Sunday, April 04, 2010



A Novel of the Twentieth Century


"Despierto cada cien años, cuando despierta el Pueblo."

Canto para Bolívar, by Pablo Neruda.


Don Rufino sat in his study. The late Sonora sunlight came through the windows attenuated by the heavy velvet curtains and the deep---set 3---foot adobe walls. The peones had come back from the fields and their women were stoking fires for dinner. Their chattering and laughter at the hacienda they had named Cantaranas, made a reassuring sound. Occasionally a whiff of pozole would fill his nostrils. Someone, surely Margarito, was playing "Adiós Mamá Carlota". Don Rufino stared at the headlines in El Imparcial, thunderstruck. Queen Victoria had died.

"Passed away at Osborne House at 6:30 o'clock this evening. England is silent with grief . ." he read avidly. "Shortly after 9 o'clock, the doctors sent a summons to all members of the family and also to the rector of the royal chapel . . The body was embalmed and will probably be taken to Windsor Saturday. Queen Victoria is dead. Edward VII reigns."

He had always liked a story he had heard about her. Her son Eduardo, as a child had refused to salute his subjects on the street during a procession, and was scolded by his mother. "I don't have to salute them, they are my subjects," retorted Eduardo haughtily. "Yes you do, I am your mother," answered Victoria, and spanked him. He had told the story at table with great relish. El General Torres had told it to him over cigars. Don Porfirio had always spoken highly of Victoria, fancying himself magically related, had called her a symbol of purity and greatness in leadership. El General Torres had been at a reception at the Casino Español and knew what he was talking about.

Rufino looked further in the paper. Something about "rubber atrocities" in the Congo. His eye caught an article declaring that a certain Canuto Neri had risen against the Porfirio government, and had wound up in the Cárcel of Belén.

"This will bring nothing good," muttered Rufino darkly to himself. Porfirio had already elected himself five times, and any one who protested was swiftly dealt with. It was an open secret that dissenters were arrested, were found dead in jail at daybreak, "suicides," or spirited off to Oaxaca to work on Porfirio's plantation until they died of exhaustion.

Don Porfirio always tried to put on the best face on things. In Profirio's world there were no class antagonisms. Mexico lived in harmony. Any criticism that disrupted this vision was evil and must be stomped out at once. His hatred for the Círculos Liberales and magonista groups that sprang up around the country knew no bounds. These rude malcontents were continually pointing out the latifundios, the fallow lands, the exploitation and poverty. The profiristas felt that if people were poor it was their own fault. They were a drag on the glory that Mexico could be if only they would just go away.

"He's the prince of peace," Ramón Corral had told Rufino once at the Gentlemen's Club, with his typical fondness for hyperbole. Don Rufino stared at him in disbelief.

Sonora landowning and commercial families had consolidated their power primarily through marriage. His own grandmother on his father's side had married the influential Monteverde family, which gave them entrée into the political life of the state. The network of intermarried families had served to push out the old Spanish colonial rule dominated by the church and solidified their hold over the new commercial opportunities that were springing up. Little by little, fallow lands that had belonged to the Church were taken over for the interests of the new rich, pushing the indigenous towns farther and farther into the hills. To make their takeover complete, they also began to control traditional church functions, such as the civil register. Laws were passed that broke up communal lands into individual parcelas, making it easier to buy them off when the natives could no longer feed their families.

After the wars with the Apaches, in the eternal struggle between pastoral activities and farming, Rufino's own cattle had encroached onto Ópata lands, although he had worked out a deal with the elders of donating a number of cattle to be slaughtered for the Semana Santa festival. As an honored guest, Don Rufino was expected to open the qoquimari foot races, and stay for the dances of the Matachines. Years ago, the cacique of Masocahui had entrusted Margarito, an orphan, to his care, and Margarito from the age of seven called Cantaranas home. In this way, many Ópatas found work on the haciendas, and their quality of life slowly changed from a free semi---nomadic life to a life of peonage. The recent increase in population in Arizona and California opened up a market for beef, and once a year there would be an auction where DonRufino would sell off part of his stock, to be driven north to the slaughterhouses in Nogales.

Rufino took off his pince---nez and stared at the pirules outside his window. Some of his own associates at the Gentlemen's Club had signed legal papers maneuvering to take the Yaqui lands. Afterwards they had called the troops to murder the Indians, who were now "illegal". Many of them had been deported to Yucatán, Oaxaca and even Guatemala. He was fortunate that his lands had been in his family for three hundred years, and were uncontested. When he looked in the mirror, he could see his nose, the color of his skin, the Yaqui blood from a half---forgotten great grandmother. His brother Demetrio, who had failed as a silver prospector, had gathered his meager earnings and gone to Los Angeles. He should write to him. All he knew about Los Angeles was that many foreigners were coming in and Spanish had ceased to be the majority language.

There was a lot of scurrying about in the next room. The family doctor, Dr. Castro, was out of town and had sent a substitute. The comadre had come in that morning, and remained tight---lipped. The door to Eduwiges's room opened and closed through the morning, but he could see nothing. All he could hear were muffled sounds. He jiggled as he tried to concentrate on his newspaper. He heard Eduwiges scream. A rough, low register scream, and his heart sank with fear. It was so mysterious. She had bore him two boys and a girl, but he could not get used to the laying---in. Anything could happen. The unthinkable could happen. He would be lost without her.

Eduwiges lay back on her fresh pillow, exhausted but with a pleasant feeling well being. All day the comadre had pushed on her belly with her fingers, trying to massage the baby out with special oils taken from the desert. Chona had scurried about muttering to herself, ever mindful of the dangers a birth could bring. A heavy rope had been tied to the four poster bed, so that Eduwiges could pull on it as she drew her legs up, until finally, once her head was out, María Raquel slid out easily onto the waiting linen and drew her first breath. Now she was washed and asleep. Eduwgies contemplated her daughter, her youngest and her last. She would turn forty that spring, and she knew that Rufino would simply have to be satisfied with the four she had given him. "María Raquel" she whispered softly to herself. Outside Margarito and Laurita, unbeknownst to her, had buried the umbilical cord were sweeping the dirt clean around the main house to determine Raquel's guardian, who would leave his footprint.

The only thing Eduwiges had to worry about now was plenty of rest, for childbirth was so depleting she would have to keep the quarantine, which meant no cooking and no tending to things for forty days and nights. From past experience, Eduwiges relished the leisure, although her restless spirit pushed her to order people about, and she never was able to get all the way through the rest period. Before long she would be telling Margarito to saddle the horses and would drive into town. Even though the Durán family attended church infrequently, it would not do for any member to remain unbaptized, and so to satisfy the Hermosillo gentry, Raquel would have to make her appearance in the same Chantilly lace and silk dress that María Elena had used. Eduwiges privately fretted over the expense, and the party inviting all the relatives, even the most distant, that would follow. Well, it would have to wait the forty days anyway. There was plenty of time. Chona appeared and took the baby away to her waiting cradle, and Eduwiges slipped into a deep sleep, happy that it was over at last.