the mango for dessert came peeled and on a silver fork. Then a walk around the market or a sidewalk photograph often in a sombrero and sitting on a plaster horse… But today I am by myself downtown, and with all of this bad news and no company, half afraid to cross the bridge by myself, even though I am curious about the border news and thinking that if I crossed the bridge perhaps this idea of free trade in the midst of a blockade might become clearer to me. It’s a little after 5 o’clock on a Friday afternoon when I decide to walk to the end of one of the downtown bridges to see if I can spot the Border Patrol line. As I get closer, the sidewalk becomes crowded and less than a block from the bridge I am part of a stream of people carrying grocery bags lumpy with stuff partly showing through the plastic. I fall into the somewhat slower ,cadence of a grandmotherly greyhair and we all step through the turnstile and onto the high walkway. Women holding small, sleeping children are sitting at intervals, holding out cups as we pass by. One woman has a small accordion beside her although she’s.not playing it. Accordion music nevertheless is in the air a jagged tune but still a discernible melody line comidg from a boy not much bigger than his instrument. I have a pocketful of quarters and I put one in every cup. For the mothers these who have come up with some method of making money and still taking care of their own children. I stop at the odd place in the middle of the bridge, which is neither here nor there, and look down through the chain mesh, into the fast brown current of the Rio Grande. A white El Paso police car slowly cruises the dirt maintenance road just underneath me, then disappears only to come back around a couple of minutes later, driving up to rendezvous with a Border Patrol van parked under a tree by the river’s north shore. The river levee road and a curved chain link fence lie between the vehicles and the concrete abutment confining the river to a permanent courseway. The white car pulls parallel to the van under the only tree on the dusty lot. Another couple of hundred yards up river under another tree sits another van that slowly pulls out as I watch. On the opposite bank is a small group of people who have gotten out of their own car several children, older women, four men standing like me up here above them, studying. 1 wonder if they only want to look or if, like me, are trying to decide if they should try to cross today. I can’t help but remember Maria Mendoza, who used to make the illegal crossing for me once a week, She stayed at my house in El Paso five days but crossed back to Juarez every weekend. She worked for me seven years and with the con tinual childcare she provided I was able to work a full-time job and attend college classes at night. 5 he crossed back every Sunday evening. She said that was the best time. She had a son a few years older than my first one, whose room she had begun to share. In Juarez, another woman took care of Maria’s son. I don’t know what she was paid but I do know that she and Maria had an arrangement almost as permanent as the one between Maria and me. On Sundays, I would circle the plaza about the time the sun was sinking and Maria would always be there for me, usually standing and talking with several others, and when she saw my car she would pull away and we would drive home. In the seven years we spent together, our relationship became more complex. I had another baby, my sister-in-law divorced and moved in with her baby and we began paying Maria something extra to look after him, too. Maria had friends who were also working in my neighborhood and none of them enjoyed making the dangerous illegal weekend crossing. Maria did it because of her son. But some of the other women had no such compelling need to go back and forth to Juarez regularly. So Maria asked if one of them could stay in her room just for the weekends and I said it was alright. Then another one came and stayed from time to time. And sometimes the crossing paranoia would get so strong that even Maria wouldn’t want to hazard it on a particular weekend, so at times there would be not one woman but three in Maria’s little room. But they were sweet and kind and in return for the little bit of space I gave them to gossip together a few hours and smoke cigarettes and trade Jehovah’s Witness tracts, I never had to worry about the details of my household maintenance, my children were given constant care and my meals featured perfectly spiced beans and hand-patted tortillas. I earned my college degree two months after the birth of my third baby and I should have put Maria’s name along with mine on ALAN POGUE the diploma. Instead, I had the opportunity to help her achieve her own dream. She had decided to take a vacation to Durango to see her parents and had brought her younger sister to take her place with me. But instead of being gone two weeks as she had planned, she was gone almost six months. When she came back she was pregnant. She burst into tears when I greeted her at the door not only because of the shame at the obvious bulge of her waistline, but the coincidence that I was showing that same figure, contoured by what looked to be an equal number of months’ occupancy. So she came back. Her sister stayed on and helped us two pregnant ones. And I helped Maria make an arrangement with a clinic in South El Paso. Within a few weeks of my own delivery she gave birth to another son born a U.S. citizen, So: Maria and her new baby, whom she was now afraid of carrying back to Juarez for fear of never *getting him back across, her sister, my sister-in-law and her son, my new baby girl and my two sons, myself and my husband. A lively house; still, 1 know that women of all geographies and ages have gone about raising children this way, by joining together to make home nurseries, and I believe that such cooperatives, except as they are ille galized through zoning and employment laws, will always provide an attractive alternative to daycare warehousing. THE TEXAS OBSERVER 9
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