Although my writing mainly consists of abstract, non-linear storytelling, the works I chose to submit were more grounded than usual. These works were primarily inspired by the current political climate in our nation, which prompted me to start looking into the history of exploitation in the Western hemisphere. There are still many people who are unable to speak their perspective and eventually have their story swallowed by other, more favored narratives of the colonial past. Through these short stories, I tried to focus on the internal struggles amidst the external. Everything that has the potential to affect the world, will have many different effects on different people. The more we look at things from a purely broad perspective, the more of these effects will be overlooked.
Alejandro jolted upright from his bed in a cold sweat, unable to clearly remember the nightmare he surely must have experienced. His small, dark room provided a sense of familiarity in the temporarily hazy situation, calming him. The house that he’d grown up in offered acceptable sleeping conditions save for the lack of warmth year-round. Living in Nuevo Mexico, however, guaranteed this to only be a major problem during winter months. The taunting sun beamed through the gaping opening in his room. “Levantase,” he whispered to himself.
He slid out of his bed and began dressing, still trying to recall what kind of monstrous imagery had, only minutes ago, put a rude end to his much-needed slumber. Reaching for the door, he remembered that today, being the only one in the house for the next few hours, it would be him who would be taking care of his abuelita, Clara. She had come to town the previous week to stay with Alejandro and his family for an unspecified amount of time. The cold, hard woman had pulled a blanket of dullness and melancholy over the family since her arrival, but it seemed nobody had the courage to admit it, even to themselves. From Alejandro’s view, she demanded too much of the family, too old to lift a finger to work and yet having the audacity to grab the reins of the entire family and insist that everyone wake up at an ungodly hour.
On the thought of time, Alejandro realized that he had probably gotten up too late for her, despite his premature waking. He began preparing himself for the small, frail figure of his grandmother to appear in the doorway, yelling in Spanish...
….“Aunque estamos viviendo en los estados unidos,” Alejandro finished the thought out loud.
He didn’t care. Maybe it was his lack of sleep or merely the thought of having to deal with her for one more day, but Alejandro had woken up with less willpower than he had held in a long time. Whatever she had to say, she could say it.
He stepped away from the door and stared at the map at the back of his room, the map of the nation. 35 states. 6 territories. At least, that’s how it was on the other side of the country. Across the divide, the 35 states and 6 territories had all but lost their value. The once-territory he had lived in had become a state shortly after the war, largely due to the migration from eastern regions. The sparsely populated region had by this point, largely become a state of immigrants.
“Mas como un estado de desgracia...” muttered Alejandro to himself. The map wasn’t professionally made, but it was, as political boundaries go, fairly accurate. Or at least he believed it was. He couldn’t remember where he had acquired it, but it left him no reason to question it. His grandmother hated the map, but he brandished it all the more because of it.
The map hung on his wall as a cruel reminder of what had happened some twenty years ago, all because Mexico had lost a war. A war with the United States. The divide between the US and the former Mexican States was not a feature unique to his own map but was likely present in all representations of the continent. Even if some prefer to pretend there wasn’t a line between the two sections of the country, most found it appropriate to acknowledge it in some way.
Alejandro had been born in the final year of the war, 1850, shortly after the fighting had concluded. The Americans had cut a path from California to Mexico City and, when the fighting wouldn’t cease, it continued all the way to the border against Guatemala. His grandmother praised his ignorance of life before the war out of fear that, having lived during that time, he would have developed hatred towards his conquerors, as some of his older relatives had. She, however, claimed to be absent of such sentiments.
He stared at the map often, knowing it wasn’t expertly made, knowing it wouldn’t change. Even if the Dakota territory became a state it would probably take weeks for the news to reach the more remote parts of the country, especially those on the Mexican divide. But it wasn’t Dakota that bothered him. It was the state just across the fine line of division, where he could probably walk to in two days’ time. Texas. The 850,000 people in the incredible expanse of land were made primarily of immigrants from the United States whose ancestry stretches back as far as before the Texas revolution thirty years prior, but there were still some 50,000 Mexicans living on their side, only a fraction of whom had ancestors living there before the war. 50,000 who chose to live in the comfort of American jurisdiction rather than with their own people.
To the east of Tabasco, one of the Southernmost states, was The Republic of Yucatan. The former Mexican state had been absent since 1841, when it declared independence, only to be embroiled in a civil war with the indigenous population, which had not been formally settled to this day. “Doesn’t matter,” thought Alejandro. The United States had been relentless in its expanse to the Pacific Ocean, and now that all disputes with the European powers were settled, the only place left to go was South. Spain’s “New World” empire was long finished, only Cuba remained under its rule, and even then, the two had opened conflicts once again in the recent months. Each year the thirst for Caribbean waters increased and soon the United States would, again, no longer be able to contain its urge for Spanish land.
Alejandro’s thoughts were interrupted by the slamming of a door, the sound resonating from the front of the house.
“She’s here,” he groaned while reaching for his farming tools. The house only hosted one floor but the walk to the front always had a downwards impression.
Turning the corner, Alejandro’s Uncle Armando was sitting in a chair reading a newspaper. An American newspaper. His uncle had fought in the war, and in many ways was the reason why his family was in Nuevo Mexico to begin with. He volunteered for the army after the fall of California, his unit was assigned to defend Mexico City but upon its defeat he was sent to the Texas border in order to stop any more American troops from reinforcing the invasion, and this is where he stayed once the rest of the country surrendered. After convincing his brother and his pregnant wife to live up North where conditions would likely be more sympathetic due to proximity to the states, the family had made a permanent move. Although he acknowledged the power of the Americans, he never liked them. He wouldn’t have made the decision to move if he had known how many would be migrating across the divide, mainly into Nuevo Mexico. Being that most of the migrants were from the southern states of the US, their migration brought yet another bane to the Mexican people. Slavery.
Alejandro’s muttering came out louder than he would have liked, he turned around and imagined his grandmother coming out to chase him with whatever kitchen utensil she might have at this time, but he remembered her hearing was failing as well.
Alejandro peered out the window and saw Mrs. Madison Chase standing idly by the front of the house. Mrs. Chase, a slave owner. The two things his uncle hated most were brought right to his doorstep at the close of the war, and he hadn’t stopped talking about them ever since.
“Is that Mrs. Chase out there?” asked Armando with a surprisingly lively tone, finally looking up from his newspaper.
“Looks like her,” replied Alejandro, noting how his uncle’s usual deliberately heavy accent seemed watered down. “Did grandma come through?”
“If she did, you can bet I wouldn’t be sitting down here. If I were sitting in my own house, she could still sense mi flojez.” He stood up from his seat and folded his newspaper while walking over to the window. “She’s here for your abuela”.
“Does she owe money?” Alejandro asked, only half-paying attention.
“You can’t owe what you don’t have, Clarita doesn’t believe in money. She’d never have more than what she needed that day. She’s your abuela mijo, shouldn’t you know her better?
“I don’t see her that often tío.” Alejandro stepped away from the window, still staring at the figure of the lady by the front. “Do you know where she is?”
“No, but she won’t be taking too long. Stand next to whatever you can imagine her yelling at you for. She’ll still yell at you but at least you can get started faster once she does.” He paused. “How racist for you to think she owed money,” He added jokingly, “I guess the one good thing that came out of the invasion was that we didn’t have to pay the Europeans anymore”.
Alejandro rolled his eyes, he was used to his uncle's humor, but sometimes he couldn’t tell how serious he was.
“I’m heading out the back,” Armando added as he walked past Alejandro.
“You’re not going to stay for when she gets here?”
His uncle turned around with a smile on his face. “Would you?” The door closed seconds later, and the small figure of Clara approached behind Mrs. Chase the next moment. Alejandro pretended to clean what few dust stains were left in the house as he strained to listen to the conversation between the two. From his position he could at least tell that his grandmother wasn’t scowling. That was one difference between how she talked to him and how she talked to them, she actually smiled every so often. Alejandro struggled to remember the last time he had actually talked to an American, he decided it must have been at least a month or two. There were a sizeable number of Americans in Nuevo Mexico, but only compared to the number of Mexicans. The farms were spread out sparsely across the state, in fact much of the population was made up of slaves. The only reason why Alejandro’s family was able to keep their farm thus far was due to the lower fertility of the land in the region, however demand for land would inevitably cause them to be pushed off.
Alejandro’s face crumpled as his grandmother walked through the door and glared at him. “What are you doing standing around?” She asked, in her accented but well-spoken English.
“I was waiting for you, abuela,” Alejandro said, careful not to look her in the eye.
“You know what you’re supposed to do around here, get to it! I’m gone for an extra hour and you think you can do nothing?” She turned away from him and headed to the kitchen.
“At least there’s one thing she can do well,” he thought to himself, hesitating over whether or not to ask her about her conversation with Mrs. Chase. It might come off as nosy, but his grandmother stayed away from touchy situations. “What was Mrs. Chase doing here?”
“Que te importa?”
There was her accent. Their language. Her voice was too strong to be soothing in any way, but her accent was refreshing somehow. Everyone in the family had learned how to speak English, ever since he could remember they would be speaking it. His grandmother was the only one who would speak Spanish as often as she would. Even more than Uncle Armando. “Actually,” Alejandro thought, “he’s probably the reason why she’s glad I didn’t live through the war”.
“I just wanted to know, curiosidad” he finally said.
“She’s missing a slave,” Clara responded, much to Alejandro’s surprise, “If you see a boy about your age making his way North, make sure you don’t tell her.”
His grandmother’s bluntness almost surprised him, she was speaking as if this occurrence was common, though none of their neighbors had ever alerted them of a missing slave. And yet they both knew what to do in the case of a runaway slave. Absolutely nothing. That wasn’t a crime. Not yet, at least. Still, Mrs. Chase both alerting them of a runaway slave and asking for their help seemed peculiar. He must have been missing for some time for her to be this desperate. Either that, or there was something about this slave that she wanted returned badly enough so that she would hurt her pride stepping onto a Montezuma farm to inquire about it. Now that he had gotten something out of his verbally impenetrable grandmother, Alejandro recognized his opportunity.
“Why did she come here?”
“Que mas me puedes preguntar…because she thought she saw him come this way, or what did you think? Stop asking questions and get to work! Your father will be back in a few hours, and he won’t come home to find the crops unattended!”
Alejandro picked up his tools once more and began to head outside when he thought he heard her say something else.
“You think I didn’t see you watching us?”
“Sorry, I was just curious,” Alejandro replied, regretting having asked anything at all.
“You weren’t watching her”
“I wanted to see how you would talk to one of them”
“I saw more in your face than you could ever see in mine,” Clara began talking in a calm yet firm tone,
“You’re angry with her?”
“They took our country”
“Our country? Ha! You couldn't have called this your country for a second, mijo, living among them is all you know! It’s all you’ll ever know if you keep thinking like that.”
Having spoken up under the assumption that she would have taken his side for once, Alejandro didn’t feel like talking anymore. Although he still didn’t know what she meant.
“Mrs. Chase happens to be a nice person,” added Alejandro’s grandmother.
“But she owns slaves,” Alejandro hadn’t spoken this long to his grandmother before and was determined to make a point.
The reply was almost instantaneous, “You’ve never even talked to a slave before, Alejandro. Tell me, why do you dislike slavery?”
“Because I know it's wrong,” Alejandro was now almost managing a confident expression.
A certain look overcame his grandmother. Alejandro had seen many expressions from his grandmother before, despite her traditionally short visits. Mostly disappointment, anger, irritation, and on rare occasions, friendliness and sympathy. But this was something else. Something he couldn’t describe.
“Do you feel bad for the slaves, or do you feel angry at the whites?” She shifted around him as if trying to find the center of gravity, Alejandro found it unnerving. He hadn’t spent so much time in the same room with her. Was this how she was when other people weren’t around?
“You are angry at an idea, slavery. Then why are you focused on her?” His grandmother changed her tone from strong and challenging to slow and eerily disconcerting. “She’s going to die one day, so am I. So are you. Stop wasting your time with this.”
Arrogance, thought Alejandro. She was only speaking this way for the challenge. For the pleasure. The conquest of the new teenage pride, whether what she was saying made sense or not, it certainly didn’t to him. But he still wanted to continue. “Why are you nice to her then?”
Clara turned to him with a cold glare, reminding him of all the times she had scolded him as a child for saying something inappropriate he had picked up somewhere, something stupid he had blurted out. He knew she wouldn’t let this go easily.
“Do you think I do that out of fear?” She declined to yell. “I didn’t get old thinking I had to answer to them, Alejandro”. She finally started walking away, Alejandro’s tense body loosened. Without turning around, she added, “I think they already own you mijo, otherwise you could stop thinking about them.”
Slightly shaken, Alejandro decided that the whole conversation would be better forgotten. He finally headed out the door and walked into the tall rows of corn. “Easy for her to say I don’t care about slavery; she couldn’t fight it if she tried. She uses all of her fight on us." Alejandro’s muttering came out louder than he would have liked, he turned around and imagined his grandmother coming out to chase him with whatever kitchen utensil she might have at this time, but he remembered her hearing was failing as well.
Double-taking, he noticed the tall, built outline of his uncle hunched over in the stalks. Half glad to see someone else and half angry that he hadn't been there for his confrontation with his grandmother, he approached the discernible figure.
"Tío,” Alejandro called out without attracting too much attention.
“Alejandro, ¿como estas?” His uncle looked up to lock eyes with him, but he knew that Armando had already known he would be here.
Alejandro approached his uncle but said nothing. They both knew that somebody had to stay in there with Clara before any work could be get done.
“There’s sure some interesting things going on in the world right now, far from here,” His uncle started, possibly referencing the newspaper he had been reading earlier. “Prussia is on a boiling point, they might finally clean up that mess of the German states. Did you know it was the treaty of Vienna that prevented any major war from breaking out by this point? Crazy how something done a while ago can still affect things now. And it's all for nothing, once France gets mad enough the whole continent is going to go under again. It’s past time for their map to be redrawn anyways”.
This was the reason why Alejandro enjoyed being around his uncle, he could talk about the world, he was probably the only person in the family who could. He didn’t travel but he kept himself informed, unlike Alejandro’s paranoid father. The way his uncle talked, the world seemed like a gloomily unforgiving place, but at least it was something.
In the passing of his short train of thought, his uncle had moved onto a different section of the field. Alejandro pulled up the ladder he had made in order to see above the stalks and peered over the heads of corn to either try to spot his uncle or find another area that needed to be tended to. Encompassing the entire field in his range of view, a distinct image popped out in his peripheral vision. He turned and, standing no more than thirty yards in front of him and facing the house, was a boy about his age. The slave.
Alejandro opened his mouth as if to call out to him but merely stared in awe. The boy was looking directly at him but neither of them spoke nor moved for a few moments. Even from this distance Alejandro could tell the expression made on his face. There was exhaustion, hints of fear, but most of all there was...curiosity. The boy turned to his left, still eying Alejandro for a few seconds, then darted away.
”Smart kid,” Alejandro whispered. “He’s going North”. Alejandro knew the Chase farm wasn’t too far, if they had been missing him for a while he would have been long gone from here by now. He didn’t have to come here, but he had probably never seen a Montezuma before.
Hours after his father had come home and the work had been finished, Alejandro still kept the boy in the back of his mind. He hadn’t talked to his grandmother since their argument earlier, but he was beginning to wish she had said more. She had seen the slaves before, she had spoken to Americans. Was it their fault? Surely at least some of them were to blame?
He walked up to the door and turned to where he had seen the boy hours earlier, partially hoping he would be there again, just to know if what he had seen was real. For the first time he began to wonder how it was for them, what that boy must have gone through, to escape. What he could be going through right now, perhaps they already caught him. He turned back into the house with his muscles aching but managed one last thought with a voice of empathy,
“Los dos queremos la libertad aquí, del cuerpo y de la mente”