This piece was originally written in Náhuatl.
Over there, in “The Disenchantment,” it was said about the great city of Mexico-Tenochtitlan that, in addition to its beauty, one earns a lot of money there. It was said that there was more than enough work and since it was rarely hot, one could become a little fairer. No longer dark, no longer appearing so Indian. It also had big movie theaters. Some people even presumed to know Rigo Tovar1 and had shaken hands with El Santo, there in the Blanquita Theater2. We were very moved when we heard the conversations of our countrymen, who now wore disposable electric watches, used disposable clothing, and sometimes even disposable women. Knowing the city of great lights was very impressive to my wife and especially to me, I even started to dream of returning to my village with a car and a lot of money.
One afternoon we came to a decision. We would leave “The Disenchantment.” Since then, we have lived for fifteen years here in the big city. Two of our children were born here, one in the district called “The Future,” and the other in the neighborhood called “Fate.” The other three children were born in “The Disenchantment,” the city of our birth, where our parents, grandparents, my wife and I were all born. In the fifteen years that we have lived in this city, we have had to leave one place after another, as if there was no place for us. It was as if we arrived when every place was already taken. The laborers were run out of the factories, and we country people were exiled from our land. Neither they nor we could find a place of our own. They squeezed us and they piled us up to fill up the city, to live like ants, like crazed lizards in the middle of trash. Meanwhile, the city continues growing. There are houses and big buildings everywhere. Toward the north, a great avenue goes across the entire city, reaching almost as far as Queretaro and Pachuca. Another great boulevard, to the south, reaches as far as Quauhnahuac (Cuernavaca). The streets of the city are destroying hills, forests, cornfields and farms. With these they open new boulevards of death; mountains of grease, where the buses come and go, leaving a foul odor of death. Now it is the burned oil that caresses the children in the morning . . . the air stings, and agonizes.
The activity of the city pushes us from one place to another. We scarcely realized how we got there. We didn’t even know the name of the place where we are now. Round and round, through neighborhoods and districts, we arrived at Merced, Tacuba, Azcapotzalco, Naucalpan, Tlalnepantla, Cuautitlan, as far as Tultitlan. We country people lose our breath between the factories, the ovens, and industry. Miraculously, we are still alive. Nevertheless, in Tultitlan they started knocking down our dwellings. Giant factories arose on the cornfields; hell now lives on earth and relies on many homes in the city.
With pieces of cardboard, newspapers, piles of tin cans, laminates, and some glass, we built our first room. Night after night, I dreamt of the mountains. I clung with my fingernails to the country, remembering our community, the furrows, the mountains and the rivers. In the cities, we didn’t find what they told us they had. The belly and the pockets were empty. On some mornings, I thought I heard the birds singing, the donkeys braying, and the cows mooing. But what I really heard was the siren of a police car or a Red Cross ambulance, the infernal racket of a factory or the whistle of a train.
I don’t know how we came to live so far away. I have to travel to get to the middle of the garbage dump. The passengers on the bus sleep until the driver goes around shaking them. They don’t have enough strength to keep their eyes open. They fall shut, as heavy as lead. The stench of gasoline and exhaust fumes chokes us; it burns our eyes and our throats. They have become our inseparable pals. Our clothes and our skin smell of gasoline and oil. The streets are full of automobiles, gorgeous cars all covered with shit. They pass by close to me, splashing me with oil and gas, and I curse them furiously.
In the big city the kids go mad, like savage beasts. Every day, they nourish themselves by drinking rage and splashing anger. To stay safe, a person must go around with an angry face, biting his lips and causing fear. The kids dance like maniacs to hellish noises. They use aggressive masks with plastic blinders: dark glasses. They think the bronzing gaze of the sun is harmful. The painted faces fear its damage, the unguents melt. The young are made of plastic.
The city is chopping us up. My children have begun to hide their names, they want to change their surnames. They deny us. They change their clothes, their skin, their hair. They are afraid of being discovered. They want to disguise themselves to look like the others. One night, one of my children came home wearing dark glasses, cowboy boots, jacket and vest, red shirt and trousers. My children have begun to be in agony.
Days come and go and the battle of plastic against clay goes on, of the cheap synthetic cowboy clothes against the embroidered huipil (tunic or overblouse) and the petticoat made on the back strap loom, from the music of the scent of fried chile against the electric guitar, of the herbal cures against penicillin, of the gringo names against the Aztec names. Of the natural against the superficial . . . the false, of noise against sound, of the defeated gods against the modern gods, of the wave and the pier against the machine gun and the bomb. Life swings toward death. The troops of death grow stronger.
In my night dreams, my spirit flees, escapes from death and seeks life. My spirit struggles tirelessly to pull myself and my family back to “The Disenchantment.” It makes my body speak. My murmurs, my protests, are at times indecipherable. My voice is a mixture of Nahuatl and Castillian (at other times, it is neither one or the other), a mix of atole and Coca Cola, of mezcal with brandy. In my dreams, Náhuatl is moribund. My wife, my children and my spirit fight to save me. The city has us trapped in its claws, it wants to suck our blood and crush our bones.
All these struggles occur without respite, even when we are asleep, in the winter, in the summer, in January, in December, in Tlanepantla, in Nezahualcoyotl, in Tepito, in Perisur, in Los Pinos and in “The Disenchantment.”
When we could, we made every effort to return to “The Disenchantment” before it was too late. Now we are fleeing the great cemetery, the funereal city, the industrial hell. We must flee this steel labyrinth. In less than a hundred years nothing and nobody will be here, only rubble and mountains of sweat, patience and blood…piles of wasted human beings, crushed bones….
It was already dawn. We were anxious to get to “The Disenchantment.” The freshness of the morning caressed and purified our lungs, eyes and minds. The stars shine in the firmament; the moon smiles at us. I lift my eyes and I see the mountains lit by the first rays of the sun, in the middle, in the very depths, something stronger and more powerful than the mountain pines appears, something more potent than the factories and the automobiles; something more omnipotent than our San Martin de Porres3 or the Teponaxtli (mountain god). Near a little thatched hut, shiny and silvery in triumph, proudly rises the first television antenna. Later on, I see PEMEX trucks arriving, railroads, tractors, automobiles, tubes and tires. Startled, I turn my head and see the great avenue of the city of Mexico-Tenochtitlan that previously came only to Quauhnahuac4, now extends to “The Disenchantment.” The monster has grown, the great viper of the city now has a new residence; for the first time it has made a home in our community.
What will happen to my brothers? Where will we find refuge? Death reaches its hand to the last corner of our dwellings. It devours our future.
1. Popular singer, guitarist, and composer ↩
2. A huge theater on the edge of the Historic District of Mexico City known for it vaudeville shows, attended by families, often newcomers to the city. ↩
3. A Peruvian mulatto priest of the Dominican order, known as The Saint of the Broom, a symbol of his humility. Canonized in 1962. ↩
4. Cuernavaca ↩
Originally published in , Yancuic Nahuasasanili, Narrativa náhuatl contemporánea (Mexico: Editorial Diana, 1994). Translation © 2005 by Earl Shorris and Sylvia Sasson Shorris. All rights reserved.