Amando's Page / La página de Amando
¡Hola! Me llamo Amando Álvarez y me gusta la literatura. He escrito algunos cuentos para que gocen de mis escritos. Mis escritos reflejan un poco de misticismo, color local, conflicto entre el bien y el mal, problemas sociales, etc. También verán cuentos sobre la guerra, Idaho y mis experiencias como méxico americano. Espero que me escriban con sus opiniones. Oh, se me olvidó decirles que también escribo poesía. ¡Hasta luego!
Hi! My name is Amando Álvarez and I like literature. I have written a few short stories for you to enjoy. My writing reflects my interest in mysticism, local color, conflict between good and evil, social problems, etc. You will also see short stories about war, Idaho, and my personal experiences as a Mexican American. I hope you’ll drop me a line with feedback. Oh, I forgot to tell you that I also write poetry. Bye!
UNO / DOS / TRES / CUATRO /CINCO / SEIS
UNO / DOS / TRES /
The Old Man
Juanito and the Library
UNO / DOS
My genealogical chart can be found by entering "Amando Álvarez" in www.rootsweb.com.
Mi árbol genealógico se puede encontrar haciendo la búsqueda "Amando Álvarez" en www.rootsweb.com.
Email Amando Álvarez Aamando@aol.com
The Day La Migra Came
From the Sagebrush
A Day on the Gunline
Stoop labor. Burley, Idaho area, ca. 1955.
Trabajo agachado con azadón. Cerca de Burley, Idaho, ca. 1955.
The Day La Migra Came
The day was hot and dry. It was like any other day. We had gotten up at 3:00 a.m. and gone out to the fields to move the irrigation pipes by our boxcar, our summer home in Idaho. There were plenty of stars to light our way to the fields, fields that cried out for rain but had to settle for irrigation. So the day was not much different. Everyone, except my mother, was out working. My mother cooked for the family while we worked for el bolillo. Nothing changed much from one day to the next.
As we walked to the fields, my father always took advantage of the time to remind us where to hide in case La Migra came around. There were bushes, sagebrush, and crevices in the lava rocks near the fields that he pointed out often. I remember his warnings about La Migra; he would say, ¡Si viene la Migra, se me esconden como ratoncitos! We were his little mice who should hide where he had designated and not make a sound. He warned us to hide even if they took him away, he had friends that would take care of us if we managed to get away.
It was always the same routine, from morning to night. There was counseling about what to say, what to do, where to hide, where to go. I grew up fearing La Migra as if they were monsters out to devour you. At night, my father would tell us stories about El Diablo, La Mano Fría, La Llorona, and Las Brujas. I would always imagine La Migra as devils with fangs who would suck all your blood and leave you dry like the Chupacabras of today. I had been prepared for the words, ¡La Migra!, ¡escóndanse! That was something none of us were to ever forget. Every car, every stranger, every bolillo was a potential agent of the U.S. government. I was small and they were big. I remember hardly seeing a smile from the bolillos who inspected our work in the fields, they were all out to get me and I knew it. My father told us that if the bolillos didn't get to us by calling the Migra, they would get us by cheating us of our bonus checks and skimming off our weekly wages. We never saw the doctor, never went to school, never went anywhere except to the country store to buy groceries. We were of the land and for the land. We could go nowhere.
So I was suspicious of anything that moved. I was a child but thought like my father. I was anxious and jumpy, not knowing who or what was out to get me. I imagined myself being kidnapped by strange monsters and taken to hell to burn forever until my soul would scream for sympathy and forgiveness. But I had no reason to feel guilty; no reason to feel a criminal. No reason to think that I was a bad person simply because my family had come to a foreign land to work and make enough money to send back to Mexico. I simply did not know.
But this day was different. It had to be different. I knew the time would come; it had to. It was already daylight and we had washed up, had breakfasted, and prepared now to return to the beet fields. But this time, we were returning to hoe and thin the beets. This was a job that only we would do. We never saw anybody but Mexicanos and Texanos work these fields. Our work was non-stop except for our meals and we raced against the clock to make as much money as possible before we returned to Mexico; before we returned.
But today was meant to be different. Eduardo, my father's compadre, had told him that there was a soplón in our midst. A vendido, a Judas who had sold his soul for money and legal status in this country. Word was going around that La Migra had promised him a good job and citizenship if he turned in as many undocumented workers as possible: mojados, as we were pejoratively called by vendidos of his ilk. Word passed from mouth to mouth, field to field, family to family. Something was different.
In the sky, I could see the clouds building up. They were unusually dark and sinister. The fields had not seen rain for months. Rain meant drink and satiation. Rain meant we would have no work. Rain meant we would not be needed.
And the clouds got darker and more menacing. The sun was blotting out from the sky. I noticed my father looking up, mumbling something, shaking his head, wiping the sweat from his brow, and returning to his rhythmic hoeing, his hypnotic to and fro of the hoe.
And I felt the breeze slowly build up to a steady wind that engendered dust devils all around us, as if El Diablo, himself, had decided the time had come to make his presence known. And my father's face turned more anxious as the wind grew stronger and stronger.
Day turned into night. Dust was everywhere and the rain began to fall. Some families had returned home earlier, but time was money, and my father needed as much money as possible to feed the family here, and our relatives across the border. One more minute meant a few more cents to get us out of poverty. But one more minute, just one more minute was all it took. The dust and the wind, the rain and the heat—and the vendido—, had ruined our future. My father shouted, ¡La Migra!, ¡la Migra!, ¡escóndanse! But there was no time to hide. The dust, followed by the heavy rain, had impaired our vision. The mud made it hard to run. We were surrounded. My fears had been realized. The monsters had come. They had come to take me away, to snatch me from my family, from my mother, father, brothers and sisters. It was all a blur. I don't know if it was in fact the rain or my tears that obfuscated my vision, but I suppose it didn't matter. My life was over. My world had ended. The dreaded time had come.
[TOP OF PAGE]
Grand-uncle of author. San Luis Potosí, México, ca. 1950.
Tío abuelo del autor. San Luis Potosí, México, ca. 1950.
From the Sagebrush
It was my first day back in school from spring break. The sky seemed to foretell a warm, crispy day. The scent of sagebrush permeated the air as a stubborn reminder that we should not forget where we were, in this land, this place in the northwestern desert. Inside, I walked with the class schedule in my hand and looked for my room in the small building. I could not imagine too many people here; the school building was tiny by most standards, and not much could be expected.
But there was a premonition in the air. Something was different. It was as if the sagebrush, itself, had brought a different kind of presence to the building, to the land where nothing much changed for miles and miles; endless miles of desert, clothed by sagebrush as if to say “you are not alone, I will protect you. You may be barren, but you are not naked.” And so the endless vista conveyed a feeling of loneliness, of isolation, and of the power and predominence of nature over man. And I felt the solitude of the land, of my character, of my senses.
But, then, she appeared, as if ushered in by the warm, late-spring breeze of this barren land. My first thought was “what is she doing here? What brings her to this god-forbidden country, a place where people like me till the land, bring it to life, and give it life?” But she was different. Her hair flowed like a water falls so common in our winding rivers. Her eyes gleamed and penetrated your very thoughts like the morning sun. Her lips were moist and crimson like freshly picked apples, wet from a spring rain, and her skin was soft and cool like the the velvety down of a river swan. No, she was not from this territory and I was perplexed about what brought her here.
And she sat in front of me. She never looked at me and I was miserable for the want of a glance, a smile, a touch from her ivory hands, a word of love, albeit roundabout and indirect. It did not matter to me. I just wanted to be with her to uncover her mystery, her enigmatic being, her picturesque presence contrasted by the surrounding rough terrain.
But we were worlds apart and I knew it. Her father undoubtedly was a scientist who worked at the atomic energy plant nearby. Aside from the barren wasteland in this area, the nuclear plant was an oasis of opportunity in the desert. It beckoned the best and the brightest and gave hope of finding work for our people. But our people had no education, no opportunity, no future, so far from God and so close to the rich and opportunists. But was she of this kind, from other lands, of the privileged? I did not know. She never talked. She just stared out the window, and I wondered what she gazed at, what she saw, what she yearned for.
And summer came. The antelope came down from the hills and mountains. The rabbits wandered lazily in the blistering day, looking for food and avoiding the hunters and coyotes. It was a summer not unlike previous summers and there was no school, but I imagined her as she would be now, walking down the alfalfa fields, looking for something, singing to herself the songs of joy, of other worlds, of other times. And as incredulous as it may sound, I could not wait for school to begin, I could not wait to see her again, for she gave me life, a will to live, hope to survive in my adverse condition. I wanted to see her again, to talk to her; I wanted her to catch a glimpse of me and acknowledge my presence. I wanted her to talk to me, or at least, to smile at me with her eyes.
And autumn came and brought her back to me. She sat by the window again and looked out as if leaving me behind; time and space were irrelevant to her. The window was her screen, her vision transporting her to her destination. Nothing changed, she did not talk, did not look my way, did not care. But after closer scrutiny, I noticed she had matured, still more beautiful, well-rounded, voluptuous, filled out. She had grown and her yearning seemed even greater as she stared out the window at the sagebrush which had assuredly become knights, windmills, and streams of joy trickling through her mind and filling her every void with her cravings. Day turned to night, and night turned to day, the stars shown and the sun sent its shafts of light through the clouds to caress the earth with its life-giving rays. And she sat and peered out as if nothing mattered but her selfish thoughts.
Then, autumn turned to winter; I felt it coming and so did she. There were streaks of gray in her hair. Her body looked cold and I could ascertain her shivering frame barely able to keep warm. Lines began to form on her face like the crevices and pits of the river canyons of our land, and her eyes looked more lost than ever. I could not bear to see her suffer,. It was unbearable to see the one I admired so much lose her beauty, her innocence, her youthful presence, her mature ways, her sensual attraction in so desolate a place. But I knew the time had come and I would lose her forever. I could feel it in the air.
Then, the storm came. Winter gales covered the land with a freezing cloak of white. The rabbits, the coyotes, and the hunters were gone. The wind blew in like a howling revelation of the horror that awaited me. And it came to pass that she did not come to class. I knew it would happen. She had been fading slowly, before my very eyes. She could not withstand the weather, the clime, the barren land. She was not of this land nor of this time. I knew I would never see her again. The scent of the sagebrush was no more…. and I knew. All was gone, all was over, all had ended. The cold, cold days followed by even colder nights flowed on ad infinitum. And I talked to no one, glanced at no one, walked with no one; I just passed the time staring out the window at miles and miles of barren land inhabited by the frozen, snow-covered sagebrush.
[TOP OF PAGE]
Caldwell, Idaho Labor Camp. On the left is Longino Orozco. June, 1956.
Campo de Migrantes de Caldwell, Idaho. A la izquierda está Longino Orozco.
A Day on the Gunline
So what the hell was naval gunfire support anyway? We all wondered but, really didn't give a damn. It was a nice warm August day as the sun was peeking over the horizon in the South China Sea. Our ship, a destroyer escort, was not much to brag about. Its 438 feet held 205 of us enlisted men and 15 officers, caring less whether we were there or anywhere else in the Pacific. The war was of no interest to us. We didn't start the war nor did we have a say as to how we should end it. We had enlisted to see the world, but our world was confined to a small area off the coast of South Vietnam, and the year was 1972, but it could have been any other year; it was all bullshit and irrelevant to us. We just waited for the next chance to see our ship go back to Subic Bay and Olongapo: hot women and cold beer, not the kind of romantic figures you see in the Navy commercials.
Aircraft carrier in the South China Sea. 1972-73.
Portaaviones en el Mar Meridional de China. 1972-73.
So the sun rose and we waited for the word to commence fire. John and I had been placed on the turret's drum, ready to load the projectiles and gun powder canisters we had loaded shortly after midnight; we were ready to do our part for God and country. Some romantic figures we were!, real warriors of the high seas. We had one gun to our name, a 5 inch, 54 caliber gun mount. This cannon was beautiful but deadly, at least, that's what we wanted to think. The rising sun bathed our ship in the most illustrious light. A beautiful ship waiting to kill at the break of dawn. The Russian "fishing trawler" stood by, keeping its distance, "fishing" for information. Well, they could have all the information they wanted, it didn't matter to us. And the sun kept rising, our ship pitched and rolled waiting, the Russians kept their distance, and the North Vietnamese knew we were coming—with our one, deadly gun!
Josh and José were at the cannister stations waiting to pass them. Frank and Ernie waited at the projectile station. Bill and Dennis were at the ready to place the cannisters in the drum, while John and I, well, you already know. Such a beautiful day and such a shame to break its beautiful silence with the noise of gunfire. The Vietnamese fishermen were already placing their nets out to catch their morning meal. We could see the children on the shore running naked, used to (or calloused to) the daily routine of our mighty armada. And the sun got hotter and kept rising.
All of a sudden, Ernie yelled out, "Hey, one of the projectiles has a broken tip! Out of the way!, get the fuck out of the way!" In a flash, we could see him holding the projectile like a mother holds dearly to her new-born baby, up the stairs he went yelling all the way, "Out of the way!". The whole ship was still, nobody moved, a hiatus of silence, intermission, if you will. Then, we heard the splash, and the "baby" was overboard, the tension had ended. And we resumed firing.
The spotters were crazy. Had they been civilians, no insurance company would have sold them anything. They would tell us where to fire, when to fire, and how many we were killing…in the trenches. In the gun turret, we could not hear the commands, we just made sure that the drum was full of projectiles and cannisters. But we knew when gunfire control gave the order, there was no mistaking the discharge of our mighty gun. The whole ship shook from the mack to the sonar dome, from bow to stern and port to starboard, like a paper boat in a wind-blown lake. We were helpless; we held on to the rafters and prayed that the huge stockpile of ammo would not break out of their neat stacks. The projectile whistled in the air like nothing I had ever heard, a serious message for the NVA in their trenches. Our gun could spit out a projectile over 10 miles, past the coast, the fishermen, the children at the beach, the South Vietnamese soldiers, and up to the rough terrain where the NVA bunkers were. And the afternoon sun kept sinking.
We were tired, sore, and dirty from passing the ammo. "Praise the Lord, and pass the ammunition", a throwback from Pearl Harbor, seemed appropriate at this time. Pray that we don't blow up! Easy with that projectile! Don't let it slip! Let it slide carefully into the drum! This was the only topic of conversation. Our friends stateside, our girlfriends waiting for us, our parents praying for us, were all on our minds, day in, day out. But we never talked about them. Those of us who got "Dear John" letters never talked about it, but we knew who they were. Their faces changed suddenly. We could tell as they read their letters that somebody had given up on them. No more waiting, no more tears, for their girlfriends had found somebody else. Their girlfriends' waiting and agony had ended while the poor sops' agony would increase exponentially. What a shame, but we never talked about it. And the sun kept sinking…
As I kept placing the ammo in the drums, rhythmically and trance-like, a lot of images and thoughts kept passing through my mind. I remembered the pilot at Pearl Harbor who guided our ship out of the port, a short elderly fellow who surely had his experiences in WWII. He was a regular old salt from another era with different values and different feelings. Well, this WWII vet steered us masterfully out of the harbor and while handing over the "con" to our captain, he sternly and loyally left him with these departing words: "Give them one for me!" Yes, "give them one for me", but these were different times, Hanoi Jane was in North Vietnam, students were protesting the war, and Nixon had his problems with Watergate.
And the ship shook like a toy, yet with a solemn, dangerous feeling that it was going to burst at the seams, break in two and sink to the bottom, taking us all down with her to death and nihility. And the sun kept sinking toward the horizon, a sinking ship being swallowed by the waters of oblivion into the bowels of the earth.
Unidentified sailors on the U.S.S. Meyerkord, ca. 1972. South China Sea?
Marineros no identificados en el U.S.S. Meyerkord, ca. 1972. ¿Mar Meridional de China?
As the stars started peeking through the firmament, we knew we could rest and get some chow. We had to hurry because our day was not over. We ate hurriedly and showered that famous "Navy shower" in preparation for a couple of hours rest before we re-armed for the next day. Yes, the day was not over. In two hours we were out again on the skin of the ship waiting to bring alongside the re-armament vessel so that we could ready our ship for the next day. And the stars kept growing in the firmament.
It was quiet, the stars were bright. On the coast, the fishermen had gone home, the children had gone, also. The spotters were done for the day. They had counted 7 KIA's in the trenches. We had had our baptism of fire. Our ship had earned its living. Decorations were on the way. We were a true war ship, we had killed in action, in a war that was not a war, in a place nobody cared about, in a place nobody wanted us to be, in a land nobody knew. In the horizon we could see the NVA tanks firing on the South Vietnamese. The trenches we had cleared during the day were manned again in the evening. Battles at night, and battles in the day. And we re-armed. Our ship was well-fed, satiated and ready for another day. Battles, fire, stars, politics, tired and exhausted faces, all were a part of our day. And the sun was gone, and the stars whispered their music to us. And our eyes would close for a few but precious hours, waiting for the sun. Waiting for the sun and another day on the gunline!
[TOP OF PAGE]
Diego Rivera Mural
Mural de Diego Rivera
Everyone said it would be better for Felipe, but there was always the risk of going to war. After all, what were his choices? A life of working in the fields, hoeing beets and moving irrigation pipes in the Idaho countryside was no way for a decent man to live, at least, a decent man with a high school education. His father, Eusebio, would tell him that he did not have to relive his own life of hardship and drudgery, working in the fields from sunrise to sunset in the blistering sun and suffocation heat. Felipe had already tasted this kind of life and he also swore that he would never do this kind of labor for the rest of his life. He was an American citizen and he would serve his country in return for the benefits of the G.I Bill that would send him on to college. He would be the first one in his family to get a college education! Such were the thoughts that swirled through his mind as he awaited the bus that would take him to Boise for the mandatory physical examination prior to his enlistment in the Army.
Felipe's whole family was there, waiting, and looking towards the horizon for that lone bus to come down the dirt road by the fields where they had worked most of their lives, taking a short break just to wait and say their last good-bye to Felipe. All was quiet except for the sound of his mother's soft prayers that were carried by the wind and the dust devils in the distance; no other sounds, except for the wind and the prayers. And they waited for a speck to appear and the buzzing sound of a motor in the distant road brought to life by the mirage of the sweltering heat of the midday sun. They all waited in silence for the bus to arrive.
One has to wonder what was going through everybody's mind. His sister María was probably thinking about Roberto at the Mexican dance that night. What she should wear; what perfume to apply to her delicate brown neck; what competition she would be up against. His father was probably thinking about the many years he had worked in the fields which had built up to this very day when his son would finally leave this place and lifestyle to fight a Gringo's war in a faraway land he could not even pronounce. Years of toil and sweat in the long furrows and rows in the countryside, watered by their blood, sweat, and tears. And now his son was leaving this land for another, perhaps friendlier, perhaps more dangerous; another land where people of similar color would shake his son's hand in the day and aim for his heart at night. Felipe's mother was probably thinking of her son, when he was still a baby. How he would cry all night with fever and how she would hold him in her arms while she comforted him with songs from Mexico and tales with joyful endings—not of hard work, cold nights, hot days, but of cool evenings, warm mornings, singing trees and whispering streams. She thought of her religion which had faded in Felipe's mind but was strong as ever in hers. Her blessing was still urgent. His younger brother Esteban was probably anxious for the day when he could go to war and prove his machismo. A day to remember; a day to end all days of his haunted past in the fields, a day of redemption when he could lift his head high and say without shame "I no longer do stoop labor, I've made it!….I am no longer tied to this land that has drained my body and soul for the benefit of the patrón who gets richer while we get poorer!.…Feed yourselves!"
And they waited….And no one spoke….Hours later, a speck finally appeared. Distant, minute, barely audible. But the dog got restless and they knew the time was near. As the bus approached, everything seemed to get larger, louder, nearer, darker, colder. They hugged while the dog whined and licked his feet. They knew it was time. All warmth seemed to fade from their withered bodies; cold, pale, and lifeless. As he boarded the bus to Boise, he noticed the bus driver's cold stare, sad eyes, and quivering mouth. Everything was happening so fast. What had he forgotten to say? Had he made all necessary arrangements with family and friends? With his girlfriend Marina who was too heart-broken to see him off? Had he forgotten anything at all? Yes, people always forget something; something that eats at our insides and makes us cry in agony when we remember that we have neglected to do one last thing!
As Felipe walked down the aisle of the bus, he noticed that there was one person departing. Just one person; in uniform and with a faint smile on his blood-drained face. One person passing by him in the other direction, almost through him. One person departing. As Felipe looked behind his shoulder, still looking for a seat, he noticed the young soldier walking down the steps. He sat down quickly, finding a seat and cleaning the window to get a final view of his family and hoping to see if they were going to help the young soldier find his destination; or, at least, walk him part of the way…somewhere. But there were no houses nearby other than the family's make-shift boxcar which they called home. As Felipe wiped his eyes and peered out the window again, he noticed--to his surprise--that his family was gone. Ceasing to exist. No one within miles, just a soldier walking, floating, departing, taking leave of the area; smaller, colder, lighter, fainter, farther and farther away, till all that was left of that soldier was a small speck drifting down the dusty dirt road, towards an abandoned, dilapidated boxcar. Knowingly, Felipe turned his head and disappeared.
[TOP OF PAGE]
[toque para ampliación]
Rising River: The Blackfoot Chronicles
108 pages / ISBN 0-9718670-0-3
[Not shown actual size]
To purchase copies of Amando Álvarez's "The Blackfoot Chronicles," email Amando at: Aamando@aol.com
"Initiating a Latino cultural renaissance has been a lifelong preoccupation with Amando Álvarez, who was raised in southeastern Idaho's Tabor Migrant Labor Camp and the dilapidated boxcars of Rising River. Personal ventures such as Rising River: The Blackfoot Chronicles are discoveries that change the way we think about the world we live in maintaining "freedom of human thought." For Álvarez asks, why do authenticity and identity limit their proponents to a single language? Herein, this collection of poetry and short short stories, involves head and heart and hands, that there is no division between work and life. This desire acts as a framework for our life. You can return to it, again and again. Afterward, giving can become a way of finding equilibrium - but this happens later, when you are progressing honestly and sincerely. Álvarez's work is like heavy silver pieces, carved with energy ancient and very modern, distinctive and simple. It is his grounding in the precision and discipline, combined with the willingness and ability to break free of its constraints, that endow Álvarez's own work with specific functions, absolute restrictions --- the requirements of balance, of weight... In this context Rising River: The Blackfoot Chronicles, is a small piece of personal freedom. Not to undermine the human resource potential, but rather, to initiate discussion that will radiate, interact, and contribute to reform of the migrant life ---
Sr. Álvarez read from his book and signed copies at the Cultural Legacy Bookstore at 3633 W 32nd Avenue, Denver, on Saturday, July 13, 2002, beginning at 2 PM.[and the webmaster missed it! grrr]
Blackfoot Homepage www.blkft.com
Idaho Center for the Book www.lili.org/icb/
Idaho Commission on Hispanic Affairs www.state.id.us/icha
Idaho Historical Society www.state.id.us/ishs/
Idaho Libraries www.idaholibraries.org/
Idaho topics www.idahoheritage.org
Idaho Unido www.unido.com
Log Cabin www.logcablit.org
Mexicans in Idaho www2.state.id.us/icha/Events/voceshis.htm
AMANDO ÁLVAREZ HOME
UNO / DOS / TRES / CUATRO / CINCO / SEIS
UNO / DOS / TRES
The Mexican Experience in Idaho
The Old Man
Juanito and the Library
The Coin (by Daniel Rodriguez)
UNO / DOS
About Blackfoot online
No se debe reproducir cualquier parte de esta página electrónica sin permiso del autor
Do not reproduce any part of this web page without the author's permission