To Walk Beneath the Blazing Sun

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Booksie Classic

Not everyone knows what it feels like to be scorned and reviled simply for existing.


By Al Garcia

Not everyone knows what it feels like to be scorned and reviled simply for existing.  Not everyone has experienced the depreciating feeling of being considered chattel – a piece of living, breathing tangible personal property.  And not everyone has spent a lifetime with a festering wound of betrayal and duplicity that has scarred the heart and ravaged the soul.

In this time of isolation and separation from family and friends, I have had much too much time to think, and to look back in time to days that now bring me so much sadness and tears.  Even after all these years of trying to understand and accept the circumstances that defined the time and the place, I cannot come to grips with the idea of man’s inhumanity to man.  Especially when the cruelty, viciousness, brutality, callousness and unkindness, was directed at me, my family, and my kind -- descendants of lowly brown-skinned peónes or braceros (laborers), Mexican-American farmers, ranchers, and even some Spanish and Mexican gentry. 

I was born into a world that did not acknowledge my status as an equal among men, or a citizen of the country I was born in.  Yet, I was assured that I was lucky to have been born in America.  I was one of the lucky ones. 

From an early age I saw the struggles and the drudgery my parents had to endure simply to exist.  They were of the generation that learned to cope and to step beyond the boundaries of the time.  They made their lives bearable and my life acceptable despite the hardships and adversities.  My father worked the fields as a tenant farmer, while my mother raised me and my siblings.  Money was short, luxuries few, but laughter, joy and love was plentiful and free. 

It was troublesome for a young boy like me to see families with children toiling in the fields, especially when the sun seemed to touch the very ground they walked upon.  I was lucky.  My dad ran the farm and my mom ran the home.  Yet, we were still not fully accepted by the owners and purveyors who took the harvest and most of the proceeds of my father’s efforts.  This was the story across the Valley for many Mexican-Americans way back then.  Work.  Struggle.  Sacrifice.  And never get ahead.

I saw the despair of being brown and poor when I looked around me.  I heard the sound of exhaustion and defeat in the voices of men, women and children who sought a respite from the grueling sun as they sat beneath trailers filled with cotton in fields that never seemed to end.  I felt the helplessness and vulnerability of people I didn’t know, but with souls that touched my own.  I felt empathy despite the fact that I was one of them.  We shared a heritage beyond the fields and beyond the river that now divides and separates us from our past. 

And I saw and felt what it was like to walk beneath the blazing sun.  People I had seen in the fields.  People I had walked with and talked with.  I was young.  I was learning.  I was becoming aware of what made me and those in the field different – we were brown, accessible and expendable.

Not until you’ve walked beneath the blazing sun can you begin to understand or appreciate the meaning, or feel the humiliation, of being considered a “second-class citizen” in your own country and being referred to as a “Spic,” “Wetback,” “Beaner” or “Greaser.”  It took a proud and noble people to endure the animosity and loathing in the early years along the Rio Grande, and still be able to walk tall and believe in the words of our Founding Fathers who promised all men a dream in the land of opportunity and equality.  These were my ancestors.  These were my parents.  This was my legacy – the courage and the strength of generations of Mexican-Americans who persevered and endured for a dream. 

Imagine what it was like to walk beneath the blazing sun and feel its burning golden rays like constant boiling rain falling from the sky from daybreak to twilight.  Each day a replica of the last, endless and bleak.  Men, women, children.  No one was immune back then from the grueling reality of the times.  This was their reality and actuality. 

To walk beneath the blazing sun – now only a memory for those of us that saw the faces of defeat and acceptance on those that labored long and hard so long ago.  For the young and for those not yet born whose heritage bridges the Rio Grande, the hot blazing Texas sun along the Rio Grande will only cause them to come in from the burning rays to the comfort of air-conditioned homes and malls that now replace the fields and pastures that once broke the backs and hearts of our ancestors long forgotten. 

Oh, to walk beneath the blazing sun again.  Returning to the Valley in my sunset years, I awoke the searing memories of what life had once been like along the Rio Grande for individuals just like me who were simply born brown and proud – disrespected, disparaged and demeaned, just like what we saw not long ago along our southern border.  That’s how we were treated once.  That’s how it used to be.

And then there were the hot Texas summers.

The scorching summer sun, like a funeral pyre consuming body and soul.  Golden flames of burning rain touching the fertile fields along the Rio Grande. 

I remember the days of summer, growing up along the Rio Grande.  Those were days when brown-skinned youngsters like myself living in the valley of abundance and of wealth, woke up tired and weary, while for some more fortunate and affluent youngsters, the livin’ was easy. 

Those were the days of summer when the reflections in the sun were hallucinations and illusions of better days that were yet to come, and of hope that seemed too brittle and too fragile to question or to doubt.  Those were the hot summer days that kept alive the thirsty minds and souls of unformed lives too young to object, but old enough to tow a canvas bag behind their slight and stooping backs.  Bags too heavy to lift and too big to fill with the Texas white gold on fields of sweltering and blistering soil.

I remember the days of summer.  The fields were huge, the cotton was high, and the rows of white Texas snow endless and long.  From six in the morning til six at night.  Those were the endless summer days of life for some of us along the Rio Grande. 

Livin’ was hard, but no time for tears or whimpers or groans.  It was tradition, custom and ritual.  We were children of a lesser God, tasked with proving our worth in a world of haves and have nots.  We were the guiltless reflections in the sun of generations past and of the way it was meant to be. 

I remember noontime in the midday sun while toiling in the cotton fields.  Exhaustion and acceptance on the tattered and unkempt faces of the young and old.  Twelve noon meant a respite from the reality of the moment, as youngsters, teenagers and adults huddled beneath the laden trailers filled with cotton – an oasis of shade and a mild relief from the brutality of the noonday sun.  Young eyes devoid of the sparkle that children and young people should have.  Old eyes tired and lifeless, as they went through the motion of living.  And even back then, as young as I was, I saw and felt the heartache and misery of being born brown. 

The young at heart adapt and adjust as time and circumstances may demand.  We were no different than Tommy or Susie or Hank or Jane whose summer days may have been spent on a family trip to Disneyland, or at a seaside retreat, drinking cold frosty sodas and nibbling on munchies or hot juicy burgers, while we crouched beneath a trailer in the middle of a dusty field, trying to escape the scorching sun, if only for a moment of relief .  We were the “have nots” they were the “haves.”  Yet despite the dissimilarity in status and wealth, we shared one common similarity.  We were children – each in his and her own way, learning, discovering, grasping the realities of life. 

I found the long hot days unbearable at times, sometimes laying on the cotton-filled canvas bag beneath rows of cotton plants that provided relief from the blistering sun and from the tiredness and fatigue of dragging 30, 40 or 50 pounds of freshly picked cotton.  It was hard and dirty work.  It was also painful work at times, especially when my fingers came upon a sharp, dry opened cotton blub.  Too many times, as I grabbed the white cotton bursting from the dry hard shell, the sharp shell-like bulb would cut into the cuticles of my fingers.  It hurt.  It was painful.  And there was no one to put a band-aid on it, or Mom or Dad to kiss the pain and make it go away.  We were learning, discovering and grasping the realities of life, on our own, the hard way. 

Life was not always dreary and dull on the cotton fields.  Like all young children of whatever age, we found ways to laugh and to play, even under the brutal and hot Texas sun.  We would play hide and seek in the fields filled with tall green cotton plants.  We would get atop the trailer filled with cotton and pretend it was a fun house where we would jump and shout and just make believe, at least until the “jefe” came and made us jump off and return to the job of picking cotton, not playing on it. 

Those were the days of summer along the Rio Grande -- days that lasted too long and nights too short to reignite the sparkle and the twinkle in a young child’s eyes, regardless of their age.  Mornings came too quickly.  And the days repeated one onto the other.  And we welcomed the passing of each day, because that meant school days lay ahead.  And we grew older and wiser and for some even browner, under the reflections of the sun. 

And then, without regret for the end of summer days, we wait in anticipation and expectation for the sound of school bells and air-conditioned school rooms, lunchrooms and even homework and Friday night football. 

And on the first day of school, one teacher would customarily ask, “And what did you do during your summer vacation?”  And, while Tommy or Susie or Hank or Jane would tell of their family Disney vacation, or seaside adventure, I, like Juan, and Melva and Julio and Juanita, would invariably utter the same old fib, “Oh, I just stayed home and relaxed.” 

But deep down inside I knew the truth – for I still saw and felt the reflections of the sun that had forever scorched my body and my soul, and ignited my hope and my dreams to achieve and to succeed. 

I remember the days of summer.  They were days of learning and of discovery.  Those were the days that made me stronger, wiser and a better person for having learned that life is not only what you make of it, but how you cope with adversities and hardships that may come your way.  And many of us learned this lesson the hard way -- under the hot scorching Texas sun, in fields of cotton and fields of dreams. 

And after all these years, I still remember how it felt to walk beneath the blazing sun.

Submitted: May 22, 2021

© Copyright 2021 A.Garcia. All rights reserved.

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