Returning to my mother’s pueblo in Durango, a state in northern Mexico known for its mennonite population and picturesque desert skies, is a voyage through the grandeur of a familial past and the decadence of a present that proves that if everything doesn’t end, it certainly changes.
During this journey I reminisce on a book that has accompanied me for most of this year. Having read Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude thrice this year, I find myself meditating on the influence of the passage of time over the memory and imagination of the past. For me, each journey to our pueblo is thus a new attempt to simultaneously read over and write anew the story of our family.
In the pueblo of Nuevo Ideal, gorgeous and crystal clear skies frame the mountains that surround the bustling town. Amidst the internet cafes and pick up trucks that blast hip hop and corridos that compose the soundtrack of those familiar with el otro lado, there remain few people who saw the town at its earliest.
My grandfather is Pablo, an 87 year old man born in the hacienda La Magdalena. As my last remaining grandparent, his beautiful face shows the wear and richness of a life working and living as a campesino. As I greet him and ask how he’s been, he wearily responds that he continues in good health and says, “pues aquí dando guerra.” Here still waging war.
This drive and motivation is characteristic of our family. The patriarch of our family was Pilar Barragan, my great grandfather, a man almost legendary for his ability to tend the land and establish the familial wealth out of the seasonal crops of apples, chiles, beans, squash and corn. Having worked within the hacienda in La Magdalena, they were early inhabitants of Nuevo Ideal, a town that has just recently reached 77 years old, founded very proximate to the hacienda.
Although his forgetfulness and occasional change in mood are symptoms of a mental illness of old age, which to this day his children fear and are reluctant to name, he still recounts the type of crops he used to tend and how he learned to work the land.
My grandfather learned “mirando”, “pegandose”, observing his father because, as he explains, in reality that is how one learns. These knowledges equipped him to raise 10 children with my grandmother Juanita solely off working apple and apricot orchards and maize, bean, and chile crops. He became a merchant, buying and selling apples, and traveling the country in order to make a profit off his ingenuity and hard work. This knowledge helped him migrate to the US through the Bracero Program. This knowledge helped him construct a meat market, food stuff store, and tortilleria along with his wife, out of their home. This is the strength that has informed to this day the 87 years of a war to live and to thrive. His father and the necessity to sustain his family taught him to wage a war to survive, dar guerra.
As he explains his father’s work and his own work he ends by saying, todo se acaba. Todo se acaba. Everything ends. Meanwhile a generation fades away, another flourishes, changes, and remains. Yet the strength of character born within my grandfather is a gift imbued in me through my mother. Despite the distance that severed us for many years, my mother left home equipped with the strength to cross borders and to raise her children informed by this will to thrive. Despite time and despite change, I find this incredible necessity to unearth this quality amidst the groves of his decaying apple orchards, from the grooves that adorn his worn face, from within the intelligence of his hazel eyes.
Just like the innovations of modernity seemed to pale as un-innovative, unimaginative, and deceiving in comparison to the knowledge of Melquidade’s gypsies in One Hundred Years of Solitude, there is a value and importance in what my grandfather has to teach me, in what those with a distinct imagination and memory have to leave with us. Much in the same way the Buendía family agonized alongside Macondo’s destiny as a family of simultaneous creation and destruction, we are also presented with the opportunity to discern our growth in comparison to that of our environment. And the importance of realizing that despite any change we remain entitled to pause and find deep within our earliest roots the wisdom we sometimes live our lives to seek.
Suddenly I realize it is not necessary to name any illness, to amass more medicine, more wear and tear, more exhaustion upon the shoulders of a man whose inner strength and drive knows no limit. My grandfather is for me, a beautiful and perfect example of strength and dedication. He encapsulates an innocence I can’t completely explain and a kindness and warmness I will cherish in my childhood memories as examples to follow. He reminds me that everything does in fact end. Que la guerra un día la tendrás que dejar de liderar. But in the meantime we must march on, waging the necessary wars to guarantee our survival and permanence. As my grandfather, my abuelito, as farmer father and fighter, is thus my earliest teacher on the lessons of life and resistance.