By ALBERTO MORENO, El Hispanic News
Every year thousands die trying to cross to El Otro Lado, to the Other Side. Over 5,600 bodies have been recovered to date from the Sonora desert, El Desierto de Los Olvidados.
Fathers, brothers, sisters, sons and daughters whose last breath and final repose will have pointed North. Who even now wait to be discovered. Hope’s skin desiccating in the desert sun. Pero many will remain in death as in life, unknown and unseen. Instead their remains will end up in a cold metallic box where foreign hands will sift through their sacred bones searching for some overlooked indicator, for some remanant or artifact, to help in their identification. Una carta. Un pedazo de papel. Any document or sun bleached paper. Some sign of affiliation to be used in repatriation. Pero because US policy is to repatriate those they catch to their last known address, many of our brothers and sisters are reluctant to carry identifying documents in the event that they are caught. So they shed their god-given names to travel the invisible highway, guided only by hope as their north-star.
So that cold probing tweezers and latex gloves handling our father’s and mother’s lost bones will find little or no evidence of our tender passing. And we will remain sin nombre-unnamed with only the indignity of a roman numeral to carry us into the next life. With no one to claim or keep us. With only the desert, mute and intransigent to have heard our final prayer.
Wives, sons and daughters left to wonder if they were abandoned or replaced.
Pero, there is evidence of us. For those who know how to read signs. For those who know how to read the language of hope.
There is evidence of us, there is evidence of us, in our calloused Tarahumara feet. Evidence of our natal place in the round of our Maya faces. Evidence of our origin in the cradle of our sacral bones. Evidence of our labor in the thick of our stunted finger bones. Evidence in our milky, cataract-clouded eyes.
Quiero saber. Quiero saber. Que fue la ultima cosa. Que vieron esos ojos que ya se comio el Condor? Fue el cielo lleno de estrellas distantes y brillantes? Fue la espina seca de un nopal? Fue el cascabel de la vibora que los mordio? Fueron los colmillos, los colmillos del coyote? O fue la imagen de la virgencita ofreciendoles, ofreciendoes su reboso? Quiero saber, quiero saber a quien pediste, a quien pediste con tu ultimo suspiro?
There is evidence of our unseen passing. To be found resting among the lint of our emptied pockets:
Maize seeds(Ancestral seeds for planting in El Otro Lado)
Rosaries(Taken from our grandmother’s aging breast and placed as a prayer on our routstretched necks)
Countles pictures of the Virgin Mary(Virgen de Guadalupe en Espanol or Coatlaxopeuh en Nahuatl)
Crucifixes(Upon which a dark man of Middle Easter descent also lies uncomfortably in the posture of his final repose)
Pictures of children(theirs-not ours, not yours-nothing to see here. Return now to your regular programing on Fox News!)
Pesos(With pictures of Dead Mexican Presidents who NEVER did ‘nothing for us)
Dolares(With pictures of Dead Presidents who took our oil, our maize and anything of value, including our sons)
La Ultima bendicion(The last holy blessing usually given by our mothers or wives making the sign of the cross over us to encomendarnos to entrust us to God)
A medicine pouch filled with herbs (Que no nos curo, ni nos salvo)
Morning after pills( Which our women must carry in the event that an additional levy is exacted for their transport against their tender unaccustomed flesh.)
Pumpkin seeds to eat along the way
Holy water(which you cannot drink in the desert and will not sustain you)
And this is what remains of us. Only these articles of faith to speak for us.
But how do you curate grief and loss when the vultures have left nothing behind? The answer is to be found in our pockets which are filled with promises but cannot be numbered or counted. Not with certainty. Or the satchels filled with esperanza. Or Coyotes name committed, committed only to the decomposing grey of our memory.
How do you measure our ‘illegal’ dreams which will not fall out on the stainless steel examining table but will instead metastasize in our hardening post-mortem meztizo hearts. Nor the last words spoken to us by our children. You will not find evidence of the truest, truest things about us. You cannot understand it from privilege’s table.
Cannot taste it from your comfort, our children’s hunger amongst them. Cannnot hear the tenor and tremble of their voices trailing and breaking as you said your last good bye. When they still could not know that they would never see you again. And must now grow up without you. Their own dreams stunted or stillborn. How our mothers’ doubt and faith turns to a sour unrelenting grief. Como la noche.
Or how our children will be marked forever by absence and longing. And loss, unimaginable and deep. Nameless grief without end upon which you can not place a gravestone. Not upon the shifting changing sands of desert and time.
How the inheritance of loss will sentence our children’s children to wonder this place, this desert, placing water bottles for him or others, to find. Which will sit there in the cold of night or boil in the heat of a searing sun. How the others, how the others will wonder and wonder repeating “Agua!” “Agua” “Por Dios!” But will always be beyond reach. And our loved ones will never find this kindness, this prayer…
You must see, you must learn how water and compassion or its absence can be salvation or death, both. Or can become a prayer uttered in the desert of the forgotten, en el desierto de los olvidados…