By Victoria Tester
It is in the small where everything important truly is. There are only small things in this whole world, and children know this. It is there, in those small things, that I want our organization, Dos Manos, to live.
When we get to the Mixteco migrant field workers’ quarters, a woman in a red skirt is washing clothes in a stone tub, hanging them to dry in the strong sun. A curious little girl with a solemn, round baby on her hip, who turns out to be Griselda carrying Delfino, comes over to us.
The children and maybe the women recognize us from the recent August bean distribution in the main plaza of the colonia, where at the end of the distribution, the very last of the hundreds of pounds of beans, a handful, were lost to the dust near the truck.
One of the Mixteco women knelt to retrieve the scattered beans, the little girls raced to help her, and I’d dropped to my knees, too, to find the precious beans, shake off their dust and drop them into the Mixteco’s worn plastic bags.
Later, a compassionate policeman accompanied us to view their quarters.
Now we’ve returned, without the policeman and with a donation of beef and posole, lard, masa harina flour, sugar and spices, powdered milk and dried eggs. It’s to make a huge posole so everyone can eat together, we explain. They accept the food with quiet dignity, setting it aside into the shadows of one of the rooms.
Through the doorway of that dim interior, we see a woman, in obvious pain, on her back on a blanket on the cement floor, and an old woman kneeling next to her, in a curing ritual, laying on hands. A young boy sits, shaken, in the same doorway, and they say he’s been bitten by a snake, a rattlesnake, or something else, a spider. It happened in the fields where he was picking chile yesterday. There is a single visible puncture wound to his hand, and a slight bruise formed around it. He has a fever.
We talk to the gentle man who sits just inside the doorway, the only man not out in the fields with the others, except for a very old man who is ill and resting in the yard, unable to eat for the past three days. Among the few grown people at the quarters, only the gentle, younger man’s Spanish is fluent.
They Need a Teacher
'No,’ he tells me, ‘these children do not have a teacher. They need someone. ’
The children gather round. ‘Who knows the alphabet?’ I ask. Only one little girl, of the many, shyly acknowledges she does. She repeats it aloud for us with quiet joy. They nod, yes, they do want a little school, they do want to learn the alphabet and other things. They do want to have a little meal I’ll bring. They do want to me to come back for a couple days this summer, and then to return for four weeks next summer, because yes, they do expect to be back here, back in Colonia Guadalupe Victoria in this life that is the hard cycle of life for the indigenous migrant workers.
Here in the courtyard? Too hot, they say, Teacher, no shade. In one of the empty rooms? No empty houses, the children say, all have families. Then where? Yes, they decide, it will be in one of the houses. For now we go to the shade of a thin tree, the children gathered close. Even the boy with the snake or insect bite on his hand. Even the little girl with Down syndrome who has never once spoken. They don’t want to miss a single picture in the child’s story book in Spanish I brought to read aloud.
It’s Óscar De la Hoya’s Super Óscar.
Super Óscar the dreamer
Óscar era una soñador incorrigible. They like this. They listen to every word concerning Óscar’s incurable daydreaming. They are unsettled, longing, when Óscar even somehow daydreams through lunch. I look into their large eyes as they swallow a little, and at the thin hunger of their bodies.
These Mixteco migrant children are as undernourished as the other hundreds of undernourished children I’ve worked to serve near the Mexico-U.S. border. Óscar even daydreamed on the school bus. Yes, they nod, they, too rode a bus to get here, to Chihuahua, from their village in Guerrero, and they, too, daydreamed. They laugh when Óscar daydreams so much his big stack of pancakes gets cold, and even his orange juice turns warm. Yes, they raise their hands, they do like orange juice very much.
Saturdays everyone in Óscar’s neighborhood gets together for a huge picnic in the park. The Mixteco children don’t know what a ‘picnic’ is. They don’t have tables here in the colonia, anyway. But when I explain that food is laid on a blanket and eaten outside, they very much want to have a picnic, like Óscar.
The owner of the skies
They laugh as he daydreams the shapes of the clouds instead of passing out the lists of foods everyone is supposed to bring. We look up at the sky above us, rich with September clouds. Yes, they do see shapes in the clouds, too. Look: a turtle, a horse, a dragon, a bird, and yes, we agree that the skies above our world are so beautiful. One little boy hesitates. He looks at me, solemn. And quietly, earnestly asks: “Who is the -- owner -- of the skies?”
I am startled. But why? Doesn’t their very life revolve around the ownership of the land, the very earth over which they walk and they and their parents and sometimes their whole villages must travel in order to work the harvests? All the children look into my face. “Who owns the skies?” I ask. They don’t answer. ‘God owns the skies,’ I explain, in my best, assured tones. ‘He made them for us, these big beautiful skies, because we are His creatures and He loves us.’ They are relieved, mostly satisfied. We look up at the vast blue ceiling over our heads.
Then Óscar goes shopping. He goes to the supermarket and loads at least six shopping carts with delicious fresh food, and even a mountain of strawberries. I am ashamed.
The children marvel at the rainbow colors of cloths spread over the picnic tables. Yes, didn’t they see a rainbow, just yesterday after the rain, a huge rainbow right here, in the sky?
Óscar jumps rope in a vat of cream to whip it for the strawberries. I turn the page, maybe too quickly. I know these children have never tasted a glass of fresh milk. Then Óscar sits down to his favorite event, the empanada eating contest. The hungry children stare into five mountains of empanadas. Óscar has eaten the sixth mountain and is wiping crumbs from his mouth.
I do turn the page fast, a little angry with Óscar, and myself for even bringing him with me to the Colonia Guadalupe Victoria, though he’s an incorrigible daydreamer, just a lucky boy, and I know it’s not his fault. It's my own. Óscar falls asleep under a rainbow-covered picnic table, snuggled by what looks like a pet weasel.
The children don’t mind. They do not have tables, but maybe they, too, would sleep under them if they did, since they don’t have beds. Felices sueños,Óscar.
I pass out 23 lollipops, and 23 single sticks of colored chalk. Not a single child complains about the lottery of color of their lollipop or their chalk. They agree they’ll practice writing on their walls.