Saturday, December 27, 2014

His plastic cup between his legs
he plays music in the dark
plucking an imagined keyboard.
Notes line up in his mind
each awaiting its turn,
and his fingers release
them from bondage
into the Michoacan air
and the ears of
passersby who now and then
toss a coin in his cup.
On the wooden chair
he perches like
potted plant on a stand.
Stone walls behind him
stone streets under
his feet. Every stone
unturned. Laid there
by ancient hands. To
be walked on, 
to be leaned against.

R. Rios

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

The Keeling

(Adapted from an old Mexican Folktale)

Marcelino had been a crafty one since he was a child; he knew how to make a quick peso by smooth-talking people into buying things they didn’t even need. Once, he sold a broken watch to his neighbor, Prudencio, convincing him that even if it didn’t work, “You can still impress your friends with how expensive it looks.”

One day, at the Mercado, he met a man selling huaraches, or sandals. “Young man”, said the merchant, “I usually sell these shoes for 3 pesos a pair, but if you buy 2 dozen pairs today, I will give you a 15% discount. Surely, you can resell them for 5 pesos each and make a hefty killing for yourself?”

Marcelino was dubious, all too familiar with these unscrupulous salesmen. He would think it over. Yet, the man’s proposition gnawed at him all day. He tried  making calculations by using his fingers: “Let’s see, if I buy 24 pair at three pesos each, that’s a total of seventy-two, and then if I deduct 15% off that, then….” But each time he ran out of fingers to count with! Whatever, he concluded, “that’s one chinga worth of pesos!

But who would he sell them to? In the city, people already had shoes. Suddenly, an idea hit him! Nearby, in the hills, were many villages full of barefoot Indians! If he could convince each of them to buying one pair of huaraches, he would make a killing!

He raced to the Mercado hoping to catch the shoe salesman before he closed up for the day, or worse, changed his mind on the deal. He was relieved to find the man still in his stall. “Amigo,” he stammered. “Is your offer for the shoes still open?” “Sure, marchantito, it’s still open and I will even throw in a free pair just for you!” Marcelo, as everybody called him, excitedly loaded the shoes into his mochila, or back pack, paid the man and headed home. He would go to bed early, get a good night’s rest, and head for the village of Puropedo, early the next day.

At dawn, Marcelino took a few tortillas, smeared them with beans and chile sauce and began the arduous trek to the village. He envisioned pesos floating all around him, and he stuffing them into his pockets, at will. When he arrived at Puropedo, he asked for the Cacique, or village chief. Marcelino explained to him that he was a shoe salesman from the city, and would he gather the inhabitants at the plaza, so he could tell them of his marvelous product. The chief graciously acquiesced, and instructed a young boy to ring the church bell.

When the citizens were gathered, Marcelino began his well-rehearsed pitch: “SeƱores,” he began, “today, I have brought a product each of you must own,” and proudly dangling a pair of sandals before them, said “These, my friends, are not only comfortable to wear and long lasting” (he ran his fingers through the deep tire treads on their soles), “but, most importantly, they will protect your feet from snakes, scorpions, and disease! Yes, “Mis Amigos, I said disease! Why did you know that most diseases enter the human body through the feet? A collective “Ooooo -” was heard in the crowd.

“Now, I need one volunteer, to demonstrate how they are worn.” An awkward silence followed. Finally, a young man came forward, and Marcelino deftly slipped the shoes on his feet. “Today, and today only, all of you can own a pair of these fine shoes, for a special price of five pesos! Think of it! FIVE measly pesos for protection from disease and sickness!!”

Slowly, all the villagers lined up to buy a pair. “I will make a keeling today!” But no sooner had the third man purchased a pair of shoes, when a man in the crowd spoke up: “Wait! WaitI”, he cried. “Listen to me!” As the crowd parted, Marcelo could plainly see the man had no legs below the knees. “Look at me! Look at my legs! I have no feet and I have NEVER been sick one day in my entire life! This man is a fraud! Do not listen to him! Don’t waste your pesos on these useless ‘shoes’ of his!”

Marcelino was dumbfounded. Those who already bought the shoes approached him, one with his hand on the handle of his machete! Their quaint looks of humility had now turned menacing. “But… but… Mis Amigos… surely we can’t believe the testimony of one man…?” The crowd edged toward him. In a flash, Marcelino reached into his pocket, and refunded the men their money. “Well, my friends,” he stammered as he hastily stuffed the shoes into his mochila and slowly backed away. “Perhaps you will be more disposed to buy my product at another time?” He turned and rapidly descended the hill, never once looking back.

“There will be no keeling today, except maybe my own,” he grumbled, as he lugged the 24 pairs of huaraches back to his home. “Let’s see, maybe I can sell them to....” 

(Copyrighted and published in Joaquin Magazine

Answering Their Country’s Call

In the book, Among the Valiant, Mexican-Americans in World War II and Korea, by Raul Morin, he chronicles the extraordinary and little-known heroics of Mexican Americans in combat.  One such story tells of Company E, 144th Regiment of the 36th (Texas) Division, the “all Chicano Infantry Unit.”

According to Morin, the soldiers were all Spanish-speaking, and included Mexicans, Mexican-Americans, and “so-called Latin-Americans.” Most were former members of other units, including the Texas National Guard. Thus, while other companies filled their ranks with “raw recruits”, Company E was “up to full strength with seasoned and well-conditioned GI’s.”

The unit says Morin, shipped out of Staten Island in 1943, bound for Europe. “Everyone agreed that Easy Company ‘era la mas alegre.’”  They kept each other company onboard with songs, corridos, boleros and rancheras, skits, and comedy acts using language from the barrios they had come from, aboard two ships, the “Argentina”, and the “Brazil.”

Among the first Americans to land in Italy, they led the assault on Salerno on September 9, 1943.  “They waded right into the thick of things, [and] within one hour the ‘boys’ in E Company became men, battling back and forth with the Nazi defenders,” and it wasn’t long before one of them distinguished himself with bravery, “a tall, bronze-faced Chicano Sergeant named Manuel S. Gonzalez, better known to his friends as ‘El Feo’ (the ugly one).” 

His unit had been pinned down by mortars and a Nazi machine-gun nest, and as he crawled toward the German lines, a grenade exploded beside him, wounding him in the back and in one hand. “But he did not stop until he reached the German position.” Says Morin, “when Gonzalez came crawling back to his outfit, the mortars and the machine gun had been silenced. He earned himself a Distinguished Service Cross, in the process and the respect of his men.

Morin goes on the document many engrossing tales of the bravery and bravado of Mexican American soldiers who distinguished themselves in combat, seventeen of whom were awarded Congressional Medals of Honor, and many more were awarded lesser awards.