Notes from a long time ago, in another country.
Buying a Car
I spent my first day in the Valley looking for a used car. My friend Juan picked me up at the Harlingen airport and we went right to a dealership housed in a vintage building where the flatscreen TVS blew out the electricity. Juan lamented that girls in the valley only like guys with big trucks. We test drove a new Rav4 and returned it to a parking lot where heat waves mixed my vision. The next dealership had cookies and popcorn but no car in my price range. After that, I ordered my first Big Mac and acquiesced to go see Antman. The trailers were for Mexican kids’ movies. When we returned to reality, we went to Walmart and bought shampoo with families doing Saturday night shopping.
Signing a Lease
Mr Thompson, the landlord and proprietor of Thompson Citrus, drives a white suburban with a grapefruit on the license plate. He was born in this house and he calls Mexicans Latins, though he speaks a calm respectful Spanish with his guys.
“Don’t get snookered,” he told me. “Don’t go to the wrong Walmart or they’ll steal your purse,” he told me. “I can be there in 5 minutes flat with a gun if need be,” he told me.
I locked all the doors and set the alarm the first week, but I don’t think we’ve set the alarm since then. Cumbia music comes from down the road some nights, but mostly dark is the sound of crickets and a moon over the citrus groves.
The week before school started, I got a drink at Chili's off the highway with three TFA women and then I ran in the Weslaco city park, where I was the only white person. A truck with a loudspeaker sold ice cream and elote, corn in a cup with mayonnaise. Little kids tentatively kicked soccer balls while their older brothers ran laps around the field with graceful footwork. Packs of grandmothers sauntered around the outside trail hablando en Spanglish.
I’ve been running alone in the state park about a mile from my house, where the sky is open and my footfall surprises rabbits and flocks of small yellow birds from sage brush and cactus. In the city park, I moved feeling part of a beating heart of human activity.
On the drive home, at dusk, a neon car wash sign glowed beautiful in my rearview mirror.
During TFA training we watched a video about a woman namedCarmen Anaya and how, speaking no English, she still managed to agitate for change so that, eventually, children in the colonias didn’t have to ruin their shoes walking through sewage puddles on the way to school.
After that training, I filled my car up with its first full tank of gas (2.40/gallon), and drove out to Las Milpas, the neighborhood of Pharr that Carmen Anaya helped pull up and out of the most extreme poverty. There was no one on the road but me and a bunch of shipping trucks headed to Mexico in a hazy, vaguely holy evening light. I stopped at my school, which was quiet.
The drive back along Military Highway was almost empty too. Flat and green, the type of landscape that might make you imagine you’re on dirt roads. Mexico, arrow to the right. I got home and ran in a new direction, in a housing development called Springfield Estates where they’re still trying to sell lots. Financing available with $500 down. Electricity from the city of Weslaco. The American dream! Across the street, in a small, fenced-off clearing, a woman pitched hay and a small goat bleated.
On the radio, the Mexican government proclaims in baritone, “move to Mexico for your prosperity…”
After I met my students’ parents for the first time, I ran to the border. I carried their questions and their bendicciones. It was dusk just before darkness: The Rio Grande swung past, a calm seafoam green, an easy swim. Cows mooed bucolically on the other side.
We had started our run in the evening. Santa Ana felt empty, jurassic. As the gold went away and dark fell it became emptier. DPS suburbans illuminated the dark on the drive home.
Today, when the heat was heaviest, we went to La Pulga, the sprawling flea market off the freeway.
We parked in a lot by dudes who would tint your windows. The whole thing felt like a mall in a highway underpass. The old woman at the check in booth had a gold tooth and asked what time it was. 50 cents to go to Mexico. Casi no hable una palabra de ingles between the stands selling new DVDs, the kitchen appliances, the old clothes, the piles of fruit. Griffin told me about chiles that grow native and wild, little pinpricks of heat. We bought tacos and micheladas at an outdoor stand where Aimee and I were the only white girls. Inside the dance hall, old couples twirled, touched, took each other’s hands to the back bar when a song ended. I still don’t know my research question for the Valley. La Pulga reminded me that I am in a place of fluid identity where I have a lot to learn.