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Excerpt from
The Education of Héctor Villa
A Book by Chilton Williamson, Jr.


The Villas of New Mexico

Hey, compadrito—bring 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 post.

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 to-day, man?"

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 PETAit's cultural gen-ocide, man!"

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 patient, amigo."

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 understand any-thin?"

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 pocket.

"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 about now, man?  Probably to tell you you can't keep fightin cocks in your backyard, neither."

"No idea.  I don't owe them nothing."  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 suspiciously.

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.

"¿Panchito?" AveMaría repeated.

Héctor turned to face her, his moist brown eyes soft and tragic.  "The zoning board—my house—an 'eyesore'!  A 'public nuisance'!"

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.

"¡Ay, 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 computer science.

"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 air.

"¡Viva 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!!!

 

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