Artie Finds The Right One—For Someone Else by Tommy Villalobos
I was sitting in my favorite easy chair, rocking back and forth to some firme rolas, thinking about the Dodgers, my next meal and the llantas my ’64 Chevy Impala needed. I looked over to Tío Juan who was sitting on the hardest chair in the house and in the same room, which is our sala. I share it with the old bato who helps pay la renta. I knew he saved a lot of money, only spending a lot of feria for books. In fact, he was reading one, lost in some thought from some writer who lived back before gente had TV, laptops and iPhones. Half the people now living would go crazy if they had to live only with those three toys. Me? I’m Old School. As long as I have my ranfla, the Dodgers on radio, Oldies, and decent menudo now and then, I’m happier than any one of them.
Tío Juan’s iPhone let out a few notes of classical music by some guy wearing a wig wrote before anyone could stop him. Tío Juan made a face because he was being taken away from his book just when he was going to make a juicy mental note, it looked like. When he said “Hello,” a voice roared from the tiny box that told me it was my Tía Rosa who talked as if she was trying to summon her dead marido, the first one, del otro lado. The viejo jumped like some malvado lit a cuete under his silla. His book flew out of his wrinkled copper-colored manos like a spooked gallina. The libro, a thick one, landed at my feet making a loud noise.
“It’s your Tía Rosa,” he said all serious as he walked over to hand me his phone and retrieved his fat book.
“Hello Tía,” I said, sounding all happy. She promised to leave me her ‘39 Packard. She hadn’t driven it since her viejo Richard died, the Indio from Washington State with the genio of a wart hog. The carrucha had under 40,000 miles. No dents or scratches. The clock even worked.
“You sound triste,” she shot back and I moved my ear the standard six inches when talking to the Mejicana bullhorn.
I had to think since I wanted to make her feel happy so she would call me her favorite sobrino y gordito.
“No, no, I feel happy like it’s your birthday.”
“Gordo, I want you to do something for me.”
There was a pause. I thought she would then follow through like always with her rapid fire of words like so many balas.
“Well?” the tía vieja then said. I guess she wanted some kind of reaction from me.
“Uh, what is it?” As much as I wanted to be there for her and live up to her expectations, her idea of favors tested my ‘tude.
“You don’t sound too enthusiastic for someone in line to inherit my rancho in El Monte and my 1939 Packard.”
“I’m trying to hold my ganas so I can talk.”
“I’ll do the talking. My brother Fulgencio’s son Candelario from El Paso is crazy over some muchacha. He is lavishing her with money he doesn’t have, buying her this and that. He’s up to his usual tonterías.”
“I say leave well enough alone in El Paso. They take care of their gente, we take care of ours in East Los.”
“Listen fat head. That other fat head, the flaco, isn’t in El Paso.”
“That, too, is your brother’s problem. Did he run down to Mexico?”
“I should disown you and then put out a contract on you, that’s what I should do. No, if you would listen, maybe you too can put your life together. That other sobrino without any common sense is in L.A.”
“Why?” My stomach began to churn the enchiladas Tío Juan made for dinner. He is the best cook in our familia although not officially a member but an honorary hanger-on. Showed up one day looking for yard work and sort of grew on me like a grano. But that’s for another story.
“For love. Or what his distorted thinking calls love. He fell for some muchacha in El Paso and proposed to her.”
“Yes, he collects these females like others collect botes.”
“It seems like he falls in love once a month. Like a novia-of-the-month club.”
“So now you can see why your Tío Fulgencio is concerned about his only hijo. Candy will spend all kinds of dough on her only to see it broken off by him and/or her.”
Candy was the family name for Candelario. I never thought it fit him since even as a chamaco, he had a sour look on his face like he was weaned on a pickle. I guess he eventually rearranged his face in order so he could hit on all these girls.
“Someone should remind him of all the other females he has gone through,” I said.
“His father did.”
“What did the loco say?”
“This is the one.”
“He said that with the first one, what’s her name?”
“Christina. She turned out to be married and went crying back to her husband from whom she was separated from for over two years.”
“Candy has that effect on women,” I said.
“So, I want you to track him down there in L.A. and pal around with him. Make him see he has no business chasing a woman in show biz.”
“Yes, she has aspirations of getting onto the stage or movies. I hear she is a looker.”
“I don’t see how I can help?”
“I do!” she said with a slam of the phone, a Chicana force unequaled by man or beast. I stood there, wondering what her next move would be.
“Did your Tía slam the phone on you again?” said Tío Juan from his silla.
“How can you tell?”
“The agitated look on your face, chubby cheeks and all. Did she say she was charging over like a mama bear after a biologist innocently swatting at butterfly specimens near her cub?”
“She didn’t get into that much detail. But that is usually her modus operandi. She’ll be rudely rushing into the house without a hello and a lot of do-this-and-do-that’s.”
“You better pull up the drawbridge because she can walk through walls by knocking them down if she is agüitada.”
“You can tell her that you have a bad muela that is dark, rotten and painful.”
“Even then, she will make my life very dark, very rotten and very painful.”
“What is she asking of you?”
“Part of my life.”
“She needs a transplant? One of your kidneys?”
“I’d take that over what she is demanding. She don’t ask. She wants me to babysit her nephew Candelario who, I hate to say, is also my primo.”
“Doesn’t he pass the time away in El Paso proposing to every other muchacha?”
“That was my reaction, a logical one. But you know Tía Rosa.”
“Like the bottom of my chanclas. How many names did she call you before she explained?”
“Just a few choice ones. She seemed in a hurry. Candelario is in L.A. chasing some loquita who thinks she is the next Eva Longoria. And, of course, he wants to marry her.”
“Why does your aunt care whom he marries. She don’t seem to care whom you marry, her favorite punching bag.”
“She says I got no worries. Women don’t like gordos who sit around listening to the radio, eating nonstop and letting out smelly pedos.”
“Your aunt is direct with you, isn’t she?”
“Yeah, but she wants me to be thin, happily casado.”
“Those are two demands for the ages.”
“Here’s the problem Tío Juan. I can’t stand being around the bato.”
“I knew you’d ask that.”
“For every action, there is a reason.”
“Yeah, you read all those books.”
“Actually, I got that from a fortune cookie at the Eternal Garden Chinese place on Soto near First. They went out of business soon after. No one cried. With good reason, like that cookie said. Their food was bound to kill their business if they didn’t kill a customer first.”
“I don’t like the way Candelario chews food, talks about himself and his love life nonstop, and sings those songs he claims he writes. Well, he can’t sing and he can’t write songs. And he always has something to say about the way I live, how much I eat and how much time I waste riding around and hopping my ranfla.”
“And he has the short list. Your Tía could give him the official list.”
“How come you’re always giving me patadas? You should be telling me stuff from all those books you always have your nose in. You know, how Aristotle, Casanova and them handled cosas.”
“I apply them and other minds I have absorbed in libraries and cantinas to your daily gripes. I guess you weren’t aware of that.”
“What do you say about the payaso Candelario?”
“An interesting case study.”
There was a pause. I was heaving as I inhaled and exhaled.
“Well, what should I do?” I said. “Should me and some homies jump him and FedEx him back to Tejas?”
“I take it you are trying hard at a chiste.”
“Your Tía Rosa would disown you, not to mention your other tías. They work as a team during a crisis. Like a herd of elefantes protecting a valuable water hole during a draught in the Serengeti.”
“Then tell me the way.”
“That is for another counseling. I will make a suggestion regarding your current pickle after I have my Té de Canela.”
“Yeah, get that egghead of yours on the problem.”
I went outside to sit in my ranfla. I knew Tío Juan would think of something with that oblong head of his once he had his canela. He has saved me from all kinds of trouble, including girls, money, bills, stomach aches, headaches, plumbing, neighbors, and, of course, my tías who can be pushy.
I went back inside like I needed to get something important. I walked past him and he didn’t stop his musing, ignoring me like I was a passing mosca on a hustle.
I went back to my Impala to play some firme rollas, the background music to my vida. The first rolla that came on was “You’re No Good” by Betty Everett. I took it personally. Felt like she was singing to me and no one else. I could see her dedo touching my nose, making me cross-eyed right there in my driveway.
I was in that pickle Tío Juan talked about. I saw no way out. My Tía Rosa had heard my standard excuses, several times. I had used a dolor in every part of my body. And every part of my ranfla. I was lucky to be living with a man like Tío Juan who had the mind of a master criminal. He always found a way to cheat fate. I’d bet Candelario’s right leg he would find a way.
I fell asleep. Then I heard a knock on the window as “Workin’ On A Groovy Thing” by Patti Drew was playing. Tío Juan was signaling me with his arms flailing sideways. Someday I have to tell him the signal for lowering a car window is down.
I rolled down the window but then he again waved his hands in that sideway motion. I guess he now wanted me to lower the music. I also have to tell him that he has to point to the music with one hand and make a downward motion con la otra.
When I shut off the music, he cleared his garganta with a lot of noise I didn’t think could come out of the human cuerpo. He didn’t say anything so I gave him my So? mirada.
“I thought of something. Actually, it’s multiple choice with all the answers being right.”
Then came another pause. I gave him another So? mirada, this time punctuated with my hands raised to face level and to both sides of my head, palms up. He studied my gesture for a few moments, like he found the gesture amusing. I guess that’s what happens when your only entertainment is libros.
“Here’s the deal. Listen up.”
I waited this time, poker faced. He studied my face for a bit then spoke.
“You can introduce him to someone more feasible.”
“He would find any jaina feasible.”
“Not a problem. Your aunt is also his aunt and would probably find any girl too good for him.”
“You’re right. Tía Rosa is funny.”
“Hilarious. Okay, the second option is to introduce him to a decoy.”
“Like a pato?”
“No, too risky. He is not beyond proposing to a duck, wooden or otherwise. I mean, a real good looking female with even odds and ends of intelligence who he would propose to on first sight.”
“Heck with him. I’d keep her for myself.”
“That’s the problem I see here. You have as many character defects as Candelario and any other bato with hanging tongue in the 7.47 square miles that is East Los. And there are over 125,000 folks trotting around those square miles. A whole bunch of those guys like you and Candelario, guys getting wide-eyed and tongue dripping at the sight of any beauty who smiles momentarily at you, even by accident.”
I calculated that 125,000 was two fair-sized Dodger crowds. Tío Juan had slipped silently away and back into the house while I was calculating.
The following morning, Tía Rosa was at the foot of my bed as I opened my eyes. She was like a fantasma lleno do corajes. Before I could say, “What The Fudge!” she started to evaluate my life.
“You’re going to sleep right through your existence.”
I looked at the clock on the rickety nightstand near my pillow. It said quarter to six.
“Who let you in?” I said.
“That skinny viejo.”
Tío Juan rarely slept past 5 a.m. He had his morning tea and one scrambled egg burrito, chewing serenely at the kitchen table.
“Oh, yeah,” I said.
“I have a plan. Join me in the sala when you get dressed and brush your teeth. You know I don’t like bad breath.”
She left with a slam of my bedroom door. Where is the privacy in East L.A., I said to himself. I dressed quickly and brushed my teeth even quicker, knowing my Tía to have no patience when anyone made her wait. I guess she always had to feel like the most important person in a room.
I headed for the kitchen in search of coffee, but like a mama grizzly annoyed by a mocking visitor to Yellowstone, she growled then waved a paw toward a chair opposite where she was holding court. I responded submissively by sitting right away where she had pointed to.
She stared at me as if I was a chunk of questionable pancita de res she was going to toss into a pot of menudo.
“Candelario is a tonto. The only thing that keeps him fed is his good looks. His family doesn’t have the money to sponsor his viajes of tonterías. But they are proud and want us to lasso him and send him back to El Paso. When he first texted his family, they were happy. He said he finally met a girl they would love, too. He followed that with more texts. The last one said that she was going to be a movie star and was dancing to support herself. He knew that they would understand.
“Well, they didn’t. They called me and told me they were sure she was a stripper in some barrio who knows where. Do they have strippers around here, Gordo?”
“I heard they might,” I said, trying to sound like I didn’t know.
She looked at me as if to say, Mentiroso.
“I’ll bet Tío Juan knows a few,” she said.
“Only if they have an exceptional reading room,” Tío Juan said as he had silently appeared, as usual, like a gato sneaking up on a ratón. He sat in a corner, stirring his tea, observing me since Tía Rosa had her back to him. She kept talking to me like he had been Hip-Hop coming from a passing car.
“From what the familia put together from his jumbled text, much like his mumbled speech, is that the girl’s name is Latina Destiny. At least her stage name. They’ve yet to hear her Tejas name. According to Candelario, she does something called a Banana Split on a pole. What that name means, I don’t want to know. He went on in his text to say that she had them all loco at Mr. Zapp’s. Who she or Señor Zapp is I never want to find out.”
For a person who knows everything, I found it hard to believe she didn’t want to know those things, too.
“It’s messed up, huh?” I said.
“More than that, payaso. He would be the shame of all the familia, both sides of the frontera.”
“Every family has one of those. We just have to take hold of our chones and still walk proud.”
“No seas ridículo, Arturo.”
“Tía, I remember hearing that Tío Fulgencio met his wife Claudia in Nogales, Mexico. He was stationed across the border at an Army base. She was a singer in a nightclub. So Candelario might have his father’s DNA and is attracted to women on stage. He can’t help it. His father grabbed his and took her home to El Paso. The familia worked on her and she became a domesticated Mejicana stirring frijoles on the stove. You could never tell she sang and moved her hips for a living. Mejicanas go with the flow since that one who whispered in Cortez’ ear and helped him jump our people.”
“What are you driveling about, Gordo?”
“Our history according to Tío Juan. He knows all that stuff about our gente going way back.”
“Well, right now we’re talking current affairs. And you are part of it. So, open up those oversized ears of yours. You will come to the aid of your primo.”
“It may be a family disorder or whatever it’s called. Maybe his chavalos in the future will be chasing and marrying ruckas like this Latina Destiny. We shouldn’t try to stop it.”
“The only disorder I see, Artie, is in your thinking. Wiggling around on stage while yodeling doesn’t make a good match for a man. Do I need to whack you on your chaveta to bring you back to the problem facing the family? This is a family crisis and you’re going to find Candelario and steer him to what is right.”
“Why do you even ask? You are too difficult, Arturo. What about familia? Your sangre. You are too flojo to accomplish something meaningful en esta vida. You should jump for joy to help stop Candelario from bringing shame on the family for generations to come. You will find your primo. Besides, you used to be pals when growing up. You are the only one on both sides of the family who has nothing to do but ride around in that jalopy and hang around with cholos on Whittier Boulevard.”
“My car is not a jalopy. It’s a classic bomba. And my friends are not cholos. Not full time, anyway. And I listen to the Dodgers on the radio. Good, clean fun.”
“My point. You’re just sitting around that radio, getting fat eating and doing nothing else. Besides, I’m asking you to do this as a favor from a person that can determine your future way down the line.”
I know she was telling me that if I didn’t go along peacefully, she would show me what a malvada she could be by messing up my life forever. Her eyes focused on me like a spider she was about to swat with a wave of her chancla. She reminded me of La Llorona on a bad day.
“So you will jump on this right away, right, Artie?”
I thought quickly.
Tía Rosa left like a drill sergeant, confident her orders would be followed. I almost saluted the rucka.
I looked over to Tío Juan who had his nose in a book like always.
“Tío Juan, we have to find Candelario and tell him what’s what.”
“Might have to slap him around some,” he said while slowly turning a page.
“I will text him and tell him to meet me on the corner of Sunset and Vine, like in the movies.”
L.A. can be confusing and if some bato gives you an address, even with GPS, it ain’t easy. And I didn’t have GPS.
I did receive his address in a text on Tío Juan’s phone from Tía Rosa. It was a bungalow on a residential street on the edge of Hollywood. I rang the doorbell, knocked on the door and pleaded with Candelario to open the door because I wanted to save his life. He didn’t come to the door and it sounded like no one ever would.
It was a letdown. I was in a strange part of L.A. and Candelario was nowhere to nail. Walking around, away from my ranfla, I couldn’t think smoothly. My Impala and me are a team, like a charro and his horse. I didn’t know where to go. I started to walk around and something told me to go to the front bungalow. There a sign said Manager, Knock First and I guess the same thing in a list of words below that in four other languages. I rang the doorbell not once but four times. Out of habit, I thought I’d see a Chicano brown face and had to step back when the pinkest dude I had ever seen opened the door. He was also one of the skinniest dudes I’d ever seen. He was tall and looked down on me as if I was an abandoned perro.
He grunted something. I said, “Huh?” He cleared his throat and said, “What you need?” in some accent from somewhere. I told him and he brought me up to date regarding my person of interest, Candelario.
He laid out Candelario’s schedule as if he had planned it himself. He said Candelario was like a trained something—I couldn’t make out the word—and did everything at the same time every day. It was a long schedule the bony bato had memorized. I remembered that he got home at six, stayed for an hour then went out. After that, he said he got back to his bungalow at all hours, sometimes after midnight.
The streets around here were full of fast cars and people walking like they were going to meet someone with lots of money. The buses were packed with Raza going to work in Westside restaurants and homes, working from morning till night.
I felt a strange new respect for My Gente as they travelled from East Los, Maywood, Downey, and other lugares miles away to provide for their familias. I couldn’t wait to get back to Tío Juan to see what his take was on all this. He always has something to say about everything I see and do.
Then something hit me like an electrical shock I once got when I plugged in a lámpara while I was desnudo and wet. I felt like Dios himself was smiling down on me and everything around me. Why? Because I was safely miles away from Tía Rosa, the big mandona.
Back to Candelario. Reminds me like when you’re looking for something and you start getting mad at everything and everybody but yourself. It’s like Tío Juan looking for his iPhone, he doesn’t find it until someone calls him. Could be days. I was hoping for something quicker in my search. Seeing the fine jainas walking and driving around, I didn’t care if I ever found Candelario, but then I saw the bato walking in front of me at a red light.
I honked but he kept walking and bouncing as if he heard music no one else did. And he did. He had ear buds on. I pulled over in a red zone, the only spot nearby that was open and saw him bouncing down the boulevard like he was rengo since, like I said, he couldn’t dance. I then saw him go into an office. It took me about ten minutes to find parking a block away. I half walked and half ran toward that office.
I tried the door but it was locked. I called out his name. The name on the door said Alphonso Bolinso, Agent For New Talent. From the other side of the puerta, I heard all kinds of voices, some in Spanish, some in English and one in some language that I never heard in the barrio.
I pounded on the door. Appearing in a small window was a face I didn’t like but had to look at. It was Candelario. My suerte was kicking in, the good kind for a change.
He unlocked the door after several turns, the last one sounding like an industrial strength bolt lock. “Artie, what do you want? How’d you get here? Did you make a wrong turn and finally make it out of East L.A.?”
“I went to where you lived and the manager and all those other things gave me your schedule. I didn’t remember most of it and I didn’t expect to see you hustling across a street.”
“I gave him that schedule but I really don’t have one.”
“Well, people around here are all nosey and want to know what you’re up to. Like they’re ready to call the cops. You feel like you’re being watched all the time from behind windows and from rooftops. And I have more reasons, ese. I might tell you later. No, I’ll tell you now, Artie. I fell for a girl. It was like Canelo hit me with his left hook. She is the finest jaina in any barrio you can name.”
The loquito looked at me like a bato who has just lost his mind, a hideous smile on his face, waiting for me to give him un abrazo. I had to tell him all he was telling me was already family chisme flying around Texas, and that I was sent by our Tía Rosa to slap him back to his senses.
So, I didn’t hug him or anything, but just gave him the standard Órale.
“Thanks, you’re true Raza from way back,” he said. “I may be jumping the gun, pero I think it will turn out right. Come in. I’ll give you all the happy details.”
“What are you doing here? It looks like a dump.”
“It’s part of the deal. Let me tell you how it is.”
He opened the door and I followed. There were people packed into the room like when you go to a firme party in the Hood. But these people didn’t look like they knew how to have any fun. They talked all serious. They were talking and talking, not even paying attention that I was watching them, like they were all high on a new droga going around.
Candelario saw my face, probably looking all confused so he gave me some details.
“Performers of all kinds,” he said, “waiting to see Alphonso Bolinso. It’s summer so clubs need people with even a little talent to sell drinks and demand a big cover charge. Summer is Christmas to club entertainers. All over this city, as June sets in, standups stand up, blood gushes in the veins of dancers, and hypnotists make their eyes big to make people believe they are dogs barking in a junkyard. It’s time to book your act and people are paying tribute to the legendary Bolinso.”
“What’s all this have to do with you, a flojo from El Paso?”
“Plenty. If you see a skinny bato who looks homeless come from that office, jump him because that will be Alphonso. The more money he makes, the more he dresses like he don’t have any. Years ago, they said he was mugged because of his flashy dress. If you do corner Alphonso, he might not remember me.”
“You said you’d tell me about some deal that brought you here.”
“Okay, man, I got into—”
Suddenly, Candelario’s eyes opened as if he just saw a twenty waving at him. He jumped and sprang at this frumpy-looking dude with hair shooting here and there. Candelario got to him before the others even turned their heads. The singers, dancers, standup comics, piano players and comedy teams had the look of defeat as they saw Candelario get into the face of Alphonso Bolinso as if he wanted to kiss him. Alphonso turned and Candelario followed closely as they walked by me.
Mr. Bolinso lit a cigar, sat then looked at us like he wanted to throw us back into the streets. “Let me tell you something Candel” he said. “And listen.” Candelario sat, then put a fist under his chin as if to signal he was hanging on every syllable. Mr. Bolinso studied Candelario for a few seconds then shot an imaginary basketball at an imaginary hoop.
“Let me tell you,” he then spoke again. “I saw you do your act as I promised La Destiny. You got a hint of talent here and there. You got a long way to go but you are on the road. I can get you into a club if you accept seventy-five per cent. I don’t have to offer you even that but the young lady kept texting me. It’s yours for the taking. Do I hear a ‘sure I’ll take it’?”
“You sure do, I accept,” he said in the deepest voice I ever hear come out of the bato.
Outside on the sidewalk, Candelario laughed all crazy and waved a hand for a high-five. I waved a hand sin ganas.
“Oh, yeah. I was saying when Alphonso came out that L.D.’s mother used to be in entertainment. She was from back in the old days but I think I heard of her somewhere from somebody. She sang but also danced. Muy sexy. I met her and I could see she must have been fine when she was young. But she says I don’t sing and then added that it doesn’t look like I do anything. She told Destiny that I didn’t look like I could support her for a week. Said no to our joining hands like she meant business.
“You remember how great I sing and write songs, so Destiny got hold of the sloppy viejo Bolinso and got him to say he would spare me a few of his precious moments and put me somewhere if I showed him. She can make him listen. He then said he would get back to me. Well, today, I made him get back to me. You heard him. I get to keep seventy-five per cent of what I make and he will find a place for me to sing.”
“He’s taking a lot,” I said, “but that’s better than the IRS if you win the Lotto.”
I felt weak at the knees. I could see Tía Rosa’s cara when she heard Fulgencio’s hijo was not only still chasing the loose woman but also was going to get on stage, too. Tía Rosa felt nothing came before familia, not even someone’s happiness, including mine. She’s always telling me that our family tree goes way back on both sides of the border and that we had all kinds of history that had important people doing all kinds of things everywhere. She tells me in detail but she talks so fast that I can’t remember everything. She tells me when I do something to make her agüitada so that’s why she says the family stuff so fast. What she would say when she heard this breaking news, I don’t even want to think about.
“Let’s go back to East Los, Candelario,” I said. “Tío Juan can fix us some comida to make you think right. I could eat a dozen of his tacos right now. And hold on while I call somebody.” I walked a few feet away.
I knew at the start that Tía Rosa shouldn’t have picked me to get this tonto away from someone he wanted to marry. I needed backup. I thought of Tía Rosa herself but that was like asking for problemas on top of all the current ones. I thought things out and thought I would text Candelario’s father and tell him he needed to show up as fast as he could.
“Who were you texting?” asked Candelario when we got to my car.
“Just Tío Juan to find out what he was preparing for cena,” I said. ֍ On the following Tuesday, Candelario appeared at a Mexican restaurant in Pasadena that had singing on a stage right next to where people ate, which was risky for the restaurant. He had practiced in his bathroom with a neighbor banging the wall after two hours. I drove around with the ventanas all the way up so he could let out his lungs. I was encouraging him, which encouraged me since he sounded worse with every mile. I wanted his first gig to be such a relaje that he would never again try to inflict his singing on anyone; and that would end his chances of being Latina Destiny’s marido. So, I stepped to one side.
But the bato was determined. On Saturday and Sunday, we almost lived in my Impala as I drove around while he sang all kinds of songs, all out of tune. He had a special CD with just the background music of songs I never heard of. The bato never got tired. It was like he would die if he stopped singing.
Candelario makes a strange noise with his tongue, then a stranger noise with his garganta and starts:
“There’s a streetcar at the corner.” CANDELARIO with a deep voice: “Why?” CANDELARIO in a high voice: “To take me to my destiny.” CANDELARIO with the deep voice: “To your destiny?" CANDELARIO with the high voice (staying with his goal): “To take me to my destiny.” CANDELARIO with the deep voice (not believing him): “No kidding?” CANDELARIO with the high voice: “I’m from the stars.” CANDELARIO with the deep voice: “I’m from Eagle Pass.”
He repeated those words over and over. I told him ya trucha, I’m going to drop you off on the corner. But the bato said this is what performers do, even in opera. This would get him Destiny. I said he needed all the getting he could get. And then the bato said to me, “So you have my back, ese!” And he sang on.
He then switched to some song about lovebirds. He told me that that was a song Destiny sang at a Hollywood club. It was like he was telling me a miracle performed by a saint.
No lie, but the restaurant expected Candelario to be there in time to start crooning at 12 noon for the lunch crowd. I said they had to be delusional since he was still snoring at that hour, but Candelario said if he was to eat while in L.A. he had to be there. I was nodding like what he said really made sense, until he made it plain that I was supposed to be there with him. I had expected just to go to his bungalow at night to see him all sad because he had bombed. But I never let a homie down. So, I had to drop plans to go to a Mexican restaurant I found on Cesar Chavez Avenue that has better corn tortillas than even Tío Juan’s. I followed Candelario, instead. They were playing soft instrumental Rancheras over an intercom for atmosphere, I guess. I sat down. It wasn’t much of a lunch crowd that ate in the atmosphere, which seemed to trigger yawns from one table to the next. I didn’t know if it was the bland décor, the food or the music. I was just going to order a taco till Candelario came on. I joined the yawns of some guy who looked like he’d rather be eating a hot dog with plenty of mustard as he forced an enchilada into his boca and down his throat. It was then that I noticed an hermosa for the ages sitting at the next table.
Órale. I don’t like lying. When I came in, I saw an hermosa sitting at a table, so I went a de volada to the one next to it. I began to check her out like I was shopping for hydros to put in my Impala. I wanted the lugar to have better lights so I could appreciate her curves and finish. She was small, with big Chicana eyes and the reddest lips I have ever seen. It was a wasted work of art that was sitting in the dark.
Then the lighting got better, and the speaker system began to blast a tune which sounded like I’d heard many times before, which I had. Then Candelario came out in a maroon coat down to his knees, pegged black pantalones tucked into high-top calcos, his chaveta topped by a burgundy Fedora hat with a white feather that nearly reached the ceiling or so it seemed to me. He bumped into a chair on stage, turned maroon himself and began to sing that destiny song.
It was messed up. The pobre loquito got scared that his voice came and went. Mostly went. He sounded like a bad cell phone connection going in and out.
I got relaxed. I saw that he was not going to be around that Destiny girl after today. I felt bad for the pobre, but it now looked like things were looking up. Nobody’s gonna pay good money or any money to see Candelario drive customers into the streets. This would be “one night only” appearance. He would have to sell chicle in the street. The vieja would say, “Lárgate and don’t think about my hija ever again.” And if things go like they’re supposed to, I could see me pushing Candelario into a Greyhound bus with the destination “El Paso Express” then getting an abrazo from Tía Rosa and then the keys to her ’39 Packard. Then I saw myself cruisin’ down Whittier Boulevard with all eyes wide, and fine jainas wanting a ride.
He finished his song sin ganas and dragged himself away with deafening silence, como dicen. I was hoping to see him sneak over to me, but he stepped onto the stage again.
I think I heard a gasp from a few people eating and that was with comida in their bocas. He started singing. I expected beer bottles and salsa to start flying. It was a normal song about walking under stars with a rucka by some river with a name that wasn’t the L.A. River, with some other words, pero Candelario sang it like it was about somebody dying and soon, leaving an esposa and all kinds of chavalos. Halfway through the song, I wanted to jump on the stage and hug the skinny tonto. It was like everything was messed up and nobody could do anything about it.
He got to a romantic part, then it got weird. The girl at the next table got up from her chair, stepped back, spreading her arms and began to join him. I say, “joined him,” but it really didn’t go down like that because as soon as she started Candelario stopped as if he was clotheslined.
I never felt so let down since I was born. I wanted to raise the collar of my Pendleton and lowride on my silla. It felt like everyone was checking me out.
All embarrassed and hunched in my chair, I saw Candelario. He looked different. He was standing there with an attitude. The chavala was singing pretty good, and it seemed to make Candelario stand straighter with a serious look. When she got to some words, he jumped in, and they sang the song like Johnnie and Joe. He left the stage like he was popular. The few people around told him to come back, and only quit when they piped in some girl singer like Arianna Grande or Lady Gaga.
I looked over to the girl but she had disappeared from my life like other girls. I sat up and made the walk toward Candelario behind a curtain. He was sitting on crate full of beer, looking like he just saw the Virgen.
“Isn’t she special, Artie,” he said like he was talking about the Virgen. “I didn’t think she’d be around. She has to dance this week somewhere in Montebello, so I think she will get there barely in time for her afternoon performance. She risked it all just to come and see me. She’s my special angel, Artie. My savior. If she wasn’t here, it would have been a disaster. I got rattled, I couldn’t think. I will make it through the next show easy.”
I was happy I had texted his father. He would come in handy. I was losing my grip on things. ֍ The following semana, I saw Candelario and got to meet the chavala. I also shook hands with her mother, a mean looking Mejicana of the old school. She had a real chingona look. She made sure I knew her name was “Mrs. Sanlego.” Then Candelario’s father rode into town. My Tío Fulgencio is the classiest old bato in the familia. He doesn’t have Tía Rosa’s tongue but neither does anyone else. Still, since I was a chamaco, Tío Fulgencio made me feel I was taking in too much oxygen that could better be used by moscas. He doesn’t mess with me like Tía Rosa, especially since he lives in Tejas and has his hands full with Candelario. The way they bother me is different. Tía Rosa blames all problems in the barrio and surrounding calles on me, while Tío Fulgencio just likes to blame me for being me.
I know for sure Tío Fulgencio sang Rancheras here and there years ago. He likes the stage himself. He couldn’t sing. So, it’s in Candelario’s blood to be on stage without a reason.
Tío Fulgencio is one bossy dude, always telling people to go here, do that and don’t do that. Even other people’s kids, which causes him problems in public. But he looks like a boss of something, no matter where he goes. At Walmart, they always mistake him for the manager even when he’s loading cerveza onto his cart. Still, like I said, I heard he was singing Rancheras and Norteño/Conjunto years ago in bars. They say he played the accordion sometimes but not good.
I can imagine a lot of things but I can’t see Tío Fulgencio singing anything in any bar.
I prepped for a long abrazo but he backed off as if I was the Diablo wanting his soul.
“What are you up to, Arturo? Why did you text me like someone was dying?”
“It’s complicated,” I said, “and goes on and on. Con permiso, I’ll tell you in slow, easy parts like a telenovela. Let me take you on a quick trip to a club in Montebello.”
The muchacha Latina Destiny was going on her second week at The Flyers club in Montebello. She was that good. And she just sang three songs while she danced around. And by dance, I mean she got a big workout matched by the men’s eyes and lungs. Her outfits and music selection were both thin. Tío Fulgencio just stared like he was watching a magic show up to the moment she dashed off the stage to whistles and howls.
“Han pasado muchos años desde que canté con mi grupo.”
That’s all he said even though he continued to stare at the stage as if he were watching himself in some kind of spooky flashback. The pariente was making me nervous.
Some dude then came out and asked everyone to give Latina Destiny a big applause, which they did along with the whistles and howls.
“What do you think, Tío?” I said.
He just went on staring.
“Muchos años. Did you say something, Arturo?”
“You saw her. Tell me what you think of her.”
“Who? Oh, the Destiny girl.”
“Yes. The muchacha your muchacho is engaged to marry.”
He looked away like he had to take in the news slowly, wearing a serious face. Like always.
The muchacha came out for more whistles and howls and she heard them with a big smile. The men wanted her to shake some more. Finally, she wiggled off stage and I looked at Tío Fulgencio again.
“What do you think?” I said.
“She can sing. And dance, although I don’t like the way she dances but she has the moves.”
“Okay, Tío, let me take you a few miles from here on the other side of East Los.”
I drove him in my ranfla to the restaurant where Candelario was going to get me in good with Tía Rosa after I got him back to El Paso. I could already see the `39 Convertible Coup Packard in my driveway. As soon as we sat down at a table, the bato came out.
“Next to solve your problem,” I said, “Candelario.”
I didn’t know what the uncle from El Paso was going to do, but what he did confused me—he just sat there, not saying anything. He sat there like a stuffed tío staring at Candelario as he went on about love and all its confusion. I was feeling for the old bato because it had to be a jolt shot through his cuerpo to see his only hijo in a red shirt and purple pants, but it was best he got the details of the problem with his own eyes. I didn’t want to explain to him what was happening to his son’s life and with just words and without living proof. With just words, he would just think that Candelario was marrying someone somewhere for whatever reason.
When Candelario shuffled out I couldn’t believe my ears. Candelario was sounding better. He found a singing voice from somewhere and was showing it off like a fine woman. It was like when he went to Garfield High and was wailing, “Let’s take a trip down Whittier Boulevard” over and over on top of the Garfield High School sign. How he got up there and back down is an East Los mystery to this día. He was using the same fuerza now.
After Candelario left the stage, my Tío sat squeezed into his seat like he was sitting between two fat borrachos. He then looked at me with narrow eyes like I was trying to trick him.
“¿Qué está pasando, Arturo?”
He said it in a low voice like juicy chisme, but it sounded like a threat of cachetadas if I didn’t give him the right answer.
“He got into show biz,” I said in a low voice, “porque, he wants to do what her mother wants him to do. He can’t marry her unless he does something on stage. Maybe you could talk to the woman. She’s old school with an attitude to match. She is more reason why you should crash this whole party. After you talk to him, I can lowride back to the Hood and let you take further action.
The Mother and daughter were living in a part of West L.A. in an apartment building that looked expensive but once you get to their little space in that building, you see it would be just survival space in East L.A. and with minimal rent. Here, they were paying way more than minimal anything. The madre answered the door and seeing me, she let us in, my Tío hidden behind my wide body. We only saw her back as she pointed to two wooden chairs in the middle of the room.
“Nice to meet up with you again, Mrs. Sanlego,” I said all convinced I was nearing the end of my journey. She turned at last and I heard a choking racket from behind me, like my Tío had a chicken bone atorado in his throat.
“¡Carmelita!” Tío Fulgencio said, then making a sound like air being let out of a llanta. He leaned on me like he was drowning.
The Sanlego woman stared at him, then she squealed and her arms went up like Fourth of July Fireworks.
“¡Fulgencio! You are Fulgencio, aren’t you?” she said as if she might be wrong.
But Tío Fulgencio himself looked like he was almost ready to cry. They hugged like they were never going to part again.
I need some kind of legal notice to deal with stuff like this. The look on Tío’s face made me feel like I was seeing him in some kind of altered state like you see in movies. The horror kind. He didn’t look like the all-knowing Tío Fulgencio who never said anything funny, never laughed. He was smiling and acting like a bato on a first date. I don’t mean no disrespect, but the old bato was riendo, like, for no reason. The Señora Sanlego, who always looked like she was ready to pull greñas, was now acting like a chavalita on Christmas morning.
“¡Querido Fulgencio! I never thought I would see you again!”
“I thought you never left El Paso for anything.”
I didn’t know what was going on, but I felt left out of something.
“My Tío wants to tell you something, Señora Sanlego.”
“I knew it was you right away, Carmelita!”
“Ya hace muchos años since I was around you, hombre, and you look the same.”
“¡Hay, Carmelita! ¡Soy un viejo!”
“¿Why are you way over here? I guess”—Señora Sanlego’s smile disappeared—“¿tu esposa está contigo?”
“She died years ago, Carmelita.”
Señora Sanlego looked at the suelo. “You should have stuck to your own kind, Fulgencio. I don’t want to talk about the pobre who is dead, you know her name, I forget it, pero it would have been better if you had gone after a singer. I still remember you made muchachas cry when you let out a grito then sang, ‘Me cansé de rogarle, que yo sin ella de pena muero...’”
“Qué guapa te veías Carmelita vestida, como una charra,” Tío said like he was choking again. “Do you remember the zapateados you did on the stage? I used to say that you did the sexiest zapateados in all of Tejas.”
“I wouldn’t even try now. Dios mío, Fulgencio, you knocked them out when you were on stage, even the bien borrachos,” said Señora Sanlego in the saddest voice I ever heard in a Mejicana, since my abuelita’s on Arizona Avenue who was always saying that the world was pitiful and was ending, which she repeated daily.
“Te acuerdas Carmelita how we let them have it at the feria in Luling? The Watermelon Thump Festival? I had to sing most of the songs in English, making up lyrics to keep people’s attention. I think even Mejicanos there didn’t speak Spanish too good.”
“We were happy.”
“Tell me Carmelita, how come you left Tejas?”
“I wanted to watch over my mija Dolores, make sure she is safe. But I shouldn’t worry. She is a strong girl. I heard through the chisme network that your son ran off chasing a girl. Then I heard through more chisme that my girl Dolores ran off to L.A. to act. Then I heard through even more chisme that you followed your son here because he was in L.A. I lied when I asked about your wife. I knew you were single. I had hoped you would look me up but when that never happened, I saw my chance to run into you here.”
Tío Fulgencio was looking at her as if he was looking at someone he had never seen before. The viejo still looks pretty good. I could see the dude when he was younger would have made jainas of his time lick their chops, grab their chones and check their hair. I saw uglier batos with good looking chavalas. I figured they had the feria to do that. Tío has that wavy gray hair, trimmed mustache, just as gray, and the right wrinkles to make him look distinguished, like women say they like. And maybe with a few bucks in his pockets they can feel for.
“You mean you had the hots for me, like I did for you?” he said.
“Por supuesto. Why do you think I let you sing most of the Ranchera and Norteño tunes? I was always around the stage even when I wasn’t doing any dancing or singing just to be near you. ¿Recuerdas how I often had a bag of pan dulce for you after a show? And I always bought extra puerquitos because I found out they were your favoritos.”
“And remember when I gave you my half of a burrito at the San Antonio Fair when we only had enough money for one. We performed there but they didn’t pay us right away.”
“And don’t forget the Tlayudas I made you from my family recipe from Oaxaca. Do you think I just did that because you looked hungry? I was working on your estómago until that hip-shaking chavala took you from right under my clay comal. That’s why I wouldn’t let Dolores marry a joven called Candelario, till he went on stage somewhere, anywhere. She’s a rising star—”
“Estoy en acuerdo, Carmelita. She has what it takes.”
“You mean, you saw her somewhere?”
“At the place in Montebello. Gordo there (pointing to me like a witness identifying the alleged criminal), I mean Arturo, drove me there. But if he loves her, Carmelita, you should let him love her. He is singing now just for her.”
“Mija tells me he sings at a restaurant that’s not very good with just a few people clapping for him.”
“We went through that, Carmelita, remember? We sang at a bar with only two pool players who never looked up from their game then there was pedo between them and they both got tossed. After that, we had no audience. So, don’t make Candelario feel like a pestoso. I can understand you feeling like your mija is going to marry an obstacle—”
“How come you want this Candelario sinvergüenza, to go after Dolores?”
“He’s my hijo.”
“¿No?” she said, sounding like a gato someone was choking.
“Así es, Carmelita. I just heard him sing. ¡Carmelita, me dio mucho gusto! He has what it takes. It was meant to be. He’s my son and could one day be singing the old Rancheras. He’s been a cabrón up to now. I really worked hard, almost breaking my back on some jobs. I did it so I had money to invest in him, so he could become something. I wanted to be an example to him. The hours were long and the sudor was constant. I had to eat right, cut out the cerveza, or at least drink less of it, and I was afraid to lose it on a job and be laid up for good. I did it for him so he would work hard, seeing how good we lived, but I, myself, really wanted to be singing on stages everywhere. That’s where I belonged.”
Señora Carmelita, not a spring chicken, leaped at him and fell into his arms like he had just won the lotería.
“Let’s get back together, like it’s supposed to be!” she whimpered. “Your esposa is buried and gone, your hijo might have some talent. Dolores’s father left one day and never came back. Return to me! Too many years have been wasted, so I am ready to jump back on stages donde sea. I still want to be with you like before as if no time has gone by. Like we’re still young and reckless. We belong singing and bailando together till we reach our sunsets.”
Tío Fulgencio made a weird noise with his throat or nose, I couldn’t tell which one, then stared at her.
He whispered something that wasn’t her name but something in Spanish that sounded like a pet name.
“Estás aquí, muchacho,” said the rucka like a girl. “You returned to me after all these years!...You are here. I’m not going to let you wander off this time!”
He fell forward and they fell into another major abrazo. I’m not sure if he was ready to faint or he just lunged at her because he got all worked up. “Ay, Carmelita, mi Carmelita, sweet Carmelita! Squeeze me tight. Tighter. Let me watch over you from now on.”
I moved slowly toward the door and snuck out. I felt funny. I can deal with a lot of things, but this was different. It was at another level. I walked like a buzzed bato to my ranfla.
Candelario called me at home while I was eating Tío Juan’s specialty, Pozole de Guajolote. Candelario sounded like he was now Number One on the Billboard’s Hot 10.
“Artie,” he said, “I’m going to be a big star.”
“We all feel that way, sometimes,” I said, and looked at a text message that had arrived ten minutes before from Tía Rosa. I had been reading it then re-reading it since it arrived.
“Destiny and me got to her apartment tonight. Guess who we found there? Apá! He was holding hands with Señora Sanlego.”
“Simón. They were sitting close.”
“He is going to marry her.”
“I’m going to marry Destiny.”
“No surprise there either.”
“Artie, foo, I feel like un hombre reborn. The fates are working overtime. Apá is twenty years older than her. He and Señora Sanlego want to get back together to sing and dance like they used to, even going all over Texas again with their act.”
I stopped chewing.
“Candy, ese,” I swallowed then said, “lemme think. I need my space. I think my brain is shorting.”
“Sorry, man. So, you are now going to lowride into the sunset?”
I looked down at Tía Rosa’s text.
He hung up and I read the text again.
“What have you done? I should go see you.” And she added a skull emoji that made me sit up, all three-hundred pounds of me.
I grabbed a Squeeze Ball in the shape of an aguacate Tío Juan bought me on his last trip to Tijuana, knowing I hate aguacates because I can’t eat them. They give me chorro. I then texted back. I didn’t know what I was going to say but the words came. Maybe that has happened to you, I don’t know. “No,” I texted, “don’t move. Everyone here is singing their cabezas off.”
Tommy Villalobos was born in East L.A. and also raised there. He thinks of the lugar daily and love the memories while remembering the tragedies of his neighbors and of his madre. Tommy’s mother had a great sense of humor and he inherited about ten per cent of it. She had a quick wit and response to all verbal attacks, whether to herself personally or to her Catholic religion that she loved. Tommy dedicates all his works to her, knowing she had him when she had no idea how she was going to feed him and his four siblings. She was a single mom until the day she died. He lives in a boring suburb now, outside of Sacramento, but his heart and soul will always be in East Los Angeles where his mother was always by his side to protect me.
The Oñate Expedition’s Mysterious Encounter with a “Demon”, as Recorded by Capitán Gaspar Pérez de Villagrá in 1610
By Louis F. Serna, with sketches by the author
When Cortez first saw the Aztecs and their magnificent city in 1519, he must have marveled at the sight before him! Coming from the then “civilized” country of Spain which was celebrating high prominence among their European neighbors, the Spanish were very conscious of the “style of the nobility”, high fashion, and the literary arts. They saw themselves as far more advanced and civilized than the people they encountered elsewhere, including the Aztecs. They and their European neighbors such as England and France considered themselves highly educated, and entrusted with the self-imposed righteous responsibility of bringing religion to heathens at every known port.
With “soul saving” in mind, Spanish sailings included an abundance of Franciscan friars anxious to spread the word of God as emissaries of the Catholic faith and the Pope in Rome. Spanish monks saw themselves as duty bound to teach Christianity to those under-privileged savages they heard of from exploring conquistadores, and they couldn’t wait to have their names immortalized as “crusaders” and even martyrs. Certainly, those Friars would have known of all Spanish explorations of the time and of the many amazing discoveries as the Spanish sailed from port to port, seeing and reporting new places and people still in their primal evolution.
As for Cortez, he must have been in awe of those Aztecs, their culture, amazing cities, their gold, and their advanced knowledge of astronomy. And certainly, he would have known all along that he was duty bound to take every ounce of gold they might possess, to enrich his King, Country, and himself. In the process, he almost certainly also knew that he would probably have to kill them all to get it!
Thus began the Spanish “entrada” (entrance) into this new land called “Mexica”, “la nueva viscaya”, “la Nueva Espana”, “la Nueva Galicia”, and later to the north, “el Nuevo Mexico” (today New Mexico). Following the Spanish conquest of the Aztecs by Cortez, other notable Spaniards would quickly occupy the lands in the interior of what became Mexico and become rich off of its resources. Spaniards like Cristobal de Oñate, who established himself in the area of Zacatecas, rich in silver ore. He became a very rich man, taking tons of silver from “la Bufa”, that famous mountain some believed was made entirely of silver, and other mines punched into the countryside. By then, in 1540, another adventurous Spaniard by the name of Coronado was already advancing into the area to the north… the area where those Aztecs were said to have come from originally…. The lands where people lived in multi-storied structures made of mud brick and stone… lands that Cabeza de Baca, just a few years earlier, claimed to be rich in gold, and in fact, he said he saw “cities of gold…” Seven of them..!!!
As anxious as the Spanish adventurers were, to seek their fortunes up north, they knew and respected the laws of their King, which prevented them from just sauntering up into the frontier lands at their convenience and enriching themselves of what they might find. Special permission, money, and noble class were the prerequisites to any exploration. The King of Spain assured that his “right to his domain” in all explorations was protected, by requiring that the right man be selected for any explorations. A proven leader whose family would be scrutinized by the Viceroy to assure their finances, and then they would have to pass his “inspection.” Preferably, the man would be of noble birth or of royal “order”, and from a well funded family, to assure that he could afford to pay his way, and all the expenses of his expeditionary force. The King risked only a military escort, and that primarily to protect his investment. Such a man would have to take complete responsibility for the success of any expedition and in the event of success he would enjoy titles, lands, and a good share of whatever treasures the lands had to offer. Should he fail, he would lose all his investment, and probably face the King’s penalty tax for failing, as well as disgrace brought on to his family!
Who would risk all this? Knowing with some certainty that the lands to the north were probably impoverished, and knowing that the stories of wealth were spun by the deceiver, Cabeza de Baca, as reported by Coronado, and knowing that the reports filed by that earlier Conquistador painted a dismal picture of hardship to the north, the man who dared was Don Juan de Oñate, the son of the wealthy Zacatecas silver merchant, Cristobal de Oñate. Juan was a son, wanting so desperately to equal or better his father’s achievement of having gained such great wealth in the silver mines. He was also desperately anxious to prove to others that he was a manly conqueror and to become the greatest achiever of them all! And so he filed his petition in 1596, and began the process of selection and approval by the King of Spain.
Many troubles arose for Oñate in recruiting soldiers, supporters, wagons, food, tools, and hardest of all, the King’s hesitant approval. Finally, three years after he began the process, and at great expense to him as he continued to add colonists and supplies which the horde of people seemed to consume as fast as he acquired it, word came from the King that he was free to start his march. Finally, yet another Spaniard began his search for riches and a fruitful destiny! And he too, would encounter strange people, customs, and an unforgiving land!
A byproduct of the Spanish King’s “need to know” of where all his subjects were at any given time, lest he lose out on any taxes due him, was that everything worth knowing be recorded and filed with his Vicero. As well, the Monks, who also sought equal shares of notoriety and taxes to be had, recorded their activities to their superiors and ultimately to the living icon, the Pope in Rome! In view of all this need to record, the leaders of expeditions usually assigned experienced scribes to record all activities of their explorations. That man would also have the confidence and approval of the Crown, so this would be a man of considerable trust and reputation. In addition to his “official” records, “diaries” were also kept by officers, enlisted men, and all concerned.
Today, we have a great amount of information about the people, the times, and the wondrous things they encountered, thanks to the printed record of the day-to-day activities of those early Spanish folk.
Capitán Gaspar Pérez de Villagrá
Capitán Gaspar Pérez de Villagrá
It is the writings of one of those Oñate Officers, which is the subject of this story.
The writer – recorder - author is that well respected scribe, Don Gaspar Pérez de Villagrá, who was made a Capitán in Onate’s staff in 1596.
His later titles and accomplishments would be many. His writings have been preserved in several productions, and in particular in a book titled: “Historia de la Nueva Mexico, 1610”. This particular book is considered “A critical and annotated Spanish / English Edition, translated and edited by Miguel Encinias, Alfred Rodriguez, and Joseph P. Sanchez”. The well educated and well read Villagrá wrote his account of events in a Spanish prose / poetry style. He captioned them as “Cantos”, (songs), which are replete with references to the earliest biblical events and writings of scholars of earlier times such as Pliny, Plato, and others. Villagrá can be considered to be a most reliable and learned observer and recorder of his time. And so it is that the scholars of today, such as those mentioned above, took great respect and care in their treatment and interpretations of Villagrá’s Cantos, from Spanish to English. And that is how they appear in the book mentioned: his entry in the Spanish of that time, and alongside, the English interpretation.
The Book – Historia de la Nueva Mexico, 1610
Finally, I draw your attention to Villagrá’s first and second Cantos, in which he writes about the mass of humanity that had assembled at or near what is now El Paso, Texas, known then as “el paso del Norte” and by other names. In referencing their interpretations, Encinias, Rodriguez, and Sanchez, are hereafter referred to as: “the interpretors”, and so we begin.
El CANTO PRIMERO
Villagrá entitles his Canto Primero, “Que Declara el argumento de la historia y sitio de la nueva Mexico y noticia que della se tuvo en quanto la antiqualla de los indios, y de la salida y decendencia de los verdaderos Mexicanos”.
The interpreters’ English version is: “Which sets forth the outline of the history and location of New Mexico, and the reports had of it in the tradition of the Indians, and of the true origin and descent of the Mexicans.”
In his first Canto (Canto Primero and Canto I), Villagrá describes the geographical location of the point of beginning of the Oñate Expedition. In his learned way, he carefully references its location, relative to geographical north – south longitude and east – west latitude with the then known points of the compass and even compares the location on the world globe, with known places in the old world. He equates the location geographically, to Jerusalem by latitude! He also describes the mass of humanity that is the expedition, and even marvels at the attire of some of the characters. Some are well-dressed gentlemen, riding excellent mounts adorned with “finery” and “livery as in the finest courts” which clearly defines to their noble class, while others are fearful looking men, one even wearing the skin of a lion complete with mane! Some wear the skins of striped cats, leopards, and even wolf skins! They carry weapons of all sorts, and banners and standards of all colors and kinds as they slowly move along. It is a fearful and bedraggled looking lot! People, cattle, goats, sheep, and everything necessary to support the expedition walk in unison. At the end of Canto I and in Canto II, which is again, the subject of this article and the beginning of Oñate’s drive north, he describes a terrible apparition!
It is the last lines of Canto Primero and the text in Canto Segundo that fascinates me. My fascination is in that although I interpret Villagrá’s notations and descriptions of the “apparition” literally in the same way as the interpreters do, I see through Villagrá’s eyes, something quite different and amazing than they do! Being careful not to show disrespect to those interpreters in any way, I claim the right to my own interpretation and understanding of what Villagrá and the whole camp saw and what he recorded so carefully in the only way he knew how. He compared what he saw to things he could relate to at that time in 1599.
In Canto I, Villagrá ends his description of the mass of moving people by stating that as the many people (and animals) trod on over the hard baked ground, they raised a huge cloud of dust.
Suddenly, a figure appeared before them, which he describes as looking like an old naked woman:
“Delante se les puso con cuydado, en figura la vieja desembuelta, un valiente demonio resabido – cuyo feroz semblante no me atrevo, si con algun cuydado he de pintarlo, sin otro nuevo aliento a retratarlo”.
The interpreters write:
“There placed before himself, before them by intent, is the form of an old and hag-like woman. A valiant and cunning demon, whose face ferocious dare I not look at, if I must with some care depict it, set out to paint without new strength.”
It appears that Villagrá and those with him have come face to face with a being, which he says carefully, or cautiously, appears before them, resembling an old naked hag-like woman. (I think he assumes it to be “feminine” as he can see no male genitalia). His first reaction is to associate this inhuman form with some kind of demon or even the devil! It has such terrible features (cuyos feroz semblantes), that he doesn’t dare assume that it is (the devil), as in his next breath (otro nuevo aliento), he may create it in his mind or in fact, create it incarnate (a retratarlo)!
So what is this being that suddenly confronts them? Appearing to look like an old, naked hag?
In modern times, today, his description takes on the appearance of those ugly little beings who we hear and read about, and who appear to wear a one-piece, pale gray, skin-tight garment if any at all, and who we call, Extraterrestrials!!!
Villagrá writes the Canto Segundo in the first person, as an eyewitness to what he and others are observing. Again, Villagrá entitles Canto Segundo:
“Como se apparecio el Demonio a todo el Campo, en figura de vieja y de la traza que tuvo en dividir los dos hermanos, y del gran mojon de hierro que asento para que cada cual connociesse sus estados”.
The interpreters’ English version is:
"How the Devil appeared in the whole camp in the shape of an old woman, and of the scheme he had to separate the two brothers, and of the great heap of iron that he left so that everyone might know his true estate”.
I think that Villagrá has seen what he (and the others) believe is the devil in the disguise of an old hag-like, nude woman. Although terrified, they courageously stand their ground. Somehow, the entity communicates to them, or they believe they hear it say, that it is going to separate the two “brothers?” It also leaves “un gran mojon de hierro que asento para que cada cual connociesse sus estados”.
The interpreters say “he left a great heap of iron”.
My interpretation of this “heap of iron”, is that Villagrá is describing a one-piece metal vessel, standing upright. A “mojon” in Spanish, can be a landmark… as in a real estate landmark or marker of the boundaries of one’s lands. The landmarks of old were shaped like an obelisk, and in this case, made of metal. Is this the shape that Villagrá is seeing and can only describe it in a familiar term, like a “mojon de hierro?”
The Being’s Vessel
Above is an example of a “mojon”. A Spanish word for a landmark or monument, typically used to mark boundaries of property. Typically they are four-sided, hewn from stone, and pointed at the top to prevent snow or water from settling on its top, lest the water turn to ice in winter and crack, and eventually break the stone.
The sides are usually oriented to the four directions of the compass and may contain the owner’s name, coat of arms, and/or the geographical extent of that corner or location of the property. The size of landmarks varies, and the height can be as much as one meter. The sides can be one-fourth that, or per the owner’s specifications.
Does Villagrá mean that the creature “left” that mojon de hierro (vessel)? As in, coming out of it? And it is therefore his “estate” or “place of residence?” I think Villagrá could be saying that the entity “exited” from an upright metal vessel shaped similar to a “mojon” and came toward them. I do not interpret his use of the word mojon, as a “heap of iron”, which implies a pile of metal scrap. I don’t believe that Villagrá had that meaning in mind.
Villagrá next describes the being as:
“Delante se les puso aquel maldito, en figura de vieja rebozada. Cuya espantosa y gran desemboltura, daba pavor y miedo imaginaria. Truxo el cabello cano mal compuesto y, cual horrenda y fiera notomia, el rostro descarnado, macilento. De fiera y espantosa catadura: desmesurados pechos, largas tetas, hambrientas, flacas, secas y fruncidas, nerbudos pechos, anchos y espaciosos, con terribles espaldas bien trabadas: Sumidos ojos de color de fuego, disforme boca desde oreja a oreja, por cuyos labios secos, desmedidios, quatro solos colmillos hazia fuera de un largo palmo, corbos se mostraban: los brazos temerarios, pies y piernas por cuyas espantosas coniunturas una ossamenta gruesa rechinaba, de poderosos nerbios vien assida" .
The interpreters write:
“That accursed one, placed he before them in the form of an old woman well disguised, whose great and fearful cleverness, doth cause both fear and terror to imagine. He had his gray hair badly dressed, and like a horrible, fierce skeleton, his fleshless and emaciated face, of an expression wild and fearsome, misshapen breasts and dangling teats, starved, flaccid, dry, and wrinkled. Great chest, both wide and spacious, with shoulders terrible, well set eyes sunk and colored as of fire, a mouth small formed, from ear to ear, through whose dry and distorted lips, fangs, just four protruded, and showing themselves in good palm’s length. His arms were fearful, feet and legs, in whose fearsome joints the bones creaked loud. Well set, with muscles powerful. Just as they picture for us and do show, The ferocious person of brave Atlas, upon whose great and robust strength, the great incomparable weight and thrust of highest-lifted heavens doth rest.”
Generally, I agree with the literal interpretation of the interpreters, but I feel that looking at the entity through Villagrá’s’ eyes, he sees a living being, with a very small, thin body on the one hand, (desmesurados pechos, largas tetas, hambrientas, flacas, secas, y fruncidas), yet with very broad shoulders bien tradadas, which in Spanish, can mean “shoulders with a brace or apparatus connected to them, or over them, making them look larger than they are”.
(Example: in Spanish, un buey tradado, means an oxen with an ox yolk over his neck and shoulders, which can be quite massive).
The Being’s Bodily Appearance
Can this mean it was wearing something on or over its shoulders? Like a life support pack of some kind? Villagrá then says he could see “los brazos temerarios, pies y piernas por cuyas espantosas conjunturas, una ossamente gruesa rechinaba” Could this mean the being’s arms were such that Villagrá did not feel they were arms but were exaggerations of arms? Temerarios means overly bold or inconsiderate, or baseless. Perhaps that is how he saw the arms… covered with something that made them look bigger than arms should be? Pies y piernas por cuyas espantosas conjunturas. Villagrá describes the arms and legs as frightening in that the legs seem to be joined or connected to each other, as one… (conjunturas) Could they be covered with some kind of protective clothing or apparatus? Could the being be standing in some kind of apparatus that partially covers his feet and legs? He says that “una ossamente gruesa rechinaba”. He says that one of the “boney” legs or both as one, made a loud creaking, screeching, or whining sound, Could this be the high pitch sound of a propulsion device? Or propelled device on its legs or whatever Villagrá saw and describes as legs joined together? As if to confirm this thought, Villagrá adds to the description of the “legs”, “de poderosos nerbios vien assida”. Could the “powerful nerves, well constructed”, he is describing, be in reality, hydraulic-like tubes or lines attached to the being’s legs, or whatever he is standing on? Can we see through Villagrá’s eyes, in his description, a very frail like being, ugly to them like an old skinny, nude, woman would look, but partially “clothed” in a suit of some kind that has some kind of apparatus on or over its shoulders, and some kind of leggings or apparatus with fluid-like lines attached, that make a whining sound like a motor would make?
The Being’s Head
Villagrá then describes the appearance of the being’s head:
“Encima de la fuerte y gran cabeza, un grave, inorme, passo, casi en forma de concha de tortuga lebantada, que ochocientos quintales excedia, de hierro bien mazizo y amasado.”
The Interpreters write: “Upon her head, so great and strong, a huge, enormous weight, almost in the form a tortoise-shell set upright, exceeding some eight hundred quintal weight, of metal, massive and well molded".
Again, I agree with the literal interpretation that the interpreters say Villagrá saw, and would add that again, looking through Villagrá’s eyes in that time, he could only compare what he saw to something he knew, yet ridiculous…a tortoise shell over the being’s head! If Villagrá were living in modern times, he could easily say that the being was wearing a large, shiny clear acrylic helmet, almost exactly like our astronauts wear today.
Villagrá next writes:
“Y luego que llego al forastero campo y le tuvo attento y bien suspenso, con lebantada voz desenfadada, herguida la cerviz, assi les dijo: “No me pesa esforzados Mexicanos, que como bravo fuego no domado. Que para su alta cumbre se lebanta no menos seays movidos y llamados de aquella brava alteza y gallardia de vuestra insigne, ilustre y noble sangre, a cuya heroica, real, naturaleza, le es propio y natural el gran deseo. Con que alargando os vais del patrio nido, para solo buscar remotas tierras, nuevos mundos, tambien nuevas estrellas, donde pueda mostrarse la grandeza de vuestros fuertes brazos belicosos, ensanchando por una y otra parte, etc.”
The interpreters write:
“And when he came upon the foreign camp, holding it attentive and in suspense, with a loud voice and unembarrassed, his head erect, he then addressed them thus: “I am not pained, o valiant Mexicans, because, as raging fire never quenched, which rises to its summit high, you are in no way less moved or beckoned by the rude haughtiness and gallantry of your illustrious, grand, and noble blood, to whose heroic royal character is natural, inborn, this great desire, with which you go from the paternal nest, only to seek for lands remote, etc., etc.”
It seems that in this lengthy passage, Villagrá writes that the being confronts the very attentive people in camp and speaks to them, telling them that it understands how they feel, compelled to enter new lands and that it is in their nature to do so, given their royal blood, etc…. It seems that suddenly, Villagrá no longer fears or sees the entity as an ugly devil, but now it speaks to them in an understanding tone of voice, empathetic to their cause, agreeing with their right to pursue their search for new lands, etc. Or is Villagrá now writing for the eyes of the King? Or his representative, the Viceroy? Perhaps not wanting to appear less manly for previously being afraid of this being? Did the being really say these things to them? Why would it now seem to agree and invite them to continue into this new land, when at first it seemed so threatening?
Villagrá next writes:
“Y lebantando en alto los talones, sobre las fuertes puntas afirmada, alzo los flacos brazos poderosos, y dando al monstruosa carga buelo, assi como si fuera fiero yrayo, que con grande pavor y pasmo assombra, a muchos y los dexa sin sentido”
The interpreters write:
“And raising from the ground his heels, set firm upon his mighty toes, he raised his powerful, mighty arms and giving to his monstrous load a push, as though it were a mighty thunderbolt.”
Villagrá describes a being rising off the very ground, by some “force” emitting from its feet. It raises its spindly, but powerful arms and “lifts” its bulky body, (el monstruosa carga buelo), like a metallic bolt of lighting, leaving them stunned and senseless! Villagrá earlier described a heavy bulky suit over a spindly body. Now he sees the small but heavy being lift off the ground with bolts of lightning emanating from his “feet”. Could the bolts of lightning be exhaust from some kind of propulsion unit? He describes it as best he can.
Villagrá next writes: “Assi, con subito rumor y estruendo, la portentosa carga solto en vago y apenas ocupo la dura tierra quando temblando y toda estremecida, quedo por todas partes quebrantada!”
The interpreters write:
“So with a sudden and horrendous noise, he threw aside the mighty load. And hardly did it strike the flinty earth, when, trembling and shaking all, that earth was broken everywhere.”
Villagrá describes as best he can, how as soon as the entity clears his “feet” off the ground, there is a mighty roar which makes the earth tremble and the ground below the entity is blown away in all directions… just like a modern day astronaut blasts off with a shoulder mounted jet-pack, like those presently being tested by our military, and even demonstrated at an NFL football game on one occasion, when the pilot flew all around and over the grandstand spectators!
“Y assi como acabo, qual diestra Circe, alli desvanecio sin que la viesen, senalando del uno al otro polo. Las dos altas coronas lebantadas. Y como aquellos Griegos y Romanos quando el famoso Imperio didieron, Cuio hecho grandioso y admirable.” The interpreters write: “And when ‘twas done, like Circe skilled, he vanished thence without their seeing him, pointing to one and to the other pole. The two crowns raised on high, just as the Greeks and Romans when they divided the empire famed.”
“Tan presto como viene, bemos buelve, assi con fuerte bote, el campo herido con lo que assi la vieja les propuso, la retaguardia toda dio la buelta para la dulve patria que dexaban”.
Again Villagrá describes what he sees and can only compare it to a great event he knows of: the parting of the Greek and Roman Empire! He sees the being rise and fly back and forth from north to south, (the poles), and as quickly as it goes, it returns, and he sees “las dos altas coronas lebantadas”. He must be seeing the “burst” of flames or exhaust from two jets attached to the back pack the entity is wearing. which to him, from below, look like two shining royal “crowns” glittering up high.
The interpreters write:
“ Thus in a bound, the stricken camp became from what the woman had proposed to them, all the rear guard did turn again toward that sweet fatherland they’d left”.
Villagrá now sees the frightened people in the camp, terrified at the sight of the being flying overhead, to and fro, beginning to turn around and beginning to retreat back to the safety of whence they came.
Villagrá now writes, as though a day or more later:
“Y por sus mismos propios ojos viendo la grandeza del monstuo que alli estaba.
Al qual no se acercaban los caballos por mas que los hijares les rompian, porque unos se empinaban y arbolaban con notables bufidos y ronquidos, y otros, mas espandados, resurrian por uno y otro lado rezelosos de aquel inorme peso nunca visto, hasta que cierto religioso un dia celebro el gran misterio sacrosanto de aquella redencion del universo, tomando por altar al mismo hierro, y donde entonces vemos que se llegan sin ningún pavor, miedo ni reselo a su estalage…”
The interpreters write:
“There still remains in the same way, the mighty mass which there was placed, in height some twenty-seven degrees and a half more. And there was no man of all your camp who did not stop, astonished, stunned, and almost senseless, considering that same story and seeing with his own two eyes the greatness of the monstrous mass was there. And of the horses, not one would approach it unless one tore their flanks, for some stood on their hind legs, rebellious, with whistling, and snorts, and others, frightened more, did shy suspicious from one side to the other from that enormous mass, such as was never seen. Until one day a certain priest did celebrate the great most holy mystery of that redemption of the universe, taking for altar that same mass of iron, and ever since we noticed that those beasts came without fear or trembling or suspicion to it’s foot”.
Villagrá now writes about a huge metal vessel or ship, which now stands in the place where the previous apparitions were witnessed. It rests upright and he measures it in degrees of an angle, instead of measurement of height. Can this mean that the top of the vessel is angularly shaped? Cone-like, as like a present-day missile? And like the mojon described earlier? He says anyone (everyone), from the camp now comes to see it in complete disbelief and amazement. The horses sense something very foreign as they display terrified behavior, rearing up on hind legs and refusing to come closer.
Then Villagrá says “a certain priest celebrates a most holy mystery of that redemption of the universe, using the base of the vessel as an altar, and all seems calmed with the animals”. Is the “certain priest” an entity from the vessel? If it is one of the monks among the Spanish, why doesn’t he say it is a monk? And the “celebration of the most holy mystery of the universe”, at the base of the vessel. Is the entity simply disconnecting something or turning something off at the base of the vessel? Such as a motor, which is making high frequency waves, which scare the animals? Does Villagrá mistake his actions as some kind of religious ceremony he is conducting? Villagrá describes it as best he can, when he writes: “and ever since we noticed that those beasts came, (the horses), without fear or trembling or suspicion, right to it’s foot, as to a place which has been freed from some unloosed infernal fury”. It seems that after the “priest” did whatever he did at the base of the vessel, the horses no longer fear it.
Note that Villagrá and the people in camp no longer refer to the entity as a devil, witch, or brujo; they now seem to accept that what they have been seeing as something wondrous is apparently harmless to them as they freely come to see and touch the vessel.
Villagrá writes perhaps the most telling account of what the “heap of iron” is: “Y como quien de vista es buen testigo, digo que es un metal tan puro y liso y tan limpio de orin como si fuera una refina plata de Copella”. He further describes the purity of the metal, and can only wonder how it could have been created in that primitive land, not understanding that it probably came from beyond our world."
The interpreters write:
“And I as one who is good witness of that sight, say that it is as pure and smooth a metal, and free of rust, as if it were silver refined at Copella!”
Villagrá’s’ description of the vessel’s metal surface speaks for itself. For me, the description is very familiar. For many years, I worked as a machinist and welder for the Boeing Aerospace Company in Seattle, Washington. I taught metallurgy, welding, and fabrication in several Community Colleges in that City for many years. I also worked in an Engineering office designing pressure vessels using various state of the art exotic metals, some that can withstand rust, abrasion, and acids, and remain highly polished. The metal Villagrá describes can only be a highly polished alloy, not of this earth, especially in that day and age.
Villagrá now wonders as to the construction of this “mojon” which is in fact, a wondrous craft:
“Una refina plata de Copella, y lo que mas admira nuestro caso, es que no vemos genero de veta, horrumbre, quemazon, o alguna piedra con quia fuerza muestre y nos pareca aberse el gran mojon alli criado, porque no muestra mas señal de aquesto, que el rastro que las prestas aves dejan, rompiendo por el aire sus caminos, o por ancho mar los sueltos pezes quando las aguas claras van cruzando..!”
The interpreters write:
“And what our people wondered most, is that we saw no sort of vein, nor scoria, trace, nor any rock, by means of which we might be shown or see how the great mass could be created there. Because there is no more trace of that, than the swift birds leave traces in the air through which they make their road, or, in the sea, the swimming fish, when they go plying through the waters clean”.
Villagrá, again is trying to compare this wondrous metal to something familiar, as he and the others contemplate what he now calls “una refina plata de Copella”, “the finest silver from Copella”, and no longer “un monton de hierro”, “a heap of iron.” He and the others can’t understand how this vessel was constructed. It has no apparent rivets, joints, or seams, (genero de veta), there is no evidence of metal casting materials like sand or clay in evidence, (horrumbre), nor evidence of a smelting fire or oven, (quemazon) where it may have been cast. There is not even a rock with which someone might have pounded the mass into shape.
Understandably, they assume someone built the vessel where it stands, as the concept of it having flown there is not a consideration. He goes on to write that there is no trace of its fabrication anywhere, just as one doesn’t see the “trace” or track of a bird flying through the air, or the “trace” or track of a fish swimming through the cleanest water. He is obviously in awe of this mystery.
Villagrá next writes that there were stories told by the “antiguos naturales”, the ancient native Indians of the old tribes of Mexico, of people from the far off northland from whom they say they are descended. These people were “como en Castilla, gente blanca, que todas son grandezas que nos fuerzan a derribar por tierra las columnas del “non Plus Ultra”, infame que lebantan Gentes mas para rueca y el estrado”.
People who looked as white as those of Castille, of grandeur, just as our memories of those beyond the columns of “Non Plus Ultra”, who were famous for their ability to elevate themselves on platforms!
This appears to be a reference to the ancient people of Atlantis, who Villagrá knew of from Pliny and Plato’s writings, and who were said to live beyond the columns or pillars of Non Plus Ultra, (the Straits of Gibraltor.) “The place no one dares go beyond,” where the inhabitants, (Atlantians), (Gentes mas para rueca), were said to elevate themselves on “platforms” (estrados).
Finally, at the end of Canto Segundo, Villagrá writes, in reference to the people encountered: “Mas dexamos aquesta causa en vanda, cerrando nuestro canto mal cantado, con aber entonado todo aquello, que de los mas antiguos naturales ha podido alcanzarse y descubrirse”.
The interpreters write:
But let us lay this thing aside, which needs a story long to tell it all, closing our Canto, badly sung, by having sung quite all of what, by the most ancient natives here, could be remembered and discovered, about the ancient descent.
Frustrated, Villagrá writes, “let us lay this event aside, which needs a story long to tell it all.” Obviously, he has seen much he cannot explain and feels it is a story too long to tell to make sense of it, and perhaps because the expedition is now moving on, and he decides to put this experience aside. He says his Canto is “badly sung,” meaning he is obviously disappointed that he could not better explain in words, all he has seen and all he has experienced, that he cannot explain it all as he doesn’t have the experience or memory to relate to, as this is all new to him…. He seems to writes it off as if to say, “Ask the natives… they can tell you more from their memories of their ancient ancestors!”
Villagrá ends the Canto Primero with these final words:
“De aqueste nuevo Mundo que inquirimos, adelante diremos quales fueron y quienes pretendieron la jornada sin verla en punto puesta y acabada”.
The interpreters write:
Of this New World which we explore, I shall say later who they were, those who the journey undertook, not seeing it done and ended in a moment.
I feel Villagrá says much in his final statement.. “Of this new world,” can mean the world they are entering, meaning New Mexico, or it can mean “the new world of knowledge” he has just entered, in view of what he has just seen: the beings, their flights, the vessel, the lack of anything familiar, the lack of explanations, etc.. Certainly his mind would never be the same!!
He says he shall say later “who they were, those who the journey undertook, not seeing it done and ended in a moment…” does this mean he received some knowledge from them as to who they really were? Or does this mean he will share his interpretation of who they were at a later date? Are “those who the journey undertook”, the beings? Or, the people in the caravan slowly traveling north? I think he has learned, perhaps from the beings, that they have traveled far to come to this earth. And he doesn’t understand or can comprehend that thought as he says, “not seeing it done and ended in a moment”. Can this mean that he didn’t see them arrive, so can’t understand how that massive “heap” could have moved through the air and brought them here?
And finally, the statement: “ended in a moment”. Can this mean he saw them leave, and as many have reported even today, when the crafts take off, they do so in an instant, almost as if they disappear out of sight! Thus again, his statement: “ended in a moment”.
When Villagrá says, “I shall say later who they were”, one might think that at some later date, he wrote more of this encounter, and perhaps then, if that “Canto” or report is found, we will all know more of this strange encounter he wrote of, while on Onate’s Expedition into this land we now call New Mexico. Certainly no dream or made up story of a witch or demon, but the recording of an event that could only be explained in the words and experience of his time.
New Mexico is a land which has certainly seen its share of unexplained mysteries, such as at Roswell, Socorro, and in the mountains of northern New Mexico around Dulce, so rich in accounts of sightings of beings and unexplained flying crafts.
And so ends this interpretation that I found so fascinating and that poor Villagrá found so mysteriously perplexing!
Villagrá gazing skyward as the vessel flies away.
Santos Aguila de la Paz había quedado suspendido viendo tras el Cristo del altar. Estaba solo en la iglesia vacía cuando le asaltó una voz lejana:
¡MUCHACHO!... ¡Ya se acabaron las misas para este día! ¿Qué te pasa? ¿Hay algo que te molesta? ¡Ay Padre¡ ¡Qué susto me dió! ...No, no tengo nada...es que...se me fué el tiempo, pensando...pero...bueno, gracias, Padre... Y se fué escurriendo Santos sin doblar las rodillas ante el altar, dejando al cura atrás rascando su cabeza calva...
Ese día me reuní con Francisco y Jesusita Candelaria, mis padres adoptivos, y me recibieron con mucho amor y cariño, haciéndome comidas especiales con mi postre favorito de plátano, galletas de vainilla y coco. Lo que resultó fueron las noticias inesperadas, la decisión de mudarse a Salem, un poco más grande que Santa María situado unos 15 kilómetros al norte donde Francisco trabajaba de carcelero en la cárcel del condado de Morelos. Y con ellos me fuí a pasar nuevas experiencias. A Panchito le acababan de ofrecer el puesto de Alcaide con un pequeño aumento de sueldo pero con trabajo para Jesusita encargada de las mujeres viviendo dentro del terreno penitenciario y la enorme cerca con entrada electrónica. Y allí en una casa que se había traído de una base aérea y pegada al edificio de ladrillo principal, fué dónde empecé de nuevo mi vida de este lado. Como eran los últimos días de agosto, la temporada escolar estaba para principiar y decidieron los Candelaria que yo siguiera en la escuela Católica de Salem. Se llamaba Sacred Heart o Sagrado Corazón y las clases eran algo avanzadas. Las clases siempre empezaban con el saludo a la patria y luego a nuestro señor:
"My country 'tis of thee sweet land of liberty." "Our Father who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name."
Aparte de un sin número de materias, había catequismo que se tomaba como lo más alto de la verdad y se tomaba de memoria y de esa manera siempre había una respuesta aunque no sabíamos por qué. No es que no había explicaciones, sino que las explicaciones nunca nos daban más luz o comprensión. Y yo, desde el primer año siempre me fascinaban las velitas prendidas pero por alguna razón no me entraba al corazón con certeza lo que estaba pasando en el altar.
Y no es que le faltaba respeto a Dios porque yo sentía una conección muy profunda con Dios pero me llegaba siempre de otra manera. Es que yo sentía, que lo que se decía y lo que se actuaba salía muy rutinario y no llegaba verdaderamente al alma. La iglesia era muy grande y muy moderna, hasta tenía aire acondicionado. Hasta no parecía católica porque los santos tenían unas caras y cuerpos largos y los Padres eran gringos y hablaban un español muy mocho en la misa para los mexicanos.
Después de un tiempo me metieron de monaguillo sin darme instrucción. No había más que tratar de recordar el papel de otros monaguillos aunque la primera vez que lo hice, el otro muchacho me hizo señales con las cejas y los ojos para sonar las campanillas y para salir a traer el vino y agua. En esta misa, estaba el muy famoso Father Paster, por ser repelón, quien se impacientaba con cualquier cosa. Le di agua para que se lavara las manos y luego tomó la toallita. Cuando se llegó el tiempo de echar agua, más el vino al cáliz, yo, después de echarle un tanto de agua, le seguí echando vino con mucho cuidado y reverencia cuando echó el Padre un gruñido, sambutiendo el cáliz para que le cayera una cascada de vino rápidamente. Con cientos de ojos atestiguando el acontecimiento vergonzoso, no me quedaron muchas ganas de repetir ese rito sagrado....
Lo más divertido era el recreo donde diferentes grupos se dedicaban a distintos juegos. Era aquí donde se hacían las alianzas y sabía uno quién iba a ser tu sombra o camarada. Habían dos hermanos bolillos que por alguna razón no les importaba jugar o asociarse con mexicanos, pues la mayoría del tiempo en el valle siempre había una separación y reservación con escrúpulos para los de habla española, como si tuviéramos costra o la rabia. Estos dos hermanos se llamaban Donnie y Ronnie Fastlender y vivían afuera de Salem en un rancho. Nos contaban con mucho entusiasmo de las aventuras del monte, andar a caballo sin silla, estilo Comanche, la caza de gatos silvestres y lo hacían como si saliera directamente del teatro Rex del lado americano en Santa María donde había episodios de la selva. La invitación se extendió a todos pero creo que yo fuí el único que fué a dar a su paraíso escondido. Tenían dos caballos que creo que eran novios porque tan pronto que uno se movía el otro le seguía. Esto yo no lo sabía y me dieron al más jovencillo que tenía un espinazo largo y el pícaro Ronnie, el mayor, se arrancó como si fuera seguido por el diablo mismo y mi caballo tomó vuelo como un rayo y no tuve más recurso que agarrarme del pelo del crín, saltando como un grillo en un carrera de muerte, dándome golpes en la cola, tanto que, al ajustarme a un lado para amortiguar el golpe con la nalga, salté para arriba cayendo encima del pezqüezo, tijereándolo con las piernas, de manera que resulté al revés con el osico del animal en mi cara.
Viendo lo que había pasado, después de mucha risa, Ronnie se paró dando alto al otro caballo:
"That's not the way to ride the horse; you got it backwards!"
El susto me llegó un poco después, pues no tuve tiempo de pensar en lo que pasaba. No sé cómo no se me quebró el "pezqüezo", ese atardecer. Después supe que estos no eran bolillos de por aquí sino que del Norte donde no se conocen los mexicanos..... También me hice muy amigos de otros dos hermanos que se llamaban Frank y Ray García, quienes eran muy listos para todo y consiguientemente se metían en toda actividad. Una vez, tuve que pedir permiso para salir al escusado, que estaba afuera, apartado del edificio principal, y allí fué donde ví que se estaba quemando el escusado por el humo que salía. Pronto me dí cuenta que Ronnie y Donnie encabezaban un grupo de fumadores. Chupaban unos cigarros que había hecho Ronnie de un tabacco viejo, que por hacerlos con rapidez, salieron desfigurados entre boludos y flacos. Estos muchachos eran los principales para el partido de futbol americano que se jugaba en una cancha dura y llena de piedras y hormigas.
El año en la escuela católica se pasó sin novedades y sin saber por qué, Jesusita decidió que ya era suficiente con la escuela Católica y, probablemente por razones prácticas, nos matriculó en el último año de la Junior High School. El hecho de ir a la Junior High estaba como el sí pero no del tío Lucho. Había más estudiantes por clase y más desorden. Me gustaba que no había tanto mandamiento a cada minuto pero aquí la cosa iba de Guatemala a guatepeor. En la clase de matemáticas dada por una señora rete-gordiflona que le llamábamos "Old Lady Wolfe" (no era vieja y sin embargo...), había un tal Liborio alias el Chalán. Creo que así lo bautizaron porque traía siempre unos zapatos tan anchos y grandes que se parecían a los del chalán que cruzaba el río fronterizo en Santa Rita. Era el Chalán un tipo muy pícaro y le gustaba aún más la atención, echando siempre mil puntadas pero dando la impresión que estaba en todos los casos en control completo. Y así fué precisamente con la paliza que recibió de la Old Lady Wolfe. Había estado ya por mucho tiempo haciendo ruido y molestando gente allá por el último asiento trasero hasta que a la "ticher" se le colmó el plato. Moviéndose como un remolino que se lleva todo de encuentro, llegó este camión enorme con tanta facilidad que no supo el Chalán qué le pegó: tomando el libro que traía la maestra gordísima le dió con los dos brazos enormes, mil páginas, mil veces en la cabeza del Chalán y éste nomás risa y risa mientras le caía tanto conocimiento.
También tuvo esta suerte (desgraciadamente) otro muchacho que se llamaba Lugones. Estábamos en un pequeño salón de clase para observar el Study Hall donde un señor pelón y medio nervioso estaba de maestro. No sé quien le aventó un proyectil de papel a Lugones, quien, por habilidad atlética, pudo pescarlo con gran destreza al momento de levantar la cabeza el maestro. En tanto, el pelón le dió orden que se saliera de clase y que fuera a la oficina del director de la escuela. Lugones, siendo inocente, se negó diciendo que él no había hecho nada. No gustando que le negaran, el pelón lo tomó del brazo con un movimiento violento y sin acabar su maniobra le apagó las luces Lugones con un riatazo invisible de pandilla callejera a su cara, dejándolo tirado en el suelo. Después de unos minutos pudo el maestro pelón levantarse a gatas corriendo, escurrido a la oficina del director.
Ese día, al Chalán le cayó todo muy en gracia y a Lugones nos pareció como Chucho el roto, el Tarzán del barrio escolar. Francamente, no sé qué aprendí en esa escuela pública, pos ni en el recreo había libertad para la raza. En toda la escuela había, entre toda la bolillada de maestros, sólo dos maestros de ascendencia mexicana, pero nomás en las cachas tenían lo mexicano porque nunca se les vió hablar una sola palabra en español. Para nosotros nos parecía que estaban agabachados. Uno de ellos era el coach Espronceda de Physical Education o P.E., como lo llamaban todos. Aunque sus acciones nunca mostraban lo personal, tenía la regla de no permitir hablar en español mientras jugábamos a touch football. Para toda la raza, criada con puro español en la casa, esto era como pedir que no comiéramos comida mexicana casera. No faltaba en el momento máximo gritar:
¡Tira la bola, buey! ¡Pa'cá! ¡Orale! ¡No! ¡Pa'cá, buey!
Y a correr, como mulas, alrededor de la cancha cada vez que nos salía una palabra en español. Ese año salí como el más veloz de toda la clase...
Al terminar el año escolar salimos todos de vacaciones en el carro viejo de Panchito. Iba Doña Chemita, Jesusita, Panchito, Lucía y yo en un Plymouth viejo del año treinta ocho. Como Panchito era oficial del gobierno americano, conocía a todos de la migración al lado mexicano y fué fácil arreglar una visa para mí como hijo legítimo de los Candelaria. Las carreteras mexicanas eran angostas y boludas y los carros viejos americanos se calentaban con la nada. Ibamos todos muy contentos cuando mucho antes de llegar a Cartagena se le acabó la esperanza al Plymouth viejo. Y allí nos quedamos. Salió Panchito a buscar ayuda dejándonos solos allí toda la santa noche. Las mujeres rezaban el rosario pidiendo protección y los coyotes le daban segunda dentro del vacío de la oscuridad....
En otra ocasión, decidió Panchito salir por Carmona en lugar de Reynero, porque por allí no conocíamos y para él, el conocer nuevos lugares era educacional. Todo iba bien hasta que empezó a llover cascadas y el río Lobo se creció dejando el vado sumergido entre la corriente tumultuosa y agitada.
Oiga, perdone, pero ¿cuánto dura el río crecido? Pos,...eso depende. Durará unos cuantos días? Pos, es posible. ¿No habrá un camión por aquí que nos estire hasta el otro lado? Pos, quien sabe.
Las mujeres hicieron campo y cocinaron un cabrito que había comprado Panchito, al estilo casero en su sangre y luego después en salsa de tomate con especias. Para nosotros era una aventura todo esto, aunque los remolinos de la corriente nos daban mucho miedo. Después de tres días se bajó la creciente y pudo Panchito conseguir un troque que nos estirara, pos todavía había como un metro de agua encima del vado. El agua llegó casi hasta las ventanas pero los rezos de Doña Chemita y Jesusita nos hicieron brecha hasta el otro lado. Como había llovido mucho, la subida en el otro lado se había hecho un zoquetal de los diablos y el pobre Plymouth ni con mariguana hubiera subido. Dijo Panchito:
No se apuren. En México, ¡todo se hace!
Se fué y regresó con un campesino con sus dos enormes bueyes, uno colorado y el otro canela y con una buena amarrada, la sumida de la pata de Panchito y nosotros empujando mientras las llantas nos rociaban de zoquete, pudo el viejo Plymouth treinta y ocho escalar la cima de ese imponente barranco. Ese día surgió Panchito el hombre cabal y héroe nuestro, digno de ser el oficial respetado y honesto que era en el condado de Morelos.... Arnoldo Carlos Vento, a teacher, writer and critic, was born in the Rio Grande Valley and was raised in the small community of San Juan, Texas. With more than ten books and forty articles to his credit, Dr. Vento is currently an Emeritus Professor at the University of Texas-Austin and Executive Officer of Eagle Feather Research Instute. He developed the first Chicano Studies Program in Michigan in 1972 and was a co-founder of Canto al Pueblo, a national forum for artists and writers, in 1977. His father was the Head Jailer in the Hidalgo County Jail while his mother was an activist writer and participant in the Mexican American Civil Rights movement beginning in the mid twenties and continuing through the seventies.