Chapter 29

When the song is over Diego comes over to me and offers me his hand. “Pancho Villa de Ustedes Unidos. He says some more Spanish, and everyone cheers.

“Gracias Senior Fernandez.” I say.

“Diego,” he insists.

All around people plead for more, and Diego politely accepts. As the next song gets underway Uncle Carlos says, “Diego says if you are deported, you are as Mexican as you can be. Welcome to Mexico Pancho Villa.”

We both laugh. I feel electric. What an experience.

After the song ends and Diego and his band accepts some food, I take a break and look around at the changing scenery as I catch my breath. The sunset looks almost fake! A few clouds are hanging over the hilltops, misting downward towards the summit, and they’re lit up like bright neon fog, glowing yellow-orange and blending into a creamy red-orange. The back sides of the hills look eggplant purple, and the sky around the clouds is the very definition of turquoise. As the clouds let loose its water over the trees, It looks like it’s raining orange velvet fire. I’ve never seen anything so beautiful in my life. The smell of burning wood and brush from the bonfire, the crackling and popping sounds of the fire, the bubbling of conversations, and in the background are pulsating crickets with the occasional coyote calling out to the rising moon. All of this together with the warm summer night. The decorations. The sangria. Diego Fernandez. This party could not have been any more fantastic.

Tia Joselyn and Tia Lupita, Uncle Carlos’ wife, are lighting some lanterns that hang from tree branches. There is also a thin rope stretching from a tree next to the house, all the way to the barn, and the lanterns hanging from it sway lazily in a gentle breeze. I can smell the cooling hills too, growing more fragrant as the overwhelming summer heat backs off and allows the plants to breathe again.

Footsteps wake me up from my trance, and I see uncle Carlos with a smile so big you could see it from space. He looks me up and down.  “Ay Pancho.” He gives me a big bear hug, and then pushes me away, recovering from what was bubbling up from deep inside him. I know, I felt it too. He is the first Mexican relative I ever met, and the first one I have ever said goodbye to, and then saw again. That kinda makes it real for me, I guess. I’m standing in front of my dad’s brother, in his parent’s front yard. The same yard my father and he grew up in. Wow. This is really happening.

A Mariachi band begins playing. My cousins are showing off for Diego. There is a lot of instrumental fireworks in this song.

“Pancho . . . Pancho, this is very hard for me . . . and my family too, I think. We all think that Armando was not to come home again. I know deep inside he was maybe . . . but it did not feel real until I see the photo, and then you, and then . . . I guess the most difficult part is I feel guilty.”

“Guilty?”

“Guilty for I feel happy or something, I do not know for what. I think I feel sad, too, but my sad is a long time ago.” He looks me in the eyes, then straightens up, “I do not know what I say any more. I just want to say to you, I am very happy you are here. You are bringing things to a finish, and with the same moment, I feel something good begins.”

“Yeah, this is hard for me to, knowing now that my dad didn’t leave me because he didn’t love me . . . and now, I don’t know what I’m supposed to feel.” I try to keep my voice from cracking. “This is all happening so fast.”

“Yes, very fast. This is all happening very fast . . . but it was slow too.”

The expression in his eyes is warm and friendly, yet I can’t bear to look at him right now. Aunt Adriana comes from out of nowhere and playfully takes my hand. “And what are you talking about so serious?”

We both look away from her, and each other.

“A secret huh? Okay, let me take him for one moment Carlos. I give him back in one minute. I want to show him something.”

Carlos nods and goes back over to the beer barrel. Aunt Adriana leads me into the house. I hope she’s not going to show me more of my dad’s old clothes.

She leads me to her room. There is a cross in the center of one of the walls, and it sits above pictures of family in various sizes. There is a thin table against the wall, with frames and little statues. I see a picture of my father. It is the largest one on the wall. Around it are many more pictures with my father and other relatives. It’s kinda like everyone that knew him is represented here and acknowledged for knowing and loving him. It looks like a tribute or her shrine. Adriana elbows me in the ribs. She has been talking and I haven’t been listening.

“My brother was very special to me. He walk with us to school and protect us. He help me with math and to read.” She points to a photo that is identical to the one I had in my pocket. This was the photo that freaked Uncle Carlos out, and now I see why. They have one too.

On the table is a picture of my mother and father standing together, kissing. They were under an archway of flowers. My father is dressed impressively in a black suit with a white stripe down the side of his pants, and gold braids and piping along the cuffs and collar and pockets of his coat. His white shirt matches my mom’s white dress.

“The dress was first to wear by Great, Great, Grandma Alberta Sala, when she marry Pancho Villa in 1922. She gave it to Guadalupe Fuentes when she marry their son, Carlos Armando Villa Sala.  She give it to my mother when she marry their son, grandpa Humberto Villa. Your mother wear it too, like me.  Your mother was much honored to have permission to wear it for her wedding, and because she did, if she has a daughter, she can wear it too, if they want, and, your daughters too.”

In America, all women wear a wedding dress once. Here they make all the women wear the same one.

My mother was in a place of honor in this house. I’m reminded of the box at the bottom of the closet back home and I feel intensely ashamed. Aunt Adriana’s arm wraps me around my shoulders and I feel her warm lips against my cheek, which I notice is wet. It is a long kiss. She seems to savor some silent meaning.

“I want to show you this so you will know where your picture will be when you go home.”

That didn’t help. I’m trying really hard to see through watery eyes, to find a picture of my dad when he was my age. I think I see one. I pick it up off the table and turn away from Aunt Adriana to find better light with which to inspect it.

I’m holding a medium-sized portrait, the kind you get from school. For once I get a really good look at my father, and see what everyone is making such a fuss about.

 

He was a little darker than me, but what really stands out, besides the fact that we are almost twins, is his eyes. They were blue too. Did my mother ever tell me that?

I put the picture back down on the table, next to a picture of Adriana’s wedding. They looked very happy.

“That is Enrique.”

Uh-oh. She saw me looking. I hope this doesn’t bring up a bad subject.

“He is in the United States.”

Does that mean they are divorced?

“He sends money home every two weeks.”

“He sends money?”

“Yes.” Her voice takes on a new enthusiasm. “This is why we have the new sofa, new windows, the floor in the bathroom, the beautiful new stove. Our father did a good job of providing for us when he was alive, but now it is our job to take care of the family.”

Oh, it isn’t charity. It’s responsibility. Family.

“Your father did the same when he went north.”

My self-image is taking a real beating at this party in my honor. How could I have been so wrong with how I saw Mexicans? I work with them for Christ’s sake! Which reminds me, “why don’t you just go up there and all be together?”

“Oh, no! We have Carlita. The journey is very hard and gets more dangerous every year. All three of us apply for, to get a travel visa and a passport. We pay all the fees, but we wait for the call to come and take a medical exam and pay more fees. All we have after five years is a passport, and that will not get us into the United States.”

“Why not? US passports let us go into any country we want.”

“Well, Mexico is not like the United States. The rules are different. The US is more afraid of us to go there than you to come here.”

“Then what good is a Mexican passport, if you can’t go anywhere with it?”

“We can go to many countries with it, just not the United States. When you go to the border you will see. Nobody is made to stop coming down here, but there is a large line always to inspect every car, truck, motorcycle and person who goes north.”

 

The band begins playing that song again. Don’t they ever get tired of it? That seemed to end the conversation, and as if on cue, we drift back outside to rejoin the party. It’s a beautiful night; not too cold, not too hot. The breeze blows gently toward the barn, so we don’t have to smell the animals too much. It’s almost like somebody planned it that way.

Looks like food and beer are the popular attractions again. There are tomales, and what looks like a make your own burrito and soft taco bar. I wander over to the beer barrel and grab a bottle. The water in the barrel is ice cold. I don’t know if I’m ready for another beer . . . oh, what-the-heck. I twist off the top and chug about half of it, burning my throat with the carbonation. All around me are smiling, happy people. All shapes and sizes, all colors and lengths of hair. If I didn’t know these people, I would think I was back home, but I do know them. They are all Mexicans. All around me are Mexicans. All around me are family.

The bonfire glows and lights up smiling faces. Shadows skitter around on the dirt and silhouettes of trees dance against the house. Over to the side there are a couple of women begging the men to dance, but it looks like they just want to drink and yell into the night.

 

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Mike J Quinn About Mike J Quinn
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