Magdalena on: Memory

It’s pretty, that story. Pretty enough to make you fall in love. And it’d be pretty too, to think the story ended there. To think that Mom, a little muddy but no worse for the wear, follows the river upstream until she’s spit out with her child on some San Diego shore. Towing the Styrofoam box behind her, she trudges through the silt to safety, her fingers prunish and her knees purple and sore. She puts her baby in the grass, where he coos and giggles from a tickle of dandelion brushing across his tummy, while she wrings out her skirts in the sun. That’s the way Ricky remembers it, so damn pretty. He remembers too that shortly thereafter Dad, an uncle of no relation and all six sisters came tumbling out of the hedges and trees; and before long they were in the big house in Riverside, splashing it up in the swimming pool, the river sledge long forgotten.

Of course, it didn’t happen like that. Never does. But whose gonna tell Moses that his momma pushed the cradle upstream while she swam up a sewer, filling her mouth full of piss and shit and raw scum? Who’s going to tell the baby that momma held her breath, the filth and refuge still inside and trickling down her lips, and faced the immigration police face front? That she spat the festering contents of her mouth, in one solid stream, straight into the blue-green eyes of the border patrol, and then she ran, her baby still bobbing about unawares?

Nobody. That’s who. Nobody’s gonna tell the baby a goddamned thing. They’re not going to linger on the lack of hedges in the desert. They’re not going to mention the indescribable taste shit leaves in between your teeth and on the inside of your cheeks. They’re going to let him float straight onto the chosen land, and they’re only going to cringe a little when the baby grows up and announces his intent to marry a yellow-headed wife.

Magdalena on: Imagination

Truth be told, Ricky’s father learned English off the portable radio and his children suffered the consequences: Rhonda, Donna, Sherry, Cheri, Venus, Barbara Ann and Ricky. Six Spanish-speaking baby girls and one American-born prince. The Mora de la Cruz girls, with the exception of Venus (who staged political protests and came out at sixteen), grew up in the shadows of Los Angeles and came into the city as one might expect: they married well, divorced, took half and then married again to second and third husbands always a little bit older and a little bit richer than their first. Other than Barbara Ann (who had three daughters with three different daddies), they remained childless, thin, beautiful and determined above everything to choose and maintain a certain lifestyle. To erase a certain past.

In the past the Mora de la Cruzs’ picked grapes, asparagus, peaches and—worst of all—strawberries from the time they set foot on California soil until the youngest among them turned twelve. They moved with the harvest, living in the dust and hay of the farm labor camps from Salem to Stockton, Bellingham to Riverside. Between the nine of them they were deported—individually and collectively—thirteen times under various grounds and foundations. Yet somehow, with assorted auspices and finagling, they always managed to make their way back to the states.

Juan Duran de la Cruz, a.k.a. The Cauliflower King, put on a bathing suit and—unable to swim—kicked a rubber tire a treacherous fifteen miles to shore. Rhonda waded through raw sewage in the Tijuana River. Sherry and Cheri jammed themselves into boxcars with hundreds of other norteños, unable to move, hardly able to breathe. Donna rode across the border spread-eagle on the top of a freight train, her blistered hands white with holding on. And Venus, a particularly bold and quick girl of fourteen, sprinted through the backed-up traffic at the port of entry, defying Border Patrol to chase her. Barbara Ann had to pay $550 American dollars to a coyote smuggler to take her to Fresno. She rode sewn inside the bench-seat upholstery of a Volkswagen Vanagon for 149 miles; and once she crossed la frontera she was held hostage for another $250 in ransom, which required her to work a full five months indentured and hungry, sleeping in the dirt with rotten lettuce for a pillow. But Ricky—the only true-to-flesh American born citizen of the de la Cruz clan—holds the best yarn by far.

Caught as an infant sucking on warm milk and stuffed inside the folds of his mother’s dress, Ricky was deported with his mother, Angelina, without question of the papers that secured his legitimacy. On the wrong side of the Rio Bravo, Ricky was stuffed into a Styrofoam cooler and floated across the border like Moses while his mother trailed behind. Kicking against the current and steering little Ricky away from eddies, Angelina fished crawdads from Ricky’s makeshift cradle and tucked him into the tulle at the first sign of danger.

References the Los Angeles Times article “3 Men, 2 Nations, 1 Dream” (Jennifer Mena, June 30, 2001, A-1)