The Villas of New Mexico
the mail along with you when you come inside!" Héctor Villa shouted through the
open window to Jesús Juárez, who was just letting himself into the yard by the
front gate where the mailbox, painted red-white-and-blue, stood on a barbershop
Héctor "Pancho" Villa was having a pleasant Saturday morning in
June, sitting late at the kitchen table over morning coffee while his wife
AveMaría weeded the garden patch behind the house and their daughter
Contracepción minded Dubya, named for Héctor's greatest hero after the late
Francisco Villa, Centaur of the North.
(As Héctor and AveMaría had agreed that the little boy should be their
last child, Héctor had thought it particularly important that he bear the name
of a great man and a patriot.)
Master of all he surveyed (if he didn't lift his chin too high toward
the Manzano Mountains east of Belen, or glance too far to the rather prim and,
to his mind, sterile houses left or right), he felt satisfied and assured, altogether
pleased with himself as his sight caressed the artistic assemblage of art
objects arranged before him on the front lawn: the miniature drill rig painted
orange, yellow, and purple; the windmill nearly as tall as the house itself
that drew water upward from a tank buried in the ground beneath it; the wooden
birds—bright-painted, eagle-sized, and mounted on poles—endlessly
flailing backward on wings rotated by the ceaseless high-desert wind; the tall
clay ovens shaped like broad-bottomed, headless giraffes, tastefully placed by AveMaría
in surprising places where nobody would normally expect to find an oven and
that you could actually fry tortillas and roast corn in; the four-, six-, and
eight-foot-tall Trees of Life—ceramic confections, hauled up from Ciudad
Chihuahua, in which the serpent, Adam, and Eve were grouped with various saints
and animals among spreading arboreal foliage; the Army Jeep that had had its
motor pulled and its engine compartment filled with dirt and planted with sunflowers. From inside the house, Héctor could not
contemplate directly the huge, two-dimensional, rainbow-colored silhouettes of
birds, butterflies, and flowers tacked all round the exterior walls, the side
facing the street most heavily. He
could, however, imagine them. Past
all this splendor, just beyond the turquoise-blue picket fence and the
patriotic mailbox, the new-model GMC van, also painted red-white-and-blue and
emblazoned with the words pancho's
computer service, stood parked half on and half off the strip of narrow
sidewalk. If only (Héctor mused,
leaning on his thick forearms above the coffee cup as he watched Jesús approach
the house with a bundle of mail under his arm, dodging statuary as he came) the
padre back in Namiquipa years ago, who'd warned him as a boy that he was
Hell-bound, could behold him now: fat, dumb, and happy (as they said in
America), at his ease in the Promised Land! (He had quit thinking of the USA as "El
Norte" years ago.)
"Hey," Jesús (known as "Eddie") greeted him, as he dropped the mail
heavily on the table, nearly upsetting Héctor's cup—"so what do you know
Jesús "Eddie" was no Mexican but a Rio Abajo New Mexican, with the
rather odd speech typical of his kind that made him, in Héctor's eyes, seem slightly un-American. Rio Abajo folks—like the rioarribenses
up north—disliked Americans (whom they called "Anglos") and Mexicans
almost equally. Unlike the northern
inhabitants of New Mexico, however, who felt superior on account of their
supposed direct descent from the Spanish conquistadores, the
Rio Abajo people south of Albuquerque thought of themselves as nuevomexicanos—more
superior still. Though he sometimes
resented his air of condescension toward immigrant Mexicans, Héctor was fond of
Jesús and enjoyed having him around—so long as he kept his hands off
Contracepción, who had recently turned thirteen and was fast becoming a woman
in all the recognizable places. So
far as a husband for their daughter went, nothing would do, Héctor and AveMaría
were determined, but a patriotic Anglo boy her own age who would consent to
tying the knot in one of the evangelical churches. (The Villas themselves happened to
belong to the First Assembly of God, which they'd joined after the local
Catholic priest had refused to baptize Contracepción under her given name.)
"Not a whole lot, amigo. Help yourself to a cup of coffee and a
chair." While Jesús "Eddie" drew
coffee from the automatic brewer on the countertop, Héctor glanced quickly
through his mail, which included a couple of letters from relatives back home
in Namiquipa, a notice of some sort from the City of Belen, a mailing from Hijos
de Pancho Villa (an organization of Villa's descendants and others who wished
they were) in Parral, and the May MasterCard bill. The relatives would be requesting
remittances, and Héctor was certain he couldn't face the credit-card bill over
coffee. He was about to push the
pile away from himself when he noticed that the city-hall letter had dated material: open immediately stamped
in red on it. Héctor slit it open
with his penknife but left the contents inside the envelope for the time
being. He'd paid the water and trash bill only the week before, so he wasn't overly
concerned to know why the alcalde and his friends should be in such a hurry to get
his attention now.
"And you," he asked Jesús "Eddie" as his friend seated himself
across the table, "how goes your day so far, hermano?"
Jesús "Eddie" rolled his eyes toward Heaven. Then he passed his brown hand from his
forehead down over his chin. When
he had done this, his face wore an entirely different expression.
"It is bad what goes on up in Santa Fe these days," he
said, darkly. "The goddamn An-glos—they
want to outlaw cock-fightin
in Soccorro! All the f--kin movie
stars, the environmentalists, f--kin PETA—it's cultural gen-ocide,
Héctor nodded, trying to look sympathetic. He'd never been much of an enthusiast
for the sport himself, even when he lived in Namiquipa. "I know, I know . . . Well, listen, compadrito: We
need to educate the gringos, you understand what I'm saying to you?—get them to accept our culture. They're halfway there
already—Jennifer López, salsa, Taco Bell, everyone wanting to speak
Spanish to you at the bank, George Dubya's amnesty plan! Pretty soon they won't have any culture, except
for ours! You just have to be
Jesús "Eddie" shook his head and struck the table with his
fist. "You don't understand! We were in New Mex-ico hundreds of
years before they
were, man! Why should we
have to make them
Héctor pushed back his chair, went over to the cupboard, and
returned with a bottle of tequila.
"It's Saturday, compadrito. Put some of that in your coffee and see
if you don't feel better, inmediatamente."
Jesús "Eddie" poured a finger of tequila into his cup and stirred
the mixture gloomily with the end of the ballpoint pen he carried in his shirt
"You got a letter there from city hall," he observed
sourly. "The An-glos have taken
over the town coun-cil. What you suppose they're buggin you
man? Probably to tell you you can't keep
fightin cocks in your
"No idea. I don't owe
Héctor took up the envelope, slid the letter from it carelessly, and
unfolded it. The thing had an
official look, apparently a summons of some sort. In sudden alarm, he held it out at arm's
length and squinted at it. "Let's
see, let's see."
"What do the cabrones want now?" Jesús "Eddie" demanded
Héctor's roars brought the family running from the yard into the
kitchen where the head of the household stood behind the table with his hands
on his hips, glaring ahead of himself like Pancho Villa preparing to order the
attack on Agua Prieta in October 1915.
"What has happened, Panchito?" AveMaría cried.
While her husband groped for words and attempted to bring his voice
under control, Jesús "Eddie" was covertly admiring Contracepción, who stood
just behind her mother holding Dubya in her arms. The girl was definitely good-looking, he
thought, though far from being as intelligent as his own niece of about the
same age. He'd always suspected her
name reflected her parents' lack of trust in her to protect herself without
some sort of subtle reminder present.
Héctor turned to face her, his moist brown eyes soft and
tragic. "The zoning board—my
house—an 'eyesore'! A 'public
AveMaría took a single lurching step backward, put her hands to her
face, and took them away again. She
threw back her head suddenly and began to wail.
madre mía! They will come for us and take our house,
first. Then, they will deport
us—all the way back to Namiquipa again!"
It was no more than a
technicality and easily overlooked in the event. Héctor and AveMaría had been strongly
discouraged by both the menacing Arab immigrants and the coyote who guided them
all from presenting their papers and requesting asylum at the border, in the
uninhabited desert east of Douglas, Arizona. In twenty years, no one had thought to
trouble them about this detail of formal citizenship. The hospitals and schools they had had
to deal with had been most understanding—in
particular, the state university branch where Héctor had received his degree in
"They can't deport us, tonta," Héctor told his wife
dully. "Contracep and Dubya are
citizens of the United States—just as much as the President of the United
States, George Dubya Bush, himself!
Anyway, we've had drivers' licences for years and now these Social
Security cards I had made."
"They could change the law," she persisted. "And the cards are obviously fake, even
if you did pay too much money for them.
What if that hacendado
Buchanan was to run again for president, next time?"
But Héctor was no longer listening to her. "Ten days to 'comply with standards,'"
he muttered. "The best-decorated
yard in town and one of the three or four most beautiful homes" (he'd considered
offering it for the Parade of Homes tour at Christmastime last year), "and they
tell me to comply with 'standards'!"
He was angry; more than that, he felt deeply wounded in his heart. Nothing he had ever experienced in El
Norte had made him feel so unwelcome, so misunderstood, as this, including the
time an admiring leftist student at school had mistaken him for a Sandinista.
"What have I been saying to you
all mornin?" Jesús "Eddie" demanded.
"The Anglos have sto-len New Mexico from us. You should ask yourself, What would Pancho Villa have done in
this situation? I'll
tell you what he would of done, 'mano: He'd of rounded up a couple hundred of his villistas and
attacked Los Lunas—just like he did Columbus. ¡Viva Villa!" Jesús "Eddie" shouted, thrusting his fist in the
Villa!" Héctor echoed him in a dull voice. He'd never known Jesus "Eddie" to
express enthusiasm for the Centaur before.
Now Contracepción was looking at Jesús "Eddie." He looked very handsome, she thought,
striking a revolutionary position; even the gray at
his temples appealed to her as sexy.
Still, he was probably too old for her, and Papá would be certain to
have a fit.
"What are you going to do, Héctor?" AveMaría asked, speaking in her
normal voice this time.
Héctor had no idea what he was going to do. Therefore, he was silent.
"Why don't you just pay the alcalde money?"
Contracepción asked. From visiting
relatives in Namiquipa for several weeks every summer, she understood a thing
or two about how the world works.
"Be silent, Contracepción," her father told her. "It isn't the same up here as
there. You think George Dubya gets
paid to do, or not do, what he should do in the White House?"
"I will organize a demon-stra-tion, hombre," Jesús
"Eddie" promised him. "Everyone
from the local MALDEF and LULAC chapters in Albuquerque, and others, will show
up here, for sure."
Later that morning, when AveMaría had taken her Prozac and
Contracepción was away shopping at the mall in Los Lunas with her girlfriend
Luz, who had a driver's license, Héctor took a walk round his yard. The shock he'd received that morning had
worn off, leaving a deep depression in its place. This thing that had happened to him was
incomprehensible, he felt. As his
eyes wandered from one object to another in the vast display of carefully
selected and painstakingly arranged lawn ornaments, not one appealed to him in
any way as an eyesore but rather as an element of the good taste and cultural
enrichment the Villa home represented.
Though Héctor had allowed Jesús "Eddie" to depart full of plans for a
large demonstration outside the municipal center, the last thing he really
wanted was a bunch of noisy demonstrators making a public nuisance of
themselves on his behalf, in this way calling attention to his shame and public
humiliation. As a further
consideration, a demonstration might not work: The city fathers might fail to
be impressed. How often had he
noticed this strange truth about democracy in America: While you might occasionally
get the result you wanted at the national level—the reelection of
President Bush, for instance—you hardly ever got it at the local one,
where everything seemed sewn up tight.
The answer to the present crisis, Héctor understood instinctively, did
not exist in the political world.
He needed to look instead to an alternative arena of hallowed American
activity for a solution.
It came to him suddenly, like a fireball in the desert sky overhead,
as he stood staring at the old Army Jeep, a relic of World War II, now
sprouting sunflowers where the hood used to be. In the toolshed behind the Jeep were his
buckets of leftover paint and several squares of fresh plywood. Héctor dragged everything outside and
set to work at once with his paintbrushes in the hot sun. Now, perhaps, he could pay off the
entire credit-card bill on time and avoid paying interest at eighteen percent.
He worked fast, so that Contracepción, returning
with Luz from the mall, was greeted by three separate signs, facing in
different directions up and down the street and decorated brilliantly in all
the brightest colors of Mexico. The
Villas of Belen, as the entire city was about to learn, were holding a yard sale!!!