April 2013

April 1910

April 1910, Joaquín stood in front of his three bedroom wooden home, enjoying the cool breeze which was blowing from the north.  It was six in the morning, and the breeze was helping to dry off the previous night’s sweat. The light from the sun was slowly peaking over the horizon; Joaquín stared out into it, taking in a deep breath before the days chores began. As he looked northward from his home, he observed a wagon slowly approaching along the road.

The driver was an older Mexican, his leathery face covered by a dark mustache and beard. Although his expression was mostly obscured by his facial hair, his eyes gave away the sadness within.  His head hung down low, glancing up occasionally to steer the wagon in the proper direction. Seated alongside of him was a much younger woman dressed in a simple light blue dress, a white shawl wrapped around her pale, blemish-free face. Her eyes stared intently ahead; she appeared to have her mind elsewhere, not allowing herself to show the grief her much older husband was exhibiting. In the back of the wagon sat four children, each looking a year apart but all very young, from waist-high to a small toddler. Besides the children, the wagon looked to be full of household items and some furniture.

Joaquín recognized his neighbors who lived a mile north from his ranch: the father was Francisco, the wife Rosa and their boys were, Paco, Luis, Jesus, and Jose. He walked up to the wagon and called out to Francisco, “Where you going?”

“Mexico to live with Rosa’s family,” replied Francisco with a rather drowsy voice.

“Why?” asked Joaquin.

“Why!” Francisco replied angrily, “I can’t take it anymore! The gringos are always messing with us! Trying to drive us off the land, they poisoned my chickens, stole what little cattle I had: then yesterday they beat me, tied me up and had their way with Rosa! I have had it! They have the pinche land! I’m done I’m going back to be with our people! You should go, too! Save yourself the grief!”  He then whipped the horse hard, moving off quickly, not even waiting for a reply.

Joaquín turned, walked back to the house, grabbed the metal bucket he kept by the door and went over to his water pump to fill it. Once it was full, he drank the cool water and leaned over, pouring the rest over his head and face. He filled it again and headed toward the house, where the smell of coffee, tortillas, and beans awoke his belly, hunger helping him to forget the scene he had just witnessed.

He walked straight toward the kitchen area, placing the bucket upon the simple four-chair wooden table. Hard at work was his mother Julia, an older woman whose wrinkles told the tale of countless of years spent in the kitchen, rolling and kneading tortillas, just as she was today. Standing at the small wooden stove was Joaquín’s young wife María, her hair as dark as the nights sky, her unblemished light brown skin revealing her young age. She was boiling beans and working on some eggs. She smiled at Joaquín, and he squeezed her one shoulder while glancing over the other to see what she was cooking.  He then walked over to his mom and kissed her on her forehead saying, “Did you sleep well, mamá?”

Si hijo, pero tu apá todavía está en la cama con mucho dolor en la espalda donde le pegaron,” she replied with concern.

Yo voy a ver cómo está.

Joaquín headed to his parents’ bedroom. Inside was his father, a 60-year-old man from whom Joaquin had never heard a single complaint of pain his whole life. Nonetheless, there he lay in his bed, staring at the wall with tears in his face.

Apá, ¿cómo estás?” Joaquin asked quietly, shocked and angry to see tears in his father’s eyes.

Bien. Bien. Ahorita me levanto: ¡necesitamos  hacer los trabajos!” his father Reymundo replied, with a voice which sounded like it was yelling more from pain than anger.

“Okay, papá. Breakfast will be ready soon. ¿Necesitas ayuda para levantarte?” Joaquin asked already knowing the answer.

¡NO! ¡Déjame!” Reymundo responded. As Joaquin turned away he could see his father slowly rising from the bed clutching the small of his back. Joaquin shook his head angrily as he walked away. Thoughts of revenge poured through his soul as he walked back to the table.

As he ate his breakfast, Joaquín kept replaying the image of his father lying in front of their house, writhing in pain the evening before. At first Joaquin thought that he had been thrown from his horse or bitten by a snake, but the truth was even more devastating and just as arbitrary to life in South Texas.  Two Texas Rangers had ridden up to their home asking if Reymundo had seen some bandits crossing the river which was at the south end of their property. They had stolen twenty head of cattle from a nearby Anglo’s ranch. Reymundo told them that he had been home all day working with the animals and had seen no one cross his property. The rangers did not believe him and shoved passed him to search the animals which were on the property.

Joaquín’s family only possessed two cows, three horses, a mule, a handful of chickens and half a dozen pigs. One of the rangers came back leading the horses from the corral. Reymundo attempted to stop him from taking the horses but was stopped at the point of the ranger’s colt pistol. The other ranger told Reymundo that, since he probably was guilty of allowing the bandits to pass through his property, it was probably better for a white man to live there who would stop bandits from trespassing onto American soil to steal. Reymundo yelled at him to explain that the land they were on belonged to Mexico and was stolen by the U.S. during the war. For that he was beaten severely across the back by one of the ranger’s rifles. They then took turns urinating on him. As they rode away with the families horses, one of them yelled back. “You best pack up and go back to your side of the river, where you will be safe.”

After finishing his breakfast, Joaquín and the rest of his family got on with the various chores which come with running a small ranch. Animals fed and put out for grazing, Joaquín stared out toward the river and planned his revenge. Meanwhile, Reynaldo went about the ranch moving slowly and struggling with his work, but work he did. He was from an older time: he belonged to a generation which was angry at the invading whites, yet he had seen them defeat his country and lived with the shame. The abuses which now came were part of that loss and he handled them with as much humility as he could. However, Joaquín, born after the war, was young and full of the machismo of a young Mexican man. He was therefore unrestrained in his actions.

By mid-afternoon the work was done and Joaquin set off with the work of a man filled with rage. His father seated on a stool by their small barn saw Joaquín enter the house and emerge with a shotgun clutched tightly, revealing the anger in his soul and a pistol strapped to his waist. “¡M’ijo!” he cried, “¿Qué haces? ¡No puedes hacer nada! Te van a matar!” Joaquin ignored the pleas of his father and mounted their burro, slowly riding off, heart filled with hate.

Joaquín rode up to the Hotel San Juan and entered the dining area where five Texas Rangers sat. The rest of the diners in the half-full dining area were a mix of older white businessman flaunting their wealth with their clean new suits, some middle class whites dressed simply but well and an older Mexican woman whose  white dress matched the color of her hair though her face was relatively wrinkle-free. Without a word, Joaquín walked straight toward the Rangers, who paid little attention to him as though he was nothing to them, not even worth the glance. This angered Joaquín even more; he lifted the shotgun and emptied a barrel into the face of one.

The other Rangers, shocked at Joaquín’s audacity, watched their compatriot’s body fall back, chair and all. They then quickly came to their senses and stood up and drew their pistols. Joaquin managed to shoot two more, each in the chest, before he himself was shot in the stomach. As he fell he hit one more in the head, while the other ran around the table to finish the job, stumbling as he made his way in the now smoke-filled room. He raised his gun to shoot Joaquín in the head but his gun misfired. So he reached down to take the gun from Joaquín’s hand, to shoot him with it, but he slowly stood back up with a large knife in his gut and stumbled into a chair, a look of disbelief in his dying eyes. Three young Mexicans who had seen Joaquín enter the hotel and had heard the shots rushed in, guns drawn. They instantly grabbed Joaquín and carried his body out of the hotel.

Gregorio, who was driving by, was called by one of them to take the body to Joaquín’s home. He stopped and helped place the body in the back of the wagon in time to see a Model-T Ford with two more Rangers driving toward the scene. The Mexicans told him not to worry about them and to ride out of the city. As Gregorio drove away, he heard a flurry of gunshots. Rounding the corner, he saw the two Rangers dead beside their vehicle and one Mexican lying in the middle of the dusty road, the other two standing scanning the road for more opponents. Adrenaline pumped through their bodies and the same sense of vengeance that Joaquin had pervaded their souls. They cared not for the consequences of their actions: they only felt the elation of finally standing up to their oppressors, and now that they had stung them, like a bee they knew their lives would soon be over.

It was early evening, when a small wagon slowly approached Joaquín’s home. It was driven by a solitary man wearing a large sombrero head sullenly facing the ground. Joaquín’s wife María was outside pumping water when she saw the wagon approaching and she was the first to rush out to meet it. Her screams brought  Joaquín’s mother from the house, slowly followed by his father. As they neared the wagon they saw María in the back holding her dead husband’s head to her breast and crying. Gregorio, the driver, approached the parents of the fallen Joaquín and explained what had happened.

Gregorio stayed with the family to help them pack what possessions they had in both the family’s wagon and his own. They then crossed the river with Gregorio driving one wagon and Reynaldo the other. Meanwhile, the women were herding the farm animals alongside the wagons. They crossed the calm waters of the Río Grande and into Mexico, their hearts filled with sadness and fear at what was to become of them. María had family in a nearby village, but the family feared staying to close to the border, for the Rangers may just cross into Mexico seeking revenge against them. So they headed further south in hopes of starting a new life far away from their home in America, Texas, Mexico,  New Spain.

The only home this family had ever known.

—Juan Carmona

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