Act I: This is my grandfather.
When it rains, she and her sisters and her cousins play outside for hours.
Though her family is too poor to buy her and her sisters toys like the other kids, every so often there is this giant gift from God himself, and she greets it with wonder and joy every time.
Rain to her means relief from the heat. It means the laughter of simple games while water from heaven soaks her clothes. It is the comforting sound of drops hitting corrugated tin roofs, flooded lawns, and broken streets. It is something to be celebrated.
And today it is raining.
She is playing with her sisters and cousins, throwing rocks and sticks into the growing pools, seeing who can make the biggest splash.
Today, it is raining.
Today, she is happy.
Many years from now, in a church not too far away, she will marry a boy who lives down the street. He will be perfect, and she and her sisters and cousins will be happy.
He will be a pastor, and she will be his wife.
After a few years, he will have the chance to study in the United States, and they will go.
To a country of so much promise, they will go.
To a country that is not theirs, they will go.
And they will be alone.
He will attend classes, and she will stay at home.
It will be a long time before she learns English, and so she will live in the isolation of one who cannot communicate.
One day, with no one to celebrate the occasion, she will give birth to a daughter, and this daughter will become their only family in this strange world.
She will live in this world of just two other people—trapped in her language and in the cruel confines of distance.
She will have a baby without a grandmother, a baby without aunts, a baby without cousins.
She will be alone.
And more than once, this small family of hers will run out of money. More than once, she and her husband will have to go without eating so that they can feed their infant daughter.
And in their poverty, long before Moore’s law and economies of scale allow her the simple luxury of a call home, she will cry.
She will miss her sisters, and her cousins, and her mother.
But every so often—
Like a giant gift from God himself—
It will rain.
Water from heaven will come down, and remind her of home.
Drops of water will fall upon a very different landscape but still she will celebrate.
And she will be happy.
Until one day, when her husband will have to work in the fields.
Until one day, when she will learn that rain means her husband cannot work—that rain means no money—no food.
And one day she will begin to pray for it not to rain.
Sometimes I remember to take it off of the manual setting. Sometimes some of them know what they’re doing. These are a mix, but I like them.
Images by Ayleen (16), Marcos (11), and Joselyn (9).
Last week, my cousins told me I had to help them make a film.
We were visiting one of our uncles for a few days, and they said that this was necessary, considering the circumstances.
After they watched it they called it chido, and declared it the greatest film ever.
One day, after we’re all famous, I might subtitle it or even dub it for the international audience. Maybe I’ll even release the far more entertaining extras. Until then, those of you who can’t speak Spanish will probably be okay.
I’m told that Studio Chido is looking to shoot a novela next.
A selection of some of the eighty-six hand-lettered postcards being shipped this week to backers of the Descent Kickstarter campaign. Inspiration for the letterforms and sometimes-shoddy brush strokes was drawn from the many hand-painted signs in this sweltering state.
Note: All postcards will arrive with stamps of a Navidad Mexicana. Yes, it is April, and yes, that is weird. Due to some strange scheduling of commemorative stamp releases, though, there are no other stamps in the state.
Disclaimer: My handwriting on the other side will probably be surprisingly illegible. To the eighty-six of you receiving these, I apologize.
I look around some days unsure of what I am seeing—unsure of what to make of this, these myriad threads. What is the three act structure? What is the arc—the outcome? What is any of this?
It is knowing to say “bueno” when you pick up the phone, and that if you wait long enough your grandfather might pick up the call in the tiendita.
It is knowing that every day, your aunt in Texas will call to talk to her mother.
It is knowing that her mother often leaves the kitchen faucet running—knowing that her father always takes a break around three—knowing that the parrots will cry every night because they are afraid of being left outside.
It is knowing that the top tortilla always sticks to the inner flap of the paper package—that the fifth gear of la carcacha doesn’t work—that the electricity dips in and out because no one in the village has paid their bill for years.
It is sitting at the table on a dozen late afternoons, watching remembering eyes and quavering lips.
It is hearing that they told their daughters ‘you will not have an inheritance’—hearing that they traded their land for books and school clothes and the intangible futures of all their children.
It is hearing that they sometimes went without eating but their daughters never needed anything.
It is seeing him, working until nine in the evening in his old age, and seeing her, standing for hours as she tries to collect a pension she never gets because she doesn’t come on the Sabbath.
It is you, breaking, as you watch her in that room full of hundreds of ancient men and women—it is feeling sick as names are called and the room empties out—as she becomes the last person still there, and still her name is never said.
It is anger at the meager dividends of an invested life.
It is understanding.
It is thinking—thinking long—of the violence of life.
It is growing up in an instant, and having a grandmother for the first time.
It is being told that you have your father’s smile and your grandfather’s eyes.
It is being a stranger among family, and then becoming family.
It is discovering what you have already known—that you have an inheritance.
A brief guide to Mexican culture in six parts. // 1. The music of Carla Morrison // 2. Chocolitos.com (it’s a Choco thing) // 3. Mexico’s most cherished TV show // 4. The state of Chiapas // 5. This is apparently what the kids are into // 6. Pedro Infante, Cielito Lindo; classic Mexican song and cinema.
My grandfather has just returned from the city. A friend of his had taken him to the Sam’s Club to open an account, and now that he is back at his tiendita he is telling his customers about what he saw. On their way back they ran into traffic. Authorities had blocked off one of the streets. They were swarming a bank. He could see men inside.
One of his vendors comes in to replenish his inventory. They talk for a long time about la situation, the uncontrolled violence in the city. They talk about God. They talk about having an honest work in the midst of this.
The world is ending, my grandfather says.
It’s around two when I wake up. My uncle is standing outside, in the darkness, looking out at the road through the chain-link gate. He says there’s a patrulla out there. Flashing red and blue lights. Something must have happened. He wonders what it is.
I go inside to get ready. My uncle is a taxista in the city, and I’m going to join him on his three to three shift. I wash my face, put gel in my hair, and go outside to wait with him for the taxi to arrive.
The city, for everything I’ve heard, is silent that morning. I return tired after an uneventful morning and sleep.
The next day at breakfast my grandmother tells me that a man was found at the side of the road early in the morning the day before. He had been thrown out of a vehicle, bleeding and covered in torture wounds, his tongue missing.
My mother calls me almost every day. We talk about the family, about my project, and about things we are thinking. Often she tells me about how many deaths there have been in the city, and often I tell her to stop reading the news. There’s a saying here that you can squeeze the newspapers and blood will drip out, and from what my mother knows I’m sure the news sites aren’t much better.
Children and teachers get kidnapped from schools; men are gunned down exiting supermarkets; honest working people are caught in crossfires and sprayed with balas. The city is painted in blood.
And while it’s not half as dangerous as el norte—while the numbers do not reach the numbing heights of the border towns—nobody cares. Because that doesn’t matter. Because everybody remembers the days when this was unheard of in this place.
Late on a Saturday evening, I’m with one of my cousins. He’s in college and is going to be studying for his classes the next morning. Now though, he’s reading the local news, and he tells me about a vigilante group that has recently sprung up. He shows me a picture of dismembered bodies with a sharpied note taped to one of them. It says that anyone engaged in trafficking, assault, or kidnapping will meet the same fate as these. It is signed Pueblos Unidos.
Two of my kid cousins come looking for me. I haven’t come over to play in a few days, and they’ve been getting restless. As we walk to their house, my prima says she’s not as scared now. Because I’m with them.
I ask if she was scared walking when she came just now and she says that she was.
My primo tells me to tell her that he’s come alone without any fear before, right?
I ask her why she’s scared.
She tells me that they steal children for their organs.
Here? In El Once?
But only the pretty kids. So they’ll steal her.
My primo says he’s safe.
My prima says that’s because he’s ugly.
My primo says that there are different sorts of people that steal different sorts of children, so he could still get stolen.
I look at them, unsure of what to say.
The man at the pulpit is talking about the importance of unity. About how everyone needs to live in community. And how a family can’t be a family, how a church can’t be a church, how a people can’t be a people, without unity.
He starts a saying,“El pueblo unido—”
And the congregation finishes,“—jamás será vencido.”
On another day, after another man speaks at the same pulpit, we sit around at a table eating, conviviendo. The talk turns to the violence. And then a story is told, of a wealthy man who was once being harassed by the maleantes.
Every week they would come and ask for their protection money, and every week the man would give his wealth to the violent men, until one day when he told them he wasn’t going to give them any more. And before the five men could lift their guns the wealthy man had shot each of them dead. He had long ago sent his family away under political asylum, sold all of his businesses and properties, and begun practicing his marksmanship.
He boarded a plane to Canada that day and never came back.
We are silent as the man speaks. In two months it will all be over, he says. The government has put together a covert operation. In two months, he says, they’ll complete their work.
The drug-pushers, the opportunist gangs, the corrupt cops, the sold military—everything will be over, he says. The unchecked crimes of law enforcers and their lawless employers will finally be met with justice. The streets will no longer run with blood. Two months and it will all be over, he says.
And though he says it with so much certainty in his voice, we all know—he knows—that it is just another myth. It is just another story for a people to tell themselves—a story of a people who will not be vencido.