Tuesday, March 16, 2010

A Letter to a Young Man from Chiapas

by Elizabeth O'Brien (from the Humane Borders newsletter)

No more mangoes to pick
En la estancia de su abuelo.
No more money for food.
No way to take care of your family.
You don’t want them to starve.

First gather your family
Your village.
Share your plan,
Ask their help,
Collect their money—
$2,000 U.S.
Te dicen adios y te dicen buena suerte,
Your first shedding.

Find a coyote
Not the one Jose Martín used--
Jose Martín está muerto
Find one who knows the way
Around the wall.

Never mind that you don’t know
About the three days travel
In the Arizona desert
After the 2000 miles in Mexico.

No food. No water.
Except occasional water stations
Set out by Yanquis.

Never mind that you will
Leave so much of yourself
In the desert, maybe
Even your body.

Pero tu esperanza está muy fuerte
Y tu vas.

2000 miles by train or bus
On foot, in cars.
Sleep, your face pressed against the window
Mexico whirring by
Desert to trees to mountains
To desert.

Join a group in a safe house
Not really safe.
The coyote demands more money
No hay más
So you smuggle marijuana
While he rapes a wife
Or a daughter
Or an abuela--
Your second shedding.

Finally at the border.
And through a break in the wall

Bienvenidos a Arizona!
No shade. Sharp rocks.
Stabbing thorns
No water in the arroyo,
Only a few smooth stones
To hint at summer floods.

Your prized jacket--
“Baille de salsa”
Escrito en la espalda--
You won at the dance hall
Beating Jose Martín and Pedro
With your lightening turns
And sassy hips,
Spinning Maria ‘til dawn,
Worn for 2,000 miles.

But the heat in the desert
Even at night
Turns your triumph
Into a burden—
Too heavy, too dark, too unnecessary
You lay it with care up a rise
Under a creosote bush.
Later you toss the matching pants,
Silver stripe down the leg
Another shedding,
Leaving more of yourself behind.

As you stumble in the arroyos
Sliding on jagged granite
Or porous basalt
You have to lighten your pack.
Now the prayer book
Tia Gracela gave you
For confirmation.
You hope someone finds it
Who can carry it,
Treasure it,
Wonder who you were, or are.

You drop water bottle after water bottle
Sucked dry.
Now one gallon left
For three days
Under the AZ sun and moon.
One bottle—black plastic
Bought at the border.
No glint of white or clear
To alert the binoculars
Searching for you from the choppers
That criss-cross the desert
Looking for any glint--
A gold cross
A silver bracelet
A brass buckle
A white water bottle.

You freeze when you hear them
“La Migra! La Migra”
No motion allowed.
Hiding ’til they pass.

The coyote yells, pushes, tugs
Ordering things to be left behind--
“Salven la agua! Salven la comida!”
Nada más!!

You see what others have left
Along the rocks and shrubs.
A torn blouse embroidered with
Red and yellow flowers.
A tortilla cloth
Colcha stitched in
Blues, greens and reds.
One leg of jeans—one side
Faded almost white
The other a defiant blue
Pressed to the ground.
One shoe—
“Por qué?” tu piensas.
A jeans’ pocket
Embroidered with pink flowers
Silver studs and gold threads,
Like the one you gave tu sobrina Esperanza
Para su quinceañera.

The most worrisome find--
A baby bottle with pedialite
A diaper bag, empty now.
No longer needed--
Or almost there?

Suddenly shouts.
A scuffle.
Silence as you
Huddle beneath
A boulder.
A navy-sleeved arm
Grabs you.
Screams las palabras en inglés
You don’t understand.

You are shoved hand-cuffed into a van
Lights flashing.
Again, your face pressed
Against the window as Arizona whirs by
Stopping only when you reach
And the detention center.

The coyote nowhere to be seen.

At least se hablan español aquí.
A sandwich.
A coke.
Half bus fare home.


Es verdad.
(It’s true)
Tu sueño esta rompiendo
(Your dream is broken)
Pero tu tienes esperanza
(But you have hope)
Y tu comienzas a planear otra vez.
(And you begin to plan again)
Not having lost
All of yourself in the desert.

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