XEROC 80, Juarez, Mexico
"XEROC 80, Juarez, Mexico," the woman identified the radio
station in Spanish twice per hour. I listened in my bedroom in the
fourteen foot wide trailer. I’d cried when I realized I was getting
the small room instead of the bigger one my brothers shared at the
end of the trailer, but of course I got the smaller room, there were
three of them and another one on the way. At least it would be my
own room and that incredible music came over the airwaves from
Mexico, strategically placed right across the border so the DJs
could break rules.
This was in Alamogordo. We finally had a home in one place and
were going to stay. For a while I became a pot head kid and drank a
lot. At the end of the ninth grade when I was fourteen and passed
out sick at school and cried from remorse and embarrassment, my
father told me I could drop out. The next year I made all As and Bs
and took Speech class which terrified me. For current events I
reported on sports. I talked football with David Sanchez and David
Before my family moved to Alamogordo, we’d been in Chama living
in an eight-foot wide trailer. The babies slept on the fold out
sofa. My brother and I had bunks in the room like a hallway and I
put posters all over the walls and the doors. We’d lived in that
trailer since I was four and it’d taken us all over New Mexico.
Chama was beautiful and I don’t know why I ever wanted to leave, but
my mother said, where would you like to live and I picked Alamogordo
where we’d been before and where I first attended Yucca Elementary.
Recently in Oakland, I was walking around the lake with my dog
when I ran into an immigrant march. I thought about turning around
but instead we just started marching along, my dog and I. He was
awed into his best behavior. There were so many people marching and
crying out so passionately.
I tried to understand the Spanish I had heard all my life and
studied some. People chanted, "Si, Se Puede!" like Cesar Chavez. So
many signs, "We are not criminals. We are hard workers." I was
dressed in old sweats. I noticed that everyone’s clothes were old.
There were many babies and young children crying out. A couple of
men scurried down by the lake and racketed back up with a grocery
basket. They put three children inside and pushed on, glad to be
resting their arms.
On the march, I asked a young man where we were going and I had
to keep asking. Finally he smiled and looked away politely. I
realized he didn’t understand what I was asking and all the Spanish
words I should know left me and I just kept marching on.
In Alamogordo, we lived 80 miles from the border. There was a
border check 20 miles away from my home, outside White Sands
National Monument with all those beautiful white sand dunes
stretching endlessly against that blue sky with those wispy clouds
toward the mountains. Drugs were everywhere and illegal because
that’s how everyone makes money, the dealers and the law
enforcement. Right out there too they detonated the first Atomic
bomb, because the beautiful desert was seen as desolate and
dispensable, like hungry people you ship back over the river, or let
die in hot truck trailers or jumping trains trying to find work to
feed their families. People whose ancestors were indigenous to the
land and could move freely until someone else moved in and drew an
imaginary border that says who can eat well and who cannot.
A white woman drove through the crowd screaming incoherently with
hatred so fierce it made her eyes bug out and her face turn red.
The boy who could not answer my question had a friend who spoke
for my dog, "Rrrff, rrrff, rrff—rrff!" Meaning "Si, Se Puede! Yes,
we can!" We marched beyond Broadway and I turned back. I wanted to
remain but the people were crowding thicker up ahead and my dog got
nervous and I was supposed to meet a friend somewhere else.
If you ever go to Alamogordo, visit El Camino Restaurant on White
Sands Boulevard and if you can handle it, have the Chile Relleno
plate and the best salsa you’ve had in your life. But don’t ask an
older white person, because so many in that small town are mistaken
that that restaurant has something to do with gangs, when it’s just
the oldest restaurant in Alamogordo and some of the people who work
there don’t speak good English even though they are Americans not
from Mexico, but from the United States, for generations.
After we left the march and made our way along the lake toward
home, a young black boy on a bike wanted to pet my dog. I told him I
wasn’t sure how that would go because my dog didn’t like bikes. He
reached out and Catfish growled and barked viciously so I walked
away calling, "He’d be all right if you weren’t on the bike."
Before Chama, we’d spent several months in Mississippi where the
children decided I was Mexican. I was blond though not so fair
skinned and I stopped bothering to argue. They hated me for being
Mexican and I tried to explain I was from Mississippi, I’d just
moved away. A teacher asked me to stand up and tell the class what
kind of food we ate down in Mexico, and I corrected her, "New
Mexico," but she didn’t notice the difference. So I said, tacos and
burritos and let her talk about the differences of food.
My dog and I continued on by the lake and met up again with the
boy who’d been on the bike. He’d raced ahead and got off and sat
waiting on a bench. I was a little nervous that maybe I lied and my
dog would growl and bite, but the hound just laid his chin on the
kid’s knee and offered up his floppy ears. I explained that where I
lived in Mississippi where I found my dog I enclosed my porch so he
could be outside when I was gone and some boys rode by on bicycles
and shot him with a BB gun. He said, "He’s okay now. I’m off the
bike." He asked, "You lived in Mississippi?" Often that surprises
people here in California, who sometimes, after an awkward silence,
have said things like, "I’ve never met anyone who lived in
I told the kid my dog’s name and we left with him waving and
calling, "Bye Catfish!" We passed an unsmiling man wearing a turban.
You could still hear the crowd in the distance.
In first grade at Yucca Elementary there was a boy named Jesus
and my mother teased me I had a crush on him. It was a sweet teasing
and he was a sweet boy and we stared at each other without ever
speaking. She’d done the same about a little black boy she found me
with in a store once. We were peeking at each other between a store
display and giggling and hiding. I’ve remembered his beautiful round
eyes and luscious lashes and how my mother teased me.
Someone else I remember is Molino who worked with my father. I
flagged traffic for my dad one summer up on the Mescalero Apache
Reservation and got sunburned until I was red over the deepest
brown. Some Apache kids kept driving by and asking me if I was hot
and tired and then they brought me a six pack. Molino saw me
standing there in the middle of the road with a six pack of
Budweiser and just shook his head and laughed. What else could I do
but take the beer to my dad? Molino sent money to his family in
Mexico. I think he slept in a car. I never got the story clear about
his situation but he was a gentleman among those construction
workers who were all polite to me. I could see he had class and he
was concerned about me, wondering what his kids were doing in
Mexico. He couldn’t speak English but all the white guys who worked
with him respected his work ethic and regard for others.
Right before I left the march, a group of low riders bounced on
behind, hanging out and bouncing their butts outside the car with
the music playing. They looked a little out of place, but those
woman carrying the babies and men holding the kids’ hands weren’t
worried. Those celebrating low riders weren’t bothering anybody. I
hadn’t seen anything quite like that since the low riders used to
drive by the high school in Alamogordo, bouncing and listening to ZZ
Top coming through on XEROC 80, Juarez Mexico.
Darlin' Neal's short fiction has appeared in The Southern
Review, Shenandoah, Night Train, Puerto del Sol, The Arkansas Review
and other magazines. Among her awards are a $5000 Literary Arts
Award from the Mississippi Arts Commission, A Frank Waters Fiction
Fellowship, and a Henfield Transatlantic Review Award. She has been
a finalist and semifinalist in numerous other contests including The
Great American Novel Contest sponsored by Meridian and Tupelo Press
and The William Faulkner Creative Writing Contest. The Arkansas
Review nominated her work for a 2005 Pushcart Prize. She now
lives in Oakland, California, with her Mississippi dog.