic, social, political, and cultural disadvantage. The goal of a political movement is to change policy. Postmarch drives, after millions turned out to demand a bill to allow a path to naturalization for the undocumented resident of good standing, turned the frustration into votes. This effort, known as the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda, is a voter registration drive whose target is the “new Latino,” a young Latino.10 These votes, obvi-ously come from supporters of an immigration bill and not the undoc-umented millions who will be affected by it. Not only is the Latino population in the United States diverse, but those of the second, third, and earlier generations have a different relationship to their homeland, which is the United States.Opponents of undocumented Mexicans point out how their white ancestors came to the United States “the right way,” worked hard, and assimilated seamlessly into the fabric of the American Dream. Such
28ahistorical references make their arguments void. Moreover, they negate the existence of race being a factor. European immigrants were encour-aged and even granted citizenship in the past. Today, the ethnicity and race of undocumented white immigrants allows them to assimilate seamlessly.Immigration is a fact of life and currently a result of globalization. The protests of Latinas and Latinos for desegregation and civic and political rights may be seen as the right of a population that has fought for the development of this country since its inception. Mexicans have fought for the United States since the Alamo, helped build railroads and industries in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and have brought (and still bring) tomatoes to our salad plates in January. While Latinas and Latinos may be stereotyped today as landscapers and bilingual nan-nies, they work in all forms of employment, with the hope and expecta-tion of rising as far as their talents will allow. However, Hispanic/Latino workers still lag behind their white counterparts in terms of income and career advancement.11 There are no other convincing explanations for this socioeconomic gap other than the stubborn persistence of preju-dice, racism, and sexism.By the same token, we may be our own worst enemy. Equally saddening is the famous envidia, familiar to all Latinos. We want to make it. We want to see ourselves represented better and more in government and elsewhere, but all too often when someone from our culture “makes it,” we are envious of the individual and don’t lend our support. By helping every member of your family, community, background you are helping yourself and your family. We too often don’t see it that way. This attitude allows the opponents to win.In 1980 the Reagan administration came into office and systematically quashed the Chicano/Latino movement. Community projects and grassroots programs dependent on government funding—rehabilita-tion and training, child care, early education and alternative schooling, youth counseling, cultural projects that supported the arts,
29rehab-housing for low income families, and women’s shelters—were shut down. In their place the old “American Dream”—a WASP male philosophy on which this country was founded at the expense of third world labor—was reinstated. As in U.S. society before the civil rights movement, private material accumulation equaled self-worth.The new generation of Latinos who came of age in the 1980s had a radically different attitude than the collective mentality of the 1970s activists, believing that after two hundred years of racist and ethnic exploitation, the age of the “Hispanic” had finally come. Their abuelos, tiós, parents (some who had been in the Chicano/Latino movement) had paid the dues. Some of the media declared the 1980s to be the “Decade of the Hispanic,” and for the first time in U.S. history ad cam-paigns took the Latino consumer into consideration. Magazines, bill-boards, and even television commercials showed brown, beautiful Latina models in flashy wear, reaping some of the comforts and plea-sures of free enterprise. Also there was the unprecedented tokenism that resulted in the hiring of Latinas and Latinos in mid- to high-level government posts and private industry. The new generation was not alone. The previous generation became more conservative, along with immigrating Latinos who were sold on the trickle-down theory of Reaganomics—all whistling the theme song of the TV sitcom, The Jeffersons. Believe in the free enterprise system, and you too, like the song said, will get a piece of the pie. How the pie got divided was another matter.Personal disillusionment with leftist ideology may explain in part the change in attitude and goals for some. For many others, I believe it was basically a matter of desiring material acquisitions. It is difficult to maintain a collective ideology in a society where possessions and power- status equal success. Unfortunately, the continuous drop of the U.S. dollar in the world market caused the economy to worsen each year as our debt increased. In the 1980s jobs were already lost, companies closed down and moved out of the country, banks foreclosed on mort-gages, and scholarships and grants once available to needy college stu-dents in the 1970s were taken away. These were only a few of the losses
30experienced not only by Latinas and Latinos but most of the population. Simultaneously, the cost of living went up. With the acceleration of drug wars and gang violence in the cities and cancer and AIDS on the rise as a backdrop, the highlights of the 1980s and early 1990s were the Persian Gulf War and the Rodney King riots—sending out a message around the world that the United States was indeed a troubled country going through difficult times.El Movimiento saw its rise and fall within a time span of less than two decades on these territories where our people have resided for thou-sands of years. El Movimiento (or La Causa) was rooted to a degree in Marxist-influenced theory (despite the strong ties activists felt to their Catholic upbringings), because Marxism offered some response to a people’s oppression under capitalism. Socialist and communist theories that were based on late-nineteenth-century ideas on the imminent mass industrialization of society did not foresee the high technology of the late twentieth century or fully consider the implications of race, gender, and sexual preference differences on that world. Wealth accumulation no longer simply stays within the genteel class but our aristocracy now includes athletes, rock stars, and Hollywood celebrities.The early feminista had been actively fighting against her socioeco-nomic subjugation as a woman since 1968, the same year the Chicano movement was announced. I am aware that there have been activists throughout U.S. history, but I use as a date of departure an era in which women consciously referred to themselves as feministas. The early fem-inista was documented in a paper entitled, “La Feminista,” by Anna Nieto Gómez and published in Encuentro Feminil: The First Chicana Feminist Journal, which may now be considered, both article and jour-nal, archival material.12 By the 1970s the early feminista had come to find it necessary to educate white feminist groups on her political, cul-tural, and philosophical differences. Issues that specifically concerned the feminista of that period were directly related to her status as Other.
31Early white feminism compared sexism (as experienced by white middle class women) to the racism that African Americans were subjected to, but black feminists, such as those who belonged to the Rio Combahee Collective, pointed out that this was not an accurate comparison.13 They stated that such analysis revealed an inherent racist attitude on the part of white feminists who did not understand what it was to be a woman and black in America. Brown women activists, too, were forced to point out a prevalent condescension on the part of the white middle-class toward poor women, and women whose first language was Spanish and whose culture was not mainstream.Four decades later feminists of color find themselves in similar circumstances. According to Andrea Smith, feminist organizer and scholar, since the Violence Against Women Act passed in 1994 the priority for much of the white women feminist movement became services relating to “the influx of federal and states dollars into anti- violence programs.” 14 The language that has come to replace poverty is associated with the politics of social inclusion/exclusion, a concept originated in France in the seventies. The politics of social inclusion/exclusion present challenges akin to the practice of multiculturalism, which was a concept widely expounded in the 1980s and 1990s. Feminists of color are critical of the politics of social inclusion/exclu-sion insofar as they see the concept as another attempt by whites to include the disenfranchised as guests at their table. “As critical race theorist Kimerle Crenshaw has noted, it is not enough to be sensitive to difference; we must ask what difference the difference makes.” 15 As a translator this rings true. A word in one language does not necessar-ily mean the same in another. It is because an entire view of the world is embedded in the evolution of words. More significantly, the work of feminists of color is by its nature radical. Whether experiencing the hardships of marginalization of their foremothers directly, or the pas-sion they feel for their legacy, the viewpoint of a member of society considered the least amongst all offers a radical perspective on the world.
32Within the Latino movement, according to Nieto Gómez, feministas were labeled as vendidas (sellouts) by activists. Such criticism came not solely from men but also from women, whom Nieto Gómez called Loyalists. These Chicanas believed that racism, not sexism, was the nec-essary battle. Moreover, the Loyalists distrusted any movement led by any sector of white society. The early white women’s movement saw its struggles based on sex and gender, and did not take into account the race and class differences of women of color. The Loyalists had some reason to feel reluctant and cynical toward an ideology and organizing effort that at best felt condescending. Loyalists told the feministas that they should be fighting such hard-hitting community problems as police brutality, Vietnam, and La Huelga, the United Farm Workers’ labor strike. But white female intellectuals were largely unaware of these issues. While the Chicana resided in a first-world nation, indeed the most powerful nation at that time, she was part of a historically col-onized people.Contrary to ethnographic data that portrayed Chicanas as submis-sive, the feminista did not see herself or other women of her culture as such.16 While the feminist dialogue remained among the activists in El Movimiento, Encuentro Feminil testified that there indeed existed a solid initiative toward Chicana feminist thought, that is, recognition of sex-ism as a primary issue. Clarifying the differences between the needs of the Anglo feminist and the feminista was part of the early feminista’s tasks as early as the late 1960s.Today there is no argument that a new generation of U.S. Latinas and Latinos who are not stereotype machos exists. However, the prepon-derance for violence against girls and women continues at staggering rates. According to the World Health Organization, in 2013 71 percent of women in the world reported violence by an intimate partner. Women know they are not safe in public spheres but we must consider that we are overwhelmingly not safe within the walls of our homes. We may point to factors such as financial hardship, alcohol and drug abuse, tra-ditions of family honor, lack of schooling, and so on, but the bottom line is the legacy that men have power over females in their midst.
33And if the focus of the Chicano male-dominated movement with regard to women had to do with family issues, the feministas zeroed in on the very core of what those issues meant. For instance, they believed that women would make use of birth control and abortion clinics if they felt safe going for these services; that is, if they were community controlled. Birth control and abortion are pertinent issues for all women, but they were particularly significant to the Chicana who had always been at the mercy of Anglo-controlled institutions and policies. Nonconsenting sterilizations of women—poor white, Spanish speaking, welfare recipients, poor women of color—women in prison among them—during the 1970s were being conducted and sponsored by the U.S. government. One third of the female population of Puerto Rico was sterilized during that period.17 The case of ten Chicanas (Madrigal v. Quilligan) against the Los Angeles County Hospital who were sterilized without their consent led to activism demanding release of the Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW) guidelines for steriliza-tions. During the 1970s, HEW was financing up to one hundred thou-sand sterilizations a year.18 The feminista also wanted bicultural and bilingual child care that would validate their children’s culture and perhaps ward off an inferiority complex before they had a chance to start public school; traditionally, monolingual and Anglocentric schools had alienated children, causing them serious psychological damage.19The early feminista understood how the white woman’s movement equated sexism to racism because she was experiencing its compounding effects in her daily life. The feministas were fighting against being a “dou-ble minority” in the labor market. According to Nieto Gómez, more Anglo women had jobs than did women of color. We must keep in mind that most women of color in this country have always needed employment to maintain even a level of subsistence for their families.20In Susan Faludi’s best-selling Backlash in the 1980s, which focused on the media’s backlash against the white feminist movement, the only noteworthy observation about women of color referred to our economic status. Faludi stated that overall income did not increase for the African
34American woman and for the Hispanic woman, it actually got worse. Two decades later this remains true.clashing of culturesWe need not look very far back or for very long to see that we have been marginalized in every sense of the word by U.S. society. But an under-standing of the U.S. economic system and its relationship to México is essential in order that we may understand our inescapable role as a pro-ductive/reproductive entity within U.S./Mexican society for the past two hundred years. The transnational labor force into which most of us are born was created out of México’s neocolonialist relationship to the United States.21 Throughout the history of the United States, Mexicans have served as a labor reserve controlled by U.S. policy. México encour-ages the emigration of this labor force to alleviate its own depressed economy, and the United States all too willingly consumes this labor without giving it the benefits enjoyed by U.S. residents. Contrary to the ideological claim of the United States that insists that all immigrants (which by legislature and action meant European) pay their dues before being able to participate fully in its melting pot economy, the underpaid Mexican worker has been crucial to the survival of the profit-based sys-tem of the United States. The maquiladoras along the U.S.-México bor-der also illustrate this point.22Since the late sixties, U.S. production has undergone a transfer of manufacturing to less-industrialized nations, such as México.23 The U.S.-Mexican border has been an appealing site for such assembly oper-ations. Unskilled women pressed with dire economic necessity serve as a reserve for these industries. A continuing influx of labor from the interior of México provides competition and keeps wages at a base min-imum. In 2012 daily wage for a maquiladora worker was $7.50 a day.24 However, much of that industry has relocated to China where workers are paid one third of that salary with heinous disregard to human and legal rights of its workers.25 The objective of free trade agreements has
35proven to encourage the highest profits that countries will allow at the expense of their human labor.The cultural and religious beliefs that maintain that most Latinas on either side of the border are (and should be) dependent on their men for economic survival are not only unrealistic, evidence shows they do not reflect reality. On this side of the border, according to the National Council for Research on Women in 2012, the poverty rates for house-holds headed by African American women and Latinas, were at 40 per-cent.26 Thousands of grandmothers took on the responsibility of grandchildren while one or another of the parents served time in prison.27 We do not have measures for estimating how many undocu-mented women head households or must leave their children back in their home countries in order to support their families.Any woman without the major support of the father of her children and who has no other resources in order to survive must commodify her labor. Even most Latino males do not earn enough to support their fam-ilies and their wives must go outside the home to earn an income (or bring it home in the form of piece work). Furthermore, statistics show that many mothers do not live with the father of their children and do not receive any kind of financial assistance from him.Most Chicanas/Latinas are not conscienticized. The majority of the pop-ulace, on either side of the border, in fact, is not actively devoted to real social change. That sense of inferiority, as when two people were con-fronted with their mexicanidad on the streets of downtown Chicago, permeates most Chicanas’ self-perceptions. Lack of conscientización is what makes the maquiladora an ideal worker for the semilegal, exploit-ative operations of multinational factory production. At an early age we learn that our ethnicity is undesirable. Because of possible rejection, some of us may go to any length to deny our background or play down our ethnicity. But one cannot cruelly judge internalized racism or misogyny. Many women born in the United States or brought during childhood connect more strongly with the culture of the United States. The umbilical cord to their ancestral land was severed. Looking
36different, that is, not being white or black but something in between in a society that has historically acknowledged only a black/white racial schism is cause for great anxiety. While there are always exceptions, especially today, with more people in the world being offspring of mixed coupling, these comments are arguably less often the case. Our inter-nalized racism causes us to boast of our light coloring, if indeed we have it, or imagine it. We hope for light-skinned children and brag to no end of those infants who happen to be born güeros (white looking). We some-times tragically reject those children who are dark.On the subject of color and internal conflicts, there are also those who, despite identification with Latino heritage, are light-skinned because of their dominating European genes or because one parent is white. For some this may be an added reason for internalizing racism, particularly when young (since it is difficult to explain the world to your-self when you are growing up). But for others, while their güero coloring may cause them to experience less racial tension in broad society, it may cause tension for a variety of reasons in their home, chosen communi-ties, and when engaging in political activism against racism.More so in the past, but still current to some extent, is the fact that Mexican Americans were derogatorily considered pochos—a Mexican American gringo—by some Mexicans, which only compounded our anxiety over our foreignlike identity in the United States. In the past American-born Mexicans were viewed as either among the traitors (as a result of fleeing from La Revolución of 1910) or the trash of México (migrating or escaping for other reasons). Currently, the extent of migra-tion has changed the views of the general public in México. Not only do many people know someone who has migrated, entire villages are affected by migration to El Norte.Aside from skin color, language can add to the trauma of the Chicana’s schizophrenic-like existence. She was educated in English and learned it is the only acceptable language in society, but Spanish was the language of her childhood, family, and community. She may not be able to rid her-self of an accent. By the same token, women may also become anxious and self-conscious in later years if they have no or little facility in Spanish.
37They may feel that they had been forced to forfeit an important part of their personal identity while never finding acceptability in white society.Race, ethnicity, and language are important factors for women who aspire to a decent standard of living in an Anglocentric, xenophobic society. Gender compounds their social dilemma and determines the very nature of their lifestyle regardless of the ability to overcome all other obstacles set against them. Feminism at its simplest has not ever been solely a political struggle for women’s rights, that is, equal pay for equal work. The early feminista’s initial attempts at placing women- related issues at the forefront were once viewed with suspicion by Marxist-oriented activists. “The Woman Question” was seen to be sep-arate from or less significant than class issues. By the same token there remained a strong heterosexist bias among Chicano/Hispanic/Latino-based organizations and our varying communities.On a pragmatic level, the basic premise of Xicanisma is to reconsider behavior long seen as inherent in the Mexic Amerindian woman’s char-acter, such as, patience, perseverance, industriousness, loyalty to one’s clan, and commitment to our children. Contrary to those who don’t understand feminism, we do not reject these virtues. These traits often seen as negative and oppressive to women may be considered strengths. Simultaneously, as we redefine (not categorically reject) our roles within our families, communities at large, and dominant society, our conscien-tización helps us to be self-confident and assertive regarding the pursu-ing of our needs and desires.As brown-skinned females, often bilingual but not from a Spanish-speaking country (and not a Mexican citizen yet generally considered to not really be American), we continue to be viewed by many in our own society in stereotypical and denigrating ways. The U.S. women’s move-ment, which began long before the civil rights movement and the ensu-ing Chicano movement, is now incorporating a more expansive vision that includes the unique perceptions and experiences of all peoples heretofore excluded from the democratic promise of the United States. Until we are all represented, respected, and protected by society and the laws that govern that society, millions remain countryless women.

39chapter twoThe 1986 Watsonville Women’s StrikeA Case of Mexicana/Chicana ActivismkI worked for twenty-three years for this company. I came to the United States in 1962. I was following my father, who had been here for twenty- five years. I settled in Watsonville. I’ve been fighting to maintain my family. To give them an education. It is more difficult for a single woman to maintain the family.—gloria betancourt, strike leaderin january 1994 the north American Free Trade Agreement came into effect. Mexicanas and Chicanas, who are among the majority working in low-skilled labor jobs on both sides of the border, were directly affected in that they were among the vast world labor pool that NAFTA supporters relied on for what they referred to as “economically efficient production.” In other words, for very little pay and with little regard to health and safety conditions and no benefits for maquiladoras and other low-skilled workers, multinational investors could and did produce more by spending less, thereby earning bigger profits from world consumers. The workers—in this case, mexicanas/
40Chicanas—were not necessarily the consumers of these products, which rendered them further inconsequential in terms of economically efficient strategy.Although the Clinton administration aggressively attempted to pass the NAFTA agreement, it was apparently unpopular in Canada and among many people in the United States.1 Unfortunately Mexican work-ers being further exploited could voice little public opinion about such policy decision making. Therefore, to refer to it as an agreement of North American peoples is erroneous. Furthermore, NAFTA was not a proposal for free trade but a way to enable the transfer of multinational production to where it would be more economically efficient. The mis-leading naming of this proposal gave the impression that as a result we would be opening the gateway at the Mexican/U.S. border and enjoying a friendly cultural exchange that promised eventual economic benefits to everyone.As the workforce in the United States continued to be put out of work, long before the Great Recession beginning in 2010, hostility toward people of color grew—in this case, Latinos and Latinas (U.S., Mexican, Central American, Caribbean, and eventually, others), a sector to whom many in the workforce believed they lost their jobs. Moreover, the truth about NAFTA is that it aimed to benefit only the very few, very wealthy multinational investors while the abominable conditions under which low-skilled laborers were forced to work grew more devastating and the ghastly communities they lived in became poorer and more desperate with each passing year. Unfortunately, the lives of most women, and specifically women of Mexican heritage, were not affected by intellectual debate. Juliet Minces reminds us:Let us not forget that in terms of both rights and actual behavior, women’s condition in the West is still recent. It is worth recalling that, in France, women only secured the vote in 1945; that equal pay for equal work is still an expectation rather than a fact [cer-tainly this is the case in the U.S.]; that women participate far less in political and trade union activities than men do, not because they
41lack rights but because it is not yet customary [my italics] for them to be fully integrated.2IThis essay provides an illustration of how labor activism among women catalyzed conscientización by showing how the economic inequities that pervaded their working lives were specifically related to race and gender. Understanding women in the workforce is one step toward the illumi-nation of our whole sense of self. Despite Marxist-oriented claims pro-moted from the late sixties onward, economic relief, although it has improved somewhat women’s lives, did not end the limits on women’s participation in society. To illustrate this assertion I will discuss here a case in point, a successful labor strike led mostly by mexicanas in 1986 in Watsonville, California, and an interview I conducted with mexicana/Chicana activists in the same town the following year.In 2012 Watsonville, California, drew attention because of the strike by United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 5 against parent company, Raley’s. The workers’ chief complaint was related to health benefits. An estimated seven thousand grocery workers in northern and central California walked out. The nine-day strike ended with an agree-ment with various health plan options.3Watsonville has grown to a population of more than fifty thousand but in the mideighties it was a city of approximately twenty-eight thou-sand and became the first town north of Fresno, California, with a Latino majority. It is the fertile region of cannery row portrayed by John Steinbeck in the 1930s. Whereas years ago, its workers, who labored packing fruit and vegetables, were of Slavic and Portuguese origins, in later years it had become predominantly Mexican—driving through Watsonville, it is easy to see ethnic food stores, brown youth on the streets, Spanish heard everywhere. In 1992 Watsonville received its offi-cial sanction as a town of Guadalupanos—a term synonymous to being
42Mexican—with an apparition of the Virgin of Guadalupe. Her image appeared to a fifty-four-year-old mexicana cannery worker on an old oak tree in the state park. Hundreds of peregrinos soon went to pay homage to their patroness at the site.Along with familiar cultural associations in Watsonville, there are also the many social problems that accompanied poverty and the work-ing class—drugs, gangs, domestic violence, and a substandard educa-tional system. In 1989 Watsonville was hard hit during a major earthquake and recovery was slow due to the economic disparity that existed in the area.My interest in Watsonville was first catalyzed with a visit there in 1987 when I cofacilitated a twelve-hour-long writing workshop one Saturday. The workshop was sponsored by the local city college and the participants received credit. It was organized by a Chicana who worked at the college and also participated. All the women who attended, about a dozen, among them many activists, were Chicanas, with the exception of one Native American woman—married to a Mexican and part of the Chicano community of Watsonsville. Their ages ranged from eighteen to sixty. Except for the Native American woman, they were all fluent in both languages, with Spanish often being the first. Their education ranged from junior college to postgraduate work. Most were mothers, some breast feeding at the time; others had grown children. One partic-ipant attended during the day, then relieved her daughter of her own small children so that the daughter could participate in the evening session. All the women maintained jobs outside the home. All were from the working class or the underclass of the working poor. All had an inherent sense of their cultural difference from that of mainstream society. With the exception of two—the Native American woman and one older Protestant Chicana—all were Catholic. The presence of the Native American was significant in this instance, making the tie of Christian beliefs to Mexican culture markedly apparent as compared to her own orientation with Amerindian philosophy.4 Except for one woman, all presented themselves as heterosexual. All, with no excep-tion, desired to express themselves through writing.
43It is important at this point for the non-Chicana reader to keep in mind the sense of familia that exists among women who identify them-selves as such throughout the United States and that cross the U.S.-Mexican border. Therefore, my reputation as a Chicana writer preceded me and the invitation to conduct this workshop was based on a sense of belonging to this group bound by culture. Consequently, I was able to gain quick access to an interview for this essay, which was originally published in Spanish in Ésta Puente, Mi Espalda.5 The interview included two women, María and Graciela, were from México and two, Cruz and Shirley, were native to the area. I selected these women because of their unquestionable commitment to Chicana activism and their wide range of political, grassroots-level commitments. While we conversed quietly in Spanish, the other women listened in and made occasional support-ive comments, so that at no time did I feel that those who were actively responding were not representative of the group.At the start of our discussion, it was first established that a woman without conscientización nevertheless perceived certain societal discrim-ination directed at her. With conscientización, she began a deliberate pro-cess of questioning this discrimination, but she might not yet know how to grapple with its effects. With deliberate orientation toward conscien-tización—which might come by way of higher education or the unusual experience of some social/political catalyst (such as the Watsonville Strike, which will be elaborated on later in this chapter, the Chicano movement of the 1970s, or through a personal deliberate effort to seek help from other women), she might find she had no other recourse but to finally take radical action.The concept of the American Dream—an illusion long fostered by the system to maintain its workforce—was an overwhelming factor that played with the hearts and minds of the Watsonville residents, the women informed me. People in Watsonville truly believed they could improve their material conditions through hard work. In fact, in com-parison to the conditions they lived in México, the material lives of mex-icanas had improved. Simultaneously, in order to achieve the goals of the American Dream, the Mexican tradition of an extended family,
44including community, was deemed a hindrance and relinquished within the time span of a single generation. In a nation that strongly motivated people toward competition, individual achievement, and above all, material acquisitions, collective aspirations were deemed anachronistic. That is, grandparents and otherwise unemployed rela-tives outside of the nuclear family would become a burden on the way to material goals.6 Through the 1980s this dilemma was compounded for women of conscientización who preferred to work for the common good of their ethnic community.Shirley: I think that people help each other more in other parts of the world. In this country, you won’t get help from your family, for example, if you don’t work. You won’t get help from your com-munity. One is forced to become part of the working class be-cause if you don’t participate, you will die. The other side of this is that the cost of living is so high, not only are you forced to be part of the working class, but the working class is established such that even if you do go to work every day, you can’t exist in the economy due to the fact that inflation, housing, food, trans-portation, medical expenses are all much more costly than what the majority of the people can afford. Therefore, everyone lives at the substandard level.Shirley’s point is exemplified in the case of Arabian society as discussed in the following chapter. It is steeped in clan-oriented customs, in which one can see parallels between Arab traditions and those of Mexican cul-ture, and how they have been affected by urbanization. In House of Obedience, Minces stated that when urban conditions forced extended family into a nuclear unit, society still thought in terms of the respon-sibilities and privileges that extended family implied.7 However, urban-ization as a result of the transformation of the economic base of Arab countries has also subsequently affected the ancient tribal tradition of the extended family.
45The Catholic Church as an institution supported by the Mexican com-munity in the United States seemed to be a cultural norm rather a source for real spiritual comfort for the women. The rituals of the church brought a sense of order to their lives but not much personal tranquility, because these did not alleviate their practical concerns.8 However, it is the church the represents authority in the Catholic Mexican woman’s life, especially over her sexuality and reproductive ability. The complexities of how society as a whole does not concern itself with woman’s best interest in mind begins to become clear for the activist. The life she has led has been an arduous one, based on hard work, little material compensation, subservience to all (except to other women like herself and their children), and with very little leisure. If she is married, as many women are at a relatively young age, her life may be dictated by her husband’s domination. When she has done some analy-sis as to the unnatural oppressiveness she experiences because of her home life, endorsed by family, community, and church (or religion), she may look for a way out. As María stated here, speaking hypothetically of such married women:María: And they [the former Watsonville strikers] begin to question of the religious values of . . . “I don’t think that God would like me to be in the position that I find myself with this cabrón, so I am not going to continue this way!”The cabrón to whom María referred was the hypothetical woman’s hus-band. Culture and religion exalt the value of motherhood, but given her societal status the mexicana struggles endlessly to fulfill the practical necessities of raising children. Therefore, she begins to repudiate the church’s firm stance against contraception. (While Pope Benedict lifted the church’s ban against condoms, most people do not use them and most certainly, not in ongoing relationships.9 ) Consequently a woman not wanting pregnancy is apt to go against the doctrine (usually not without having had children first).
46AC: Is there certain pressure from the man or Mexican culture that says to be a good wife or a good woman you have to have all the children that God sends you?María: Definitely, of course. My mother, for example, tells me: You can be as professional as you want, you can be as perfect you want, however you want it, BUT if you don’t have a child, you will not be complete, you will never fulfill the role that God gave you.AC: Do you have a child?María: None. And I won’t have any. It’s a conviction.How a conscienticized woman concludes that she is going to tear herself away from the fabric of her traditions as mandated by the church is her own process. Formal education is elusive and lofty, difficult to manage, and sometimes unheard of for many women from poor to working-class families:Shirley: In this society you have to have at least four distinct things before you can obtain an education: You have to be oriented within your family that tells you that education is good. Second, you have to have freedom: freedom from child care, other such responsibili-ties, mobility. . . . Another thing you must have are the abilities—your parents must help you through that system. It isn’t an easy system to enter [financially]. The other thing that you must be is comfortable in that environment.Moreover, education for the most part and for the large majority of these respondents had not been seen by their families as a necessity toward the improvement of the family as a whole. It presents an odd juxtaposition for the activista. (On the one hand, working for the benefit of a larger community is not always approved of; on the other hand, it is okay for her to work tirelessly for the benefit of her nuclear and even, extended fam-ily.) This has been unfortunate, since women have traditionally been wage earners, perhaps even the principal wage earner of the family when the husband was absent, ill, stricken with alcoholism, or for any number
47of reasons was not able to contribute to the maintenance of the family. Often the woman was expected to be the devoted wife and model mother and bring home a wage. But how she managed to provide for the material needs of her family was only a secondary consideration to the expectation that she do so. These observations currently may be applied to many women in the United States, México, and in fact throughout the globe. In recent times, Italy has seen a resurgence of domestic violence against women. Some sources offer the same apologetic reasoning for male aggression as was offered for the ghastly mutilation of women in Juárez. Men’s egos are thought to be offended by not being able to be the family breadwinners, and therefore they beat their wage-earning women and sometimes abuse children and kicked the dog out of frustration.If an activista’s family and community acknowledged that along with the mandate of motherhood, she quite often is the only one to feed, clothe, house, and maintain all of her children’s needs (and sometimes those of her husband’s and other relatives as well), then perhaps the pressures for her to be married and to have children might at least be postponed until she can acquire skills to improve her employment opportunities. Among the very poor, however, where formal education is a strange and often inaccessible concept, skills must be defined or redefined and given value. Young women may be viewed as capable of taking on jobs associated with females such as waiting tables or being hairdressers. They themselves may gravitate to those activities that enhance their looks or bring attention to their bodies such a table danc-ing or selling beauty products. The point here is, that aside from pursu-ing careers as schoolteachers or accountants, they are not often encouraged or directed to use their minds and develop skills and prac-tices that depend on, let’s say, business strategies or the sciences.As Shirley observed, it is not easy for this member of our society to go to any school. First and foremost she must feel that she is educat-able—that she can learn, that she may be a valuable contributor to soci-ety as a result. In other words, that she is worthy of such a luxury as formal schooling. If the impoverished woman of color does not receive encouragement in this direction from home, but by some stroke of luck
48is persuaded by an outside influence—a scholarship or a mentor within the institution—she must also contend with the other obstacles. If she is already a mother, who will care for her children while she goes to class and when she needs to study? If she must work to support her family, where does she find the time for all the responsibilities?If she is not a mother by a certain age (I would guess from personal observation, between the ages of twenty-five and midthirties), as María stated above, in any case, all else pales in comparison to the only accom-plishment expected from her: motherhood. Few women who do not have children and struggle for an education are ever fully convinced of the merit of their own achievements:Shirley: See, what happened was that I began to see the problems in society and I began being an activist. I realized that I could not tackle all areas when I began trying as an activist in the commu-nity to do it all—education, voter registration, women’s issues, ev-erything. I found that in reality I was burning out. So I made the decision to choose, to choose geographically, with what population, and what problem. So I chose Watsonville. I chose to work with women and in the area of education. Thus, I do what I can within the system to achieve social change.AC: You’re married. Have you received support from home for what you do?Shirley: I have obtained support after I have demanded it, never before.the rude awakening from the American Dream jolts Chicana activists toward their displaced Mexican customs. The reason is that assimilation into Anglo society is rarely completely successful. While theoretically she could assimilate, because of her political convictions she chooses to not.The need to belong to some specific culture brings Latina activistas full circle to their Mexican heritage, which they may have once rejected. As Octavio Paz stated in his book The Labyrinth of Solitude: “[The United
49States is] a country full of cults and tribal costumes, all intended to sat-isfy the middle-class North American’s desire to share in something more vital and solid than the abstract morality of the ‘American Way of Life.’” In attempting to assimilate into the American Dream the edges of woman’s own personal sense of identity are blurred; she ultimately fits nowhere, is accepted fully nowhere:Cruz: Until I was twenty-four years old, I thought I was white, that I was American. I had lost my Mexican values. Just now I am recover-ing them . . . some, I don’t think ever all of them. For me, there was never the hope of going to college. I was the only one in my family that continued studying and finished college until this generation now that my daughter is attending. I, with children (I am divorced), decided to educate myself [that is, send herself to college]. . . . At that time there was economic help and I could do it [she refers here to the seventies when there was funding available to minority students in the way of grants, loans, and scholarships]. I didn’t want to go on to the university—I was afraid—but I went. I achieved it. I came out and I didn’t learn a lot, but I achieved it.The inability of parents, who themselves have little formal education, to instill in their children—especially daughters—the desires for educa-tion is an aspect of why many mexicanas and Chicanas may not see themselves as educatable. Another aspect is that early on, in primary school, children begin to experience a sense of disorientation within Anglo culture, language, values, and its system of competition.Graciela: It’s an underlying discrimination that we can only see when we have certain conscientización, education, but that you don’t see when it has been happening to you. I can’t exactly explain it because I grew up here and in México. I know, with my students at school, that those who have been with Mexican teachers most of the time, that have been treated well and have been in a well imple-mented bilingual education program in school, who have the
50self-esteem for who they are and have their models—those chil-dren are going to get very far.For most Watsonville women, the responsibility of caring for the daily needs of their children made it difficult to worry about finding quality education and bilingual programs for their children.10 Yet the aware-ness achieved by the organizing success of the strike of 1986—a prag-matic learning process in itself—caused some of the women to understand how all of these issues interrelated and how they, as mexi-canas, were not given consideration by U.S. society.This particular member of our U.S. society had been raised to believe that she must obey the mandates of her culture—not to question the institutions deemed sacred (religious institutions, her parents, and husband); to bear and care for children; and to maintain the order of her immediate environment as it was dictated to her. It was no wonder that her only personal aspirations might be to acquire commodities, mar-keted as indispensable necessities, conveniences, or comforts. A person born into humble economic means learned to yearn for material acqui-sitions, which were also equated with achievement. Products ultimately became a prominent way to elevate her status within her community, among her family and friends, and within the world at large. It may be argued that material acquisitions as triumph are not limited to the men-tality of modest Mexican/Chicanas or to residents of democratic coun-tries. With the breakdown of the USSR and an accelerated immigration throughout the world with people coming from traditional cultures to find work in urban places, things accumulated seem to be the largest, obvious marker for an individual’s success.Commodities do not satisfy the Xicanista. She realizes that she is only a worker who is aiding the very system that keeps her from making any real economic progress; that she is a member of a group that because of ethnicity and legacy has been relegated to the lower social strata in the United States; and that as a woman, she has been subjugated both out-side and inside her home. If the Xicanista decides to act on her
51awareness, she finds that for a while she must disassociate from any solid ties to U.S. and Mexican values, which, for her are more similar than they are dissimilar.The philosophy of the male-dominated Chicano movement was akin to the theories of Frantz Fanon, who professed that revolutionary strug-gle for “national independence” would suffice to change people’s atti-tudes toward women’s subordinate status. The participation of women in the national struggle would prove their equality to the men and at the same time change women so that they would demand their own “liber-ation.” However, in the case of the Algerian revolution, where the people freed themselves of 130 years of colonization in 1962, this indeed did not happen.11 Each struggle for national freedom must be evaluated in its own historical context, but national struggles continue to disregard the reality that women ultimately remain subject to male authority. By male I do not restrict myself to actual men but to the system. I equally do not restrict these comments to women of color or poor/working women.In 2013, former Google executive and chief operating officer of Facebook, Sheryl Sandberg, seemed to take up the torch for women in executive positions with her book, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. Sandberg’s book was touted in the media as a “sort of feminist manifesto” (her words): “A truly equal world would be one where women ran half our countries and men ran half our homes.” 12In 2012 in the United States and around the planet, in my estimation feminist socialism as it has been considered as a potential model has been unsuccessful for women laborers. Capitalism and patriarchy, even in the case of Communist China, accommodate well and utilize not only the countless who need to work “or else they will die,” but the majority among them who are young women and are preferred because of the dexterity of their small hands and better ability between hand and eye coordination than male counterparts, which such work with its demand-ing quotas requires.Socialism as it has played out in modern societies has not done away with the privilege of patriarchy. Feminism and socialism for some
52feminist scholars have had an imbalanced marriage.13 They contend that feminism within presentations of Marxist conflict theory has been “ghet-toized.” 14 It is this writer’s assertion that, because women’s equality is not seen as critical as the struggles of “the worker,” there will be no end to undermining the female gender’s equal rights and representations in society while the legacy of patriarchy continues to dominate. For the Xicanista, patriarchy, capitalism, and ethnicity continue to work together.A patriarchal factor that indefinitely undermines socialism as a via-ble road is the unshakeable belief most mexicanas/Chicanas have in God, Our Lady of Guadalupe, the existence of the soul, and an awaiting afterlife. A significant argument that socialism may have regarding rad-ical feminism’s contention against patriarchy is that the fight is against capital, not male privilege. However, because of the traditional view of God as male, the Xicanista’s community perceives man as the superior. Mexicans adore the Virgin but she has her place. It isn’t a perception that comes with ideas based on fairness or even reality. It is about how faith transforms culture, and faith passed on forms traditions. As María stated above about a woman who obtains conscientización and ques-tions her religion, “I don’t think God would like me to be in the position that I find myself.” The Xicanista questions the religious institution but not necessarily the existence of an all-seeing supreme entity that is per-ceived to be paternal.The tragedy of mexicanas in the United States lay not in the entrenched notion that woman existed to propagate the species and to be a man’s “mother” throughout his adult life, but that women were conditioned to desire this status despite the reality of their experiences. Her experience as propagator may have given her little personal satisfaction, but she was conditioned to accept it from the day of her birth. At the same time, if she publicly acknowledges the contradictions of her reality she risks adverse reaction from the complex network that is her society:Cruz: I work organizing in my community; it is my life. I feel a lot of pressure sometimes, because people tell me, well, “You should
53dress differently, you should do this, or that . . . buy yourself a car!” But no, I have my path and I am on it. Perhaps in the future I’ll change how I’m doing it, but right now I feel very clear. But yes, I see the pressure.AC: You are estranged from your parents, your family?Cruz: I can’t tell them what I do.AC: You live alone?Cruz: Yes.AC: Who is your family?Cruz: Here, this community.15IIIn the summer of 1985 the Watsonville Canning and Frozen Food Company, a major frozen food processor in the United States, cut the wages of its thirteen hundred workers by up to 40 percent. It also demanded serious reductions in health benefits and stopped deducting union dues from the workers’ paychecks. The Richard Shaw Company, another local cannery, also demanded similar cutbacks. As a result, more than sixteen hundred workers went on strike in September of that year.The workers formed a strikers’ committee to handle the daily con-duct of the strike. Court injunctions reached such proportions that strikers who lived near the plant were arrested for simply standing on their front porches. Few had savings and their fifty-five-dollars-a-week strike benefits could hardly feed their families, much less allow them to withstand the strike’s growing legal expenses. But the word of the strike spread throughout the state during the following eighteen months before it was settled, and the striking workers received much outside support, “especially from the Chicano Movement,” according to the periodical Forward: Journal of Socialist Thought.16Not surprisingly, the Watsonville Women’s Strike took on Mexican cultural overtones. The women were fiercely conscious of their
54race—shocked at and even aggressive toward Mexican scabs, whom they perceived as traitors to la Raza. “We just couldn’t believe it when we saw other mexicanos crossing the picket lines. In México, when they put out those red and black flags [denoting a strike], if you cross the line, you’re dead,” stated, Gloria Betancourt, a strike leader.17 Although some were handcuffed and arrested, it was only their lack of financial resources for posting bond that deterred the strikers determined attempts at discour-aging scab labor.When the company offered wage concessions but refused restoration of health benefits, the strike leaders went on a hunger strike. Finally, the strikers secured the publicity they needed by conducting a Catholic pil-grimage on their knees to a local church where they prayed for justice. On March 11, 1987, the strike ended. Their medical coverage was to be restored within three months. As reported by the press, “The strikers now, after 18 months on strike, know that they can take their children to the doctor when necessary.” 18As a result of this successful effort, the numbers and organizing power of the Latino and Latina population of Watsonville became known to its city officials. However, economic improvement for the Latino and Latina population when and if it were to come, would be gradual, since government representatives remained nearly exclusively Anglo. Development and the high cost of real estate continued to force Mexican workers to live in sometimes deplorable conditions, as was sharply proven at a county housing hearing when the fire chief at that time told of grossly overcrowded buildings and recounted finding field workers living on the roofs of downtown buildings.19For one and a half years the women strikers were up against what would be presumably insurmountable institutionalized opposition. In addition to the economic disadvantage of being women, and some of them mothers, there were the added disadvantages of language, little formal education, and social orientation, and sometimes lack of support from male partners.The strike spotlighted the obvious reality for them as women: their
55duty to maintain two jobs at once—with little compensation for either—at work and at home. Women who were married sometimes received little, if any, emotional support from home for their participation in the strike.20 A review about a documentary made about the strike remarked the following:We see striking women organizing a food bank to supplement the strikers’ meager $55-per-week strike benefits; we see them holding holiday celebrations—at Thanksgiving, Christmas and Halloween—and we also see the pain they experience knowing that their children are going hungry and watching them being evicted from their home for lack of rent. We feel their anger and bitterness as they watch scabs brought into work at the plant.21They also grew to have some understanding of their rights. Moreover, this understanding decreased their fear of the legal system. As individ-uals being called on to speak publicly and throughout the state, they became persons with acknowledged and legitimate opinions and lives. While they learned the worth of their bargaining power, however, the women’s gains from the strike should not be overestimated. The losses that a woman activist experienced as a consequence of such rebellion compared to men’s were devastating. If her marriage, for example, broke up as a result of her husband’s intolerance of her insurgent behavior, she lost his income (which was usually higher than her own), as well as the status she received from society as a married woman. Her status actu-ally dropped when she got divorced, or became an abandoned woman. She was usually left with their children and she most likely had to pro-vide for material and emotional care alone.The principal lessons the Watsonville women strikers learned was that there was no separation between their private and their public worlds, from their wage-earning world and their world of kitchens and bedrooms, from their pregnancies and their priests, from the education they never had and from the education their children might never receive.
56Early socialist-oriented activistas theorized that capitalism would under-mine the hierarchy of patriarchy by requiring women to join the labor force and eventually become “independent” of men and become an equal participant in society. We now see that in the long run patriarchy and capitalism actually acted in collusion with one another. Currently, in the United States and arguably throughout the planet, women pro-vide the bulk of domestic services in the home, care for the children, and create a warm, nurturing atmosphere for men, who still see them-selves as entitled to refuge and solace because they believe they alone battle the outside world. Women, of course, also battle as wage earners on the outside.In addition, a visible and growing new underclass largely consisting of single mothers has developed during the postindustrial era. The underclass also includes the working poor. When we understand a growing number of families that belong to this underclass are headed by working mothers, it is not at all surprising that the Watsonville Strike consisted of and was led mostly by women.22However, white supremacist patriarchy (not restricted to the United States) recognizes the participation of its nonwhite female citizens in the workforce and their sizable population only insofar as it can con-tinue to use their labor while it subverts women’s potential to contribute to the transformation of society. This subversion is firmly entwined into each facet of our lives. It is not a struggle against the “bourgeois patrones” alone. It is not a misunderstanding with a husband when he walks out or becomes abusive because his wife insists on attending a labor or community meeting. It isn’t the idiosyncratic nature of one individual who underestimates a woman’s intelligence and undermines her work at meetings, nor the behavior of one lecherous individual who becomes sexually aggressive with the same woman because he can only see her gender rather than her whole being.Like clockwork, these reactions not only go into play at the onset of a woman’s activism, they complement each other to the extent that she can justly regard them as conspiracy. The domineering husband, the sexist activist, and el patrón all conspire against her participation.
57Moreover, the profit-hungry interests of global corporations depend on the human resources of impoverished populations (predominantly of women) at all costs. While few studies are conducted regarding abuses of undocumented women laborers, a survey of two hundred partici-pants across five states was conducted by the Southern Poverty Law Center in 2008. Their findings were the following: “Roughly three- quarters of these women said sexual harassment was a major problem in the workplace, and seven in ten said they believe women are the vic-tims of discrimination at work.” 23The socialist communism of some male activists within El Movimiento was a clear case of us versus them; the enemy was always outside the men themselves. When a woman, who was not supported by any institutions, attempted to struggle for better wages, she systemati-cally found herself confronting more than just the holder of the purse strings. Male activists had a reputation of being unable to separate their view of woman as worker from their general perceptions of woman as wife, mother, lover, whore, laundress, cook, dishwasher, mother to men, and generally, his inferior.If they attempted to split their perception of woman, accepting the ideology of the female as compañera within the context of activism and social reform as a worker, the tendency had been to shortchange her when engaging in a personal relationship with her, defeating the whole premise of their socialist ideology. At least, this was to a large extent true within the Chicano/Latino movement. I do not mean to imply that no male activist ever contributed to the housework or child care on a regular basis. I do suspect, however, that it did not usually happen with-out much determination on the part of his female partner for him to think along those lines. This is because patriarchy in Mexican traditions and institutionalized religions overrides the male activists’ identities as “workers,” which Marxism so narrowly focused on in its economic anal-ysis of society.Given the history of union organizing in the United States (despite the monumental achievements of the late César Chávez and the continued
58efforts of Dolores Huerta and their forebears), the Mexican woman laborer would seem an unlikely candidate to challenge a system that has never recognized her as a force to whom it should be accountable. The concept of the union—historically white and male—did not include pro-viding for the labor force that is nonwhite, female, and single mothers. Therefore the women who participated in the Watsonville Strike learned how their entire lives were depersonalized for the benefit of mass production.The Watsonville case may recall the novels of John Steinbeck and his working man’s theme of the 1930s. However, the Watsonville Strike did not take place a half-century ago when—if white people were living at subsistence level due to the stock market crash—Mexicans were being deported in cattle cars to México so that the U.S. government would not have to deal with their no longer needed labor or with their American-born offspring. I must reiterate: while unions have traditionally bene-fited white male workers, women of color, mestizas, Native Americans, Chinese, Filipinas, Puerto Ricans, and African Americans always worked the fields, factories, and kitchens of the United States, alongside their unionless, unrepresented husbands, fathers, and brothers. In the first quarter of the twenty-first century, someone is still working in the fields at minimum or below minimum wages, someone is still packing, and that someone is still a woman of color—except that now, if she has proof of U.S. citizenship, she might be allowed in a union.The Simpson-Rodino Immigration Reform and Control Bill passed in 1986, was touted as an “amnesty” bill. In fact, it did allow for a “guest worker” plan similar to the Bracero Program implemented in the 1940s. Growers were allowed to hire as many as 350,000 seasonal workers per year who were not granted amnesty. Without staying vig-ilant to the kinds of legal agreements made between the Mexican and United States governments, often with multinational interests in mind, we cannot understand how, one way or another, we will con-tinue to serve as a source of cheap labor. We must be attentive to these policies not just for the sake of thousands of immigrants coming into the United States each year, but for the millions of women on both
59sides of the border, if they and their families are to overcome hardship. Largely composed of immigrant labor, domestic workers have tradi-tionally experienced in addition to low wages, no health care provi-sions, overtime or holiday page, or unemployment insurance. The Los Angeles garment industry, considered the capital of garment produc-tion of the $30 billion a year U.S. garment industry, is comprised of a workforce overwhelmingly Latino and Asian. California Assembly Bill 633, passed in 1999, was to ensure workers minimum wages. However, many of the bill’s guarantees are not always enforced. With the closing of a manufacturing factory owned by Bebe, some $50,000 in back wages were left unpaid in 2013 to the employees who then went on strike.The undocumented workers’ troubles are compounded by abuses beyond most of our imaginations. There are horrifying reports of women who never make it across the border when attempting illegal crossing. Rape is often inflicted on these women, who begin taking birth control to prevent unwanted pregnancy in anticipation of being violated when trying to cross over. Illegal crossing includes risking no less than their lives by the routes they are forced to take when crossing the border. In addition, body trafficking, a transnational illegal enter-prise earning easily more than the drug industry that feeds it, adds to the nightmare. Women (and men) may be murdered for the purpose of having their organs sold by organ brokers.24 Women and children may be kidnapped and turned into sex slaves. Men, too, risk being kidnapped to be used by the drug and body traffickers.From a global perspective, the exploitation of girls and women in low-skilled jobs knows no boundaries. Hourly manufacturing wages in China are much below the rate elsewhere and precisely the reason for the slump in the maquila industry along the U.S.-México border. In 2013, the average maquila worker made approximately $7.50 a day. In 2011, in China and in the Philippines workers were paid on the average $1.68 a day. Low wages are only one component of the abuse of human-ity. Child labor and abuse of underage workers, severe age and gender discrimination, eleven- to twelve-hour days, unsafe conditions, forced
60work with no pay, and verbal and physical maltreatment have been iden-tified in companies such as Samsung.25As Xicanistas we must not forget our hermanas who find themselves in garment sweatshops in Los Angeles, working in indentured servant conditions in the fields with children in vehicles by the road under a scorching sun, or in the dark of night (field workers may work at night despite poisonous snakes, among other perils), or in any number of other heinous labor conditions akin to feudalism that millions of women are forced to endure today. We must support them and observe their strikes, even if only by refusing to purchase the products of the com-pany they are fighting against.Just as important, we can no longer delude ourselves that our lives are not affected by such disregard for humanity as that shown by those who exploit the women who work in low-skilled labor; everyone is affected by the kinds of products major industries mass market. We should remember, for example, that the same pesticides that have caused birth defects in the children born to women working in the fields are at our local supermarkets. The UFW strike against grapes was not only about pressuring farmers and ranchers who took advantage of their laborers. It is difficult and costly to serve our families organic food because organic farmers are largely kept out of the agricultural indus-try’s competition. Moreover, there is little land that has not been con-taminated already.Eighteen years after the signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement, it has been proven that funneling jobs out of the U.S. has had devastating effects on the economy. The neoliberal ideology that gave us NAFTA also privatized our public infrastructure at the same time it attempted to persuade us of the value of buying cheaply made foreign goods. However, the American Dream has been shattered across the board for the middle class and the underclass as companies moved to other countries to save on manufacturing costs. The words I’ve quoted from the Chicana activist, Shirley, in 1987 resonate for the more than 12 million unemployed workers today: “If you don’t participate, you
61will die.” 26 Since NAFTA’s inception, the welfare and future of the work-ing populations in both countries have never been a priority, even though people on both sides of the border were told that such agree-ments create jobs.The number of workers without benefits rapidly grew after NAFTA.27 In export processing zones (EPZs), 90 percent of the 27 million workers are young women. In the Western Hemisphere they work up to eighty hours a week to earn less than a dollar an hour, earning up to 30 percent less than men. According to the Border Committee of Women Workers, the Mexican maquiladoras were paid the lowest wages in that country’s industry, somewhere between twenty-eight to forty-five dollars a week. By 1999 the poverty level in that country rose to 70 percent.28 Mexican wages fell by 34 percent by 1998. Simultaneously the cost of living (basis food, gas, and daily expenses) rose by 247 percent.29These workers have been excluded from labor, environmental, and human rights protections. Involuntary pregnancy tests are imposed to avoid paying maternity leave mandated by law. Unconscionably, “the Mexican government undermine[d] women’s rights to reproductive autonomy, equality and privacy in the work sphere by disseminating false information regarding women’s reproductive rights.”30 Furthermore, exposure to toxic chemicals resulted in high incidences of miscarriages, birth defects, and related problems.” 31 Residents on both sides of the border have reported “an increase in public health problems related to exposure to pollution.”Union organizing has been effectively suppressed.32 The maquila-dora industry attracted more than 10 million potential workers with their families to the Mexican border. (At this writing according to Wikipedia approximately 1.3 million are employed.) They settled into either shantytowns or corporate-owned dorms.33Eventually, many border maquiladoras were shut down to relocate to countries where even more desperately poor populations are paid less and exploited more. As a result millions of Mexicans have been left along the border with zero resources and opportunities to alleviate their circumstances. Returning to their native homes is not an option. If dire
62conditions caused them to leave in the first place, the present economy has only worsened them. NAFTA put small farms in direct competition with subsidized American and Canadian agribusiness operations, mak-ing it impossible for them to compete. This, among a variety of other factors (such as the pervasion of the multibillion-dollar drug industry that has taken over extensive parts of the country) drove wages down to below-subsistence levels, if not eliminating livelihoods altogether. Unions in México are no less endangered. In recent times, for example, the Guerrero Popular Movement (MPG) formed “by unions, small farmer organizations, indigenous communities, and youth activists,” opposed an education reform law passed in December 2012 that was seen as privatizing public education, and has grown to a struggle for social justice spreading to other states.With few to no job prospects, workers once made their way to the maquilas at the border in droves. As those have closed, grim circum-stances cause many to cross to the United States in hopes of finding work. Indisputably there is today a direct link between NAFTA and the heated immigration issue in the United States.“Free trade” is a convenient, well-packaged ideology that resonates well with U.S. consumers and lines the pockets and fires the ambitions of CEOs and politicians. In recent years, tech corporate monsters Microsoft, Facebook, and Google have lobbied in support of special visas favoring foreign tech workers, ignoring the pool of qualified and unem-ployed U.S. citizens. “It really boils down to cheap, compliant labor,” a computer science professor remarked on the subject.34 According to the Boston Globe, the H-1B Visa program that permits foreigners to work in the United States has been “hijacked” to replace Americans with cheaper labor green card holders. “The business model is to replace Americans,” said an attorney in the case of Molina Health Care of California that chose to fire dozens of employees in order to hire temporary workers at two-thirds the salary.35 The cheap recruited labor of Somalis in meat-packing plants to replace the traditional legal Latino labor brought on new issues for employers. The Muslim Somalis demanded prayer time that interfered with production.36 Outsourcing and special visas for
63skilled workers have changed the argument for immigrant rights and long-time Latino workers in the United States.The goal of socialist ideologies was liberation of the worker. For the feminist socialist, it was liberation of woman within postindustrial soci-ety. However, the ultimate liberation is that of enlightenment. Through conscious decision guided by being informed about the intricate clock-work of industrial destruction of lives and natural resources, each of us is not only being responsible to others, but we are being accountable to ourselves. Most important, we are being there for the children who will inherit what we make of this world.

65chapter threeThe Ancient Roots of Machismokbecause of the severe attack on the sophisticated indigenous cultures of México and the annihilation of those cultures’ beliefs, pre-Conquest history is probably deemed irrelevant to our daily lives by most of us. Most people may recite the Apostles’ Creed but would be hard pressed to identify the Mexíca (Aztec) sun god, Huitzilopochtli, or the earth goddess and mother of Huitzilopochtli, Coatlicue. By the same token, many would also feel unconvinced that the Islamic faith of North Africa has any more to do with us than the theology of the Mexíca. We must acknowledge a certain degree of Arab influence in Mexican culture. For instance, traces of Arabic are found in our Spanish lan-guage. When we put our hands up in desperate hope, for instance, and utter, ¡Ójala!, we are reiterating an Arab expression used in the same context: Oh, Allah! Our connection with our ancient cousins is much deeper than many of us in the Americas imagine.More significantly, ancient Arab practices are a part of our Spanish Catholic heritage. This is due to our historical ties with Spain. Until shortly before its explorations and exploitation of the Americas, Spain had been conquered and ruled by the North African followers of Muhammad for nearly eight hundred years. It is impossible to dismiss the tremendous influence Arabs had on Spanish culture after a period
66of domination that lasted more than three times the duration of the United States’ existence as a nation.Once we recognize this fact of our history we may more closely examine how this early, diehard culture has contributed to our social relations between genders and how it has influenced the particular way in which woman has been commodified by Mexican culture. When acknowledging our kinship with the Arab world, we find uncanny sim-ilarities in our peoples’ social behavior and attitudes toward women that may be traced back thousands of years to the African continent.My point here is not to argue whether Islamic patriarchy is more dominant than Christian patriarchy, and I certainly would not argue that the Aztec males’ dominance was less oppressive of women than that imposed by the Spaniards.1 There is little point in debating which is the lesser of the evils. Because of the importance of the Mexíca/Aztec society to Chicano and Chicana ideology, however, I think it is worth commenting on women’s status at the height of the Aztec Empire, that is, at the time of the Conquest. As I have stated elsewhere in this book, as capitalism has intensified so has male-dominated military might and with it the further oppression of women, who have come to be seen as property, producers of goods, and reproducers. Therefore, while there are indications of Toltec women having power (at least as queens and warriors) in the tenth century,2 and there are indeed matrilineal socie-ties throughout the indigenous Americas, such as among the Zapotec people of the Oaxaca region, the great Tenochtitlán held women in not much higher regard than the traditions I believe we have inherited from the Arab world that will be discussed here. This is aptly summarized in the following passage:Girls were hardly schooled at all, since females played no civic, mil-itary or political roles in Mexíca society. Young girls were required to learn religious duties and domestic arts, and they were taught most of what they were expected to know as mothers. Women were under strict supervision all their lives. The Mexíca were enor-mously puritanical, as most societies overwhelmingly devoted to
67social purpose tend to be. Females were normally chaperoned, and they were expected to never interfere in the warriors’ business. One Mexíca proverb indicated that the men preferred women with both ears plugged and their mouths stopped up. . . . The revered speaker and the lords of México were permitted huge harems, but sexual license, and even sexual liberty, did not extend to the com-mon people.3At one point, the court doctors reported no less than 150 of Moteuczoma’s women in the palace were expecting babies from him. Prostitution was illegal but tolerated to reduce rape and adultery. Divorcées were repudi-ated by their communities. They were considered nymphomaniacs and hence, went away, to be sold into slavery as concubines.4 These brief examples illustrate that at the time of the Conquest women were already living out the blueprint for the following generations of Mexican women. However, because of culturcide, that same patrimonial blueprint came to us more directly vis-à-vis the Spaniards.My intent in this chapter is first to make a direct association between us and those women in the world who have been controlled in similar ways. Second, I want to show how these controlling attitudes toward women predate the religions that our cultures subscribe to and suggest that when the new religion did not accommodate the older custom, the religious law has been ignored. The focus of this essay is to explore direct influences on Mexican male-female relations, however histori-cally remote.Isla de Mujeres is an island off the coast of the Yucatan. In the 1980s it became a favorite vacation spot for lesbians, in all likelihood because of its name (as well as its natural beauty), a kind of an American Lesbos. When I first happened upon it in 1976, however, while there was still little tourist appeal to the place, voyeuristic adolescents peered at my woman friend and me through our bathroom window. We were the subjects of defaming lies spread by the men of the island; they said they had had their way with us. We narrowly escaped a gang rape.5
68Those experiences were to us an echo of the legends that surrounded Isla de Mujeres. For one, there is a tiny ruin that is said to have been a mirador, a belvedere. The island residents said that the native Mayan women built the mirador after their men went out to sea and disap-peared. They hoped to sight the men’s return. We were also told that when the Spaniards arrived they found a great many statues of female deities, hence, the island’s name. Imagine for a moment, these Mayan women left on their idyllic isle, self-sufficient, constructing their own society, erecting icons in their own image at the time of the invasion by strange men of another race: bearded, filthy, suffering from scurvy, and otherwise diseased. What a shock this must have been to those smooth skinned, dark women living in their quiet tropical tranquility.The most disturbing relics on Isla de Mujeres, however, are spider- webbed gratings that lead to dungeons in which the native women were said to have been kept by the invaders. Are these dungeons on Isla Mujeres any different than the bars through which the many wives of a Muslim in Spain were allowed to peer to catch the light of day? What purpose could there have been for imprisoning women physically and spiritually who were incapable of being a threat to armed soldiers? Recognizing the tremendous influence of North African customs, and not solely questioning the virgin/whore dichotomy of the Catholic faith, I began to suspect the true origins of our notorious cultural trait known as machismo, and hence the particular ways in which patriarchy man-ifests itself in Mexican culture. Just how old were these customs that seem so much a part of our beings sometimes we come to believe they are our nature? Much older than what we believed. There was also the question of the two distinct groups coming together, that of the indige-nous peoples and the Conquistadores.In Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza, Gloria Anzaldúa refers to the border as a wound for the Chicano and Chicana who live in el Norte. Geographically speaking today this is true. The first wound, how-ever, came with the arrival of other “races” to the Americas with the Conquest. The majority of Mexicans and people of Mexican origin in the United States today are descendents of those races. The so-called
69New World was changed forever. This discussion does not argue against the consequences of racism, class privilege, or how religion served these purposes. It attempts to shed light on lesser-known information that is perhaps at the root of the new caste system in which women are rele-gated to second- and third-class citizenship.With regard to Anglo-dominant society, which we have experienced as residents in the United States, there is evidence that many aspects of machismo discussed here have also manifested throughout Northern European history and in the present North America. Examples of preoc-cupation with female virginity range from the chastity belts of the Crusades to restrictions placed on white, middle-class girls in the United States (before the “free love” motto of hippy culture and the availability of the birth control pill in the late 1960s overturned them) to the pre-wedding medical exam the future wife of Prince Charles of England, heir to the throne, underwent in 1981 to the current beliefs of certain white Christian groups in the United States that marrying virginal young women in a polygamous marriage ensures a man’s place in heaven. After 9/11 the country has become more aware of similar restrictions, though with much more severe consequences, practiced by some Muslims, where a daughter’s “reputation” is guarded on the pain of death. While in the United States, these so-called “honor killings” are subject to pros-ecution like any other murder, in some other countries they are approved of and accepted as a cultural practice.the argument on behalf of machismoThe word macho means to be male or masculine. Machismo therefore is that which is related to the male or to masculinity. Machismo, as asso-ciated with Mexican culture for the social scientist, is the demonstration of physical and sexual powers and is basic to self-respect. Political sci-entists specifically interpret this characteristic of exaggerated virility as a defensive response to the racist and classist hierarchy under which most of modern civilization lives. On the basis of this explanation, of
70course, one could not define machismo as idiosyncratically Mexican, or Latino for that matter. According to our social pyramid, all men who feel displaced racially, culturally, and/or because of economic hardships will presumably turn on those whom they feel they can order and humiliate, usually women, children, and animals, just as they have been ordered and humiliated by those few privileged who are in power. However, this definition does not explain why there are privileged men who behave this way toward women.It is dangerous to rationalize the existence of machismo through a romantic and personal perspective. For example, in Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza, Gloria Anzaldúa agrees with the above defi-nition; she sees it as a result of the Mexican man’s “loss of a sense of dignity and respect.” However, she refers to this behavior as false machismo. She states, “For men like my father, being ‘macho’ meant being strong enough to protect and support my mother and us, yet being able to show love.” 6 The existence of machismo seems to be jus-tified here if in fact, the macho in question can dictate his authority through affection.Lionel Cantú, a sociologist and popular queer theory scholar, pro-posed in his article, “Entre hombres/Between Men: Latino Masculinities and Homosexuality,” that such analysis of what he recognized as false machismo was based on a traditional view of gender identities where women are passive and submissive and men, naturally, aggressive.7 The conclusion is that men and women are rendered into stereotypical roles.A longtime belief in defense of machismo is that a principal role of men, as presumably the stronger and more intelligent gender, is to pro-tect everyone. The basic question for women regarding machismo is not only what are men protecting us from, but why? One might respond since laws and society have been created on behalf of men and not in the interest of women, only men can intercede on women’s behalf. We may recall the outrageous femicide that made the border town of Juárez, México, famous for violence since the 1990s and still now. Initially, the governor in office took the position that the murdered women working
71on the graveyard shift in maquilas were responsible for their demise for being out late. Ironically, one of the theories for the murders was that the bus drivers of the private company hired to take the women back to their desolated, impoverished communities were involved.It’s argued that some ways in which a “good macho” protects a woman include:1. Through marriage:Until the 1970s an unmarried, pregnant woman was not eligible for prenatal medical insurance furnished by employers. Laws until recent decades “protected” women through marriage. The ancient tradition of men being viewed as the primary providers for women and children found its way to the first unionizing activities when men in the United States were given family wages and women were seen as surplus labor and were paid less. The historical and societal importance placed on the father role makes marriage the preferred option for women who want children.2. Economically:The male is the traditional, principal provider. Fifty years after the Equal Pay Act was passed, women today earn seventy-seven cents for every dollar a man makes.83. Physically:Physical might over women, children, and domesticated animals remains an asset for men today. The quality that men used to get control of humanity more than two thousand years ago is one of their most important assets today. Women throughout the world in most urban and rural settings cannot venture out alone without the risk of being preyed on by men and being subject to violence. Worse, they are also at times unsafe in their own homes. One in three women throughout the world experience violence in their lifetimes.9
724. Through romance:Still highly prized in our culture, although less practiced on both sides of the border, is courtly behavior. Chivalry (whether Rudolph Valentino as the prototype of the Latino lover, the gallant cavalier, and the conquering sheik all in one, or the handsome heroes today of the exceedingly popular telenovelas) was imported to Europe via Arab culture.Although romance today has been grossly commercialized, women still are made to feel, primarily through mass media, that their lives may be enhanced and given higher value by the chase. This kind of romance further commodifies and objectifies the female as “object of desire,” since her social worth appears dependent on the lover’s courtly gestures and gifts.10There is no justification for machismo. Morally there never was, although given the economic system that civilization developed, society depended on patriarchy to uphold its political and economic principles of exchange. Machismo, has lost its raison d’être, as has the very nature of the way present society functions. We must not feel inclined to long for a mythical time when man in the form of father (God) protected women. Nevertheless, post-9/11, new generations of women and men of all backgrounds, have seemed to show a pre–civil rights movement nos-talgia for what they associate with traditional family values: a kind of Dick and Jane primer idea of Americana family life. The prepackaged nuclear family is equally embraced by many who subscribe to no partic-ular faith and yet adhere to the customs set forth by early religious fore-fathers, Christian and Muslim alike.transcontinental affinitiesAlthough born and raised in the United States, I felt more affinity as a graduate student in the late 1970s and early 1980s with the feminist
73writings of Egyptian Nawal el Saadawi than white American feminists’ such as the famous American radical, Kate Millett. I found more in common with postrevolutionary Algerian women than the women who were part of the revolution of the 1960s in the United States and Northern Europe. Spanish Catholic culture and my indigenous blood were at the root of my empathy. The immediate reasons for my connec-tions were the racism and classism I experienced in my generation. I descended from a labor force long exploited by Anglo capitalism. It stood to reason that as a young thinker, I found certain social bonds with women of Third World countries.The Catholic Church and the impossible dichotomy of the Virgin Mary, who was both chaste and a mother, have also long contributed to the formation of our attitudes as Mexicans. When I was writing the first edition of this book in the 1980s, this dichotomy led me to research the customs of the conquistadors who brought their faith to the Americas. They had just freed themselves from eight hundred years of Islamic domination. These explorers, who were not all doctors of theology to be sure, most certainly brought customs not directly dictated by their Catholic faith that were nevertheless supported by the church. A prime example was the Muslim and Catholic obsession with female virginity. The bases of the preoccupation is related to woman as property, which predates both religions throughout the Mediterranean for centuries.With regard to the Reconquest of Spain, not all Arab conquerors were religious men. Many beliefs and mores brought to Spain and bestowed in the name of Islam were a legacy from ancient Moorish society. Fur-thermore, customs historically attributed to Muslims predate Muham-mad’s teachings by centuries. The Muslim practice of circumcision, which is almost synonymous with baptism, is an example; there is evi-dence that circumcision was practiced throughout the Mediterranean world one thousand years before the birth of the Prophet.The Spanish conquest of the Americas happened during the same period as the Reconquest of Spain. Spaniards today acknowledge the pervasiveness of Moorish influence in their culture, especially in the south of Spain. In the Americas, however, particularly those of us who
74are born in the United States, who know so little of México, less of Spain, and even less of Spain’s history, would not identify our kinships as having anything to do with North Africa.Above all, what we, who are oriented in Mexican Catholic culture (whether or not we practice the faith) have in common with the people of North Africa, whose cultures predate both religions, is the historical seclusion/exclusion of woman from society’s economic system of exchange. This ancient system includes the early bartering of women and infiltrated every level of society as it evolved.As a result of those old traditions, today, much of our behavior is so fixed we think of certain characteristics as human nature. Jealousy is a good example. We often perceive that it exists in all of us to one degree or another and generally accept it as part of the “Latin temperament.” Jealousy, as we will discuss more fully later in this chapter, is also a manifestation of a philosophy and economy based on ownership, and woman has been long counted as man’s property. When certain behav-ior must be regulated or justified, monogamy for instance, religion has mandated it to be sacred. The regulation of female fidelity from a his-torical economic viewpoint had more to do with man’s view of woman as property and his children as heirs to his property than a transgres-sion of love and morals. Jealousy and monogamy, along with examples of long held cultural norms that I will discuss, all have their roots in the early tribal societies, which predate Catholic and Islamic religions and which were practiced for thousands of years by our ancestors—los moros—on the continent of their origins, Africa.Nawal El Saadawi, the Egyptian Marxist-feminist who has written extensively on the oppression of Arab women and whose books were banned in her Egyptian homeland, claims that the “unnatural oppres-sion and super-exploitation” of woman for centuries evolves from the fact that woman is powerful and as such, men have reason to fear her. For like the Christians, the Muslims also are told to believe in the origin of the first man and woman in the story of Adam and Eve. The same version of the myth has been taught to Christians and Muslims for cen-turies: woman is the embodiment of evil as a result of her disobedience
75to God/Allah. Nawal El Saadawi and feminist Christian theologians have noted that the plot is full of holes. It is thought by these scholars that the Book of Genesis established patriarchy once and for all as the modus operandi for the whole of humanity.What one is left to consider, therefore, is that there were specific cus-toms formulated and adhered to since early recorded history in a partic-ular part of the globe that were passed down and spread to peoples across continents over the centuries. The anthropologist Germaine Tillion puts forth the hypothesis that much of what constitutes Mediterranean and Latin cultures, traditions, and even religious beliefs originated out of a geographical region and civilization known as the Maghreb. The ancient culture of the Maghreb originated in North Africa, spread throughout the Mediterranean, and as a consequence of the Conquest of the Americas by the Spaniards, to the Southwest United States, Latin America, and the Caribbean.11My own hypothesis regarding the connections we have as Mexican Catholics with ancient peoples in North Africa predating Islamic reli-gion will be scaffolded by Tillion’s argument as an ethnographer. By scaffolding I mean Tillion’s argument provides a provisional structure from which we may try to see across the centuries and continents how humanity has evolved and connected through migration and time. The Maghreb people since ancient times have been divided into two groups, agricultural and nomadic. Their society is defined by two main features: preferential marriage between cousins in the paternal line and a politics of natality, “race,” and conquest. Geographically the Maghreb have resided along the area in the world that we call today the “Cradle of Civilization.” Their ill-defined territories are west of Egypt, while those people known as the Levants are east of Egypt, and Egypt serves as the border country between these two cultures. The Maghreb people include all those whose language and culture are Berber-Arab. They reside in five states on the African continent, including Morocco, which is where we have a direct connection with the Moorish Conquest of Spain. Records of the Maghreb may be traced to Egyptian inscriptions three thousand years prior to our era. They still exist today, although
76because of urbanization and immigration, as is the case throughout the postindustrial world, many of the Maghreb practices I discuss here in connection with our own Catholic orientation and Latin traditions are in the process of degeneration.12 Because of similar reasons, in addition to the influence of feminism, these “traditions” in our own culture are also in the process of change. As a consequence of our Spanish Catholic heritage, connections we have with the ancient North Africans (not nec-essarily Muslim) are:1. (nuptial) jealousy2. (family) vendettas3. privilege (and responsibility) of the first-born male4. brother’s (male cousin’s) defense of sister’s honor5. the patrimonial ties to incest6. male sexual obsession as a result of female seclusion (making women forbidden) at the same time obliging males to “come on” to any female they are alone with7. romance: the objectification of the female as enigma and aggran-dizement of the male’s prowess and virility8. brotherhood society9. the origins of a certain type of “racism”These commonalities are also found in Greece, Italy, parts of France, Spain, Latin America, and the Caribbean. My hypothesis regarding our own culture is based on our historical socioeconomic practice of patri-mony (the passing down of property through the father). Patrimony predates both Muslim and Christian religions. I will elaborate on the list above in the following pages by way of explaining my hypothesis.In all countries influenced by the ancient customs of the Maghreb, in some cases even into the twentieth century, a man, whether father, brother, or husband, who has murdered a woman suspected of adultery has been automatically acquitted by public opinion. In Italy, for exam-ple, a law of a minimum three-year prison sentenced for such killings
77was passed in the 1970s. Domestic rape was not made a crime there until 1996. Recently, women’s advocate groups there have brought it to public attention that femicide worldwide is on the rise, with approxi-mately one murder per day. Seventy percent of such homicides are attributed to a man in the victim’s life. In Italy, even into the twenty-first century, and after laws were instated to protect women, “most men who killed in a ‘raptus,’” seized by a fit of jealous rage, were often forgiven in the eyes of the law and the women’s deaths treated as domestic “acci-dents.” 13 In México a man may only be charged with domestic violence if bruises last two weeks. He is fined approximately twenty dollars. Lest the United States feel confident with the laws hard won by feminists in the 1970s, a current news release by the campaign group Human Rights Watch reported a disturbing number of sexual assault cases are rou-tinely neglected and police refuse to believe the victims. Carol Tracy of the Women’s Law Project, a legal advocacy group, put it this way, “This is a national crisis requiring federal action.” 14The Ten Commandments forbid murder (Holy Wars notwithstand-ing) and the Koran prohibits the slaying of an adulterous wife unless there are several witnesses who saw the adultery committed. Yet both Christians and Muslims have ignored these mandates of their holy books when it comes to women. Jealousy goes hand in hand with adul-tery, which is considered “a violence against man.” In my view, these crimes of passion can be traced to the ancient culture of the Maghreb.The jealousy a Mexican man has for his wife finds its roots in a time when women were counted as man’s property, much as a cow was. Since women are bipedal and quick witted, unlike the cow or other beasts of burden, certain sacred and secular “laws” were invented by man to con-trol women’s behavior. Even today, some women find jealousy in their male lovers flattering. Regardless of its perversity and sometimes, psy-chotic manifestations, jealousy demonstrates to some women their value. It assures them that they have a secure position in society. Traditionally since women had no real social status in and of them-selves, they had to count on whatever status they may receive as posses-sions of men. Regarding the tradition of jealousy and “crimes of passion”
78the customary question that comes to mind is, what did the murdered woman do . . . to deserve to die? Blaming the victim is a venerable tactic that has kept many women from reporting aggressions despite laws. Physical and verbal abuse particular to our communities are only now being openly confronted. Such crimes against women have long been attributed to jealousy.Male control of women manifests itself in many ways and to varying degrees in any given society. My point here is that the issue lies in an archaic system of patrimonial culture, not in “good” or “bad” forms of male protection, “good” or “bad” providers, that is, “good” or “bad” machismo.Let us review. A man, defeated by the limitations of success in Anglo culture may “rationalize” his abuse of his wife and justify it with psy-chotic accusations of betrayal. This jealousy is a symptom of our hierar-chical “civilization,” but it is also a trait permitted by society and handed down to us throughout the millennia. It has been methodically woven into our culture, customs, and social norms. Likewise, the descendants of the Maghreb civilization share the custom of vendetta, justice for crimes committed against one’s family. Who must assume the respon-sibility for such vendettas? Again, it is the men.Akin to the crimes related to jealousy and seeing woman as posses-sion has been the vendetta. Traditionally it was supposedly to save fam-ily honor, that is, to regain some material loss; women are counted as man’s material property. The male members of a family are responsible for a vendetta; in the case of an absent father, the task usually falls on the eldest brother. In a much publicized case in the United States, we see these customs are not remnants of the past or practiced in remote places. Noor Al-Maleki was murdered by her Iraqi father because she disobeyed him and did not conform to his views. Her father hunted down the twenty-year-old woman and brutally ran her over. He received a thirty-four-year prison sentence. Her brother, Peter, was quoted by the press with the following, “One thing to one culture doesn’t make sense to another culture.” 15 We may look no further than the State of Arizona
79in present day to see how a father and son defended the murder of a defenseless woman as a cultural event.sonsThe Muslim household is made up of the king, the queen, the pig, and the beast of burden. The king is the baby, the queen is the mother, the beast of burden is the father, and the pig is the elder brother.—Tlemcen proverbLet us first look briefly at the similarities throughout the regions influ-enced by the Maghreb in regard to the privileges of the first-born male, the preference of sons, and the making of future paterfamilias. In other words, machos. Women of Mexican background might agree that (1) there is a propensity in families to give preference to first-born sons, (2) these sons enjoy a degree of privilege and power over all other sib-lings, and (3) the mother of such sons becomes subordinate to them as children grow into men.Traditionally, first-born sons are accorded respect by younger sib-lings. Although primogeniture (the practice whereby the oldest son is the exclusive heir) was abolished in France during the French Revolution, into the early part of this century the custom of referring to the eldest brother in the formal vous instead of tu was still prevalent. In México, a custom also no longer widely practiced was to refer to one’s elder brother with the usted form. Throughout the Mediterranean, in Latin America, and the Southwest, a son who had birth-given priv-ileges traditionally had a responsibility to see to the welfare of younger siblings. Unfortunately, this latter custom is rarely carried out by first sons.The well-known novel Bless Me, Ultima, by Rudolfo Anaya, illus-trates these customs. A revealing passage comes toward the end of the novel when the protagonist, young Antonio, has overcome the major
80philosophical conflicts that plague his rite of passage. When it is clear he will soon replace his father as head of the family, he sends his older sisters to their room, and he also gives his mother an order, speaking to her “as a man for the first time.” He is ten years old. Antonio is not the first-born male, but he is the only son left at home and therefore such first-born privileges default to him. Rudolfo Anaya writes in “I am the King: The Macho Image,” Hombrote also means providing for the family. In Bless Me, Ultima, Antonio, the only male son left at home after his older brothers opt to leave, is being prepared to protect and provide for his aging parents and sisters at home. However, according to Anaya, it is Antonio’s mother who teaches him about manhood.16 This view corroborates much of what traditional cultures promote through religious and social practices. Men set the laws and mores and women are meant to carry them through. It therefore appears that women have more power than they actually do in the home. They are held responsible and are faulted if these beliefs are not upheld. But Antonio’s older brothers do not stay at home after the war. They carouse and disregard their father’s wishes. The story seems to tell us that the burden of caring for the family and preserving culture, which in the story equates the sacred, lies with little Antonio. Certainly in the times in which Anaya grew up in rural New México, where life was dependent on farming small plots of land and animal grazing, there were fewer outside influences than young males experience today. Even if they are obligated to an agricultural upbringing, young males now must contend with technology, which has brought untold effects on even the most remote locations. Regarding Ultima, the curandera who mentors Antonio in the spirit ways, as the title sug-gests, we may conclude in this story that positive or power traits asso-ciated with the feminine, such as intuition and a closer kinship with nature than males, are passed on to the male heir of the culture.Among the Arabs, as in Mexican culture, the last-born male is not with-out privileges. As with the boy in the novel discussed earlier, less may be expected (except by default) but, in the home traditionally he has
81been regarded favorably because of his gender. For example, customar-ily he was not expected to do domestic chores in the home. However, such special treatment has its drawbacks when the child is displaced by the forthcoming birth of another child. Until then, among his siblings he enjoys the most attention from the mother. Imminent displacement of the mother’s doting affection, which may include being weaned, may cause the child to get sick. This illness in the Bône region of North Africa is known as “bouba-ran.” Ba’ran means anus, and jealousy for the forthcoming child causes the anus to protrude.17 Among Mexicans, this illness with similar symptoms also exists. It is known as chipil. Chipil is an emotional state of being that affects a small child, male or female. A child is said to be chipil when a new baby is brought into the house-hold. Symptoms may vary but most commonly there is clinging to the mother and constant crying.brothers’ defense of sisters’ honorAcross the Mediterranean and wherever Iberian culture surfaces in the Americas, a great preoccupation is still placed on female virginity, which given its absolute uselessness, more than ever, is a social neurosis. Virginity, like marriage and the monogamy it demands, has outlived the particular political circumstances from which they arose. Throughout recorded history to the twenty-first century there have been many cases in Mediterranean, North African, and Latin American history where it has been up to the brother to regain family honor after a sister has sup-posedly lost her virginity out of wedlock. Muslim and Catholic families alike have not been strangers to murders of sisters by brothers who have accused them of shaming their family name with supposed disgraceful behavior. Even if a woman or girl is the victim of a violent rape by a fam-ily member, she may still be murdered by her brother or father, some-times with the aid of the rapist-relative. The “honor” in question, however, is little more than a guise for the fact that the victim lost her monetary worth when she lost her virginity.18 Today, what we may also conclude in
82the case of so-called honor killings is that young women are assassinated as much for their disobedience as any potential dowry. In 2008 an Egyptian man was accused of murdering his two teenage daughters for their disobedience; supposedly they were seeing non-Muslim American boys.19 Their mother, an American white woman was suspected of assist-ing the man by getting their daughters to go with him. The man’s son and brothers protected him (it may be assumed because of their defense of their traditions), and in 2013 he remained a fugitive. In their article “Women and Corsican Identity,” Anne-Marie Quastana and Sylvia Casanova, wrote of the state of Corsican society today,“Protection” of women’s virtue is a family matter mobilizing not only the father and mother but all the brothers, uncles, and cous-ins . . . the purity of women and the virility of men are the Cardinal virtues that govern relations between the sexes in a tra-ditional society. But when you say virility, you are saying power, that is the capacity to protect the women in one’s group from other men.20In the article on traditional Corsican society, which is French and Catholic, the points I am making here regarding Maghrebian influ-ences are exemplified. In another article in this same text, Maria Minicuci describes the case of an unmarried pregnant woman who is deserted by her fiancé, “‘Dishonor’ and shame will strike the woman and her family who will choose to remove the ‘guilty’ woman to another village.” 21In our own culture, too, men’s concern with women’s virginity and faithfulness in marriage stems from an ancient time when the family’s possessions, which included women, were of utmost concern. In rural México there is evidence it is still the case. As with all the components of machismo discussed in this essay, the family’s preoccupation with its women’s “honor” has its roots, according to Tillion, in early tribal Maghreb society. Tillion reports,
83Throughout the Mediterranean area, north and south, the virginity of girls is a matter that, oddly enough, concerns primarily their brothers. . . . A little male child of seven is thus already trained to act as chaperon. . . . This danger is presented to the child as a cause of the most terrible shame.22A tribe was related by blood. Women were saved for marriage to their cousins in order to preserve property and territorial claims. In endoga-mous (marrying within the tribe) societies, certain incest was not taboo. For example, in Egypt, Cleopatra was married to her brother. (She also murdered him, but that’s another discussion.) In Israel, during the time described in Genesis, a distinction was made between the father’s sister and the mother’s sister. A man’s father’s sister was a potential wife for him, as were her daughters.Woman, as an object of ownership, was and is always susceptible to being “conquered” by someone outside the family. For this reason, “good girls,” (while they may not wear veils or be covered from head to foot on the street) must not behave so as to elicit aggressive male behav-ior that would jeopardize family honor, or as more popularly put today, “get them in trouble.” By the same token, honorable men do not enter the home of a married woman when she is alone. Again, all of these customs can be traced beyond our own Mexican culture and our Catholic belief, to our early patrimonial roots, which we share with women in other parts of the world.the brotherhoodIn all of this, a bond between men has existed that overrides all preten-sions to protect woman and guard her honor. This bond refers to male ownership and dominance over all things. For things to have value in man’s world, they are given the role of commodities. Among man’s old-est and most consistent commodities is woman.
84It was necessary for man to dispense with endogamy as a socially accepted form (therefore making incest taboo) in order to advance the evolution of today’s commercial system. Meanwhile, woman’s role as man’s possession to exchange according to his needs has remained basi-cally the same.French feminist Luce Irigaray proposes that the historical system of brotherhood to which I refer, is in fact, “hom(m)o-sexual” in nature.23 Heterosexuality, the only acceptable sexual relationship in our society “is nothing but the assignment of economic roles. . . . For in this culture the only sex, the only sexes, are those needed to keep relationships among men running smoothly.” While incest has been deemed unnec-essary for today’s commerce, and therefore forbidden, she notes “the exemplary case of father-son relationships.” An older male and young male may display pederast love in every way but sexually, because to make that love explicit would disrupt our commodity-based system. That is, the labor force and all its products are commodities to be given value by men and exchanged by men, but men themselves cannot enter into the present system as commodities. Overt homosexuality would disrupt the system in which men are not commodities but agents of commerce and is therefore made a social taboo.In this system of brotherhood, all transactions are done by men, and women are among their bartering products. The woman does not exist except as an object of transaction to serve the present market. Since woman in and of herself does not exist in society except through male perception, Irigaray argues, then all acknowledged relations are between men. “Reigning everywhere, although prohibited in practice, hom(m)o- sexuality is played out through the bodies of women, matter, or sign, and heterosexuality has been up to now just an alibi for the smooth workings of man’s relationships with himself, of relations among men.” 24Due to the strenuous legislative efforts on the part of gay activists and their supporters, rights for homosexuals and lesbians in recent times have been granted, which include marriage. Globalization plays no small part. In a changing world economy where impoverished bodies of color are exploited by international companies, outsourcing, faceless
85telecommuting jobs, and the rapid advancements of technology, the major players need no longer be heterosexual men. Anyone can strive to be on top. Not everyone can win but anyone can dream. Once again, patriarchy goes hand in hand with free enterprise and again, human greed rears its ugly head with no conscience. Exploitation of resources, in this case, defenseless human beings, furthers the system in place for thousands of years. Exploiters come in every background.“por la raza todo, afuera de la raza nada”Endogamy, practiced in the ancient world of clan alliances, offered a mysterious bond of blood that to this day, in our familias, implies by birthright the unconditional support of relatives. 25In New México, many of the original hispano Catholic families share this type of socioeconomic history. Erlinda Gonzáles-Berry, a native nuevo mexicana and professor of Spanish and Chicano literature, affirms this with regard to her own paternal line. Her paternal grandfa-ther, she remembers, was once a large landowner who was considered a benevolent patrón and parceled land to other familias for homesteading. He and his wife were first cousins who received dispensation in order to be married by the church. In northeastern New México where Gonzáles-Berry grew up, she notes that there were basically five to seven families who owned most of the land and who intermarried for generations.As endogamy throughout the world was replaced by exogamy with the spread of capitalism, which necessitates exchanges beyond the nar-row geographical spheres of certain families, marriages to foreigners (that is, those not bound to the clan by blood) became acceptable, even preferable. Through marriage, of course, there is an eventual blood bonding. This along with claims to territories developed the fraternal-ism of nationalism.While a growing nation suppresses the conquered one, an ethnocen-tric (that is, racist) attitude has traditionally accompanied it. The power
86that the new nation acquires as a result of the combination of stolen knowledge and resources of the conquered race, geographical advan-tage, historical timeliness, technological, or other material benefit are always justified with a healthy dose of self-righteousness, divine convic-tion, and race supremacy.As for the exploited populations of a given nation, strong blood bond-ing also persists. This bonding gives rise to resistance. This sense of nationalism, at both ends of the hierarchical spectrum, serves the per-petuation of ideas that espouse a world in which domination and subor-dination is an ineradicable fact of life. We see indications of this tendency within the early Chicano movement. As mestizos and mes-tizas, the denigration we had been subjected to since the Conquest of México provoked a resistance that included racial pride. However, La Raza refers to our mestizaje, that is, the fact that we are a combination of Native American, European, Asian, South African, and Arab influ-ences. Even when incestuous marriage was the rule in patrimonial soci-eties, it is difficult to speak of “purity” of races since conquest of peoples may be traced throughout recorded history.It is understandable, even inevitable, that a people that have been subordinated by white supremacy would seek retribution at some point. It has been crucial for Chicanas and Chicanos to reassert positive atti-tudes about skin color, indigenous background, lost languages, and other aspects of our culture so reviled by WASP domination. However, the fundamental basis of nationalism is rooted in a divisive, aggressive, and destructive desire for material power. When we speak of machismo, we also immediately refer to a division of power between male and female, between a world power and colonized nations.It is of utmost importance to understand the damage that machismo has done and continues to do to humankind in the name of tradition and in the name of much that we hold sacred through institutionalized religion. We must recognize that behavior that has been accepted by our culture and sanctified by the church is not innate. Men are not born macho, they are made macho.
87Returning to the earlier discussion about how the boy Antonio in Bless Me, Ultima, learns about his role as good macho. Ultima, the aging curandera, also teaches the boy that this will be his duty and destiny.Serving as a stock character, her main mission in the novel seems to be to pass on her wisdom to the boy before her death, which comes at the end of the story. Antonio, recipient of her teachings, is ready. He not only has received the message at home that as a male it will be left to him to look after his family, he had received the ancient secrets attributed to the feminine, to goddesses and witches. He is well armed. The mother, strong of character, is weak with regard to her place in society. The father and older brothers are all too ready to pass on the scepter to rule over the land to the boy.While there are those of us who are critical of the way that machismo permeates our relations at all levels of society, there are as many among us who find feminism to have equally unappealing connotations. Some people regard feminism to be the same as machismo except acted out by females. That is, they believe to be feminist is to want everything that a man has. The feminist argument to this, of course, is that woman does not exist in society except as man’s invention. If this opinion is meant to imply that women aim to build a militaristic new world order of Amazons so as to accomplish a takeover of “everything that man has,” that seems unlikely. Then, “what do women want?” we hear Freud’s ghost ask. If we agree that woman has been infantilized by patriarchal control and its attendant in our times, capitalism, women do think they want what men have always wanted: power. Power, in the case of many ambitious and entrepreneurial women, equates having one’s own money. Unfortunately, although women earn money, the power they have gained mostly perpetuates a man-made world.Machismo has divided society in half. It divides the world into the haves and the have-nots, those with material power and those who are rendered powerless. It has divided our behavior into oppositions, our spirituality in dualistic terms of good and evil, and a world economic
88politic based on brute might. The feminine principle is not the opposite of machismo. “The feminine” may be generally termed as all the qual-ities that have been negated, denied, denigrated, and made to be essen-tially valueless by our society. Machismo has served to distort our perceptions of humanity, which includes the feminine.The starving populations of México and those in the United States, not to mention in the world, demand an urgent resistance to economic and spiritual control of the majority of the population, and women are the majority of the population. In the United States at this writing nearly half of the homeless population are under eighteen years age and nearly half of those children are under the age of six. More than one quarter of our families have no place to live.26 Among the poor, it is women again, and children, who make up the greatest number living in poverty. In my view, we must expand to make world connections from which we will see that our culture has infinite affinities with other women, especially those who have for so long been denied a voice within our own societies. By voice, I don’t only refer to the one that echoes men’s cry for social justice, but one that truly articulates our particular experience.In Latina Activists Across Borders: Women’s Grassroots Organizing in México and Texas, Milagros Peña states thatin looking at the activism of Mexican and Mexican American women, we see that they mobilize and articulate their needs within specific sociohistorical realities. When we understand how wom-en’s NGO’s [nongovernmental organizations] work emerged in their social contexts, we see that grassroots women have taken the personal and made it political.27Peña continues, “It is the first step to self-empowerment.” Further, she notes, among the goals that Mexican women’s NGOs are striving for are defending victims of violence and promoting better health conditions as well as improving women’s conditions at work and in the home. This shared conscientización among poor and working women globally is an invaluable step for our own personal transformation as Xicanistas as
89well as for our advancement in society as a people. It is important for us to understand our various histories so that we can better formulate our vision, but we need not look back for too long. There is nothing sacred about traditions that insist on the subjugation of vast populations on the basis of gender, class, sexuality, and race. Mexican/Chicana culture can survive critical challenges. Our planet and all those who inhabit it can-not survive without confronting them.

91chapter fourSaintly Mother and Soldier’s WhoreThe Leftist/Catholic Paradigmkin the nineteenth century, when the United States was leaping toward the future with grand visions of expansion, México was not ready for the “future.” 1 Unlike the white, Anglo-Saxon Protestant, whose Puritanism shaped a democracy founded on capitalism, the Mexican comes from, in the words of Octavio Paz, “a Catholic world of Mexican viceroyalty, a mosaic of pre-Columbian survivals and baroque forms.” 2 While certain Mexican intellectuals felt the very model of progress and modernity lay just across the border—México was invaded and literally divided in half by its model. In almost one fell swoop, the United States appropriated territory greater than France and Germany combined.3Mestizas have had irreconcilable differences with WASP society that go much deeper than the issue of territorial invasion and that are inher-ent in their own background and even within their very being. In this chapter I will discuss two doctrines that many Chicano movement activists in the 1970s were motivated by—consciously and uncon-sciously—in their struggle against WASP domination. These were a Marxist-oriented ideology (although not as popular as the movement’s nationalist overtones, it was not necessarily separate) and Catholicism. In the first edition of this book this discussion was undertaken because
92many women identified as Catholics and many feminists were first exposed to socialist ideology as a way toward Chicana activism. In chap-ter 2, I explored the shortcomings of socialism for the mexicana turned activist. Although socialist feminists went to great lengths to try to merge Marxist-oriented thought with feminism, with the case of the mexicana/Chicana this was a highly improbable course of action. First, the woman activista is not necessarily a feminist. Second, the commu-nist stigma attached to socialism causes most Latina activistas to shy away from in such discourse.To indicate a socialist orientation, I use the word leftist, a term com-monly used until the Reagan era when a major ideological shift took place in political thinking in the United States. Since that time Republicans and Democrats have moved toward the center on certain issues. So-called minorities had long been loyal to the Democratic party, but by the twenty-first century, we had Latino Republicans, a Republican Mexican American woman holding the governor’s seat in New Mexico and the first African American president with a more conservative position on immigration than his Republican white pre-decessor. Arguably a vibrant “left” activist movement does not exist as it once did among Chicanas, and Catholicism continues to permeate Mexican culture and consequently affects the lives of activistas regard-less of their politics.4Also, I would argue that, outside of academic circles and grassroots efforts (which were often stymied by lack of funding), Marxist-oriented thought never had a real measure of influence among the majority of Chicana and Chicano activists. On the other hand, Catholicism as an institution has been a world power. With the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the onset of the capitalist enterprise in China, and the prolonged Cuban embargo, it may be said that the United States had successfully rid the world of any real communist threat. While this may not have swayed the thinking of early feministas, invariably it has with younger generations who have grown up in a different world. In addition, regard-ing life’s meaning beyond the material, although religion was banned
93in Communist countries, not all people relinquished their beliefs, espe-cially in the existence of God and an afterlife that will reward our sacri-fices in this one.The very fact that the Chicano/Latino movement (just like the Black Power and the American Indian movements), engaged in the active struggle for our civil rights caused it to be seen by the federal govern-ment as a threat to democracy and to be identified as communist. During the late sixties and continuing into the seventies many leading activists (men and women) who challenged the United States to live up to its dem-ocratic promise were murdered, imprisoned, and harassed. In the 1980s the systematic quashing of the Chicanas and Chicanos movement that resounded throughout Latin America wherever Latino and indigenous activists made alliances resulted in a new generation bred on Reaganomics double-speak. Many Latinas and Latinos who came of age during the eighties not only did not believe in the premise of collective action but also rejected it and instead embraced the individuated, free- enterprise ideology espoused by the WASP elite. Moreover, they rejected the term Chicanas and Chicanos as a label because of what they saw as excessive radicalism engendered by unsophisticated grassroots organiz-ers. Activism also waned due to the severe cutbacks of community- related programs, such as rehabilitation training and bilingual education programs. Lack of funding contributed to the successful dismantling of the Chicano/Latino, black, and American Indian movements. At the same time, during the Reagan era the War on Drugs, a war on poor peo-ple of color and youth, followed and continues at present.5Although a response to the type of exploitation of human and natu-ral resources by gross capitalism is worthwhile, I will focus my argu-ments on how the omission of the feminine principle in both Marxist-oriented ideology and Christianity prohibited, in my view, true social transformation, that is, one based on inclusion of all citizens and not selective exclusion of some. Inherent in both doctrines—Christian and socialist—that influenced Chicana conscientización was a male-dominated perspective.
94The feminine principle to which I refer would be concerned with preservation, protection—especially of the young and less fortunate—and affiliations of communities for the common good. This feminine principle, which lies within both man and woman, is exemplified for Chicanos especially in the model of la Virgen de Guadalupe. Since the Conquest Mexicans have also worshipped Jesus Christ, the incarnated God and revolutionary, while the Omnipotent Father, whom we fear, reminds us to stand guard against men and sin. By calling forth la Virgen de Guadalupe—the feminine principle within ourselves—we have hope. It comes from her noncategorical compassion and accep-tance of all her children versus the fear of inadequacy people may feel in “the eyes of God.” As we, who have been rendered powerless by the church, state, and men’s movements except to serve their cause, receive ánimo from her, we are able to give to ourselves, those around us, and to the world. Jeannette Rodríguez puts it thusly: “Until . . . feminist scholarship in Mariology and a return to feminine images of God in Scripture, there has been no ‘category’ for the female or femi-nine face of God . . . Our Lady of Guadalupe is a metaphor for God in popular religious form.” 6This compassion, however, is a natural law and knows no doctrine.The church has a vast history of domination throughout the world. Most women activistas were aware, at least to an extent, of the ruthless-ness of the Spanish Inquisition and the persecution of countless Amerindians as a result of the Conquest. In fact, the Inquisition lasted approximately three and a half centuries, and with the Conquest of the Americas, “new heretics” were seized upon: the indigenous popula-tions. Although there seems to be no way of knowing just how many people were tortured and murdered as heretics throughout Europe and later in the Americas as a direct cause of the Inquisition, it is agreed by most historians that an overwhelming majority were women.The Roman Catholic Church once stood as a wealthy and political international force. It was no less intent on accumulating riches in the Americas than it had been throughout Europe. Little, if any, consider-ation was given to the native peoples who were at first regarded as less
95than human and used strictly for labor: “Central Mexico, which had once had some 25 million inhabitants, was reduced, it is estimated, to a residual population of 1 million.” 7 The marginalized Amerindian living a subsistence existence in present México is the descendent of the Amerindian slave of colonial México. Many a mestiza today, descendent of this heritage, may testify to rejection on both sides of the border for being of mixed blood. Such are the resounding effects of the imperialist world power that the Roman Catholic Church once was and that, with the Spanish monarchy, conquered indigenous México.Yet, there were Chicana activists, fervent about their struggles against racism and sometimes sexism within and outside El Movimiento, who donned the white gown symbol of virginity, veiled their faces, and took marriage vows at the church’s holy altar to sanctify their lives and to fulfill its doctrine. They attended Mass, observed original sin by hav-ing their children cleansed of it during baptism, and presumably were soothed by its rituals. Because of their political consciousness they struggled with their worship of the indomitable Father and the over-tones of female shamefulness that were imbedded in the Catholic Church’s doctrine. Since Mexican culture was also hierarchical, women were made answerable to figures of authority in their immediate world. With regard to the low status of millions of mestizas in society, most women in El Movimiento may not have openly rebelled against the church’s teachings, if for no other reason than to oppose the church would have meant causing conflict within their own families and community.In the 1970s a move from Catholicism to a socialist-communist ideology for a Chicana activist in El Movimiento may not have seemed so contra-dictory to her inherent beliefs. The two ideologies have several qualities in common: the polarities of good and evil (U.S. imperialism represent-ing evil or sin, the masses organized through socialism representing the good); a deference paid to a higher good (God for Catholicism and the needs of the pueblo as defined by the male leadership of the Chicano movement); and the respect that both had for patriarchal order.
96While radical groups publicly admonished the church for its institu-tionalized oppression of our people (“Although more than half of the Catholics in the Southwest are Chicanos, the Catholic Church hierarchy had continuously insulted its Chicano membership by its racist prac-tices . . .”), many activistas categorized religious traditions as part of Chicano culture.8 Some radical activistas in addition to ideologically criticizing the church moved toward indigenismo and began to practice Native American and Mexic Amerindian ways. But most activistas went on living their lives affected by generations of Mexican customs. They worked in government-funded jobs in their barrios in Chicago and on Christmas Eve went to Midnight Mass. Or they started bilingual pre-schools in San Francisco and stood up as the Maid of Honor at their best friend’s church wedding. Another might have painted murals of Che Guevara and Aztec society in San Diego and sponsored a niece for her quinceañera—which traditionally included a mass in the girl’s honor. And when a family member died in Texas or a new one was born in Michigan, still others went to church to have the appropriate ritual per-formed for their loved one. Roman Catholicism permeated Mexican rites of passage.As has been well established by many a feminista, the leadership of the Chicano movement was in the firm grip of men, many of whom espoused a leftist ideology. In spite of the male leader’s commitment to Marxist-oriented ideology, his immediate world was informed largely by Catholics. Compadres and padrinos were often more meaningful than blood relatives. By the time he was a young adult his psyche was solidly influenced with the Christian principle of duality, and life was divided into polar opposites. You were either good, doing good, represented the good, or you were bad.The rituals of going to Mass every Sunday, Christmas celebrations, heterosexual marriages, and the children’s baptisms that naturally fol-lowed were no less a part of his comprehension of life than the iconogra-phy that surrounded him in his environment. In his parents’ home there may have been an altar, a crucifix above his headboard, the Virgin of Guadalupe everywhere (for it is said that all Mexicans are Guadalupanos),
97the whispers of rosary prayers over the sick, the constant exhortation to place one’s trust in higher powers, not only in the Holy Trinity, but in the retinue of God the Father’s heavenly saints who would guide and assist him through the rigors of life and on to paradise in the afterlife.The idea of eternal life or the existence of the soul does not belong exclusively to Catholics. We know that church officials in México after the Conquest argued as to whether Amerindians indeed had souls, but indigenous philosophy also recognized life after death. These beliefs have been inherent in the mestiza and mestizo’s way since pre- Conquest times. The soul is a Mexican reality.However, the materialist analysis of Marxism that addressed the eco-nomic exploitation of the working class (Chicanos adapted it with a spe-cific focus on racism) did not acknowledge spirituality. The failing of Marxism, in my view, lay in its inability to separate spirituality from the collusion of institutionalized religion with male-supremacist, profit- based society. Marxist-oriented activists thought they had freed them-selves from the church’s stranglehold. In terms of internal critical issues that contributed to the eventual dissolution of the early Chicano movement, I believe that prominent among them was that most activ-istas could not fully assimilate socialist views that were exclusively based on materialism.In addition, for the Chicana, especially, both forms of thought meant a reinforcement of patriarchal dominance. While there were Mexican Catholic women in the United States who replaced their religious beliefs with the convictions of non-Christian male thinkers—the Europeans Marx and Lenin and revolutionary leaders from Mao Tse Tung to Castro—most women who participated in the Chicano movement did not. As for those women activistas who joined the male cavalry’s call to socialism—how did they take to socialist-communist ideology? In fact, most did not follow any specific political line. The early activista was usually pragmatic regarding her activism, moved by personal experi-ences and often guided by male hegemony. The most prominent figures of the Chicano movement of that epoch were men, César Chávez, Corky
98González, Reies Tijerina, and Luis Váldez, among others. Throughout all aspects of El Movimiento men set a revolutionary tone for what our roles as activists should be.A large number of women activistas subscribed to an equally ani-mated sector of El Movimiento known for its promotion of Chicano cultural nationalism. In the late sixties to midseventies, we were expected to emulate the past in the role of the soldaderas of the Mexican Revolution, the young women who took up arms and followed their men, carrying a comal and molcajete in tow to feed the soldiers, as well as providing various other services—sex and picking up an escopeta to fight were not the least of them.9In the spirit of cultural nationalism, however, early activistas did in fact dress and behave appropriate to the role Chicano ideology assigned to them. Efforts to bring about egalitarian representation of women in that era were often patronizing at best. With the flamboyant defiance of Frida Kahlo (celebrated painter and wife of Diego Rivera, a cultural nationalist in her own time) women donned the rebozos of their Revolutionary grandmothers and the huipiles of their Amerindian heri-tage. While Frida Kahlo, most active in the thirties and forties, was notorious for her eccentric flair, it apparently was her husband who insisted that it would be an act of betrayal on her part to dress in North American gringo fashions.10Poetry by men and women of that period called the pueblo to arms even as it urged women to stand by their men. Some women’s poems, however, eventually surfaced to indicate that we were not all that satis-fied with our new nationalist image. The poems were filled with ethnic pride but tinged with anger and frustration at the severe restrictions on our participation in El Movimiento. The following excerpt from Lorna Dee Cervantes’s well-known poem of that era, “You Cramp My Style, Baby,” best highlights this point:You cramp my style, babywhen you roll on top of meshouting, “Viva La Raza”
99at the top of your prick . . .And then you tell me, “Esa, I LOVEthis revolution!Come on Malinche,gimme some more!” 11In the Chicano movement, men’s regard for women’s activism went from dominance to condescending tolerance to, finally, resigned confu-sion, if not outright resentment.Like most poets and artists cultural nationalists found the black-and-white schema of social scientists constricting. Creative individuals did not articulate their criticisms (of broad society and of their own move-ment) and their perceptions except through their often misunderstood and underestimated artistic endeavors. Throughout the seventies, Chicanas, in a similar nationalist spirit as that of the Black Power move-ment, which also “returned” to its roots, refused to cut our long braids and conform to standard English for the sake of being tokenized in the job market. We gave our children pre-Conquest names like Xochitl and Cuauhtémoc, tirelessly volunteered in barrios, and started health clinics and daycare centers. To affirm our mexicanidad and to give us courage, we resurrected every pre-Conquest and Catholic icon, ritual, symbol possible—from the Aztec calendar to the Virgen de Guadalupe banner. All the while, we wrote poems, painted, and told stories. Many women who showed great creative promise did not continue. Some were forced to stop. Some went mad. Others died. We knew who they were; we remembered their names. We knew how well or how bad their children turned out. The fiery conviction that made women refuse to assimilate into the white dominant culture took its toll.It was not until nearly two decades later that the public became aware of the artistic and literary expressions of women artists who had turned to some strain of feminism to gain support for their perspectives.12 This juncture—the connection between their feminism and their artistic
100and literary expressions—is the point at which I define the activista as Xicanista, when her flesh, mind, and soul serve as the lightning rod for the confluence of her consciousness. To be sure, Xicanistas may also have arrived at this conscienticized from roads other than the ones dis-cussed here.13While cultural pride remained, the Latino movement’s leftist collec-tive zeal was subdued. Throughout the Reagan era during the eighties, it was no small feat for us to remain steadfastly dedicated to our own work, and it was during that decade that a visible Chicana feminist con-sciousness emerged, most visible in the publications that were being produced then. Oftentimes, we had our own families to support. Academic pursuits may have required finding government grants, loans, or scholarships. By and large, we did not identify with the white woman’s movement and therefore received no intellectual verification of the injustice we felt as women. We continued to experience social and religious constraints in our roles as daughters, lovers, and mothers. In addition, women sometimes had to live with alcoholism, drugs, and physical and mental abuse: there were no resources and no recourse but to manage however we might. Strength was garnered from our consci-entización and motivated us onward.14The new generations of women that followed have these obreras cul-turales as unprecedented models. The young Xicanista (not just Chicana, not activista for La Raza, not only a feminist but Chicana feminist) now has documentation of her particular history in the form of books, plays, murals, art, and even films that the culturalists have produced.woman remains defined by religiosityAbove, I advocated the view that early Chicano activism was influenced by socialist ideology but remained Catholic. Most women, however, were not as apt to follow any socialist line. Even among the minority who “returned” to indigenismo so as to more adamantly reject Western culture, it was difficult to eradicate Christianity from their lives because
101Christian symbols and beliefs infiltrated many indigenous practices. What I would like to emphasize here (and throughout this book) is that beneath the definition established by the cultural enthusiasm of Chicanismo was and remains a significant component of the mestiza’s identity—her spirituality. This undercurrent is the unspoken key to her endurance as a female throughout the ages: spirituality versus religion as well as spirituality versus a material dogma. While we do not acknowl-edge other important influences so readily, our religious orientation is a combination of Christianity and Amerindian and African influences, but primarily passed on to us through the filter of Mexican Catholicism. Although the Catholic Church as an institution cannot, for a number of reasons, guide a Xicanista through the third millennium, we cannot make a blanket dismissal of Catholicism either. Rejecting the intolerant structure of the church does not automatically obliterate its entrench-ment in our culture.Following I would like to discuss liberation theology as it affected Xicanistas. I discuss primarily three sources here that speak directly on this subject and compare and contrast how men and women have seen this movement with regard to Latinos and Latinas in the United States. Liberation theology in practice is a blend of Marxist and Christian beliefs. However, both ideologies are male-centered, have hierarchical structures, and significantly repress the feminine principle that is cru-cial to our spiritual and material aspirations as Xicanistas. I discuss these issues more fully in other chapters and prominently in chapter 7.If some activistas agreed that traditional Roman Catholicism was not a satisfying religious doctrine to serve the needs of their communities, alternative ways to apply their Christian beliefs, such as liberation the-ology, were considered. This advocacy of Catholic activists in the seven-ties was mostly heard within the context of revolutionary work in Latin America. In the United States many Latinos, Amerindians, and Chicanos were also forced to reflect on the role of the church in their communities. It was felt that the institution did not address their social concerns beyond charitable solutions. It also suppressed people’s
102intuitive spirituality. If the Marxist argument against the idea of God was that religion served as the opium of the masses, the story of the Massacre of the Dreamers in pre-Conquest México from which this book takes its title serves as a cautionary tale for anyone living under a dominating social order, however it might be defined.Liberation theology was put this way in Latina Activists Across Borders: Women’s Grassroots Organizing in Mexico and Texas by Milagros Peña:Liberation theology facilitated the understanding of religion’s con-crete historical role in society. It critiqued religious and other social institutions as products of an economic system mired first in colo-nization and then in capitalism. . . . They advocated a religion and theology that did not separate itself from an analysis of the inher-ited colonial institutions.15It has been noted by white feminists that women experience culture differently from men to the extent that some consider themselves “bicul-tural,” that is, the orientation that women were given according to their gender in society was so different than the way boys were raised, it was a different culture. The culture pertaining to the female gender was one that taught women their expected role in a man’s world. Likewise, the women in the Chicano movement experienced their struggle for social justice differently from the men. Similarly, we experienced institution-alized religion differently.The Mexican mestiza was defined by Catholicism. Because activistas used Mexican models they could not escape from defining woman in religious terms. By doing this they ignored the fact that both sixteenth- century Aztec society and Spanish Catholic culture treated females as commodities. The role of mestizas in both societies was to serve the economy: with her labor and her children. The Aztec Empire was a the-ocracy. Catholicism perpetuated the subordinate role of the female also by divinely sanctioning it.
103An example of how male activists have historically differed in their view of women’s experiences may be found in Andrés Guerrero’s book, A Chicano Theology, published in 1987.16 Guerrero chose as his infor-mants nine individuals whom he considered to be spokespersons for the varied communities to which people belonged throughout the United States: “The Chicano experience of oppression is best brought out, I believe, by Chicano leaders as they express their struggles, fears, and hopes for the Chicano community.” 17 It is important to note the patron-izing attitude in Guerrero’s approach. First, he designated authorities to represent countless Catholic Chicanos and Chicanas, presuming that these few designated authorities spoke for all their concerns, including spiritual questions, by solely addressing the racist and economic ineq-uities they experienced in the United States in that era. Guerrero’s lead-ers were selected from among activists of the Chicano movement of the sixties through the seventies. The achievements of this generation not-withstanding, at the time of the book’s publication an entirely new gen-eration had come up. By the mideighties new voices were emerging among Chicanos and Chicanas that reassessed their vision as a people. Among those nine individuals whom Guerrero interviewed, some for their long-time commitments toward improving the living conditions of certain communities, only two were women. Two of the men were Protestant. Two were officials of the Roman Catholic Church.“By understanding Guadalupe, you understand Chicanos.” 18 Guerrero saw la Virgen de Guadalupe as the symbol of hope for liberation of a U.S. minority. According to the author, our Mexican patron saint would not forsake us despite our suffering, and we were asked to take a “leap of faith” in her. However, in my view, la Virgen de Guadalupe as national symbol was again being manipulated to serve nationalism (in this case, I believe, he refers to Aztlán—native terrain of the Aztecs). Historically, this thinking ultimately implied militant action. In man’s society, a “Protectress” always condones war and sanctions nationalism.19 The Catholic Church—the entire history of Christianity, in fact—has
104condoned the violence and destruction of its Holy Wars. Two of Guerrero’s respondents, José Ángel Gutiérrez (founder of La Raza Unida Party) and Ricardo Sánchez (poet), both advocated violence as a potentially necessary form of action when questioned on racism and how Chicanos might best contend with it in white society. Most signifi-cantly, Our Lady of Guadalupe was reinstated as man’s “mother.” As during the Conquest of México and during the fight for México’s inde-pendence from Spain, the Virgin Mary was seen as a divine icon that blessed men’s aggression against their enemies and provided her devo-tees alone with her nurturing, comfort, and protection. In other words, the war goddess of pre-Christianity was transformed in the form of La Virgen to protect the persecuted. It may have been argued then and now, however, that contrary to this, countless Catholics saw Our Lady of Guadalupe primarily as representation of unconditional love, much as Mexicans ideally viewed the role of human mothers. While “Christianity preached forgiveness, mercy, compassion, and reconciliation. . . . The symbol used by the dominant Spanish culture to communicate these values was the Virgin Mary.” 20On the issue of “machismo y la mujer,” the author (predictably) does not report the views of any interviewees but the two women. The answers of Dolores Huerta and Lupe Anguiano reflect the early generation of Chicano activism. Both laity and neither defining herself as a feminist in the interview, they acknowledged machismo in the Chicano movement and female oppression in the church. “The church has been responsible for a lot of the machismo because it does not do anything to counteract it,” replied Dolores Huerta (40). As with the other respondents, Guerrero makes little comment regarding the long-time union activist’s remarks.The only male respondent whose opinion on the subject of women within the context of liberation theology we were privy to was Monsignor Reyes. In an unfortunate demonstration of conservative male-centered thinking, the church official believed that women contributed to their subordinate roles by orienting male children into a privileged position over females. Apparently, completely unaware of feminist analysis on this subject, neither Guerrero nor Monsignor Reyes seemed to recognize
105that woman, as a subordinate, was conditioned and directed toward per-petuating male privilege. Moreover, for centuries sons had birth-given privileges that overrode their mother’s own authority in the home. Monsignor Reyes saw woman as mother therefore the “maker” of men.At least ten years before the publication of A Chicano Theology, Chicana thinkers had begun to put forth the following challenge to such tradi-tional ideas. Women did not make men; women bore and raised their children. It is society that makes men and women. In a traditional Mexican household, for example, a father will order his children to obey their mother. (¡Hazle caso a tu mamá!) One is given the impression that the mother holds some authority in her home. Note, however, that the children are not obeying the mother so much as following the father’s order. More significant than this small example of the dynamics of what might be imagined in a traditional Mexican household were the myriad of ways in which sexism was enforced in society: by the media, various civic and private institutions, as well as the male-dominant hierarchical structure of the church.Although all nine individuals were asked the same questions, we did not hear from the others on the subject of male dominance. Likewise, we were not always privy to the responses of the two women on other themes. Recalling Gutiérrez’s and Sánchez’s advocacy of violence as a possibility in bringing about social reconstruction, we are left to wonder what their particular views were on the subject of “machismo y la mujer.” Let’s keep in mind that a large measure of the workforce requiring social justice was and remains composed of women who, if they protest their conditions, are ultimately terrorized by men recruited into police forces and armies. With what—or rather—how, are dispirited, underpaid people to fight men trained, armed, and sent out to torture and kill on behalf of their government’s interests? Hadn’t we witnessed such massacres of obreros in Latin America in the sixties and seventies? 21Furthermore, governments showed no tolerance for those liberation theologians who attempted to defend the rights of the poor.22 There have been outright assassinations among the Catholic clergy—Archbishop
106Romero gunned down while giving Mass is one shining example of this. (What “phallocentric” ego could imagine this suicidal strategy as the basis of a religious ideology—moreover, from within the United States, considered the mightiest republic in the world?) Nevertheless, according to Guerrero, the opinions of these nine respondents were the “valid and viable groundwork for creating a new Christian theology.” A Chicano Theology served as evidence of the paternal attitude inherent in our cul-ture, including those on the Left.Chicanos cited Engels’s claim that half of the work force consisted of females and today, more than half of the world’s workforce, in fact, con-sists of girls and women. Moreover, half of the world’s Roman Catholics are Latin American, and I would venture to state that half or more of that membership is female. Therefore, in seeking social solutions, addressing women directly on the subject of social injustice with con-siderations of how religion or their spiritual views impact their lives is crucial. In my opinion, women do not want to take up arms against soldiers, police, or anybody. Women do not want to be subject to non-consenting sterilizations by government and private industry officials. Likewise, women do not want to have infants with no medical care, and women do not want to give up their faith in a higher being and/or other spiritual beliefs despite their dismal circumstances because it is that very faith that often keeps them from despair.Guerrero saw feminists as a “special interest group” marginalized by dominant society along with ethnics of color. Whereas in the early days of the Chicano movement, feminists were still associated with white dominant culture, there was at the time of publication of his book substantial documentation by Chicana feminists that could have lent this text the benefit of new insights. While A Chicano Theology as a whole espoused ideas that demanded some restitution on the part of the U.S. government for the poverty and the racism to which our peo-ple were historically subjected, its approach was clearly reminiscent in language, tone, and attitude of the rhetoric widely used in El Movimiento’s heyday. In Guerrero’s book, women were misread and underestimated by male activists, and he seemed hardly aware of the
107male dominance embedded in his proposed Chicano liberation theology.“hispanic women’s liberation theology”In another text published in the eighties, Hispanic Women’s Theology: A Prophetic Voice of the Church,23 which attempted a Latina activist point of view, Ada Maria Isasi-Díaz and Yolanda Tarango stated that “the self-definition of a vast number of persons is an intrinsic element of reality. The overwhelming majority of Latinas see themselves, under-stand themselves as, and claim to be Christians. The majority consider themselves Catholics even if they go to other churches.” 24 Isasi-Díaz and Tarango employed with great care a methodology to propose a theology that was relevant to women whose lives were directed by their religiosity by surveying women who were actively changing Catholic thinking.According to Isasi-Díaz and Tarango, women were seeing their cul-ture through “Christian” eyes and understood their Christianity through “culture.” In other words, religion remained the most signifi-cant structure in women’s lives. It was not difficult to deduce that one who aspired to adhere to her Mexican identity would find it nearly impossible to do so if she dismissed the influence of the church, whether or not she practiced the religion. Isasi-Díaz and Tarango claimed that Hispanic women’s liberation theology was “Hispanic Women’s experi-ence.” As such, it was a synthesis of all that informed her reality, includ-ing popular religiosity in the form of Native American and African religious practices. Women who did not want to give up their religion because it was tied to their identity were turning to their own experi-ences to understand their spirituality and the Christian form it took for them. For example, a Xicanista might still believe in the Holy Trinity of the Catholic Church, yet, her feminism might lead her to give the Virgen de Guadalupe greater importance than God and his son, with regard to her personal faith. The Virgen de Guadalupe, again, while being rele-gated by the church to a secondary role as the mother of Christ, is
108regarded by Xicanistas as spiritual mother and the successor of the Mexíca goddesses, Tonantzin and Coatlicue. Therefore, the Xicanista combines the traditional view of the Christian god with goddess wor-ship. This combination gives her a spiritual source to combat challenges rather than rely on physical might to vanquish her opponents.Since the early seventies, religiosas and laity have been set on devel-oping a theology appropriate for them. They used as the springboard the feminist premise that the personal was political. Examination of con-cepts and attitudes in unprecedented ways was the kind of serious work that as activists they believed social change required. For example, in Hispanic Women’s Theology, the authors suggested that the passivity prevalent in women’s culture could no longer be viewed as a weakness but as a mode of survival. While strength had often been associated with aggression in our competitive world, cooperation and conciliation might actually prove more beneficial to society.Women’s liberation theology was also women’s struggle against any-thing in society that prohibited her full participation and contributions as a human being—Imago Dei. Women who saw man and woman cre-ated in the image of God and who believed that God was the perfect guide and example for how we should all lead our lives on this earth, out of necessity, questioned why they were not treated as humans who also could strive for perfection. Traditionally, only men could aspire to it because they are images of God. Women could only aspire to salvation by negation of self, that was, to deny femaleness. Hispanic women’s theology is valuable insofar as it attempts to reflect woman’s reality to enable her to overcome material obstacles and to participate in a com-munal process with other women, her family, and community toward economic betterment within the ascriptions of her faith.However, I see women’s liberation theology as problematic in the process toward human liberation, both of spirit and body. Philosophically, Christianity is based on the belief in a remote God (generally still accepted as a male: father), far removed from our mortal, material selves. He is an inimitable model since he is spirit and we are flesh; and yet Christianity is based on the struggle that requires man to imitate
109God. Because of our “crime” of disobedience to this Father God we must strive for redemption. To be born is a sin in itself. The only time that God became flesh was through his son, Jesus Christ, and the New Testament and Catholic doctrine have taken great pains to teach us that woman had nothing to do with this birth. Furthermore, Christianity is based on the dualistic principle and polarization of good and evil. It depends on our desire to disobey: to rebel against the repression of the human spirit and the desire to create a balance out of the celebration of flesh and spirit—to experience a life of ecstasy. The word ecstasy itself, if not related to the passion and suffering of Christ, implies sin.Both Marxism and Catholicism alienate humanity from its spiritu-ality. While Marxism focuses too narrowly on class and economic in equities and denies the existence of the soul, Catholicism has a his-tory of implementing an attack on humanity in the name of God the Father. In the twenty-first century the church reiterates its position against women as priests, contraceptives, and homosexuality.25 Women are made responsible by government and church for the children they bear, who suffer all manner of disease and maladies from poisonous exposure to industrial chemicals and pollutants and poverty. The “pro-letariat masses” of whom socialists speak are mostly women. Women are spoken of and to by church authorities, government officials, and male community leaders, but to date have had little authority to speak for themselves and remain underrepresented.Socialist-communist doctrine as we have understood it and Christianity both fell short as realistic responses to the urgent needs of most mexicanos and mexicanas on both sides of the border. A sense of urgency may be gained from the single example of México City, home to more than 21 million inhabitants today, all of whom suffer from dan-gerous exposure to air pollution (the effects are equivalent to smoking a pack of cigarettes a day) and other contaminated natural resources, and many of whom live there demoralized and in appalling poverty. Populations on both sides of the border suffer from similar dangerous and deplorable conditions, not to mention all the rest of us—from large cities like Los Angeles to small towns like San Isidro, New Mexico.
110kCommunal societies existed ages before the rigid control of patriarchal Christianity and later, communist doctrine. A conservative viewpoint on behalf of some scholars and thinkers resists drawing conclusions about the possibility of matriarchal practices in times before recorded history because of lack of conclusive evidence and because it is controversial and threatens the current world order. Nevertheless, there is much worldwide archaeological evidence that proves the book of Genesis is a testimony of retaliation against the previous mythologies that associated woman with the power of creation. In fact, woman did issue humanity from her womb.26 Aside from injecting his sperm into her womb, man’s participa-tion in the creative process is that of observer. With this in mind, we can understand why as male society took control—a long time ago—it felt it necessary to appropriate woman’s “mysteries,” along with her labor and her children. The Bible is composed of texts that could be used to argue any ethical or political point but despite this fact, the Old and the New Testaments have shown indisputable contempt for women. Enrique “Hank” López writes, “Everyday throughout the world, millions of Jewish men utter a prayer thanking God for not creating them as women. There are, of course, millions of non-Jewish men who feel the same way, but their gratitude is not formalized in prayer.” 27On the other hand, some progressive thinkers look to contemporary examples of indigenous matriarchal societies to prove that such cul-tures have existed and argue in favor of them, because matriarchies are founded on preservation rather than on destruction and our planet and its inhabitants are in dire need of emergency conservation. Latina activ-ists, regardless of religious affiliation, come together on such causes as the discussion of legal abortion and alleviating poverty and also regard-ing their personal spiritual journeys.28 A case in point is the faith-based NGO (nongovernmental organization) in the border town of Juárez, Centro Mujeres de Fe y Esperanza. According to its mission statement, its members “stand in solidarity with women throughout the world who actively seek peace with justice for the earth and for people.” Among
111ways that they do this are by “challenging the Latino family structure” and by “promoting . . . a nonpatriarchal, action-oriented religious spiritual-ity as social activism.” 29 For too long we have been told what we are and why we are as women: mujeres mestizas (sino descendientes de sangre euro-pea, somos indias sin razón), católicas (sino ahora protestantes, paganas o pecadoras), social definitions embedded in a history that have subordi-nated the female gender.At this writing, nearly a half century after the fervor of the Chicano/Latino movement, it is fair to say it, as with other ethnic movements of the day, was successfully dismantled. As mentioned earlier in this chap-ter, the federal government played no small part, but there were many factors. These included new generations that came of age as beneficia-ries of the earlier civil rights work and who therefore did not find it imperative to take political action. This also may be said of the feminist activism of the seventies and subsequent generations of women who also did not find it critical to become activists for woman’s equal rights. These observations do not imply that there were no longer activists or that there were no longer issues to take up for civil rights.The same waning as a movement may be said of women’s participa-tion in the Liberation movement. Peña writes: “For many feminists working for change in their churches, liberation theology has proven of little consequence.” 30 However, a positive result seems to be that faith-based women’s organizations, Catholic, laity, Protestant, and activists not affiliated with any religion have come together finding they had more in common as feminists than differences. In accordance with my observations here and elsewhere in this book, “Latinas on the U.S.-Mexico border and in the Mexican interior highlighted the way global capitalism affects people’s daily lives . . . and the fact that people are mobilizing, despite the odds, against such forces.” 31Regarding the increase of scholarship, while we may observe the surfacing of data, reports, and entire texts, often developed from dis-sertations, community workers focus on the daily challenges pre-sented with underfunded programs. “There are very privileged spaces at the academic level . . . very important . . . but these efforts, we feel
112them still to be very disconnected from the larger women’s movement.” 32Five hundred years ago the militant Mexícas knew they had lost their way and called to their/our Toltec ancestors as in the following ancient Náhuatl canto from mother to daughter: “You will spin / you will weave / you will learn what is Toltec / the art of feathers / how to embroi-der in colors / how to dye the threads.” 33 It seems implausible, given the extent of evidence for people’s desire for material appropriation surpass-ing need, to achieve balanced spiritual lives, and we would have to undo the anachronistic weave. Like the Toltecs, start from scratch, gathering our own raw materials and apply our own dyes. We would have to teach each other that submission need not be humiliating and that strength need not be synonymous with aggression. The anecdote of a commu-nity activist attending a feminist forum in El Salvador may have sum-marized it best. Desiring a clarification of the term feminism, she asked if it meant: fe-en-mi-mismo. If faith in myself were its meaning, the woman added, she would then believe in it.34
113chapter fiveIn the Beginning There Was EvakEven jade is shattered,Even gold is crushed,Even quetzal plumes are tornOne does not live forever on this earth:We endure only for an instant!Perhaps we will live a second time? Thy heart knowsJust once do we live!—nezahualcoyotlat the time of the Conquest in Tenochtitlán’s neighboring Mexíca city-state of Texcoco, the intellectual center of the Aztec Empire, a school of philosophy held the origin of all things was a single dual-based prin-ciple, which was both masculine and feminine. This god was called, Tloque Nahuaque, or Ipalnemohuani, “the god of the immediate vicin-ity,” “that one through whom all lives.” 1 Nezahualcoyotl, king of Texcoco, philosopher, astronomer, scientist, and poet is credited for acknowledg-ing the concept of a single creator. To be sure, this belief was not widely held by the populace; and I would like us to keep in mind that in our own times popular credence remains embedded in ideas many
114centuries old and not in the notions of contemporary poets and physi-cists. Be that as it may, the idea of duality at this point in Mexíca history shows the tendency of the male mind to split his consciousness into opposing dichotomies, implying that we are divinely created with a dual nature.It has been noted by some anthropologists that traces of Mexican matriarchy existed as recently as the eleventh century during the Toltec civilization. By the sixteenth century, however, the imperialism of the Mexíca Empire had transformed to where the primary role for woman was to serve male-ruled society. Unlike certain egalitarian traditions still traceable in North American indigenous cultures,2 the Mexícas, along with supporting their economy with slave labor, systematically subordinated the female gender. As in similar cases throughout recorded history, with the increase of nationalism woman’s image became polarized along two juxtaposed positions of femaleness, which will be discussed in this essay.The Aztec earth goddess Coatlicue serves as a prime example of compari-son to the mythology of the Near East from which Judeo-Christianity descends.3 First, she is the earth goddess, goddess of fertility. She also rep-resents death. With the rise of patriarchy, the gruesome side of death becomes more prevalent in her description. Her icon depicts her dressed with serpents; in the place where her head might be are two serpents that meet face to face. The serpent in global prepatriarchal religious practices was thought to control wisdom (magic), immortality, and fertility. As such, it was the special companion of woman, the creatrix of humanity, and it often guarded “earthly or celestial gardens of delight.” 4 We see the parallel of Coatlicue not only to that of the pre-Judeo-Christian concept of the Mother of All Living Things and as Mary for Christians, but also in the idea of Woman upheld by Christianity in the myth of Eva (Eve).In this discussion of Eve, the first model of a “real” woman that we have been provided by Catholicism, I would like to propose that three basic premises regarding mythology and religion be kept in mind: first, the mythology that has affected civilization in the last four to five
115thousand years was created out of the imaginations of men; second, its creation was dependent on the needs of those men in power; and third, patriarchal mythology can be argued to have been based on a direct attack against woman as creatrix.Before the writing of the scriptures, real women had for some time been subject to male authority. Woman was almost unexceptionally viewed as man’s property, a tool by which to produce an heir, to pro-vide him with servitude, and to give sexual pleasure. Her representa-tion, therefore, in his doctrines, literature, and art was by and large depicted to illustrate his ideas and to promote his continued power. Throughout the world—from the Bronze Age in Crete to just five hun-dred years ago in México (not to mention the present West)—the ten-dency of patriarchy is an eventual phallocentric rising up of structures, pyramids, and high rises, unholy stones piled up, as men separate themselves from other men to strive toward higher levels of stature, always sanctioned by a Sun God elevated to the remote eternal sanctity of the Astros. Women, on the other hand, in their reproductive role are methodically lowered in social status, down to the earth, below the depths of the murky ocean. Their creations can mean nothing because they are always tangible and transient, never lasting, they eventually die, and are sent back down to the ground, where they do not last but decompose.The subordination of woman’s sexuality was crucial for the survival of patriarchal religious practices. Female sexuality was viewed as perverse. A Hebrew myth illustrates this point as it attempted, perhaps, to explain the ambiguity of the creation of two women in the book of Genesis.5 It refers to a woman by the name of Lilith who was created before Eve and who became Adam’s first wife. Having been created at the same time as her husband she was not prepared to be subordinate to him, specifically in the realm of their sexual activity. She fled to the shores of the Red Sea, where she engaged in orgies with demons. In Genesis Rabbah 18:14, a collection of midrashim (a form of Rabbinic literature) about the book of Genesis, the “First Eve” is described as a “golden bell” that
116troubles the rabbis at night. “Why do not all other dreams exhaust a man . . . ?”It seems that Lilith had ravenous sexual desires, which included oral sex; this, among more significant aspects of her myth, has led some feminists to think that perhaps Lilith was punished for being lesbian. According to Jungian analyst Karin Lofthus Carrington in her anthol-ogy on gay and lesbian unions, Same Sex Love and the Path to Wholeness,6 Lilith and Eve represent an incestuous sister bond that precedes the patriarchal split of woman as virgin/whore. For lesbian partners who see themselves retrieving the lost sister from whom they have been sep-arated, this myth may present the opportunity for healing that irrecon-cilable separation.7What is evident in the Lilith account however is the obvious repul-sion the early patriarchs showed for the female body. According to the story, her regret over her behavior prevented her from returning to Adam. As she was not present in the Garden of Eden during the Fall, she did not die. Instead, “She lives forever as a demonic, highly erotic night spirit who snatches newborn children (particularly males) and assaults the bodies and senses of men who sleep alone (presumably an explanation for erotic dreams).” 8 Lilith was portrayed as a winged ser-pent. As late as medieval Europe, the serpent in paradise is pictured with a woman’s head and breasts. Lilith portrayed as a snake, as in various other pre-Christian sources, represents goddess worship. In patriarchy, the snake goddess, once associated with wisdom, begins to connote death and destruction rather than the regeneration of life.As Xicanistas and heiresses of a Christian-based culture, the book of Genesis is the document in which we witness the male takeover of woman’s autonomy. Tied to her economic autonomy was her reproduc-tive ability; her children had belonged to her. The products of her labor in the fields belonged to her and were passed on to her children. In the Bible, woman’s bloods, associated with birth (and death), were deemed contemptible taboos and replaced with the letting of male blood through circumcision, a false menses, an imitation of woman’s asso-ciation with all creation.9 The Maya, who were once thought to be
117peace loving are now known to have been no less war prone than the Mexíca who succeeded that civilization, and Mayan priests also per-formed bloodletting rituals. Blood from the penis was thought to reveal sacred messages. This genital bloodletting I interpret as an imi-tation of women’s menses, symbol of fertility and divine power for indigenous peoples.Along these lines, there is comparable testimony in the “Council Book,” or the Popol Vuh, that in the mythistory of the Quiche-Maya (Guatemala)—at least after the Conquest when the version that we have was written—women were given secondary roles as goddesses and in the flesh, despite the “unified dual principle” of Quiche-Mayan philos-ophy. The first four humans were male, created without mother or father, but the male god Quetzalcóatl (Toltec) appears to have played a big part in the successful creation of the first humans. Their four wives came later.10 This is a simplistic interpretation of their creation myth, of course, but my point here is that at the time of the Spanish Conquest the Mayan civilization was militaristic and following a similar patriar-chal progression by diminishing female power.Among the Mexíca, the universal concept of the Mother Goddess who, by tasting of the fruit of knowledge forbidden to her,11 has lost innocence for humankind, is represented by Xochiquetzal. According to the myth, the world tree of the Mexíca grew in Tamoanchan. Xochiquetzal—the goddess of love—was the first female to sin, “a ref-erence to the fact that her patronage extended to illicit as well as to socially acceptable love.” 12Xochiquetzal was the willful goddess who lost paradise then is trans-figured into Ixtextli (Ashes in Eyes). She is blinded by her weeping and can never again look out into the open skies of day or at the sun. The sun, we can recall, is represented by the formidable Aztec god, Huitzilopochtli. Even the Dionysianlike Tezcatlipoca, who in various myths is also known for partaking in sex and alcohol, is not responsible for losing paradise and his outright sexuality is not the cause of disas-ters that fall on humankind as a result. Instead, it is the goddesses in their changeable roles that are given this emphasis.
118Popular Mexican culture, as every child knows, has its own varia-tion of Lilith in the legendary figure of La Llorona, The Weeping Woman.13 Folklore has it that she drowned her own children to go off with a lover and then was cursed by God to search for them throughout eternity. She is almost always sighted near water; and men, above all, fear the vision. A nationalist version prefers to see her as an Indian woman who is lamenting over her lost race after the Conquest. In fact, Coatlique, as the snake goddess, Cihuacóatl, appeared as the sixth omen predicting the fall of the Empire of Tenochtitlán when she was heard wailing in the night, “O my children, you are lost; where shall I hide you?” 14 This same concept became personified in Mexican history by Malintzin (La Malinche and more vulgarly, “la Chingada,” the fucked woman), an actual historical figure who was stigmatized by the Eve theme.15 The insinuation here also is that female sexuality is at fault again, since it is woman who conceives and who therefore gave birth to the new race. This idea predated the Conquest, however, as we see Coatlicue emerging in the pantheon as Cihuacóatl. Cihuacóatl, who wailed and moaned in the night air, was, among other things, the patroness of women who died in childbirth. In the past people believed that she had come by when they found the empty cradle in the market-place with a sacrificial knife laid beside it.16The gods and goddesses of the Mexíca pantheon may seem at first reminiscent of some found in Greek mythology, such as Xochiquetzal with Aphrodite, but on closer examination they have serious differ-ences. In her role as matron fertility goddess Xochiquetzal, for example, is nearer in description to the Earth Mother. Unlike Greco-Roman and Western European cities that grew from a political and commercial base, the isolated Mesoamericans were founded on religious mysticism much like the first communities of the Middle East. This reliance on mysticism continued to be fundamental to Amerindian philosophy beyond the Conquest and accommodated such things as the absorption of new gods, gods continuously changing roles and having numerous titles. Furthermore, as mentioned at the beginning of this essay, there
119were those in Texcoco devoted to Tloque Nahuaque, called the tlamati-nimi, and who did not believe in multiple deities. “The tlamatinimi conceived of monotheism, with a strong feeling toward yin and yang, to explain the workings of the universe.” 17 Therefore, while I occasionally suggest such comparisons here to better understand our contemporary interpretations of sexuality in Western civilization, I cannot rely fully on them. Again, this leads me to reiterate the point that as conscienticized mestizas, our worldview is markedly different from the Eurocentric one accepted by white Americans.The Aztecs, as did the Maya to some extent, traced their actual and mythological history to the famous Toltecs. Likewise, the sex god-desses of the Aztecs were said to have originated in Tula. They are represented in quadruplicate, in all probability the moon’s phases. According to Brundage, “The Ixcuiname, as the four together were called, stood for more than sexuality and desire . . . for their mythology states that they were present as a sisterhood in the darkness which preceded the first rising of the fifth sun [age of the Aztecs and their attending Sun God] and that they, along with the Mimixcoa, represent the stars.” 18 Again we see the parallel of myths with others throughout the globe, with the rise of the sun god comes the fall and eventual subordination of the variable moon goddess/fertility goddess/goddess of carnal knowledge and all wisdom.the transcontinental earth motherOnce again, multideified Coatlicue enters Mexíca society in her role as Tonantzin, “Our Holy Mother,” Tonan simply “Mother,” as well as Teteoman, “the mother of the gods” (note one of Mary’s titles is that of “Mother of God”). At the Council of Ephesus in 431, Mary was given the title Theotókos previously held by Artemis. Part of the debate of the council related to the meaning of Theotókos, Mother of God or God-bearer. In the past this referred to a goddess. Mary was considered flesh.
120If she were to give birth to a divinity, however, she would also have to be pure—untouched by man. Jesus, like earlier gods, had to be the son of a god.Tonan in Náhuatl is the name given to several mountains where the Earth Mother was worshipped. Tonan was the earth and the Mexíca worshipped her as the Great Mother present at the inception of humans. As Teteoman she was lifted to the highest level of divinity and “played an almost gynarchic role.” 19 Because of the destruction of Indian reli-gion and codices, we must rely considerably on the interpretations by early Spaniards of the Aztec pantheon and beliefs that don’t distinguish the Mother’s titles and the conceptualizations of her. Therefore, there remains much in archaeology about the Mexíca goddess left open to interpretation.On the very hill of Tepeyac where Tonantzin was said to have been worshipped, Saint Juan Diego, a recently converted Catholic Nahua, witnessed the visitation of the Mary who was eventually named the Virgin of Guadalupe by the church.20 Popular speculation has it that converting the mother goddess, Tonantzin, into the Virgin Mary as Guadalupe, the brown virgin, was the Mexic Amerindian people’s way of attempting to hold on to their own beliefs.21 As a spiritual attempt at grappling with the trauma of social and political upheaval, all Mexicans, Amerindians, and mestizos alike subsequently encom-passed Juan Diego’s personal experience. Guadalupe’s appearance is seen as a divine blessing on la Raza and thus, her banner has led rev-olutions for freedom and justice. Her association with nationalism is indisputable as is Tonantzin’s surrender of all creative power to men in the form of the sublime Virgin Mary.In Christianity, the Mother Goddess is introduced in the Old Testament in the form of Eve, but she is finally rendered without power. Adam’s second wife is sentenced to total subordination to man as a direct consequence of her “will” to maintain her conscientización through her metaphorical association with the serpent. She is punished by having to suffer the labor of childbirth; and she must deliver her chil-dren up to man/God. The expansion of the uterus is necessary for the
121delivery of a child. Certain curanderas are as knowledgeable or savvier about the medicinal properties of plants than some university-trained botanists, and early women, too, found natural ways to ease labor and when necessary, even to expel a fetus as natural birth control. According to Barbara Mor and Monica Sjöö, “The earliest recorded abortion recipes yet found date from circa 2700 B.C. They were inscribed on Egyptian papyrus scrolls,” 22 and “[In Ancient Rome and Greece] vinegar or lemon juice were used as acid spermicide, and one-half of a squeezed-out lemon is a pretty good ‘cap.’” In terms of fertility and contraception there is plenty of documentation that shows herbal use in Mesoamerica in pre-Conquest times. In the times of Tenochtitlan, women among the populace resorted to abortion and infanticide when unable to provide sustenance.23Many of these remedies are still in use. For example, in Cobán the leaves of Mexican giant hyssop are cooked with other plants and the liquid drunk for the purpose of inducing abortion. There were several herbal concoctions known to alleviate the pain of childbirth. A species of greenbrier was used in seventeenth-century Guatemala to make sterile women fertile.24 Native American women in North America used ragwort to speed childbirth and induce abortion, and wild rasp-berry tea is still widely used by women for prevention of miscarriage, increasing milk, and reducing labor pains (as well as cramps). In México rue is used.Both the Catholic and Protestant churches have been known to con-demn women for using ancient methods of contraception. Examples are the well-documented witch hunts of New England in the 1600s that resulted in the hanging of midwives and the Catholic Church’s ongoing position against contraceptives and abortion. Until the 1970s a woman in Catholic-dominated Spain could be jailed for having an abortion, and it was illegal in the United States until 1973. In 2013 the topic of keeping abortion legal remains a passionate debate among lawmakers and the populace alike. If we dig into our primordial memories or just use com-mon sense, we know that the authors of the scriptures were about the business of female control.
122Woman of the scriptures goes on “as ordered” to be fertile and to populate the world as women had always done, but her creatrix ability was extracted from her identity and appropriated by the male god and his motherless child, Adam. In the New Testament, Jesus, too, ulti-mately disowns his mother, whom it is understood was nothing more than a vessel that delivered the Christ child to the world. Henceforth, the crucial point to keep in mind here is that without the assistance of a female, the male god has created man. From man alone humanity is created. In reality, of course, it is woman who brings forth men and women. Only as recently as 1827 was the female ovum discovered. Until then, for thousands of years, the male was seen as the sole generative physical force and the female as little more than receptacle. Much more recently, through research in the area of parthenogenesis, it is now believed to be possible to produce a fetus with two female eggs—that is, without the male sperm.Man was so afraid of mortality that he cursed woman—a reminder of his birth—for being the one who has the ability to “create” him. “Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception, in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee” (Gen. 3:16). Woman today is still being punished for her femaleness by the male-dominated medical field, the public deliberation of the personal issue of abortion, the social persecution of being a rape victim, and religious control of her reproductive rights, among other ways.In an attempt to reconcile this misogynist effort to put the blame for the Fall solely on woman, theologians recently have been saying it was the fault of both. Many years ago, I attended a Mass where the priest happened to be giving a sermon that Sunday on this very theme. He said the story of the downfall of man was not intended to denigrate woman. The point of the story was not to blame woman or the serpent, he said, but to state that sin had entered the world. As it happened in more recent years, I attended another mass on Easter in which the sermon rang with a similar message. By no means devout or otherwise familiar with the church’s revisionist viewpoints on biblical interpretation, it seemed to
123me that some weight has been taken off the first woman. Nevertheless, the snake as an inciting demon and woman as perpetrator of the Fall remains ingrained in popular culture. Likewise, many modern Christians and women (despite being beneficiaries of feminist politi-cal action) adhere to the idea that woman was indeed created from a rib of man. Therefore, man is their lord. The damage that such meta-phorical stories, taken as historical accounts, has caused women throughout Christianity’s history can hardly be recompensed by a recent, and not widely recognized, change of heart in theological doctrine.Since Adam failed God’s test in proving his loyalty, man gets a second chance for redemption and eternal life in the New Testament. Jesus is said to recapitulate the story of Adam but this time when tempted, he remains faithful to the Father God and thereby overcomes the trans-gression of Adam that resulted in man’s separation from the Divinity.25 The Virgin Mary appears in the New Testament as the redeemed ver-sion of the first woman, Eve. Catholic theologians have relentlessly set out to prove her worthiness as Mother of All Living Things by rendering her less human. Completely obsequious, she accepts the Annunciation for the virginal birth. The mother goddess is restored to heaven but her image is rendered powerless. Although Immaculate Conception was long considered dogma, it was only in 1854 that the Roman Catholic Church actually made official this doctrine.Another example of this relentless desire to prove Mary’s ideal state came even more recently. In 1950 the pope declared Mary’s deathless ascension into heaven as doctrine—death as the inevitable result of sex was unacceptable in the case of the Mother of God. The ancient associ-ation of sex with death is still prevalent in Christian belief. The soul and the body are paralleled: the dead body reflects the corruption of the (lustful) soul. Also, copulation associated with birth inevitably leads to death, which man has feared most of all. While this fervent process of redeeming Mary had its beginnings in the fourth century, as recently as 1968, the Credo of Pope Paul VI reconfirmed the dogma of the
124Assumption. During an age when the vastness of space was being com-prehended, Mary’s body was being risen to the sky. “Even assuming that Mary’s body could travel at the speed of light—an impossible idea to begin with—it would be only two thousand light years away at the present time, about one-fiftieth of the distance across our own galaxy, let alone plunged into the unthinkable immensity of intergalactic space.” 26 As redeemer of mankind, symbolic promise of eternal life, the Divinity Himself made into flesh, Jesus could not be born of human copulation or of an ordinary woman.The Christian God was not the first deity to consort with a mortal woman to produce a divine prodigy. Theology scholar Marina Warner argues that “Pythagoras, Plato, Alexander were all believed to have been born of woman by the power of a holy spirit. It became the commonplace claim of a spiritual leader.” 27 There are a multitude of similarities between the life of the Egyptian sun god Horus and that of Jesus’ life. However, in the Hebrew myth, unlike previous creation stories, Yaweh (Hebrew God) does not have any physical contact with woman, an indication of both the contemptibility of woman and the fear of her by her creators.In his book God of Ecstasy Arthur Evans has done extensive research to argue that the authors of the New Testament not only did not know Jesus but borrowed their writings from a play written by Euripides, based on the myth of Dionysus, which had a great impact on Greek reli-gion. In Euripides’ play Bakkhai, written five hundred years before the birth of Jesus, the god Zeus has sexual intercourse with a mortal woman. The prodigy, Dionysus, born of this union is human and divine. A religious sect of that period known as the Orphics emphasized spiri-tuality in the Dionysian cult, which was based on a belief in an afterlife. At the time of Jesus’ birth, the following theme, according to Evans, was already part of contemporary religious belief:The Son of God has been born from the union of the Father God and a mortal woman; wine is his sacrament and shepherds are his heralds; he has come as a liberator of the human race; he has died
125and risen from the dead; the purpose of religion is to cleanse one-self from the moral imperfection, inherent and otherwise, of being human; the mechanism for this moral cleansing is participation in certain sacraments; the effect of this cleansing is a continued life after physical death.28Orpheanism, after the Greek hero Orpheus, another son of Zeus, can be traced back to at least the sixth century BCE. From this religion Gnosticism evolved. By the late second century CE the Orphean version of Christianity transformed into a distinct (Gnostic) Christian move-ment. Gnostic (from the Greek word γνˆωσις, or gnosis, meaning knowl-edge of the divine) was a belief in a dualistic universe made up of matter and light. Matter was considered evil, the purview of an evil god, gods, or demons. Light was considered the realm of the divine and a godhead that was a remote being. Much of what we know of the heterogeneous group we call the Gnostics remains sketchy, because the Christian Church effectively destroyed most writings.29 Much documentation comes from the early church patriarchs, such as Tertullian of North Africa and Hippolytus of Rome. What scholars have concluded is that Gnostics (perhaps early Christians) did not look on the world as having been created perfectly and then degenerated as a result of the sin of Adam and Eve. Instead, an inferior god had created an evil world. Some Gnostics sects honored the snake that appeared at the Tree of Knowledge and enabled first man and woman to become fully human. The ancient symbol of a serpent or dragon swallowing its own tail represented the soul of the world.The ultimate downfall of Gnosticism as the church rose to political power by the mid-third century was Docetism, or the belief that Jesus did not actually die. The Gnostics found the material world evil, there-fore, Jesus could not have become flesh but had to be an illusion. When he was crucified, his spirit fled.30 Again, much of what we know of Gnostics relies on scholarly speculation. Important to our discussion here is the controversial theory that some sects believed that Jesus had both women and men disciples holding equal status. While some
126groups suppressed sexual expressions as the church did later, others were said to perform sexual ritual magic. These opinions have led to many contemporary feminist-leaning fictional accounts evoking Mary Magdalene as a principal disciple, most notably, the sensational best seller The Da Vinci Code.While in the cult of Dionysus there was a celebration of physical life, we see a deliberate move in Christianity to separate physicality and spir-ituality, thereby immobilizing the human spirit by making expressions of ecstasy taboo. Humanity relies on copulation for its perpetuation, and this became the only form of sex sanctioned. However, a woman’s orgas-mic ability is not confined to any estrus (the female mammal’s “heat” cycle). The human female is receptive to sexual overtures at any time and for reasons other than the purpose of reproduction. To insist that sex only exists for the purpose of reproduction is to go against human evolution. To enforce this regulation through religious doctrine goes against our sensual and psychic affinities with our bodies and life energy; it goes against our spirituality.Just as political history is taught from the perspective of the victor, what most of us know of religion is what leaders tell us. It is a Jesuit tenet that faith begins with doubt. We should also not hesitate to wonder how the stories we are told about prophets came to be. Christianity did not sprout out of nowhere but evolved from earlier beliefs. Remnants of Greek mythology surface continuously in Catholic symbolism. For example, the black Catalan Virgin, La Moreneta, is portrayed with the Christ child and she holds a pinecone on her knees. The pinecone, a symbol of fertility because of its many concealed nuts, was also used as the crown on the staff of Dionysus. The beliefs of the Ancient Greeks and Romans were not Christianity’s only influences. The Virgin Mary and her symbols are a well of hope for her followers. As the heavenly representative of fertility (a primary role for the earth goddess), her sash symbolizes fecundity. In Spanish, the word cinta refers to a sash and the word encinta means to be pregnant. Chanting over beads originated in the worship of Vishnu and Shiva in Brahmanic India. It spread to Buddhism and to Islam. Men throughout Greece, Asia Minor, and
127North Africa have a secular form of this in their use of worry beads. The use of the rosary was adapted out of a need for a private experience with God. The Hail Mary is recited over and over like a hypnotic chant. Above all, the Virgin Mary Mother of All Living Things presides over her chil-dren when they are dying, as the compassionate mediator between them and their Lord. As Warner points out, “That is why the best-loved prayer of the Catholic world the Hail Mary ends with the plea that the Virgin should pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death,” Amen.31In modern man’s schema woman must choose between one of two polar-ized roles, that of mother as portrayed by the Virgin Mary versus that of whore/traitor as Eve. These two roles were revisited on Mexicans in the figures of La Virgen de Guadalupe and Malintzin. Man’s fear of his own mortality caused the perpetuation of contemptible female figures such as Lilith, Eve, La Malinche, as well as Mary Magdalene, who also is associ-ated with sex and death.32 The unreal model of the Virgin Mother is no less cruel to women because it is an inimitable role for women.But if men today of the West appear to have no advantage in creating any “positive” female model (assuming that the Virgin is a positive one) one might ask herself, why then, perpetuate the benevolent archetype of Virgin Mary at all? What purpose does she serve men, even as a modified or domestic version of the ancient creator-goddess? Throughout history humanity has called forth the mother archetype. Jungian psychology, which is not directly associated with Catholicism, proposes that all men want a virgin mother. We must remind ourselves, however, that the “Virgin Mary is not the innate archetype of female nature, the dream incarnate; she is the instrument of a dynamic argument from the Catholic Church about the structure of society, presented as a God-given code.” 33Most women who consider themselves self-sufficient and who have successful careers, are nonetheless shadowed by society’s notion that “good woman” means “mother.” Good woman equals mother equals the Virgin Mary but not Eve, whose behavior is forever questioned. Not the earth goddess who has the ability to create and to destroy, but the docile, submissive, devout image that has received Father God’s grace.
128Women are to be fulfilled by fulfilling the needs of men. Even the woman, who, for any number of reasons, chooses not to involve herself in an ongoing relationship with a man, is made to believe that mother-hood is not an option but rather her duty as a female member of her family, community, and society. She cannot reach maturity, truly become a woman, or earn good standing if she refuses to procreate. As Warner says, “Nothing it seems, even to non-Catholics, could be more natural than this icon of feminine perfect, built on the equiva-lence between goodness, motherhood, purity, gentleness and submis-sion.” 34By refusing to submit to a man/god, the way of Lilith/Eve/La Llorona, according to myth, is to be punished forever.35 Such a woman may not only lose the very right to live, the stories tell us, her “spirit” may end up suffering for eternity on earth/hell. Try as she might, even modern woman never completely escapes a combination of these archetypes. By the fourth century, retreat from society was the only other alternative women had in Christian Europe. Many chose to remain chaste by devot-ing themselves to the service of God directly, bypassing man, his medi-ator on earth. To renounce her womanhood, these women became like men: “As long as a woman is for birth and children, she is different from men as body is from soul. But when she wishes to serve Christ more than the world, then she will cease to be a woman, and she will be called man.” 36We are reminded of the illustrious seventeenth-century Mexican genius, Sor Juana Inéz de la Cruz, who took refuge in the cloister to pursue academic knowledge. Even in the case of a brilliant scholar, we see woman forced to succumb to the authority of a male superior when Sor Juana was ultimately ordered to give up her books for challenging male arrogance and authority over woman through her writings.37 By abstaining from sex, a nun shows a variation on her role as concubine of man and mother of his heir. The nun’s pursuit of intellectual inter-ests and spiritual fulfillment, however, comes at the cost of her sexu-ality. She must equate her flesh with sin and sin with woman.
129“it is not a question of power but of service”While today a woman, whether a religiosa or laity, will not be made to give up her books and sent to a sure death to tend the plague ridden as was Sor Juana in the seventeenth century, she will still meet up with the hard line of the Catholic Church’s doctrine.38 Protestant activistas may find some latitude. Base Christian groups are known for being able to assume larger roles in developing ideas often restricted by the Catholic Church. For example, Alma Tamez, of the Asociación de Pastoras of México City (sister of biblical scholar, Elsa Tamez), formed her feminist perspectives by challenging what she recognized as “male-centered bib-lical interpretations.” 39 Although all manner of historical religious writ-ings have assigned woman to a secondary role, in this age, women of all backgrounds who join faith-based grassroots organizations come together initially to help fight poverty. They see it as disproportionately effecting women, especially women of color globally.One might say that currently a woman is free to pursue her interests without the constrictions that come with heterosexual marriage and family obligations, and she doesn’t have to forfeit her sexuality, at least with regards to society’s mores. Again, however, she remains suscepti-ble to society’s scrutiny and potential rejection, socially and profession-ally. The comments made here are intended as general observations of present-day dynamics. Progress, albeit slowly, is being made.Whether one chooses to accept the feminist notion that the societies once were organized as matriarchies, or instead believes that traditional masculine and feminine characteristics were attributed to the Divine, the tyrannous arrogance of man built a world on the gross maltreatment of the hearts, minds, and bodies of females. It may seem an insur-mountable task to begin our own myth making from which to establish role models to guide us out of historical convolution and devolution. We need not be daunted. After all, Adam means “son of the red Mother Earth,” and Eve, “Life.” 40

131chapter sixLa MachaToward an Erotic Whole SelfkWe watch the “Spice” station on cable and I keep nagging my husband to put on the lesbian channel. The heterosexual channel is just about intercourse—the woman screaming her head off being pumped to death. It insults me. The lesbian channel or maybe it’s just the one that likes to show women together is sensual—they touch, they laugh, they’re in it together and that arouses me. I tell my husband if my mar-riage doesn’t work out, “I’m going lesbian. I don’t need intercourse.” When I say to my husband about what I need sometimes, for instance, talking about an erotic dream I’ve had and how I wake excited, or that I want such and such that night, he’ll say “you sound like a slut—that’s something that whores do.”—Sex survey respondent to informal survey, 1997it’s hard to believe that the testimony above did not come from a woman living generations ago when it was generally thought that sex-ual pleasure for a “decent” woman was verboten.1 On the contrary, it came from an informal phone survey I conducted in the late nineties.
132Conversely with lesbians (and the current growing population of trans-gendered), the very nature of their lifestyle seems to imply a sexual life, and their willingness to talk, therefore, is an investment in seeing changes in society. Straight-identified women often find their sex lives may be a private affair. Everywhere in this age of unprecedented advances of bioengineering, sexual reassignment, and folks picking out future spouses via the Internet, it’s a little hard to see how there are still men who feel that women should not have sexual desires.2 And yet, such attitudes do prevail.For decades I attempted frank (even anonymous) conversations in order to form general ideas about straight Latinas, that is, women with religious (mostly Catholic) upbringings; strict cultural divisions of gen-der behavior; and overbearing fathers, brothers, or husbands intent on protecting their virtue. It bore paltry results. Women with conflicts over abortion and complex views on contraceptives and intent on making their lives with men were not always prepared for discussion, much less debate.3In this chapter I maintain my ongoing contention that not only male-rule, racism, ethnicism, and economics determine women’s sexual atti-tudes, but religion plays an intrinsic, key role in her self-knowing or lack thereof. Conscientización, or at least a certain degree of self- investigation, may bring a woman to a better understanding of what role religion plays in her life. I further believe that in the absence of a woman’s devotion to a church, a sense of spirituality remains important for her. Whereas we may say that religion is a fear of God, spirituality is an aspiration to be one with All.4Twenty years after the first examination of this topic I also wish to give voice to the generation of women who have aged since the begin-ning of the Latino movement and are generally left out of such discus-sions. Also, I now extend my observations to Latinas rather than restrict them to the Chicana. Latinas and Latinos from other countries have found common ground with U.S. Latinos, not necessarily, I think, only in the Spanish of homelands but specifically the Catholic and Christian tenets brought to these shores centuries ago. Millions embrace them.
133For some others, such tenets stick to the culture like gum on a shoe. Nearly half of the church’s membership is in Latin America and in the United States a quarter of the country’s entire population is Catholic.The survey respondent mentioned in the epigraph of this chapter, who is a Puerto Rican professional in her early thirties and a mother, was trying to get her husband, also Puerto Rican, to respond to her fan-tasies. To her disappointment, he belonged to the category of Latino who believed that only “bad girls” enjoyed fun and games in bed, that is, fun and games that men invent with their rules. Today, porn is everywhere, much of it due to the omnipresence of the Internet. According to Kay Banyard, UK feminist activist and author of The Equality Illusion, a boy’s exposure to pornography on the average occurs at eleven years of age. Ideas of his sexuality, which will involve voyeurism, predatory associa-tions, sex disassociated from intimacy, and the reality of his own ability to perform satisfactorily, begin forming at that time. The Internet brought a communication revolution of all manner of information and misinformation not available just a generation before.In the first edition of this book I started this chapter with the following:In 1980 at a writers’ conference, a noted Latino poet who was having trouble with his hotel accommodations asked to use the shower in my room. I waited for him in the room since we were both expected soon at a dinner in our honor. When he came out of the bathroom, dripping, he dropped his towel and dressed in front of me. Afterward, he asked for a cigarette and pro-ceeded to smoke it stretched languidly in an odalisque pose on one of the beds. “Talk to me about erotica,” he said. “And what would you have me say?” I asked, disinterested, and not at all pleased by the wet towel left on the carpet. (He had used up all the towels; moreover, the woman poet with whom I was sharing the room had not yet arrived.) “And what gives you the impression that I know anything about erotica?” I added. “Anyone who has written ten pieces on any subject must be an expert on it,” he responded.5I had recently self-published a chapbook, The Invitation.6 I wrote the poetry and prose in that chapbook during my midtwenties and had
134relentlessly pursued its publication. The chapbook was created out of my sobering experiences of the Movimiento Latino. Sobering because I felt my physiology was objectified and excluded by the politic of those men with whom I had aligned myself on the basis of our mutual subjugation as Latinos in the United States.7 With a poet’s trust in her intuition, I addressed this anguish with the compassion I had for myself as a woman. Even as I moved toward this untracked terrain, however, as a Latina and lapsed Catholic I anticipated that the men within el Movimiento Latino, as “liberal-minded” as they believed themselves to be, would look upon my invitation to discuss sexuality with all the reservations set upon society centuries before. They would not take my endeavor as serious intellectual discourse. Furthermore, being that as politicized Latinos we were already up against the block of the “white literary junta” it would appear to them as frivolous if we “simply” engaged in poetry about sex. My lot, according to them, was to remain true to the collective goals of the pueblo, which of course, were male defined. There would be those, I predicted, who would flatly dismiss me as a nymphomaniac or a lesbian (read: man hater.) Of course, my chapbook was not a personal “invitation” but a tragically overdue proposal to discuss within our various communities our spiritual, political, and erotic needs as a people.My world in Chicago at that time was primarily Mexican, Latino, Christian, mostly Catholic and overlaid with the amorphous leftist politics of the mid-1970s. We were in the throes of the White Feminist Movement, the introduction of The Pill and new literature discussing human desire, The Joy of Sex, Kinsey Report, Masters and Johnson, and the book that made an impact on me, The Hite Report. “My” women, however, maintained the business of our bodies behind closed doors. I am not implying we were not in touch with our sexuality—far from it! Otherwise, how could we entice with it, manipulate with it, have bed sheets to hide from our mothers, from hus-bands . . . ? Furthermore, there were women activists of that era who, like the Anarchists of the early twentieth century, repudiated marriage as the sanc-tioning of their sex lives.In past generations, delivered as children into the grips of medieval- minded nuns, priests and pastors who warned us against auto- stimulation and its horrendous punishments and who regularly reminded us of our
135relation to Evil Eve, how could we acknowledge our sexual desire to each other? If one admitted sexuality, she was discarding the disguise she had worn as the “decent” woman, the “good girl,” and was revealing that under-neath she was nothing more than a bitch in heat.At present in Western culture we are bombarded with images of the sexualized female in dress code, pornography, women for sale on the Internet, the entertainment industry, beauty pageants, and sexualized children in provocative women’s styles. Such costume and behavior are intended for reward—the reward of Cinderella, the scullery maid trans-formed into a fantasy beauty to be picked by the prince.8 Sometimes the benefit is a cold cash transaction. For the rest the reward is attention, and significantly, to be assured of their attractiveness. On the Internet through Facebook, websites with camcorders, etc., the attention may be anonymous, even lewd.The perceptions of the female gender as solely sexualized go back to early recorded times and were connected to woman’s reproductive abil-ity. The Bible is our documented evidence of the patriarchs’ conspiracy against woman’s femaleness, which was linked to her reproductive and productive rights. The Bible made woman’s blood, the blood of creation, a cause for female ostracism: And if a woman have an issue, and her issue . . . be blood, she shall be put apart seven days: and whosoever toucheth her shall be unclean until the even. And every thing that she lieth upon in her separation shall be unclean: every thing also that she sitteth upon shall be unclean. And whosoever toucheth her bed shall wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water, and be unclean until the even (Leviticus 15:19–22). Menses was an indication of her potential betrayal of God’s law. And yet, it was proof of her power of giving man life.Religion symbolically appropriated the spiritual meaning of wom-en’s bleeding in the circumcision rites reserved for Hebrew males. The labia wound on Jesus’s side as he hangs on the cross is nothing less than an imitation of the bleeding vagina—symbolic of fertility—and once considered necessary for any male who professed magical abilities. As with Aztec priests performing bloodletting penance by puncturing the penis with thorns, it is an imitation of the creatrix who gives birth.9
136After centuries of being nullified as mestizas/indias by dominant, invading cultures and the teachings brought by Christianity, we didn’t question why we were so ashamed of our menstruation. We didn’t ask why our lives changed so radically at the age when we first began to bleed—why we were put under immediate suspicion by mothers and fathers. We did not question why workplaces were not conducive to women’s cycles, why we weren’t granted a day off for rest once a month, why we were so separated from other women on the subject, why we whispered to an office mate or the woman next to us on the assembly line, “Do you have a tampon handy? I just got the curse.” What civilized society would call the blood that creates life a curse?The feminist movement of the 1970s to 1980s brought to the fore-ground these matters. Since then, the media and capitalist ventures have brought feminist-influenced adverts that do not shy away from the needs of women during their menses. A new generation of women are unhindered by the reality of their periods and sex before marriage, espe-cially in the United States and across the border, among middle and upper classes. Nevertheless, I would argue that there remains, even in mainstream society encompassing all ethnicities and backgrounds, a certain level of discomfort, if not disgust, that accompanies the idea of women’s monthly bleeding.In Christian doctrine, we have been told that to have sex for any rea-son other than procreation would reduce us to the lowly status of beasts. The irony of this comparison is that only beasts copulate for the sake of reproduction. The human female alone has evolved away from estrus (heat), a state where she would only copulate when she was able to con-ceive. Instead of being restricted to “heat cycles,” the human female is able to have orgasms at any time. A society based on an ideology that denies its own evolution as a species is bound for self-destruction.Our bodies do not belong to us. Modern technology has not yet given women a contraceptive that is both absolutely safe and fully effective. Emergency contraceptive pills are not without potentially serious side effects. The majority of men from all backgrounds have not on their
137own taken responsibility for contraception. Furthermore, with the spec-ter of sexually transmitted diseases, incurable herpes, gonorrhea resist-ing treatment, and the AIDS epidemic that is still hovering over all of us, we are told that outside of marriage only abstention is safe, an atti-tude certainly validated by the values of Western culture as maintained for the last two thousand years.Currently, porn is a $97 billion dollar a year industry.10 Body trafficking is the most profitable illegal activity in the world. These facts make, I think, a sobering point about the ongoing sexualization of people as something illicit, mostly of women but also children and sometimes men. Female sexual liberation has included some short-sighted attempts at objectifying the male body in the same way women’s bodies are objec-tified. For instance, in the 1980s there was a cropping up of “straight” women’s bars that featured male strippers. Supposedly, women were titillated by this voyeurism, catcalling and slipping money into the jock straps of buffed male dancers. While these clubs have dwindled, strip-per clubs with women as commodities have proliferated. In fact, their popularity has extended to include female customers, often heterosex-ual, I think, and there to please their men. It is an absolute impossibility in this society to reversely sexually objectify free heterosexual men, just as it is impossible for a poor person of color to be a racist. Such extreme prejudice must be accompanied by the power of society’s approval and legislation. While individual women and poor people of color may become intolerant, personally abusive, even hateful, they do not have enough power to be racist or sexist.The objectification of body parts as erotic stimulants for the opposite sex, I suggest, is not inherently part of woman’s perception. For exam-ple, women’s breasts are erogenous (for the woman and her partner), but for men their size becomes of exaggerated importance. The degree to which men are afraid of the world they have created has perhaps led to the need to suckle for comfort and security. The bigger the breasts, the more comfort derived. The cosmetic surgery industry with relation to breast augmentation procedures is booming. Unsafe implants and
138surgical risks are an afterthought, if considered at all. Bras and accesso-ries to elevate cleavage have a thriving business. Simultaneously, breast cancer is at epidemic proportions. It affects younger women all the time. It is potentially fatal and may necessitate the removal of such coveted mammary glands. In a society that associates breasts with the ideal female image what say we to women who lose their breasts? By the same token, the transgendered person who rejects her female body, rejoices in a double mastectomy. It is a risky and traumatic surgery. But the transgendered person yearning to be a man welcomes it and intense hormone treatment for the sake of image, what looks to society as the male she feels herself to be. Being flat chested, peeing standing up, growing facial hair—are among traits intrinsic to a performing male and one is therefore treated as male. What of the transgendered who put their lives in peril for the sake of looking masculine? It is not for those who subscribe to the status quo to advise but to observe, learn, and wait for the outcome.Women who have bought into the false possibility of objectifying males, actively promoted by commercial enterprises, focus on the most obvious comparison to women’s breasts: men’s buttocks. Like women’s breasts, buttocks protrude and can be perceived through clothing, unlike the concealed penis. But men’s buttocks do not stimulate a woman sexually the way a person is stimulated when her breasts are fondled and suckled; nor can a man experience the comparable sensa-tion from fondling of the buttocks (his “six-pack” or his biceps) that a woman feels through the stimulation of her nipples during sex. The attempt at objectifying men’s bodies seems only a mocking simulation of what has been done to women through the ages, primarily through voyeurism. That is, through fantasy one can be aroused. Part of the arousal of objectification is a sense of control (power). For women, in heterosexual society, this sense of power is ultimately little more than part of the fantasy.11Technique and erogenous-zone polemics aside, the objectification of females has been the result of men’s enforced economic dominance and spiritual repression over humankind. At no time, when women
139attempt to objectify a man and to derive pleasure from sexual exploita-tion—all in the name of “liberated women’s good fun”—is a man made into a possession, reduced in social status, humiliated, or other-wise abused as has been the case with women. On the contrary, men (who have not been systematically punished for their heterosexual sex-uality) are sexually accessible and their own aggressive sense of desire would not on its own cause a woman to “need” to commodify male sexuality. On the contrary the trend appeared to be financially profit-able for male dancer clubs, male strippers, major advertisements that eroticize heterosexual males, and so on. In recent times such commer-cialized sex-related aspects as the lap dance, vibrator, stripper pole, and S&M have been drawing more publicity. Sexual categories and accessories have become highly profitable products and services pro-moted by the media and marketplace. Likewise, the fashion and beauty industries, which we may argue have nothing to do with feminism, have appropriated feminist thought and language.12 The term self- empowerment for women is a case in point, as it is used by numerous advertisement campaigns in the beauty industry. Women are sold the idea that by participating in these enterprises as agents of commerce and/or customers they are investing in their own empowerment. It seems empowerment equates “self-confidence.” Apparently self- confidence in achieving career goals may come from learning how to throw your legs over your head in a public exhibition on a stripper pole. By participating in the sale of their sex, in other words, the fact of it can no longer be seen as degrading to women.Our economy no longer provides goods and services on demand. Instead, it produces goods or services and creates the demand. The stripper pole went from the shady ambience of the stripper club—once associated with the exploitation of females and drugs—to private homes to becoming exercise equipment at workout studios. In a country with disposable income this creation of demand is feasible. We don’t know how many people make use of these services and products because their own sexuality drives them to it or because popular culture persuades us that we want them. The proven insatiable need of human beings for
140things, what others have or try and for sensual stimulation drives this form of economy.An anecdote comes to mind involving a group of professional Latin American women I met recently in Salt Lake City, Utah. They were invited to the home of a (white) Mormon woman for what they thought was an afternoon ladies’ party. They were served orange juice in wine glasses (since Mormons do not partake of alcohol). The event turned out to be a demonstration for the sale of sex toys. None of the Latinas were Mormon, but all were either Protestant or Catholic Christians. “You have to learn to please your husbands,” they were told by the hostess. One Mexican guest, in the throes of a painful divorce (from a philander-ing husband), wondered aloud whom exactly she was supposed to please at that time. The enterprising and conservative hostess, not approving of divorce, could not bring herself to push the self-pleasuring devices. The demonstration party was a wash.Objectification, which we now understand philosophically as the Other of man, caused woman to feel alienated from herself when mak-ing love with men. (Octavio Paz also considered Mexicans as the Other of North American Anglos—I would say, because, just as woman is perceived, mestizos are dark and full of mysteries.) In forming the Other we objectify. Through the rituals of courtship, woman aspires to be the “special” object of a man’s desire and devotion. Without court-ship, she may feel that the “services” she provides (which amount to much more than sex) are being taken for granted.Until the 1970s, when feminist action helped change legislation, a raped woman was seen by the courts as merely a witness to the crime, which was against the state, not the victim. Throughout men’s wars women have been seen as part of the spoils. It has been said that the Conquest of México was the conquest of women. June Nash clarifies this point from an economist’s perspective: “The conquest was not one of women, but of Indian male control over the productive power of women.” 13 The conquest of woman is not based on economic takeover alone. It has been intrinsically tied to men’s fear of her creatrix ability. It was a conquest of her wisdom, her cultivated knowledge of
141propagation, her knowledge of organically regulating the population on the basis of the needs of her particular social groupings. This knowl-edge was antithetical to the greed on which patriarchy is based.The violence of European colonization and enslavement of primal peoples always had the blessing of the church. When the church domi-nated Europe, it was considered a crime against God for a woman to miscarry. In the Americas, indigenous women who miscarried were whipped in front of the church, as they were suspected of having inten-tionally aborted, robbing the church of its human labor property.14 While it is possible that the conditions these women were forced to live under would be cause enough to miscarry, it is also likely that they did, in fact, abort intentionally. The raped, conquered Indian women of Puerto Rico ate dirt to abort. Indian women throughout the Americas using their own wisdom preferred abortion to bearing children who would suffer inhuman conditions and slavery.Most of our female saints, maintained as models, established their beatitude by repudiating sex. Struggle to the death, as with the women martyrs of medieval Christianity, is hardly an adequate response for so many women. Furthermore, female saints and martyrs are upheld as models because of their ability to forgive their attacker, an act that per-mits repetition of such violations.In Fantasies of Femininity: Reframing the Boundaries of Sex, Jane M. Ussher makes the point regarding representations of strong women. “For whilst it is clear that women are active in resisting the narrow restrictions of the feminine masquerade, we are still a long way from the position where we can say that we are free to decide what being ‘women’ means to us. For centuries, women have been severely sanctioned for stepping out of line.” 15 Indeed, we only have to cite cases of blatant fem-icide in México to reinforce Ussher’s statements—women being stolen, violated, tortured, and thrown away in the desert like carcasses because they went outside of their homes.Many theories have abounded as to the cause for the rampant kid-nappings and mutilations. One, related to this discussion, was the use of such victims for snuff films. These are pornographic films in which
142the female is murdered on camera for the sake of arousing the viewer. This consumer is an extreme, dark, and we hope, small fragment of society. On the other hand, Mexican cinema since the 1990s, not clas-sified as pornography, gives us plenty of examples of complex views regarding sexuality from which we may gather that whether Mexicans go to church or not, they are not prudes.16At home a woman may be no more safe. According to a 2010 survey by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, “On average, 24 people per minute are victims of rape, physical violence, or stalking by an inti-mate partner in the United States.” More than 1 million women are raped each year in this country.17Incest, a subject often censored within the home, its existence denied even as we are experiencing it, also victimizes women, thereby adding further guilt to our erotic desires. The following excerpt from a testimo-nial by a young woman who was raped by her father at the age of eleven clearly exemplifies this:In spite of my feelings I still did not understand why I hated him so much. Why was the thing he had done to me so bad? After all, he had said he was only doing it to warn me of what was going to happen when I got married. What was so wrong about him want-ing to warn me? I did not know why but I hated him. I hated, hated, hated him.18In 2013 a world event that took place on Valentine’s Day in retaliation of violence against women was One Billion Rising. According to the United Nations, one billion women on the planet experience rape or assault in their lifetimes. The public call was made by Eve Ensler, author of The Vagina Monologues. The occasion was promoted as a global strike, an invitation to dance and a call to all to refuse to accept violence against women and girls. On that same day, the world woke to the news that South African Olympic and Paralympic track star Oscar Pistorius was charged with the premeditated murder of his girlfriend. He shot her
143through the bathroom door. The dead woman, a law student and model, was a spokesperson denouncing violence against women. The irony resounds of a human rights activist falling in the mist of guerrilla warfare.The Billion Rising campaign arose from the revulsion of the brutal gang rape of a New Delhi woman. Not long ago in India’s history bru-tality against females generally went unchecked by all. A woman’s worth was measured by caste and dowry size. If a new mother-in-law and husband were unsatisfied it could cost the bride her life. Like the horrendous case of femicide in Juárez, women of color around the world are seen as dispensable. Women of color, many girls, comprise 80 per-cent of the world’s impoverished export manufacturing workforce.19 They are often the family breadwinner. Arguments are made in defense of or to explain violence against women as men feeling emasculated when they are unable to provide for their families. The reasoning that they turn to alcohol and/or violence to salve their wounded egos or as a reaction to humiliation is offensive to the human race and civilization. If men provide for their families they are treated as lords of their homes. When a poor woman of color provides for her family it seems cause for her to be assaulted at home. Feminism made the argument that women have always provided labor, even when not paid, in addition to working in the home to provide men food and comfort. Long ago, while men went on the hunt, women cared for their infants as they worked along-side men in the fields and in the tending of animals.It was part of the feminist movement’s program to value home mak-ing as legitimate work. But the reality is that women have long been in the workplace helping to support families, if not fully supporting them with their labor. More than half of American households are run by single women with children. Women earning less than men, even for comparable work, stems from the belief that men were principal wage earners. As society was transformed by industrialization and families moved to urban settings, women and their children worked even more outside the home, often in perilous circumstances and always at less pay
144than men who were seen because of their size able to produce more and better. Contrarily, it is the dexterity of small hands that makes girls and women more attractive employees to be exploited in maquilas and world sweatshops. Meager pay aside, female laborers are still treated as second- class citizens and often held in contempt for their reproductive abilities. It has been well documented internationally that women have been forced to take birth control pills and are sexually assaulted and raped in these environments.As much as gender is an assignment, negotiating one’s feminine per-formance has been part of woman’s social task across time and the planet. “Becoming woman is something women do rather than are,” Jane M. Ussher states.20 To illustrate the point Ussher divides the doing into four categories, being, doing, rejecting, and subverting. Moreover, she holds that no performance ever “quite inhabits the ideal s/he is com-pelled to approximate.” 21 Whereas as “being girl” is acting out the role of fairy tale princess, “doing girl” recognizes the role as a façade. Women “resisting girl,” according to Ussher, “have little interest in massaging the egos of men.” 22 They may dress and give a feminine performance but test the boundaries of sex and romance as prescribed by phallocen-tric society. Women who “resist girl” have little use for the penis in their personal lives and refuse the role of Other to men. Pornography by and for women, which shifts the assumption of viewer/voyeur to the femi-nine gaze may be an example of resisting girl.23Sex roles are defined through costume and performance. Clothes, which in the past were much more rigidly designed in terms of gender, serve as a costume for enabling such behavior. On one hand, a kind of unisex fashion trend, jeans, hoodies, T-shirts, and any length hair has relaxed the costume for the woman who sees herself as the pursuer, lover, “masculine” partner to the fem. Simultaneously though, in recent years a fashion trend for female-gender-defined women has moved once again to an extreme of femininity. The television series and ongoing film saga Sex and the City had an untold influence on women and “fan-tasies of femininity,” and I would be remiss here not to cite it. The show
145had as much to do with fashion and the fetishism of the designer stiletto as with the sex lives of stock characters playing liberated white women in New York in their search for their Prince Charming.24The traditions of our heritage, the rules of the church, and impor-tantly, economic necessity, still make most women who feel themselves to be lesbian or bisexual opt for a heterosexual performance, that is, “doing girl.” This does not mean that there are never “out” lesbians or “marimacha” types. Many lesbian or bisexuals “do girl” to avoid rejec-tion from society beyond what they may already experience as women. Above all, they do not want to lose the love and sense of place they feel within their families and immediate communities and that is crucial to their sense of identity.Costume is one thing. Performance without a script is another. The macho and woman roles are etched in the psyche of humanity. The same woman who is aggressive and demanding of her male partner, might in a lesbian relationship, may be the more “feminine” member of the part-nership, that is, exhibiting feminine associated behavior, such as being the nurturer. Regardless of how much a lesbian couple may role play, its reality is entirely subordinated by society because neither is a man. This awareness may lead to a form of self-contempt heaped on the partner, which is very similar to the social political definition of machismo, with the main exception that in the case of lesbians, no one and nothing endorses the dominance exerted in the relationship.Within lesbian and gay relationships, because of the marginalization of same-sex culture, there has been a prevalent transgression of the restrictions upheld by heterosexual society. In the past, not only did we see more mixed-race relationships and relationships composed of mem-bers from “both side of the tracks,” but the aesthetics assigned in misog-ynist and racist society quite frequently were dismissed.As with all things potentially profitable, this has changed consider-ably, that is, as long as gays and lesbians are willing to “buy” in to capi-talist, heterosexual-dominated society. People seem to be sold on the idea that love and/or desire between men and love and/or desire between women is identical to love between a man and woman and their legacy
146in patriarchy. Romance, courtship, nuclear family, parenting, commu-nity property, among other things should all be played out in the hetero-sexual script. The fact that each sex and associated gender roles has long been debated as different from each other as Mars and Venus is put aside for the sake of assimilation into heterosexist culture still viewed as what is normal. Each has a markedly different, even opposing history and tradition, which same-sex couples bring to their relationship. Imitating the heterosexual, contemporary model of a man and a woman raising their children is the only accepted acceptable lifestyle for gay and lesbian partnerships in heterosexual society. An alternative might be the tribal or extended family models put out of custom in postindustrial society. The notion of other supportive adults legitimately involved in child rearing was not outlandish. Today, any opinion outside of the des-ignated guardian(s) may be rejected and certainly most likely dismissed by the law.In my view the jury is still out as to whether same-sex couples should model their romantic lives after heterosexual ones. It goes without say-ing that this opinion falls within the critique of the traditional power imbalance that exists in heterosexual relationships. For example, in the reality show, The Shahs of Sunset, the gay first-generation Iranian cast member has a date with his white boyfriend; it is a romantic seashore picnic. Script unwritten, the boyfriend coyly asks which of them should be the one to propose marriage. The equally coy lover replies that the proposal obviously rests on the one who wants to be married. He asks (sensing his boyfriend’s desire to be asked) what he would reply, if asked. The boyfriend responds, “It depends on the size of the ring.” Voila. The white, educated male of privilege embracing the role of bought female or object of commerce or exchange has become Cinderella. If the precious glass slipper fits he may be whisked away by Prince Charming to live a charmed life as a wife.25 We have officially entered into new territory in Western culture. White, privileged males doing girl in mainstream society. As gay activists push for equality and thereby gain increasing entrance into heterosexual society, playing along with the heterosexual script today may no longer make him an
147object of ridicule or as vulnerable to abuse or violence by doing girl. However, by subscribing to the tenets assigned to the female gender he has forfeited some of his male privilege, even if only in terms of his personal relationship. In public, he is back to playing the privileged male role. (Therefore, while he may “do girl” he is not being girl.) On the other hand, a transgendered (female to male) individual may not necessarily gain all access to the privileges granted to men (higher pay, certain job prospects, and not necessarily fearing for personal safety most of the time).In my informal survey I talked with approximately fifty women from ages nineteen to sixty-nine years of age. Most were open with their responses, but a handful were not. Instead, they were reserved and even reticent (which made me wonder why they agreed to participate in the survey). However, it quickly became apparent that the most candid rev-elations were coming from participants over forty. These were women who people around them assumed had retired their sexual organs after their last child was conceived. In the first edition I wrote: “Society retires women sexually (due to their loss of reproductive abilities) when they reach middle age, sometimes before they undergo menopause.” After years of thinking that having physical desire was unnatural, middle- aged women were made to feel that they were no longer desirable. In 2013, I restate this premise with some remarks relevant to the times.Most, but not all in the survey held college degrees. Regardless of education background, they were mothers of grown children, grand-mothers, survivors of breast cancer and years of failed diets, bearers of cesarean scars, brandishers of varicose veins, abandoned for younger women, were widows and divorcées. They had been devotees of their churches, had struggled with moments of doubt, reconciled or dropped out, made peace with their God and themselves. They had flirted with local butchers for years or perhaps considered or had affairs with their kids’ school janitors—if not the principals. They reminisced about first loves left behind and wondered if—possibly—there might ever be a new love waiting in the wings. Maybe they had lived good lives perhaps but
148privately with some regrets. They had nothing left to lose but possibly something to gain if only by dreaming about it.Even as they had been obeying the law of the land, the times were changing. Their adult daughters had come out as lesbians, moved in and out with various boyfriends, gone off to live in college dorms, wielded the kind of independence that they had never believed a (brown) woman could have. Those in stable marriages were resigning them-selves to them for better or worse. Some, in more compatible long-term unions, with the children and other related pressures behind them were finally able to enjoy sex with their spouses. For their generation, it was still generally believed that in mixed company, a woman did not talk about her sexuality or else she would be considered a puta. But it no longer meant that they weren’t discreetly acting on their desires now that they had the opportunity.In the late 1990s as women who had come of age during the “Women’s Lib Era” matured, Baby Boomers were strong in numbers versus the availability or interest of age-appropriate men and some coupled with younger men. Society quickly converted this “self- empowered” older woman into the bewitching archetype, Sleeping Beauty’s wicked step-mother, a lascivious predator of young male flesh, aptly termed, cougar. However, while males of all ages are taught to be the pursuers, there is no real evidence that mature women as a group preyed on younger men.One recent Mexican-born divorcée had an affair with a woman she had always longed for, although she immediately got into a committed relationship with a man. The experience was very gratifying, she reported, and she was open to having it again, perhaps even as a three-some. But she did not consider herself a “lesbian.” Another fresh divorcée after years in a miserable marriage where when she conceived her children she hadn’t even let her husband kiss her, was undertaking a survey of sorts of her own:It means no rules. I don’t know about feelings; I suppose there are some feelings there but it’s more physical. I don’t have hang-ups about my partners. I’m pretty inquisitive. I’ll try fat, short, tall, and
149thin—whatever suits me at the time! I just like trying different types, the fat cop, and the ex-con, different occupations—to see if there are different ways they do things. And I think I found out that there are. The ex-con—because he hadn’t had a woman for three years—he had to motivate himself by masturbating first. The mar-ried man and ex-married man, they’re a little healthier. They may be a little nervous but they don’t have to motivate themselves first since they’re used to being with women. In the last year and a half since my separation and divorce, the youngest lover I’ve had—so far—is twenty-three (he thought I was thirty), the oldest is fifty. I’m gearing towards a healthier lifestyle now, choosing partners I prefer.My body doesn’t look bad, some scars. I wish it were younger looking but basically I don’t think it looks awful. It looks pretty good—I swim and jog and do things to stay fit. It’s made my legs strong—so that’s an asset. [laughs] I like to do some rough hous-ing, push, twist, squeeze like a boa constrictor, during sex. If the man wants to try something, I say “okay.” Front or back is okay because I denied myself all these things for twenty-three years so I’m going to make up for it. I know I should make them use con-doms but I’m having a hard time asking for that, accepting the responsibility myself.While this first-generation Mexican (who once belonged to the Mennonite faith) had dropped all her inhibitions after divorce, she was too embarrassed to talk with her various partners about using protec-tion. For Latinas, whether fourteen years of age or forty, to bring up condoms means you are having sex for sex’s sake. And if you are not married or even in love that must make you a puta. The universal mes-sage is clear. From the abhorrent practice of clitorectomies in which a girl’s clitoris is barbarically torn out so that she will not feel pleasure in sex (and, in fact, feels pain) and thereby not be tempted to betray her owner and the sire of her children and proprietor of their sheep, to a husband/lover’s accusations of his wife’s sexual fantasies being indica-tions of her sexual wantonness—females belong to men.
150Nevertheless, a woman must still be attractive to have worth. Even with education, conscientización, a feminist legacy, her own money, women are still pressured into wanting to look and act younger if they want to participate actively in society. (Let alone, have sex and unlike the suggestions made at the Mormon hosted sex toy party above, with some-one besides herself.) Upon turning fifty, Germaine Greer wrote about the invisibility that (white) women begin to experience after that age. Poor and middle-class women of color have this experience most of their lives. However, the sexual appeal after fifty is taken away.Today, from recent immigrants to second, third, and fourth genera-tions, Latinas are exposed to the ongoing sexualization of culture. This “sexiness” is obtained through the purchasing of goods and services. Contrary to the message that this is self-empowering, I contend that we do not yet know ourselves as human beings. Imitation and mimicking certain behaviors may help us gain access to society but such behavior does not bring us closer to our spiritual selves. Religion (and the related, often misogynist mandates that accompany doctrine) stands as the last sentinel guarding sexual attitudes. If we define our existence or purpose via religious doctrine today with messages we receive from the media (often contradictory) and the goods and services that pretend to define our sexual and sensuous needs (with the message that they will offer us suc-cess and happiness), it is the equivalent of our walking through life in the fun house. The mirrors are distorted, floors on which we step unsteady, and walls are warped. The result is that we let the environment convince us that it is informing us about ourselves. In fact, our sense of ourselves comes through the filter of convoluted myths via environment, media, religion, and the goods and services that benefit capitalism. There lies the loss of the human spirit—the loss of one’s self-knowing.In an evolved world in which we would accept our undeniable mor-tality we would rejoice in our sensual capabilities in life. In this same world, our sexuality would be truly free to express itself through our spiritual connections with all things on Earth. Sexuality surfaces every-where in our culture, albeit distortedly due to the repression of our pri-mordial memories of what it may truly be. Sex in and of itself has not
151caused woman sorrow. Affirming her independence does not mean she deserves gang rape, and she would never derive pleasure from it. It is impossible to “free” our attitudes about our sexuality in a society where we are not free as human beings.It seems as society relents to accepting homosexuality and lesbian-ism, it is on its terms. In other words, the nuclear family is the norm. However, living alternative lifestyles to partnership in a monogamous relationship does not make a woman perverse. As she matures, her desire intact, it does not infer that she is predator, a “cougar.” An accepted view of male aggression is associated with testosterone. Granted, older women produce somewhat more of this hormone while estrogen is reduced. However, while this may affect unwanted hair growth, we do not know if it is physically inherent in older women to pursue men for the purpose of sex. Men and women have all yearned for the blessings of youth long gone. “Juventud, divino tesoro,” goes the famous line in the poem by Nicaraguan poet, Rubén Dario, by the title of “Autumn in the Springtime.” This does not mean that women have lusted after young flesh as men have after young women.26 Men yearn to procreate, to reproduce themselves, their bloodlines and legacy as well as to express desire. On the other hand, a mature woman may pur-sue a young lover to feel herself desirable again. This would make her desiring to be the object of desire. None of this means that everyday people are not playing out the scripts assigned by heterosexual, misog-ynist culture. Affirming her sexuality does not make woman a man or desiring just as a man desires. We accept that while men or male cul-ture may separate intimacy from sex we traditionally have not.In the not so distant past, the role for a woman who yearned to be the pursuer or lover of women was to a degree tolerated. Dress codes and the efforts of feminism have relaxed the role playing in the type recognized as “butch” or “marimacha.” To some extent this has also reduced the extent of prejudice, if not violence, against such women in this country. The transgendered (female to male) individual who first wants to live her life as a man (and ideally in as close to a man’s body as she is able) is pre-senting new challenges for society. With regards to the eyes of
152heterosexual society, the reassignment primarily lies in costume and per-formance. For the feminist or lesbian feminist the question arises in a misogynist society: what of a woman who has now joined the dominant ranks? By crossing over to the other side, will she not now benefit from its privileges? Is she posing (pre-op) as the double agent who will come back to give women advantageous information? Or will the personal is political adage mean that a transgendered man’s sensitivity to his woman partner’s subordination by society be in itself a step toward social trans-formation in the long Trail of Tears toward gender equality?Perhaps our primordial memories when so-called unrecorded times of matriarchies set the pace have left us with the knowledge that body + mind = life. As the One Billion Rising Campaign stated as one of the goals all women seek: “A new way of being.” This new way, I believe, is one so ancient it seems unprecedented. It is the end of considering whomever we are not as Other. We end the perception of life’s meaning as dichotomous: good versus evil, black versus white, man versus woman. Because of the degree to which religion has stigmatized women, it is understandable why women still do not see the link between our bodies and spirituality.Animus as defined by C. G. Jung referred to the inner masculine part of the female personality. The word derives from Latin meaning “mind” and “courage.” In the past, the label macha was meant to be derogatory and referred to a woman trying to “do” man. Here, it has meant fusing philosophically divided human and social traits to become whole and claim one’s entire being. In time, we will have a term that defines this new self-knowing person. In Spanish we commonly use the word ánimo to refer to having courage and hope. When she moves away from the performances of being girl, doing girl, resisting girl, and subverting girl, the conscienticized woman with ánimo works at becoming woman. Until she defines herself on her own terms, we have yet to know her.
153chapter sevenBrujas and CuranderasA Lived SpiritualitykMyths are not lies, but rather men’s attempt to impose a symbolic order upon their universe.—sarah b. pomeroy, Goddesses, Whores, Wives, and Slaves: Women in Classical Antiquitywomen’s history is one of religiosity. Men of Western culture may have been the designers of cults over the past two millennia, but it has been the women who have long been relegated the task of preserv-ing those cults, often not as official representatives but with daily rituals of popular culture and by passing faith from generation to generation. A growing trend among those of us who are pursuing nontraditional lifestyles is to return to long lost ways in search of new direction for our lives, and some of us have unearthed the ways of our Mexic Amerindian ancestors preserved by our mestizo and mestiza elders, most often women, in the form of curanderismo.The Chicana feminist, who is of mixed European, Mexic Amerindian, and sometimes African and/or Asian origins, is making attempts at
154reviving the credos of her ancestors. Many who practice a form of Native American spirituality recognize the aspects of curanderismo that will be discussed here, some of which may be traced back to the Nahua peo-ple (Aztecs) and certainly to various other Mexic Amerindian peoples, such as the Huichol. They also have similarities with European beliefs. Commonalities are what drive anthropologists all over the world in their attempt to understand humankind—since the further back we go, it seems, the more we can observe cultural universals.the road to self empowermentMany of these things you must experience, before you understand them.—un curandero, Curanderismo: Mexican American Folk HealingThe history of curanderismo derives from ancient knowledge that spans all five continents. The methods of curanderismo, which apply the use of mental, spiritual, and material expertise, descend from Native American, European, Eastern, and Middle Eastern philosophies and knowledge.1Arab medicine (borrowed from Greek knowledge) was a great con-tributor to Spain before the Reconquest of Spain’s territories. Spaniards brought not only knowledge of the medical sciences with them to the Americas, but their own Judeo-Christian beliefs. Christian symbolism is an integral part of curanderismo. The Arab medical practice of utiliz-ing herbal cures was adapted in the Americas with plants found on these continents and combined with Native American medicine, which also has included steam baths, and other remedies. African beliefs, which came to the Americas with the slave market, also merged with Iberian and Native practices. Most recently, Eastern philosophies are being adapted by Chicanas, in particular, Buddhism, although it may be acknowledged that there are deep parallels between the Native American and the Eastern perception of life.
155There is widespread acknowledgment of certain ailments so that var-ious communities of curanderas are able to identify symptoms and treat them without necessarily being healers themselves. For example, when I was fifteen years old, I experienced susto as a result of being approached and followed on the street one night after work by a strange man. A good friend of my sister told her mother, who then sent over herbs for me to take as a tea. I suffered from this ailment for approximately two weeks and took the tea just as I would have taken a dose of medicine prescribed by a Western doctor for a bad cough. In Mexican communi-ties, such prescriptions are respected. Based on traditional beliefs, our community, whether urban or rural in the United States, is close knit and gives a sense of tribal affiliations. Therefore, while I had never met the woman, her prognosis was accepted.Susto (literally, scare) is among the most common afflictions from which we may suffer. Among others are mal de ojo, bilis, and empacho.2 There are very common prescriptions for the ridding of these ailments. The symptoms are physical and psychological in nature. Their causes may be physical and/or magical. In terms of curanderismo, magic is directly related to the supernatural realm of our reality. I use the term supernatural loosely because supernatural implies a probable reality beyond natural forces. However, for curanderas the supernatural is a reality based on the natural forces of the universe. Another explanation is that curanderas believe that persons can cause physical and emo-tional illnesses in others by use of personal power or with the help of noncorporeal beings.Not all curanderas work actively with spiritual elements. They may specialize in herbal and massage treatments. Most, however, do recog-nize to some extent the power of espiritismo in the form of presence of spirits. Quite often they attribute their divine power to the Supreme Maker of Christianity or subscribe to a spiritual philosophy that is not necessarily Christian. These curanderas believe that we all are born with souls (a belief of all major religions) and that our corporeal beings are transient. We therefore, can solicit the aid of spirit guides who are no longer in their corporeal bodies. Although many curanderas claim
156to be Catholic, their beliefs are not doctrine. Catholicism believes in the death of a life as final while the soul awaits Judgment Day.In any case, curanderas who mostly specialize in spiritual healing adapt Judeo-Christian symbolism in their rituals. We may often see the use of a crucifix. (The cross was also a pre-Hispanic symbol.) Another example: they may find the use of candles essential to a remedy. The material use of objects, such as candles, incense, and oils, are employed for the benefit of the solicitor as a reassurance that something concrete is being performed. Do not mistake this for a placebo. Einstein proved to the scientific world that matter is energy. Through energy that treat-ment is made effective.The curandera is a specialized healer, learned in the knowledge of specifically healing the body and is not necessarily a psychic. However, in non-Western thinking, the body is never separate from the spirit or mind and all curative recommendations always consider the ailing person as a whole. Curanderas may also be categorized according to their particular knowledge. There are four principal categories: sobaderas, those who give massages; less practiced today is the bone setter; more frequently practic-ing are the yerberas who are expert in herbs; and parteras, midwives—who in times past in which doctors were not readily available were also useful. Today, strict laws require midwives to be certified. (There are midwives who considered themselves curanderas, although obviously not all have that cultural connection.) A curandera may be proficient in any combina-tion or all of these healing aspects. She usually demonstrates a gift for healing at a very young age and by the time she is a woman, she is recog-nized by her community as a curandera.In the last couple of decades, medical practitioners, particularly Latino and culturally sensitive physicians have recognized that migrants and immigrants are not always open to taking pills, other medications, or following doctors’ orders. Consequently, there have been efforts to learn how to treat such patients effectively by being culturally sensitive, respectful of the patients’ viewpoint, and to some degree, incorporating old and modern medicine.3
157As the granddaughter of a curandera, I understood as a child that such developed faculties are not to be exploited. It is a facile argument to defend fees by stating that in these modern times it is considered a service like any other.4 The medical industry in the United States is notorious for its unpardonable charges. The entire health system and care for the residents in the United States is under debate and scrutiny. It stands to reason that a person receiving information from a medium, astrologer, other kind of psychic or curandera might make an offer or offering of gratitude. In my grandmother’s time she might have gladly accepted a pound of flour to make her tortillas or a chicken to feed her family; it doesn’t sound outlandish to offer a donation. It is the intention of greed that is objected to here.5 None of us are separate, matter only changes form, and we may consider reciprocity of some sort a way of maintaining balance.Regarding care for our mental well-being, we are all convinced that we are helpless in the face of the unexplainable. Yet, on the contrary, there are no mysteries experienced in life that we cannot unlock from within our own imaginations. However, we must have as our rule of thumb the preservation of natural resources and the well-being of humanity. What this society has come to conceive of as progress threat-ens the annihilation of humanity. It has already begun with the steady genocide of certain peoples, in addition to international deforestation and the annihilation of the Amazon, certain vegetation, and animals; and contamination of air, earth, and water.However, control of human and natural resources for the sake of profit notwithstanding, many men and women of all ethnicities and races have discovered a vast void in our daily lives, even when subscrib-ing to a major religion. Some are returning to the religions of their families of origin with the hopes and desires to address the demands placed on our lives today. Unfortunately, in the case of the Catholic Church, the most important demands of Catholic activists, including marriage for priests, allowing contraception, and priesthood for women, are being rejected.
158Xicanistas began joining Native American practices notably in the sixties and have continued to do so to the present. There are many cer-emonies that are directed exclusively for girls and women. One is an observance when a girl begins her moon time. Mexican and Catholic/Christian cultures do not celebrate such a rite. However, in my own experiences, there remain many gender differences. Unless it is a wom-en’s sweat or tepee meeting, for example, it is usually a man who is the “Giver,” a man who is the “Firekeeper,” male drummers, and men who put the lodge or tepee in place. Women in mixed sessions are asked to wear full-length skirts for the sake of modesty.Even as we select from our Mexican curandera and Christian tradi-tions, it is only we today who ultimately can define what is needed to give us courage. If we lived in a utopian society where adults were not regularly faced with challenges in all facets of our lives, our personal strength might not be tested. Challenges are not negative. It is how we respond to life’s tests that is important.We must take heed that not all symbols that we have inherited are truly symbolic of the life-sustaining energy we carry within ourselves as women; so even when selectively incorporating what seems indis-pensable to our religiosity, we must analyze its historical meaning. We might if necessary give it new meaning, so that it validates our instincts to survive on our own terms. Moreover, survival should not be our main objective. Our presence shows our will to survive, to overcome every form of repression. Our goal should be to achieve joy. We move from victim to survivor, and I advocate, to becoming a warrior of one’s cause. The cause may be to achieve personal peace of mind or the cause may spur one to become an activist—una guerrillera who has taken her per-sonal tragedy to empower herself and help her environment.A synthesis of belief systems for the Xicanista is her way of coping in a society that does not give her humanity substantial value. It is not a contradiction of irreconcilable ideologies. When we become knowl-edgeable about plants, for instance, we see proof that the traditional medicine of our ancestors indeed was curative. This knowledge again, was taken from us throughout recent generations and is still kept from
159most of us who are integrated in Western society and has been replaced by treatments through synthetic drugs and Western medical practices. My point here is not to make a blanket condemnation of modern medi-cine and medical technology, but to recognize that its basis lies in very ancient practices, which are not necessarily inaccessible to us.Society accepts the help of therapists or clergy but the woman devel-oping conscientización may also find herself turning to the tradition of relying on community elders for guidance to interpret our experiences. She may follow suggestions from such community servants to partici-pate in sweat lodges, to meditate, or to undergo some other form of “spiritual cleansing.” By recalling our blood-tie memories to the Americas and relying on the guidance of our dreams and intuitions, we gradually reawaken our female indigenous energies:WE DO WELL in developing our own ways, our own alchemy for cures, a combination of modern medicine and ancient practices. We take from the West and East even as we do from our grandmothers’ indigenous knowledge.WE DO WELL in using our imaginations and intuitions and to speak of them to each other.WE DO WELL by not being afraid to commit the taboo of same-sex touching. Our internalized “homophobia” (gynophobia) often causes us to reject or fear expressing or receiving affection for other females out-side of our own children.WE KNOW WE DO WELL because those of us who are reinventing that which has been passed on to us; or using our ability to learn from books; or our relatively recent independence from the traditional roles of obe-dient daughter, young matron, and wife to travel on our own, interact with other cultures, and determine what is necessary, know we make ourselves feel better, that is, stronger willed and self-confident. We know that the ancient native practice of the sweat lodge, or temezcal, is not
160only physically beneficial but does in fact give our emotional selves a sense of rejuvenation. In other words, we are reclaiming all that which was taken away from us by the masculine-dominant direction civiliza-tion took. We will determine for ourselves what makes us feel whole, what brings us tranquility, strength, nerve to face the countless—not for one moment imagined—obstacles in the path on our journey toward being fulfilled human beings.The espiritista who is not necessarily a curandera in the medical sense, that is, she may not prescribe medicinal herbs or give massages, may see her role as a diagnostician of physical ailments with a devel-oped faculty that detects the cause and offer a prognosis that counter-acts that cause. This faculty in Spiritism is known as being a medium. While Christianity may object to the medium’s practice, many espirit-istas are Christian. They do believe in God. “The Universe is God’s creation. It encompasses all rational and non-rational beings, both ani-mate and inanimate, material and immaterial.” 6 The following discus-sion regarding the psychic or espirista medium, with regards to the Xicanista taking the step from victim to survivor to guerrillera of her cause, I will put in the category of bruja.In Mexican culture, a brujo is someone to fear and to revere while a bruja is someone to hate to the point of killing. However, I claim this term for women who are in tune with their psyches, allow their lives to be informed by them, and offer their intuitive gifts to their communi-ties without fear of being seen as loathsome or mad. The key is to remember that historically woman, who is fertile and filled with the mysteries of reproduction, was loathed and feared by men for that rea-son alone. If we dispense with that fear but retain or reinstate our insights and connections with all living things, we have a woman with developed psychic resources, a bruja. Brujas also have their range of categories. By no means are they all associated with espiritismo. If we use the word bruja as it is used by feministas who practice their spiritual beliefs on their own terms, a bruja might range from the woman who trusts her instincts to practicing Christianity to also thinking of herself as a curandera, medicine woman, or healer in some fashion in santería, as well as any combination listed here and others.
161Espiritistas consider that everyone has an inborn faculty to commu-nicate with transcended beings, although not to the same capacity. However, without being aware of one’s faculties, one may be vulnerable when exposed inadvertently to negative energies. What I mean by neg-ative here is debilitating, unseen forces that deplete one’s self- confidence or ánimo. Both curanderismo and espiritismo deem these invisible energies to possibly cause physical ailments too. The belief is that spirit guides may help us and bad spirits may hurt us in real ways.The espiritista tradition emerged from late-nineteenth-century the-ories laid out by the Frenchman, Allen Kardec, which he called, Spiritism.7 It was a period during which there was great interest in spir-its in Europe and in the United States. While Kardec referred to his theories as science, today it is considered a New Age practice. Espiritistas are not into black magic, devil worship, or soliciting contact with evil spirits. They do believe in good and evil. Today, espiritistas not only believe in God the Father but also Jesus.A bruja, in my view, falls under the rubric of a spiritual psychic. Whereas traditionally the word amongst popular culture was inter-preted to refer to a bad woman, feministas have appropriated it and endowed it with positive connotations. A bruja is foremost a woman who trusts in her intuition. Brujas may practice the esoteric arts, for example, Tarot readings. The key to remember is their inherent commu-nication with spirits whom they refer to as their guides. Were Xicanistas to have a séance, in view of this discussion, we might present the follow-ing dictum at the table:We must address our spirit guides for clarityon the fact of abortion as we have been taught to do so withregard to conception and birth.We must address our spirit guides on the needs to learnto defend ourselves physically, to protect each other,to provide for each other’s material needs. Our paternalreligious teachings served the male genderand a certain class, and left
162the vast majority of uswith a great and inconsolable sense of fallibility.We must ask to not be afraid of the truthof the extent of our sexual desire and spiritual yearningWe must ask for the gift to communicate our needs,to be eloquent and determined in our public articulationof them.We must search within ourselves and in each otherfor the courage to challenge theunjust legislation imposed on us by the lawmakers of the world.We must, above all, search within ourselvesand grapple with the misogynist, racist, andclassist that has been planted in our ownminds and cast “her” out. She has turnedmother against daughter, woman against woman,and woman against herself for too long.There is no telling how many espiritistas and schools of thought exist in the United States, México, Latin America, and the Caribbean. Espiritismo, while an active movement, is not an institution sanctioned by dominant society. We must always keep in mind that the institution-alization of beliefs is done for the benefit of the few who have invested interests in maintaining the status quo.A final word of caution. A curandera and a bruja should be seen as a specialized human resource, and she should keep this in mind about herself, too. Modern society approves of people consulting a gynecolo-gist, chiropractor, or psychologist if we have an ailment that they have been trained to attend. However, training does not exempt these indi-viduals from being susceptible to the ailments they know how to help
163remedy. Brujas, curanderas, or healing women also are just that, trained specialists, but keep in mind that no one is exempt from human frail-ties, from the potential of committing errors.So, if a woman decides that she still finds rewards in pursuing the rituals and mandates of institutionalized religion or simply by “meditat-ing in the temple” of her own room; or if she constructs an altar in her home, perhaps not like the one she knew as a child of a myriad of saints and crosses, but instead of items that have special meaning for her; or if one day, she discards all religious icons and can embrace herself with self-acceptance and calls that her spirituality, she is continuously doing one and the same thing: maintaining her well-being.For this purpose alone, for us who are often regarded with contempt in this society because of our ethnicity, color, gender, sexuality, or lack of means, whose entire people have historically been regarded con-temptibly, all and every attempt to maintain peace and health should be seen as valid. We descend from a long line of nonvalued human beings, born to pay homage to a higher order. The glass ceiling has been cracked by a few Latinas—a governor, a Supreme Court justice, secretary of labor (all elected and appointed during the administration of the nation’s first black president); the success of business ventures like Latina mag-azine; and professionals such as physicians, attorneys, educators, enter-tainers, and entrepreneurs. Nevertheless, a vast majority on both sides of the border fit into the present schema for the sole purpose of continu-ing that anonymous line of labor. Any act that we commit that does not serve that purpose is an act of insurrection to the system. As Xicanistas in our day-to-day lives and in our work, we make very deliberate and audacious decisions to undermine that system. In this respect too, we must understand that in proclaiming our spirituality it must be to serve our own needs.The awareness that we have at times in our lives of barely survived the most trying and humiliating conditions is what makes our bodies tremble, our minds flounder, and our emotional states fail in fear of the present and future. When this happens, as it does to many of us, even as we heroically fight against it, knowing our responsibilities and our
164loyalties to our immediate families and our communities at large, we must not accept the long-held premise that it is due to our inherent weaknesses and that it is our own personal failure. When one of us dies of cancer, loses her mind, or commits suicide, we must not blame her for her inability to survive an ongoing political mechanism bent on the destruction of that human being. Sanity remains defined simply by the ability to cope with insane conditions.Furthermore, our long-range objective in understanding ourselves, integrating our fragmented identities, and truly believing the wisdom of our ancient knowledge should be to bring the rest of humanity to the fold. All too often, we see success in direct correlation with financial gain and assimilation into mainstream culture. Xicanistas grapple with our need to thoroughly understand who we are—gifted human beings—and to believe in our talents, our worthiness, and beauty, while having to survive within the constructs of a world antithetical to our intuition and knowledge regarding life’s meaning. Our vision must encompass sufficient confidence that dominant society will eventually give credence to our ways, if the planets and its inhabitants are to thrive.Today it is increasingly difficult to deny global warming, for example, or to not associate foods ingested with hormones or preservatives with all manner of illnesses. These are clear instances of how a person living with conscientización is mindful and tries to live a life that does not cause further harm to herself, her family, or her environment. Consciousness is not our exclusive realm but of all who desire to trans-form this world into a place where the quality of life is the utmost prior-ity; where we are all engaged in a life process that is meaningful from birth to death; and where death does not come to us in the form of one more violent and unjust act committed against our right to live.brave new worldWe live in a future once believed possible only in the minds of those with sardonic imaginations. Aldous Huxley, in his novel Brave New
165World, predicted a society in which human beings were created out of test tubes. We know today that such a scientific feat is possible and holds the possibilities of equally resultant horrors for humankind as those foretold in Brave New World. There were human beings in Huxley’s world born only for the purpose of serving those considered genetically superior to them. However, we know that this concept was already imple-mented throughout recorded history, that slavery was based on this belief.The twentieth century ushered in an age long awaited by male sci-entists: to have power over life and death in massive proportions. If our history as women has been regulated by men because of our biological ability to reproduce the species, what does it mean that science now begins to think of dispensing with the womb? In fact, in terms of repro-duction, it has already eliminated the need for direct male contact through intercourse with the process of artificial insemination (some-thing the Hebrew God already did in both the Old and New Testaments).In the woman’s movement, mostly white and middle class and that began to lose momentum by the late 1980s, the attempt to reappropriate woman’s spirituality came via asserting a matriarchal time, said to have preceded recorded history, during which the Great Mother Goddess was worshipped. Theologians, such as Mary Daly, did strenuous research on behalf of these arguments. As feminists of color in the United States became more visible, they disputed the emphasis on the white Mother Goddess. The white feminists’ position was understandable in light of their own analysis since it was, to use their vernacular, “a healing pro-cess” for them. Audre Lorde stated in a published address on this sub-ject, “An Open Letter to Mary Daly”:So I wondered why doesn’t Mary deal with Afrekete as an example? Why are her goddess images only white, western european, judeo-christian? . . . It was obvious that you were dealing with noneuropean women, but only as victims and preyers-upon each other. I began to feel my history and my mythic background dis-torted by the absence of any images of my foremothers in
166power. . . . What you excluded from Gyn/Ecology dismissed my her-itage and the heritage of all other noneuropean women, and denied the real connections that exist between all of us.8If the white feminist first saw her “oppression” in opposition to the dom-inant status of the white male, we understand that it was her obvious recourse to juxtapose her truths to his. That is, white man as master of the universe created a white god to justify his superiority over the human race. White woman as his mate, unearthed a white goddess who preceded the creation of the white god and therefore her power super-seded that of the master.9But feminists of color responded to the discourse by drawing on the various resources of our own continents for our spirituality. Peoples with strong African affinities have revived and are daily making more active the Yoruba religion (brought to the American shores with slav-ery and driven underground by white masters), illustrated by such practitioners as Luisah Teish and her book Jambalaya.10 Most non-white feminist activists, however, are living fairly innocuous lives and the various ways by which their spirituality is exercised are personal and diverse.The feminist-activists from the late 1960s to perhaps recent times, who became involved, for example, in rape crisis intervention and fight-ing domestic violence are themselves very often what is termed “survi-vors” of incest, child abuse, alcohol abuse, and other atrocities endemic in the social structure in which we all live. They entered into this line of work out of a need to help others as much as the need to “heal” them-selves. Gradually and with great effort on the part of activists, policies and programs were made to respond to the needs of women of color, who, because many of them came from traditional cultural backgrounds, required some of the practices discussed here in order to participate.Ritual may be used as a veritable healing method. Some Xicanistas availed themselves of the folkways of their grandmothers while altering the religious faith of their devout mothers. Creating some distance from the last generation allowed such guerrilleras to adapt a spirituality to their
167own needs while still operating within their culture. For example, they might remain devoted to certain Catholic saints, giving a woman-focused dimension to their symbolism. The Virgin of Guadalupe is a favorite. She is not only the patron saint of México, a cultural bond for all of us as “Gua-dalupanas,” but also is an incarnation of the “brown” goddesses, Tonantzin and Coatlicue. She is an ancient indigenous maternal symbol for us.11 In much the same way that white feminists sought an affirmation of womanhood through European goddess worship, the mestiza resur-rects her own pantheon of indigenous goddesses, primarily Guadalupe/Tonantzin/Coatlicue and Coyalxauqui, the moon goddess.One way in which Catholic saints are attended to by brujas and curanderas is in the form of inexpensive votive candles with the picture of the saint and a petition painted on the glass. “Aura sweepings,” the cleansing of the spirit, is another practice accomplished sometimes with the use of smoke, such as the burning of sweet grass (Native American), copal (Aztec), or tobacco (Native American/Yoruba).As psychologists have noted, human beings must have some order in their lives to help them function in society. Ritual may be used to calm oneself and/or to reassure others when chaos seems at hand. This may be accomplished through an aura sweeping (limpia), tarot card reading, the construction of altars, or channeling sessions, just to name a few of the alternatives to institutionalized religions women have begun to practice. All methods employed by the spiritually oriented Xicanista in search of psychic transformation are valid when utilized respectfully—that is, acknowledging nonhierarchical connection with all life energies. We may, as has been suggested by feminist-spiritual practitioners, assume the customs passed on to us through old beliefs or invent our own.Some feminist activists in the mental health services are using these methods with their Latina clientele, who seem to respond more effectively to this treatment than to the alien mental health practices of the mainstream establishment. This desire to heal our traumatized selves, as I say, is one step. Most important, it is an affirmative move toward the declaration of one’s significance in what constitutes society.
168We may now become whole individuals in the larger picture of human-ity. We now have voices. We may now be legitimate contributors to our world.However, an attempt at obtaining such direction from our past sim-ply by imitating or inventing ritual is not necessarily the clearest path or, rather, does not guarantee an evolved spirituality. Many women have found just as many disturbing contradictions in ancient practices with regard to their womanhood. Therefore, a synthesis of old forms with goals that aim to restore the feminine as a prominent component is required. Above all, our applications must correspond to our contempo-rary needs and concerns.The New Age movement became popular during the 1970s and its fol-lowers remain mostly white and affluent in the United States. (This is not necessarily the case in México where the practice of curanderismo and brujería have been widely accepted by the rural and mostly lower classes since time immemorial.) However, now there is an overlap among feminists and especially feminists of color seeking a synthesis of world beliefs that speaks to them, which is the reason for the mention of this subject here.The New Age movement is a free-flowing spiritual movement of believers and practitioners based on the premise that the Age of Aquarius will bring an end to human suffering and the ongoing destruction of the planet. The movement is as fluid and varied as the individuals who subscribe to it. It includes psychology, parapsychology, astrology, Eastern and Western spiritual and metaphysical aspects, Tarot, I-Ching, holistic medicine, and yoga, among other things. While it may be said that there are those among the practitioners who are sin-cere, the nature with which the New Age philosophy is executed vis-à-vis capitalism does give rise to skepticism.There are, for example, expensive sessions with channelers, said to communicate with spirits. There are New Age retreats (with high fees). Several high-profile examples come to mind. One is the rise of spiritual “hot” spots in the world such as Bali and Santa Fe, New Mexico,
169accompanied with all the bells and whistles entrepreneurial endeavors may imagine. Another, the sordid example of self-help guru, best- selling author, and motivational speaker, James Arthur Ray, who used the sacred indigenous practice of the sweat lodge for greed and made one the size of a circus tent, illustrates the extreme abuse of seekers with dispensable income in search of spiritual fulfillment. Ray was convicted of negligent homicide on three counts for the lives lost in his event and given a nom-inal sentence of two years. Oprah, whose world influence at one time was scarcely rivaled, blessed many such books, among them, The Secret, The Four Agreements, and of course the work of her friend, Marianne Williamson, which started with her interpretation of the Course of Miracles created by the Foundation for Inner Peace.However, when a practitioner chooses the path to be a healer—whether as a public speaker or giving private consultations, tradition among curanderas once upheld that such effort must not be used to profit the individual, either through monetary gain nor personal aggran-dizement, by exploiting the vulnerability of people. The development of such faculties must always be viewed with a sense of humility, to recog-nize one’s integration and dependency on other life forms on the planet. The object of such a practitioner should always be to reinstate harmony in the environment, which cannot be accomplished through hierarchi-cal privilege. While I have yet to meet a curandera who has had ten New York Times best sellers as Ms. Williamson has had, I have met numer-ous practitioners who had no qualms in charging fees on both sides of the border for their performances disguised as spiritual powers. They preyed on the heartaches of those who came to them and charged as much as they thought they might extract.A sign of sincerity, if not an indication of true talent, of a curandera or bruja of good intent is that she does not employ her learning to manipulate others. If an espiritista (using channeling) capitalizes on her faculties either monetarily or by communicating to solicitors that her faculties are a personal power that can be used to control them she is serving solely to perpetuate imbalance. Charging a fee for sharing one’s spiritual gifts is a privilege granted by the free enterprise system
170under which we live today and has no direct association with a true gift. While being a curandera or a bruja is not feminist, it is egalitarian in that it sees all humanity, as well as animal and plant life, as respectful of each other. It is an acknowledgement of the energy that exists throughout the universe subatomically generating itself and intercon-necting, fusing, and changing.While subatomic studies may serve as a theoretical basis for social change, on a more pragmatic and immediate level they offer a personal response to the divided state of the individual who desires wholeness. An individual who does not sense herself as helpless to circumstances is more apt to contribute positively to her environment than one who resigns to it with apathy because of her sense of individual insignificance.the twenty-first century activistaSince the backlash against feminism in the late 1980s, new generations of women of all ilks have come of age as beneficiaries of their mothers’ and grandmothers’ hard-won battles on the front for gender equality without acknowledging it. As such, they have the privilege to move away from the perhaps marginal spiritual alternatives discussed here. They may subscribe to traditional religions, opt for church weddings replete with male family members giving them away to their grooms, baptize their children in the name of God the Father, and feel at peace without feminine expressions of a Godhead.The term Chicana, too, except for certain locations in the Southwest and perhaps in academic circles, is also presently seen as a label pertain-ing to past generations. The activista with conscientización still exists. She may practice a formal religion, but now is also familiar with other forms of spirituality. It is not unusual to find activistas of both genders now accepting a combination of spiritual rituals. On the contrary, the push and pull of decades of discussion about Chicana/Latina identity in the United States among activists has allowed great latitude and tolerance for individual choices. It is my position not to not judge the spiritual prac-tice of another woman. The journey for each of us is our own.
171Socially and politically speaking, the activista’s personal traumas expe-rienced as a direct result of her femaleness, her brown skin, and her eco-nomic hardships are understood as being part of the degenerating system we are obliged to live under. Once the causes for certain obstacles in her life are identified and worked through, she does not flounder about as merely a survivor, such as one who has survived a plane wreck and awaits a rescue team (which may never be forthcoming) but uses the new affir-mation, that she has always been part of the intricate network of life on this planet, to strengthen herself and to share her knowledge with others. Ultimately we seek to propel ourselves into a collective state of being, which is so ancient we will consider it new.In the long run, spirituality will be a state of being that is not defined but lived, as a unified self, and the concept of an inherent struggle between good and evil imposed on us through recorded history will have been relegated to an unfortunate memory for the sake of all humanity.postscript: baños, a prescription for relieving emotion and physical anxietyBaños are a remedy for both physical and emotional ills prescribed by curanderas throughout the ages in the Americas. There are also dulce baños to increase or maintain a joyful state (such as being in love). The following “recipe” may be used to cleanse the self of negative energies in the environment, to rid one of an unsettling feeling, or regularly, for chronic anxiety.Baños may be taken on Tuesdays and Fridays. (Sundays are okay, too. Refrain from baños during menstruation.)1. Several drops of Spirit of Ammonia2. Several drops of Spirit of Camphor3. Handful of eucalyptus (fresh is best, substitute in another form, if necessary, okay).
1724. Handful of sage (fresh is best, substitute in another form, if nec-essary, okay).5. Splash of Agua de la Florida6. 3, 7, or 9 lemons or limes7. 3, 7, or 9 garlic cloves (amount to correspond with number of lemons or limes)Place and pour ingredients directly into one or two large pots and bring to a boil. Limes/lemons must be cut open crosswise (+), squeezed, and thrown in whole. Cover, simmer. When cool, sift, but retain lemons/limes. Baño may be taken standing up in the shower, or if preferred, in a warm bath. Using a small container, pour baño systematically over yourself, starting with the top of your head, back of the neck, across shoulder blades, etc., always in the shape of the cross of the four direc-tions. You may want to rub the lemons/limes directly on your body, vigorously, before finishing. During the baño, concentrate only on its curative effects; do not let your mind wander. Afterward do not dry yourself off, but patting dry with a towel is okay. Let your hair and skin air dry. Have a clean white or brightly colored garment (like a night-gown) ready to slip on until you’re dry. If it is before bedtime, you may sleep in it. This treatment will be much more enhanced if you take time before the baño to prepare yourself with meditation. Use a white candle, incense of your preference, and/or a clear jar of water. It will help you to relax and to concentrate on your baño.
173chapter eightUn TapizThe Poetics of ConscientizaciónkINow i think i know how you saw me that first summer . . . i was part of the culture that wouldn’t allow me to separate. *1I left the church in tears, knowing how for many years I had closed my heart to the passionate pull of such faith that promised no end to the pain. I grew white. Fought to free myself from my culture’s claim on me. #Culture forms our beliefs. Culture is made by those in power—men.+dark women come to mesitting in circlesI pass thru their handsthe head of my motherpainted in clay colors . . . #We were drawn to each other by the Indian spirit of mutual ancestors.*
174I am visible—see this Indian face—yet I am invisible. I both blind them with my beak nose and am their blind spot. But I exist, we exist. +II[O]nce being born it would no longer be innocent, for being was to survive and to survive, one must hurt weaker beings. No, the end of harming another living being was not the destruction but the saving of oneself, which becomes the true objective. *In the shed behind the corral, where they’d hidden the fawn, Prieta found the hammer. She had to grasp it with both hands.She swung it up. The weight folded her body backwards. A thud reverberated on Venadita’s skull. +Women do not coagulateinto one hero’s death; we bleedout of many pores, so constantthat it has come to be seenas the way things are.#Love? In the classic sense, it describes in one syllable all the humiliation that one is born to and pressed upon to surrender to a man.*IIIThat power is my inner self, the entity that is the sum total of all my incarnations, the godwoman in me I call Antigua, mi Diosa, the divine within, Coatlicue-Cihuacoatl-Tlazolteotl-Tonantzin-Coatlaopeuh-Guadalupe they are one.+
175With this knowledge so deeply emblazoned upon my heart, how then was I supposed to turn away from La Madre, La Chicana? If I were to build my womanhood on this self-evident truth, it is the lover of the Chicana, the lover of myself as a Chicana I had to embrace, no white man. #IVIt is my face, wanting and refusing everything.. . . I want to feel your touch outside my body on the surface of my skin.I want to know, for sure, where you leave off and I begin. #VWe are afraid to look at how we have failed each other. We are afraid to see how we have taken the values of our oppressor into our hearts and turned them against ourselves and one another. #We needled, stabbed, manipulated, cut and through it all we loved, driven to see the other improved in her own reflection.*I will not be ashamed again. Nor will I shame myself. +
176ours is a poetics no different than other literary movements through-out the ages.2 We are looking at what has been handed down to us by previous generations of poets and, in effect, rejecting, reshaping, restruc-turing, reconstructing that legacy and making language and structure ours, suitable to our moment in history. What makes the Xicanista’s lit-erary expression questionable (and indeed ours has been under suspi-cion as legitimate literature) is the same mechanism that has always kept us invisible and suppressed our contributions to the changing process of society. Supporters of the status quo doubt the value of our cultural endeavors because they measure our efforts against self-serving stan-dards. If we learn to use language in such a way that it conforms to these standards, then, of course, our work proves itself worthy (though often deemed imitative). The individual who adopts the prevailing standards will be rewarded and the one who refuses is ostracized. This punish-ment and reward system for assimilation is not just “the American way”; it is the last resort when blatant rejection on the basis of class, race, and sex are no longer considered acceptable by society.privilege grants language that escapes meWhat of the vulgar limitations of language? As a utilizer of symbols—the written word—my dilemma is not only that of social marginaliza-tion from the language of dominant society, but also the diminishment of my function as a poet who attempts to give some tangible interpreta-tion of life’s meaning. For there is one universal aim of poetry, it is the relentless attempt to free human desire: to inspire the will to live, to rejoice, to let the imagination flourish. Part and parcel of this endeavor is the poet’s willingness to accept death, death with dignity, as part of life. The “political” poet is outraged at death without dignity, death caused by the insanity and greed of war instigated by special interest groups who have it in their hands to catalyze and manage such destruc-tion. But all poets are as intimate with death as we all are with breathing.
177The written word was historically the exclusive realm of a particular class of people: white, upper-class, well-educated men. Over time a handful of “exceptional” women have been admitted to this exclusive circle. Women who have had access to only mediocre and often inferior public or parochial institutions bent on the repression of the human will were not meant to take up the pen as a way of life. Being of the gen-eration that globally rebelled against authority, we have managed, remarkably, I think, to change that. Choosing to be conscious transmit-ters of literary expressions, we have become excavators of our common culture, mining legends, folklore, and myths for our own metaphors. Ours is not Homer but Netzahualcoyotl, not Sappho but Sor Juana, not Athena but Coatlicue.Our cultural heritages were “discovered” in an era of rebellion. They were not directly passed on prior to the late 1960s, because social ostra-cism, lack of education, migration, dispersion, and poverty made it vir-tually impossible to uncover and share such a rich and illustrious legacy. What is most provocative and significant in contemporary Chicana lit-erature is that while we claim and explore these cultural metaphors as symbols of rebellion against the dominant culture, we have also taken on the revisioning of our own culture’s metaphors, informed as they are by male perceptions. As an example, we need only look at the figure of Malintzin/doña Marina/La Malinche. As the mother of the son of the Conquistador, she was traditionally thought of in México as a symbol of betrayal of the indigenous race. Feministas reinterpreted Malintzin in a variety of ways—from slave victim, heroine, and mother of the mes-tizo race to genius linguist and military strategist. By viewing her with compassion, we have attempted to clarify how the patriarchal conquest ultimately left the young Mexic Amerindian woman little choice but to obey in the name of God the Father.Our early poetry, primarily intended to catalyze resistance and to stir the hearts of the pueblo, was one that employed verve and vigor of daily life. The emergence and vitality of this poetry played an important role in the Chicano movement’s two primary goals: the gaining of legitimate acknowledgment by dominant society, thereby generating greater
178educational and economic opportunities, and the affirming of our unique cultural identity in an Anglocentric society. By the 1980s, how-ever, we had reached a new phase in our poetics of self-definition. As mestizas, we took a critical look at language (all our languages and patois combinations), with the understanding that language was not something that remained apart from experience. Explicitly or implicitly, language is the vehicle by which we interpret ourselves in relation to the world.The vast majority of us were taught to be afraid of a certain type of English: the language of Anglos, who consciously or unconsciously instigated our traumatic experiences in xenophobic schools, and who subscribed to and exacerbated the racism under which we lived, even though we were U.S. citizens. At the same time, we were equally intim-idated by the Spanish spoken by people of middle-class or higher eco-nomic strata from Latin America. For how could a language of those so different experientially from us speak for those here who had long been denied a sense of belonging, having historical ties to the nation, and indeed, to any nation? 3 On the one hand, we sometimes chose to adapt standard English and white writing standards, using material from our cultural heritage as a “motif.” This, in my opinion, reduced our poetry to Oaxacan paper cuts: Hispanic “flourishes” lending the local color that sanctioned the celebrated fallacy of the melting pot. By white writing, I refer to the current Anglophile trend being processed through work-shops and MFA programs across the United States. Ivan Argüelles put it succinctly: “Evocative, finely crafted, witty, urbane, sophisticated, occasionally troubling, but always safe, White writing is easily the most pervasive literary fashion today. . . . White writing can sometimes be politically correct, but sanitized and with only faint air-brushed innuen-dos of anger.” 4 On the other hand, we may equally limit our perceptions by refusing to explore the possibilities of language (therefore, ideas). One Mexican linguistic trait that we are heirs to is the irresistibility of playing with language. Wordplay for the Mexican Spanish speaker is contagious, a reflection of our sense of irony and humor about life. In the process of wordplay, of actively transforming one word into another
179and then another based on the similarity of sounds, we create new meaning, or give the original thought a fusion of multiple meanings. We are also intimate with passion. Again, to illustrate my point, I quote from Arguelles’s definition of white writing to demonstrate what Mexican Spanish writers do not want to aim for: “White writing does not concern itself with Thanatos, the mystery of death, but with guilt feelings aroused in watching a close relative die. White writing ignores Eros, concentrating instead on ‘relationships.’” 5We want to strike a balance between these two. We want to treat lan-guage with the fastidious attention of alchemists, changing base metals into precious gold. Of course, not all of our writers have suffered the “language trauma” I have described. Some have, in fact, been encour-aged to read, to explore language, and to pursue higher education. But so many of us—too many, perhaps—do suffer the anxiety induced by the pressure to speak “correctly,” and therefore we come to doubt our writing skills. Moreover, whatever our relationship to language, all mes-tizas are products of the hegemony that instilled in so many of us self-contempt for our cultural identity. We were immersed in a North American value system that honored the competitive spirit and the desire for individual recognition as the sine qua non of success.This frenzy for individual immortality is not my concern here. What is my concern is when the appetite for society’s carrots inhibits the poet’s initial instinct: her primary desire to reconcile with her impermanence. Existential angst, mortality, the sense of one’s humble transience through life—whatever term one prefers for one’s impermanence—has always been a vital motivation behind artistic creation. Undoubtedly this has been a core concern since the early times of literary history. Woman has always known that she is connected to the cycle of birth and death of all living things. She experiences it organically. It was man who, feeling himself alienated from the birth process, marked out a spiritual split in his collective psyche and forced on women irreconcilable dualisms, dichotomies, and polarized opposites. A profound anxiety about man’s capability of creating and sustaining life generates an even deeper anxi-ety about man’s death. If some women now share this male anxiety about
180death, it is because they have been psychically and physically beaten into a denial of their primordial connection to the cycle of life and death.Dominance of man over woman’s psyche, the subsequent objectifica-tion of her existence, the alienation of his own connection to living mat-ter is the basis of man’s view of woman as Other. And the dark-skinned woman (because it is in her form that archaeologists have found the first traces of early goddess worship) has become the epitome of the Other for men. It is, therefore, a misunderstanding of the psycho- historic dynamic, which gives rise to the concept of the Other, that can strip this term of its meaning. Woman is, most assuredly, the Other of man. But a man cannot be the Other of woman. As man shaped his phallic Sun-Father God world, he defined the Other: as enigma, as his mysteries. Other is that which man has denied himself to be. Other, when she comes to know herself, is truly not Other to herself. Furthermore, man is never an enigma or mystery to her. His thoughts, fears, deepest secrets, are plainly reflected in the civilization he built around us.As the post–World War II generation, or the generation of the Baby Boom, we were born when the United States was truly on top and pro-jecting into the great, endless, fantastic future where nothing was going to stop it. We were literally rocketed to the moon with a mission to pen-etrate its virgin soil for the betterment of all. Yet we are now living to hear quite the opposite message reluctantly being delivered by every kind of “expert” and authority (with the exception, of course, of politi-cians, who are not “experts” so much as keepers of the gate). Environmentalists and economists alike affirm that the United States along with the rest of the world is in deep trouble. Nations are not immortal, after all, and neither is our planet. We must realize that not only are our own physical beings vulnerable but so is everything else, from nationhood (as we were taught as children to conceive of it) to the earth’s resources. This to me is the work of the conscienticized writer: whether we choose to use cultural metaphors familiar to our elected audience (e.g., Chicanas) or to introduce images borrowed from other cultural legacies.
181We must remind ourselves and others that nothing is separate from anything else. Matter and energy are one in a constant state of flux: this fusion can only be expressed in our work if we allow ourselves to be open to the endless possibilities of associations. If we continue, for example, to view the Virgen de Guadalupe as the metaphor for mother, tradition-ally the chain of associations follows thusly: Virgen de Guadalupe = Mother = Woman = Nurturer = Fertility = Nature = Earth = Female = female. Not only is woman locked exclusively into the historically tradi-tional role as procreator and nurturer but, given our Western orientation of dualism, we are automatically programmed to juxtapose the male as penetrator/protector. Imagine earth as not female, for earth is a planet. Imagine nature as neither female nor male, but as nature. Yes, nature is fertile and sustains our lives; but both woman and man are fertile. What may happen when we refuse learned associations, dualisms, met-aphors? We may begin to introduce unimaginable images and concepts into our poetics.“the author is the poem’s first reader”Language and ideas are only points of departure.6 They are, perhaps, the only elements that a poet is conscious of at the time she picks up the pen. At a subconscious level (and pardon the term subconscious, which I am the first to concede is only marginally descriptive), the poem is materialized from thought to hand to pen. Consciously, the poet gropes for the image or metaphor that “feels” right but she does not know what she is creating until it is done. At times, she doesn’t know if it is done, or how to finish, or even what to make of it. That is why, to use a popular analogy, like a child who has come of age and whom we have schooled to the best of our abilities, we are sometimes amazed at the stories we hear told about our literary creation.Critics and university professors go about their business evaluating, interpreting, measuring, comparing, and placing into social and histor-ical context our “child,” our poem, short story, novel. If we as poets like
182what we hear, we beam with pride at what we most surely deliberately instilled in our prodigy. If we don’t like what we hear, we are quick to question the authority (the critic) or to doubt the author (ourselves), wondering if we have failed at our endeavors.The construction of poetics and prose, the development of ideas, is not the achievement of any one individual writer of her generation. Together, we create a tapestry. At times it is vibrant with color and move-ment, and during other periods it is dull and redundant, and still at others—just poorly done. No one of us is infallible, no one of us alone always achieves the perfect confluence of elements in her creation. Conscienticized poetics, then, takes on everything and everyone at once—or at least, that is its mission. It is often difficult to persuade even those in our lives, one’s male lover or sister (or female lover) that we are creating not only a new poetics with our own language but a new conscientización.Following is a discussion of three books: Gloria Anzaldúa’s Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza, Cherríe Moraga’s Loving in the War Years: Lo que nunca pasó por sus labios, and my own novel, The Mixquiahuala Letters.“her body had betrayed her”Borderlands requires close reading in order to appreciate its schema of ciphering and deciphering, interweaving of a journey of self- understanding and the challenges of the writing process itself. 7 “This book, then, speaks of my existence,” Anzaldúa declares in her preface, and for her readers Borderlands is a bloodcurdling scream in the night. In the earlier days of Chicano literature much attention was focused on writers who explored social conditions. There was a tendency to exclude from academic or critical purview those writers whose work and life did not fit comfortably within the campesino archetype. Gloria Anzaldúa, a Tex-Mex with a background as a fieldworker, would seem, then, the likely successor to the late Tomás Rivera. His book, Y no se lo tragó la
183tierra/And the Earth Did Not Part, dealt with (from the “universal male perspective”) the coming of age of a campesino, the role that achieved recognition as the “true” Chicano experience. However, because of male, heterosexist dominance in academia and among critics, Anzaldúa was not readily recognized within the Chicano literary milieu of the 1970s. Instead, to her great credit, she carved a place for herself in liter-ature as a feminist Chicana writer. Furthermore, her feminist writings, influenced by the author’s exceptional physical maladies (directly female related), lead us into remote labyrinths where she seeks psychic, not just social, understanding of the human condition. The inner self—though inseparable from her physical self—is the one Anzaldúa felt to be the author’s truer representation. Inseparable from her story and vision is our knowledge that Anzaldúa began to menstruate at three months of age, and underwent a hysterectomy as a young woman. And this rare and painful condition, in my estimation, informs every aspect of the text, even as the author speaks of her development as a poet and a polit-ical activist.One of the strongest taboos in Judeo-Christian culture has to do with woman’s menses. While in some cultures, such as the Native American, woman’s blood is still seen as potent, the authors of the mythical texts of the Bible literally attacked woman’s blood. During puberty, at a time a girl usually began to menstruate, she was immedi-ately separated from the world of men, that is, from the world itself.8 Thus, as her title insists, Anzaldúa’s vision was one based on marginal-ization; this marginalism, she professed, was her vision of the future. The masses who were forced to live on the borderlands of dominant culture as well, she believed, had a sixth sense, developed as a strategy for survival. They, therefore, had an edge on the average citizen who conformed to the status quo.9 In addition, in accordance with the reli-gious orientation of Chicana culture, Anzaldúa felt an inherent sense of “otherworldness.”Her spiritual informants were Mexican, specifically Mexic Amerindian. Her guide was Coatlicue, multiple deity and mother of the gods of the Mexica pantheon. In Mexica culture, Coatlicue was both
184creator and destroyer, both exalted and denigrated. Anzaldúa, like some feminist historians of religion, believed that the Aztecs disarmed Coatlicue of her greatest endowments as mother goddess and reshaped her role according to the needs of the imperialist patriarchy. I would venture to add that Anzaldúa’s spiritual affinity for Coatlicue served as a resonant reflection of her desire for disembodiment that would free her from a tremendous physical and emotional anguish. “She felt shame for being abnormal. The bleeding distanced her from others. Her body had betrayed her,” wrote Anzaldúa.10 Though specifically the author’s experience, this desperate desire to distance oneself from one’s body was not unusual for women. So many of us were taught that our bodies are sin-ridden, untrustworthy, and in any event, did not belong to us.Cherríe Moraga’s Loving in the War Years, contrary to Borderlands, reflects an acute connection with her physical self and sexuality. Anzaldúa struggles with the acknowledgement of her physical self: “Tallo mi cuerpo como si estuviera lavando un trapo. Toco las saltadas venas de mis manos, mis chichis adormecidas como pajaras a la anochecer.” (I scrub my body as if I were washing a rag. I touch the protruding veins of my hands, my sleeping tits like birds at nightfall.)11 Anzaldúa’s sexual preference is a conscious decision, “I made the choice to be queer” but maintains the controversial opinion that “for some it is genetically inherent.” Moraga, on the other hand, says of herself in her preface:My Mother’s daughter who at ten years old knew she was queer. Queer to believe that god cared so much about me, he intended to see me burn in hell. . . . Todavia soy bien católica—filled with guilt, passion, and incense, and the inherent Mexican faith that there is meaning to nuestro surfrimiento en el mundo.For the political activist sexuality has been the last frontier to liberate. It is for this reason that an open dialogue about lesbianism was so crucial to the understanding, affirmations, and recognition of our personal and public selves.Loving in the War Years, like Borderlands, using autobiography, along
185with essays, journal entries, and poems, represents one woman’s attempt to unravel the conflicts facing and within a conscienticized writer. In an essay entitled, “A Long Line of Vendidas,” Moraga explores the various influences that control the lives of poor and working-class women of color in the United States in order that we may begin to understand what we need to do in response to them, instead of “in reaction to.” Moraga also grapples with the identity issues shared by those of “mixed blood.” This “mixed blood” reference, usually applied to Native Americans and Anglos, is troublesome to me since as Mexicans, we are already mestizas—of mixed blood—and perceived as such by both Mexic Amerindians and Native Americans, as well as the rest of society. The term mestizo means mixed blood. The very basis of the ongoing social and political polemic of the mestizos and mestizas is imbedded in our mixed blood status. Nevertheless, because Moraga’s Mexican mother married an Anglo, Moraga feels neither “fully” Mexican nor “fully” Anglo. And yet, Moraga also wonders, has she betrayed her mother’s culture by opting to reject the mandated roles of wife and mother?Gloria Anzaldúa takes on another task; she feels she has no reason to question her mestizaje, and indeed she reaffirms the long denigrated blood of her Indian heritage, yet claims:So mama, Raza, how wonderful, no tener que rendir cuentas a nadie. I feel perfectly free to rebel and to rail against my culture. I feel no betrayal on my part because, unlike Chicanas and other women of color who grew up white or who have only recently returned to their native cultural roots, I was totally immersed in mine.12Roughly translated, the Spanish expression Anzaldúa employs here means “one does not have to be accountable to anyone.” In fact, none of us “tenemos que rendirle cuentas a nadie,” but the unfortunate truth for us is that we are all, in one way or another, compelled to explain our motivations at the instant we set pen to paper and declare an “I” or even the implied collective “I.” I believe this is due to our unconscious sense
186of colonization. That is, as “unofficial” members of society, we do not presume a right to our perspective.But, of course, an Anglicized brown woman always walks a delicate tightrope. Denial of her mestizaje does not change what she is. The point for us in our identity analyses—through prose, poetry, and essays—is a self-evaluation that brings us closer to the truth about our-selves in an affirming way. Carmen Tafolla, in her publication on and for “la Chicana,” To Split a Human, tells us as much:Don’t play, “Will the Real Chicana Please Stand Up?” Much as we have heard different groups compete for “charter membership” in the Most Oppressed Club, Deep in the Barrio Bar, Pachuca of the Year Award, Mujer Sufrida Ranks, and Double Minority Bingo, we must admit that membership dues must be continuously paid and advertised. It is irrelevant to try to justify how “Chicana we are or to criticize others for being “Anglicized.” 13If Moraga did not affirm her Chicana affiliations until she was an adult, she had long given consideration to the agonizing conflicts generated by the sexual proscriptions of “proper” desires. Self-reflection and the com-plexities of identity have been part of these two authors’ attempts to dare analyses. Spirituality, a material analysis, and a re-vision of sexual mores regarding women are three main issues when addressing a par-ticular blend of culture. While these authors struggled with the order of priority of these issues or the examination of recently returning to their native cultural roots, I was totally immersed in my interlude on chicana feminist literary criticismOur literature, perceived by dominant society as a “minority literature,” has primarily been supported by Chicana scholars. Until the late 1980s our publications were not distributed widely to the general public. In
187general, Latinas in the United States were not published by the main-stream. At the same time, much of our writing was directed at our own people, the texts intended to contribute to the discourse of our ongoing struggle for self-definition as well as offering a sense of place in society. Female literary critics were also taking up the task of interpreting imagi-native works with a desire to identify theory. In a paper entitled, “The Politics of Poetics: Or, What Am I, a Critic Doing in This Text Anyhow?” Tey Diana Rebolledo equally took a critical look at herself in order to carry on the critic’s role as speaker, thinker, and voice of her Latina community. Rebolledo, who was trained as a “structuralist, semiotic critic,” became increasingly suspicious of theory “which turns the vitality and the passion of those texts of our writers into an empty and meaningless set of letters.” As an academician she proposed that we recognize that our literature did not require legitimization by the academy and that the most important aspect of the critic’s analysis were the texts themselves.14“Releas(ing) her readers from what could be referred to as her per-sonal biases or subjective interpretations” was Professor Alvina Quintana’s succinct description of the goal of The Mixquiahuala Letters, which was my first novel.15 Quintana referred to my two deliberate ploys used to dissuade readers from interpreting the novel as autobiography. The first was a disclaimer at the beginning of the novel. The second was the construction of the novel in a series of letters, accompanied by my suggestion that the reader read them in a variety of different orders, thus producing diverse interpretations beyond my narrative control. Subversion of all implied truths is necessary in order to understand the milieu of sexist politics that shape the lives of women. Moraga and Anzaldúa suggest this in their texts and Teresa, the main character of Letters, as much as she does not always see it, is an insurgent.16chicanaloveTeresa is a Chicana of working-class background. During a summer of study in México she befriends, Alicia, to whom the letters are addressed. Alicia is of mixed Latina/white middle-class background and a
188burgeoning feminist. Thus begins Teresa’s confrontation with herself as a conventional married woman from a conservative Mexican upbring-ing. Whereas male writers may be critical of the institutions such as the church and state that have controlled our lives, they do so with the ben-efit of male privilege. That is, they write on the premise that even as brown men of little economic means, the world has been defined by other men for the benefit of men as a discussion among men. On the other hand, women know they have little, if anything, to do with soci-ety’s signs. That is why, I believe it is equally painful and important to read of Anzaldúa’s search to claim the “wound” that is the symbol of her existence as it is to read Teresa’s self-admonishment as she writes to Alicia in Letter 32: “You had been angry that i never had problems attracting men. You pointed out the obvious, the big breasts, full hips and thighs, the kewpie doll mouth. Underlining the superficial attrac-tion men felt toward me is what you did not recognize. i was docile.” 17 We so often go for our own jugular.While Anzaldúa would have us see her physical self as indistinguish-able from her spiritual image of duality, Moraga concludes the opposite, that is, she claims the spiritual through the physical. She sees her reli-gious indoctrination inextricably tied to her sexuality, stating, “Simply put, if the spirit and sex have been linked to our oppression, then they must also be linked in the strategy toward our liberation” 18 In Letter 4, Teresa, too, takes a stance against the institutionalization of spirituality and its direct connection to her sexuality. Yet, in Letter 24, we listen to her draw on the resources of folklore, Catholic mythology, and woman- identified beliefs to combat a negative energy force that threatens her and her friend. Her gesture of wrapping her rosary around the fingers of her nonbeliever friend (which in this passage seems to suggest that the source of danger may be male as much as it is supernatural) is a demonstration of her loyalty to woman. Throughout the book Teresa is both protector and nurturer. As Teresa evolves as a feminist, she is placed in the dangerous position of being viewed as a traitor to the male-dominated Chicano movement. As Cherríe Moraga explains in her, essay, “A Long Line of Vendidas,” “The woman who defies her roles
189as subservient to her husband, father, brother, or son by taking control of her own sexual destiny is purported to be a ‘traitor to her race’ by contributing to the genocide of her people—whether or not she has had children. In short, even if the defiant woman is not a lesbian.” 19 Ultimately, however, Teresa, like many other women characters in con-temporary Chicana poetry and prose, is emphatic in her refusal to be viewed as Malinche, a betrayer of her race. In a section of Loving in the War Years, entitled “La Malinchista,” Moraga claims thatChicanos’ refusal to look at our weaknesses as a people and a movement is, in the most profound sense, an act of self-betrayal. The Chicana lesbian bears the brunt of this betrayal, for it is she, the most visible manifestation of a woman taking control of her own sexual identity and destiny, who so severely challenge the anti-feminist Chicano/a. 20After making similar statements, Anzaldúa declares, “Not me sold out my people but they me.” 21 In Letter 22, Teresa plays a verbal chess game with a mexicano who hopes to have her in bed that night: He began, “I think you are a ‘liberal woman.’ Am I correct?” She replies . . . “What you perceive as ‘liberal’ is my independence to choose what i want to do, with whom, and when. Moreover, it also means that i may choose not to do it, with anyone, ever.” 22 It may be said (and indeed, it has) that neither the character of Teresa, nor the works of Anzaldúa and Moraga are representative of the thoughts or lives of the majority of women. Yet in the history of civilization when can it be claimed that a poet is the typical citizen marching in step with the times? Poets and artists are dreamers who weave stories out of their dreams, which are reflective of their times, but which most people do not, cannot, or refuse to see during their times. I see Borderlands, Loving in the War Years,23 and I would like to see my own The Mixquiahuala Letters, as meaningful examples of public risk taking. The woman
190writer cannot fail to be crucially aware of the consequences of her cul-tural interpretations and her claims as feminist, bo