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Quien Sabe?
 by Frank Shortt
In a soot-stained, squalid gray-walled shack with cardboard windows, nestled beneath the Sierra Madre Occidental Mountains, I, Pancho Corto, first saw the light of day! Like all other native Mexican indigenous people, we ate beans and tortillas each day.

Did we think of poverty back then? No, because we were all in the same boat! We mostly wore the same type clothing, coarsely spun cotton garments, thinner for summer, thicker for winter. Piteado belts held our pants up. We all lived in houses made from whatever wood was handy, with boards hewed by hand. Cardboard smeared with grease or candlewax were used for windows as glass was a luxury reserved only for the Mayordomo who acted in the place of the governor of the state.
Juan Nave’, a deportee from Del Norte, brought us word of a city of gigantic proportions called Los Angeles. We had no schooling as this was not a possibility in our village, so we could only conjure up our own ideas of what Juan Nave’ related to us. When asked if we would someday go to Del Norte and this wonderful paradise called Los Angeles, our response would always be, “quien sabe?”

As I grew older into my teens, I yearned to go to Del Norte to see all the elegant places shown to us in words by Juan Nave’. I ached to see if money grew on trees and flowed like water in the United States of America. I wished to say goodbye to the beans and tortillas of Mexico. I wanted to say goodbye to the tarpaper shacks with the cardboard windows, the scorpions and tarantula spiders. The only thing holding me back was my love for my family, my aging mother and father, and my younger siblings who depended on me for a lot of things.

As things happen, when I was eighteen, with ten other seekers, I was stuffed into a smelly cattle truck in the top compartment built especially to satisfy a Coyote’s schemes. “This is my chance, I thought joyfully! Now I can see all the wonderful things that Juan Nave’ told us about. Now I can become rich by all the money that ‘flows like water’ and grows on trees in Del Norte!”

After crossing the border late at night we landed in the U.S. Was it El Centro, Los Angeles, or was it Salinas? When one is naïve and unlearned, his views are of a narrow guage. He cares not where he will stay! He cares not where he will sleep! The only thing foremost in his mind is the money that grows on trees. In fact, as I stepped out into the night air after being in the stuffy, smelly cattle truck, I saw a bill of money lying on the ground. I said, “Huh! I’ll pick you up tomorrow! I do not wish to work on my first day in Del Norte!” Another ragged, dirty refugee from the hills of Old Mexico picked it up and stuffed it greedily into his pocket! “vísceras codiciosas”, I chided! Such was my naivety when I was eighteen without any education at all.

The Coyote knew just where to drop us! Right at the end of cabbage harvest and the beginning of lettuce harvest. We had indeed been brought to Salinas, the lettuce capitol. After many days of harvesting, washing, weighing, and shipping lettuce, we were taken north to pick the cherries in a little place called Berryessa, near San Jose. The days of farming were very long, sometimes backbreaking, with little pay and much labor! We ate our beans and tortillas with gladness after each long, hot, and seemingly endless day! We had to be very vigilant watching for new cars or trucks that came suddenly into our work area. We were especially fearful of the low-flying aircraft that caused our skin to crawl and our necks to sweat profusely. Wooden fruit boxes stacked beside a drying shed, so as to leave a hollowed out place in the center, became our refuge at such times when we thought the Immigration officials were too close upon us. I still have hate for wooden fruit boxes!

Maria was always near my work station! Jeering, laughing at me, yet her fingers moved like lightening while sorting and cutting the ripe fruit to be dried in the drying shed. “Why won’t she let me be? I wondered! Why is she always taunting me?” After a while, as we became better acquainted, we would sneak away from the others at night, she of the high hopes, I, of the downcast nature. She with her tightly braided hair helped to take me away from the drudgery! She helped to take away my frown of disappointment, that money did not grow on trees in Del Norte, money did not flow like water. She was possessor of the coveted ‘Carte Verde’, “Ah, Pancho Corto, if we join together as one, she teased, we could walk unafraid! We would not have to hide at every cry of immigration!”

The years since have flown! My life has been both easy and hard! It was easy to love my family, but hard to feed and clothe them as Maria and I worked long hours and as I studied to become proficient in the English language. I was their guardian and champion as they had to face other children at school to be called wetback, pepper belly, chili popper, and other slurs as to their ethnicity. Would I flee from my early beginnings? Would I do it all over again, working like a slave rain-soaked and wallowing in mud, with no future, destined to be buried in a grave with no marker? When I see the young ones near me looking up at me with bright, shiny faces, I cannot tell them ‘quien sabe! I can only be thankful that I braved the wind and the cold, and the hot days of drudgery! I am thankful that I was able to receive the education that I had long coveted!

Although the future looks brighter, there are still many battles to fight, still some things to consider, like hatred, bigotry, greed, and wrongs to be righted! When fairness and justice shall triumph, when men can be brothers of earth, then the desert shall blossom as a rose. No one will need to say ‘quien sabe’, as we will all share the new way of life!