The Birth of Spirit

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

A Mexican teenage girl arrives illegally in Southern California, triggering a series of adventures involving an older man and a boy, and an enduring battle with immigration authorities. Inspired in a true story.

The Birth of Spirit


To Guadalupe Paredes, our wonderful nanny, whose resilience deserves praise and admiration.



  1.  The Arrival of Gloria


Gloria walked among all guests carrying the basket of freshly washed clothes in her head, dripping water everywhere.  José Armando, her husband, did not flinch, but the cousins loudly voiced their complain: “hey girl, you are showering us,” “ícole chata, you are getting the carpet all wet.”  The wet carpet was the worst sin, because Estercita had brought it from Mexico the day before, from a friendly merchant who had a small store in the border town of San Luis de Río Colorado, who supposedly ordered them from the interior of the country, according to him made by hand by the descendants of a pre-Columbian tribe that was about to become extinct.  Gloria continued towards the small patio in silence, immutable, to hang the clothes in the wires. Stela, however, who was helping her grandmother cook some shrimp, young and bratty as she was, exclaimed in her defense, while at the same time upsetting Estercita, with whom she didn’t get along very well, “what is the matter with you gals, that piece of rag comes from San Luis Río Colorado, which is not even Mexico, just a trifling town made for American tourists, who cares if it gets wet.”


This offense ignited the bearer of the gift and almost all other women, "insolent brat, who does she thinks she is, pretending she knows more about Mexico than the Mexicans themselves, what a loose tongue, I told you they bring these carpets from the interior" and on and on and yaketi-yak.  The men, on the contrary, all laughed, young Estela was beautiful, and their uncles tended to spoil her. "Lower your voice dear, she's just a rebel teenager, let that fire blaze, she will need it in her life," uncle Ramon exclaimed, trying to calm the chatter down. Armando, the owner of the house and therefore of the mentioned carpet, barely smiled, not knowing if he should say something. His smile was warm and sincere, he loved all the people in the house and knew nobody had any ill will for anybody else, so he was slightly amused by all this pretense fighting.  He got up and crossed the sliding glass doors to walk out into the patio, to help his young wife.  Armando was several generations older than Gloria, by all accounts an anomalous match, though no one in the family was bothered by this.  His head was crowned by a thin layer of white hair, neatly combed, its frailty contrasting with the thick pair of eyebrows below, the broad nose, the firm lips under a sparse moustache which retained an air of having been wide and thick in its younger years, some wrinkles here and there and an intense but serene light flowing from the pair of pupils, a combination of facial features which irradiated a strong but peaceful personality, the type of old man that makes younger folks feel that nothing can go wrong when he is around.


The house was a small two-bedroom bungalow, with a bathroom, a living room, and a kitchen-dining room, opening to a backyard where five patio chairs barely fit, but with a two-row wire system spanning all the way around the perimeter of the house except the front, invented by Armando himself, which was enough to hang all the clothes to dry. In the bathroom, small but not minute, there was a deep entry in the wall, where the upper part had been arranged as a closet and the lower one to fit a small washer to do the laundry, but there was definitely no room for a dryer. It didn’t matter anyway, because the climate in southern California was dry and rather hot most of the year and nobody complained about leaving the clothes hanging on the patio. It was a modest Chicano neighborhood and clothes could be seen hanging in several houses. The dwelling had no second floor or basement, nor a garage. In the yard, there was only a small garden metal closet, where the artifacts that needed fixing were stored, which piled up and never again left the closet, and on the top, a toolbox, which after all was the only useful thing there. There was no division between the living room and the kitchen-dining room, the separation was made with a sofa. The kitchen-dining room was the most spacious room in the whole house, with many shelves and niches, an oval table, two Franciscan-style wooden benches, a few wooden chairs, and some counter space and cutting boards. Two dozen small wooden, metal and ceramic artifacts hung on its walls: strainers, ladles, funnels, garlic grinders, onion choppers, knives of all sizes, a shrimp stripper brought as a gift by a guy who arrived illegally from Baja every spring, when the crops began, and lodged in the second bedroom, plus strips of different useful cooking materials, garlic, red chili, green chili, dried thyme, dried mushrooms, laurel leaves, and a variety of Mexican plants brought in secret from the border. The kitchen was undoubtedly the best part of the house.


In this "ranch", as Gloria and Armando called it, translating literally from English, where the word "ranch" is used to denote a one-story house and not a farm or country dwelling as in Latin America, only Gloria and José Armando lived daily, but now there were fourteen people and one growing fetus, gathered to celebrate the “miracle.” The miracle was precisely the fetus, growing serenely in Gloria's womb, wrapped in the lullabies of her mother, who sang like an angel, according to José Armando, and the smell of garlic, chili, tomato, onion and spices that flooded the house.


Gloria, now twenty-two, was not a native of the towns or cities where the family came from, as she was reminded "casually" from time to time. She had first arrived in the area of ??San Esteban, a suburb in the border city of San Diego, California, just over five years ago, a skinny adolescent with a well-developed body, still fairly innocent in the vicissitudes of life, sneaking through with a group of migrants who had ventured to cross over during the tough season, when surveillance was strict.In Southern California, an unstated cycle of migrant labor had been in place for decades, followed by workers, farmers and local authorities alike, all of whom would never admit it, of course, but which was ritually repeated year after year.  At the beginning of the harvest, the border police mysteriously disappeared, except for a few at the most obvious places, and crossing the border was relatively easy, as well as finding work in the surrounding farms, which were desperate for cheap labor, the only way to remain competitive in a market growing tougher every year.  Throughout the summer there were no raids and farmers and migrants knew that they could concentrate on the harvest without major worries.  But in the middle of autumn border patrol became intense, many guards, decreasing work, and daily raids to deport those who had dared to stay past the tacit working season, always a good number of them. This unspoken cycle would eventually be broken by politicians in search of gaining votes by looking “tough” on immigration issues, making unwarranted claims on the alleged negative impact of migrants.  Gloria, ignorant about these things, reached the border during counter-season, having not yet turned seventeen.  Miraculously, she managed to escape detention, being the only one in her group who slipped away from police surveillance, thanks in part to dressing in blue jeans and sneakers, and her pale face, her height and her big breasts, passing by gringa from afar, although her native facial features could have easily given her away.


Instinctively, she had always marched north, guided by the sun, crossing some rather unpopulated areas and dodging a number of guard posts along the way.  She was forced to urinate behind some bushes.  Not without hesitation, she had managed to get a ride from a trucker near Otay Mesa, a silent man in his mid-forties who spoke Spanish and took pity on her. Her feminine instinct kept her on guard during the first part of the ride, but she was too tired and felt asleep.  When she woke-up she found herself alone in the cabin of the truck, which was parked in a gas station.  She was afraid to get out.  The man returned in a few minutes, and offered her a sandwich and a soda, which she gladly took, thanking him profusely.  “I am going up on route 125,” the man explained, “before I turned to the West. I think I will leave you in a small Mexican café in La Mesa, I can’t take you any further with me or I might get into trouble.”  She listened in silence, not knowing what to say.  The man left her where he had said and bought her a chocolate milk, then wished her good luck and parted.


Gloria finished her chocolate milk, fixed herself up a bit and asked the server, an elderly woman, where did the Mexicans live.  The woman laughed, “ay, mija, they are all over La Mesa, and in Chula Vista and Tierrasanta and all spread in San Diego, really. Who are you looking for?”  Gloria explained she just wanted to find some work.  The lady explained that it was not a good time of the year to be looking for work, but if she ventured a bit West there were some barrios with small stores and restaurants.  “If you wait here a bit, I can maybe get somebody to guide you”.


But the woman was taking some time to return and Gloria became restless and scared, so she left and started walking West, in the direction of the sun.  She crossed some suburban quarters, not knowing where to stop, and after an hour of walking found some streets with a number of small grocery stores and little restaurants, and heard a few persons speaking Spanish. Two problems distressed her, however: she didn't have a penny in her pocket, and she did not speak a single word of English, not even knowing something simple like "OK.”  She had relied on her companions for the journey as well as the arrival, but all of them were now detained and she found herself alone and lost in a big city.  She stopped in a park, sat down in a bench, and cried.  Try to imagine this young Mexican girl, tired, lost in a world that could well be another planet, trying to find a destination to guide her foots, and a destiny for her life.


“I can’t let myself fall into self-pity,” she thought, “I need to have a plan.”  She was engulfed in her thoughts when she heard a couple speaking Spanish and decided to follow them.  They turned into a small street with some bungalows where she could see some signs of Mexican culture: A metal mask here or there, a pair of ceramic iguanas in the door of one of the houses, some wires with clothes hanging to dry.  After looking around for a few seconds she realized the couple had disappeared, probably entered into their home somewhere.  She continued walking for a while, trying to gain courage to knock in the door of one of the houses, then she sat down in the sidewalk, going back to the idea of thinking up a plan.  Thoughts became blurry, and before long she fell asleep.


Images of bushes and abundant cacti and sandy roads, masks and sugar skeletons and a river from where she wants to drink but water is unattainable, and the sun burning her neck, and an unbearable thirst making her throat dry.  Clouds that come and go and long ghostly fields of blue corn, light and darkness mixing up and swirling around in strange patterns.  Two eerie figures, one short and one tall, seem to approach her, and then she is flying under the sun. Huitzilopochtli in his blue hummingbird feathers is carrying her away, no doubt, perhaps never to return.  She doesn’t want to think about it and lets herself go. Sudden darkness and silence.


Waking up, images vaguely coming to focus, she had the impression that the light of the day was gone and she was surrounded by a wall. “Impossible,” she thought, “it can’t be, I couldn’t have slept all day long.”  Her body felt heavy and she would have gone right back to sleep, if it wasn’t for somebody who was banging her arm, or so it seemed.  It took her a couple of minutes to realize what was happening: She was inside a room somewhere, and a boy was palming her arm.  She opened her eyes wide and heard the boy exclaiming:


“Grandpa, grandpa, she is awake, she is awake!”



Submitted: March 14, 2020

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