Rise, Do Not Be Afraid

“It was the last good year for Santa Rita, a town that once thrived in the shadow of the Sangre de Cristo mountain range. But the communidad’s fragile bonds of honor, obligation, and love unravel when ‘the devil comes like bad water through the oldest and weakest parts of a place.’ Embedded in the novel’s winding tales, memory and dream mingle and sing, asking us to question our preconceptions about history – whose version becomes truth? Faced with outsider infiltration and greed, Santa Rita’s faith rests in the hands of her people, both the living and the dead.”

Aaron Abeyta: “Today, Santa Rita exists mostly in memory, the only road in blocked by an iron gate and a no trespassing sign.  This book is for the people of Santa Rita.  It is also for the people of every village and every town that knows the sensation of loss, but also of beauty and perseverance. For her beauty and perseverance I am, forever, indebted to my beautiful and powerful wife, Michele.  She is, and will always be, the personification of the powerful will that exists among our people.”

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The Lamp of Your Body

People always say that the people of Santa Rita are different.  They say it in a way that is good.  They speak of themselves as though the mountains do not let anything but the snow and wind in.  

There are five ingredients for tortillas.  Too often the people think of themselves as only one ingredient.  The truth is that the people of Santa Rita do not like to be called Mexican.

“We don’t speak Mexican Spanish”

“We don’t even speak Spanish Spanish”

“There is no one in the world like us.”

Of all the words only those last ones are probably true.

Start with flour, the kind our abuelita scoops out with a tin cup, always the same cup, always the same tin cup balanced in her hand, not really measured but weighed by the soft thin fingers of her hands holding the tin cup, balanced really between the farmer’s grain, the earth’s rain, the acequias rising, the counter clockwise walking of the horses in the mill, balanced there between what has been mentioned and what has been forgotten.

Then take those same hands, feel the papery skin, feel the ridges of her nails, feel the veins rising on her hand.  Take those same hands and knead in the manteca, the same manteca the little boy strained into the empty coffee can our abuelita saved, the same manteca from the marano whose hair is scalded off with boiling water, whose skin is cut into squares on a Saturday afternoon, invite all your vecinos, build a fire beneath a great black caldera, let the pig hang in the soterrano, but bring the squares of cuero and drop them in the caldera, play some music, put pico de gallo in a clay bowl, send the youngest into the house for some cut lime and some salt, everyone talk as the chicharrones crackle, give your vecina con las tortillas de maiz the spot closest to the fire, place the chicharrones in the tortilla, a little pico too, some lime, and then the salt, then down.  Let everything cool and then send the youngest boy to strain the manteca into old coffee cans and empty jars.  Later, our abuelita will knead it into the harina poured from the tin cup.

Add the salt, the same salt our abuelita sent the youngest for that Saturday.  This too she will measure by the balance of it in a cupped hand.  She’ll think of Jesus.  “I love you like bread loves salt.”  She’ll think of the oceans, the dark boats with white sails that her father’s name came over on, she’ll think of waves coming ashore, she’ll think of her ancient mother’s home and the things they would trade for salt, she’ll think royalty, she’ll think of Neruda’s ode, she’ll think of how she measures her own life in her hand, she’ll think that of all the beauty in the world, salt is the one Jesus chose for love.

The next ingredient is often the most forgotten, like the Indio in us; it is small but no less important than the others.  Our abuelita will cup it between two of her fingers, again a balance, the bequenpaura there above the bowl is the difference between crackers and perfection.  Don’t forget the espauda because it colors your blood and makes you love the earth, sometimes it makes you quiet but mostly it makes you rise perfectly.

Then there is the lamp of our body, our abuelita’s eyes and all the water they have seen, the softness of them like the lakes of los brazos, or the darkness of them in a spring river passing, but mostly her eyes are warm and many colored rings of an old and beautiful tree that records the water for each year of its growing.  The water must be warm like when all of us were born.  The warm water must be mixed in slowly like the patience of snow melting in May and finally warming in July.  The water is what makes this place different, the water is the only ingredient we add in doses, not too much, slow and warm, the water must be added slow and warm, the water is the part the men understand, the water is what our abuelita will save for last, the body is mostly water, the body’s lamp is water that pools in the eyes, it is proof of pain, happiness, love, loss, it is warm and must be kneaded into the rest of our lives.  Without water there would be no trinity of left hand right hand comal.  Watch as our abuelita, the part of our being that respects the earth, slowly adds water to her mixture, watch as the water makes the table and bolio necessary, watch as the tortilla spreads itself over the wooden table like water running into a field.

The lamp of our body is the eyes.  Watch the water.  It makes us possible.  It makes this place and people rise together and not be afraid.

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