From Children of the Land, a memoir published this month by Harper. Hernandez Castillo was born in Mexico and immigrated to the United States when he was five years old.
The butcher went to the other side. His son, the one with the amputated leg, also went to the other side. They settled in Georgia. The middle school math teacher went to the other side—her cousin swore she could make forty dollars in a single day picking oranges if she was fast enough. No math required.
She wouldn’t be fast enough.
The priest went to the other side and left the believers to wander through the church, blessing everything they touched. The Virgen de Guadalupe and the Pale Christ abandoned the altar and went to serve food in a Denny’s on the other side. They went by Chuy and Lupe, and they took English classes at the library at night. The neighbors to our right went, but only half of the family; the other half sat anxiously every day, waiting for the mail to arrive. The mayor went to the other side to enroll his children in school.
Every Sunday the crowds that gathered at the plaza shrank by one or two. It was hardly even noticeable at first. The sheriff went to the other side and left his uniforms in the street to whoever would claim them. No one claimed them. The drunks who spent their mornings in the cantina went to the other side, as did their bartender, serving them drinks along the way, all lamenting the women who had left them. The young man who went to the national track-and-field championship tried to go to the other side but died in the crossing. His running was only good for circles.
The dogs went to the other side. The women waiting on the corner for their bus to the market went to the other side. The markets went to the other side.
The debts all went to the other side—the only things that death could not touch. All the paper in the town was taken to the other side, so people reverted to memorization. The stonemasons, their tools, the trees, the money, the nuns, have gone to the other side.
It seemed like there was hardly anything left except the mothers who sent their sons ahead of them.
Eventually, all that was left was a lamppost next to a fruit stand where Angelica, my uncle’s mistress, sold mangoes to anyone passing by. No one passed by anymore, but she still waved the parched mangoes in the air, yelling, “Dos por diez pesos.” She bit into a mango and spat the pulp onto the road. There were still roads, yes, but no signs, so she might as well have been anywhere. She picked her teeth with a fingernail, trying to pry loose the small fibers lodged in her gums.
The streetlight turned on, and the mangoes got sweeter and sweeter in their box.