Don’t make fun of my feet—they have walked all over the place including seven countries and climbed Enchanted Rock and Ole Baldy. It’s now too late for me to climb Machu Picchu. They have taken me to Church to ask for forgiveness, they walked me to bury loved ones, they have walked me to embrace loved ones and run to lovers, they have played on sandy beaches, they have never run a marathon but it’s never too late to walk one, they have jumped into puddles gleefully as a child, they have stood tall in difficulties, they have been tired, they have sometimes collapsed, they have arthritis, they have worn killer shoes, they have been massaged by my husband who does so willingly, they were kissed, I’m sure, as a baby.
copyright Elaine Carter
Although she was raised on Long Island, New York , Ellissa Brewster has been a Texan most of her adult life and has enjoyed the good Corpus Christi life since 2006. She has worked as an organic farmer, a Montessori teacher, a journalist, a writing tutor and an ESL tutor. Most of her writing experience has been based on personal interviews related to public relations. Her work has been published in Tierra Grande magazine, The Business Journal of Corpus Christi, and Inspire, Coastal Bend Magazine. Ellissa’s hobbies include bird watching, gardening, book club, registering voters, and writing about her family’s history.
When you are a kid, things just are the way they are. You don’t have the perspective to judge if things should be different, nor do you know at the time which experiences are so unique that you will remember them 60 years later.
I grew up in Corpus Christi as a second generation Mexican American. I realize now that my family did not have as much as some people did, but we were happy. I did not feel as if we were suffering—life was the way it was. Sometimes I overheard my parents worrying over the bills. Sometimes we had a car; sometimes we didn’t.
I was the oldest boy in a family of eight. I worked at my father’s shoe-repair shop after school and on Saturdays. I helped out: took out old stitches from shoes, removed heels, cleaned the machines, swept, got change, ran errands, things like that. I was six when I started. It was a job. It was expected.
But on some Saturdays, I got a break to go to the movies with my friend Jerry. I earned the money for the movies from shining shoes with my shoeshine box. On the side, I had painted my slogan, “Best Shine.” In the summers or on breaks from school, I carried my shoeshine box to the local Wee Mart convenience store. There I shined shoes for men who sat on bar stools drinking beer in the “bar” section of the store. I charged 15 cents a shine (5 cents more than most boys) and that money was mine to keep or spend.
From my father’s shop, Jerry and I walked to the less-expensive movie houses, such as the Grande or the Amusu, which showed second-run American movies in English, or the Melba, which had Mexican movies in Spanish. Admission was 15 cents at these theaters, and we usually had a nickel for candy or a drink.
When I was 12, I got a new job as a paperboy. Before school, my dad would drive me on the route. We rolled down the passenger-side window, and I balanced on the window ledge with my legs inside the car. I hurled rolled-up Caller newspapers into yards, alternating over the car roof and to the side. In the afternoons, I tossed the Times from my bike. The rolled-up newspapers had enough weight to toss easily, but the Saturday Evening Times was so thin that my brother and I had to fold them into triangles—then they would whirl through the air like flying saucers.
I gave the money I earned to my parents to help with the family’s expenses. A couple of times, when my parents could not make the $60 mortgage payment on our home, they used my paperboy money.
On my first day of training for the paper route, the neighborhood manager took me along with some experienced paperboys on a tour of the neighborhood. I was the only Hispanic in the group. The boys were saying, “The Mexicans [customers] are no good, they don’t pay.” However, my manager Bill Carter was kind. He told the kids not to judge people like that. Before that day, I had not thought much about Mexicans being different from other people in a negative way. It was more a puzzle than an insult to me.
One year, I got a Big Box of Games, which included checkers, steeplechase, Parchisi, Chinese checkers, and other card and board games. However, my big present came from a man named Joe Simon, who owned the Nueces Furniture Store on Chapparal St. Now this was big.
I got an invitation to attend dinner on Christmas Day at the Robert Driscoll Hotel. All the paperboys in town received invitations, and our managers encouraged us to attend. Joe Simon was footing the bill. Before noon, my father drove me and my brother, who was also a paperboy, to the Robert Driscoll Hotel. I will never forget the distinct aroma and the luxuriousness of this place. We walked into the plush lobby with its stuffed wine-colored chairs and thick embossed wine-colored carpet, and we were dazzled. The aroma of coffee and a turkey dinner greeted us. Christmas music was playing. A sign told us where to go, “Paperboys: Terrace Room.”
The entrance to the Terrace Room was to the right of the lobby. The room was huge with a stage and many tables covered with linen tablecloths and the biggest, most splendid Christmas tree I had ever seen. There must have been 300 excited paperboys in that room. The room filled with boys’ voices and the sounds of those on the stage. My brother and I sat where we felt most comfortable, with the other Hispanic boys. We had a good view of the stage from our table.
I could not believe it. I had heard of the Galvans, renowned local musicians, and Bobby Galvan had even visited our school. However, I did not expect to see Ralph Galvan, the most famous Galvan Brother, playing songs like “White Christmas,” and other Christmas favorites to a group of paperboys on Christmas Day. Waiters brought us plates of food—a complete turkey dinner.
When we were finished eating, Joe Simon gave a speech. He told us about how when he was six years old, he had sold newspapers on a downtown corner in St. Joseph, Missouri. He had to be tough to defend his corner from other newsies and to bear the cold on snowy days. Like me, he knew what it was to take on responsibility as a boy. He said he made a vow in 1906 when he attended a traditional Christmas dinner that a local restaurateur sponsored for newsboys. “If I ever have a chance, I’m going to give such a party for kids,” he promised.
He kept his promise after he started his furniture store in Corpus Christi in 1925. That year and every year after, for more than 30 years, he hosted a party and celebrated Christmas Day with Corpus Christi newsboys. After his speech, Joe Simon went around to the tables and shook all of our hands. He was a big, bald man with a persistent, genuine smile.
We got presents from the publishers of the Caller and Times newspapers. I do not remember the presents except for one: The United Artists Book of Happiness. I had heard of it because it had been advertised on the KEYS radio program. It was a slender coupon book with balloons and stars on the cover. Inside were ten $1 coupons.
This special book allowed you to go to movie theaters owned by United Artists. My brother and I had never been to such expensive theaters (where admission was 65 cents). For us to be able to go to the Ritz or the Centre was something special.
Right after the party at the Driscoll, my brother and I walked through the pedestrian tunnel that led from the bluff to downtown and immediately redeemed some of those coupons. We saw Rio Bravo, a western with John Wayne, Ricky Nelson and Dean Martin. We used some of the coupons to make pigs of ourselves at the snack bar, wasting coupons on too much popcorn and orange soda.
After the show, my brother and I waited by the newsstand on the corner feeling nauseated from all the snacks. My father drove up in his clunker of a car, we got in. My most memorable Christmas was over.
Elizabeth N. Flores taught government/political science for 43 years at Del Mar College. More about Elizabeth Flores at the end of this section.
My brother was an altar boy for three years.
Until he wanted more time for baseball.
He was good at his altar duties.
He received a certificate for
“Outstanding Altar Boy” two years in a row.
I watched him at Mass and he didn’t fidget
or laugh or look bored during the priest’s
sermon. Or ring the bell too loudly.
He definitely deserved that award.
Grandma hoped my brother would become a priest.
She was of a generation that believed a priest in the
family brought a wide circle of blessings to all.
She prayed even harder when our family left the
safe and familiar environs of the Mexican American Westside
of Corpus Christi for that “noisy” Southside, as she called it.
But it was not to be. Maybe my brother would be a
deacon then, she told Mom.
One Saturday morning my brother told me he had a surprise
in his bedroom closet he wanted to show me. And that
I had to promise not to tell anyone about it. This both
scared and pleased me.
To have to promise to keep a secret—what if I wanted
to tell Mom and Dad? But I was honored that he would
share a secret with me. He was 14 and I was 10. He
must think I’m old enough to handle secrets.
We waited until Mom and Dad left to go to H-E-B. We had
reached an age when going to the grocery store was boring,
and we could persuade our parents we wouldn’t burn down
the house, or let strangers in, or injure ourselves in their absence.
Then my brother led me to his closet. He told me to
close my eyes and stretch out both hands. I did what
I was told.
I accepted what he placed in my hands and then opened
my eyes. I was holding two Holy Communion hosts.
The Holy Eucharist!
I wanted to drop the hosts, but I didn’t
dare. I kept my arms outstretched.
“Souvenirs,” my brother said with a proud smile.
“Are we going to play Mass?” I asked my brother.
“Sure, we can do that,” he said. “But first, I’ve got
to get some batting practice in before the game tonight.
Wanna help me?”
“Sure, I can do that,” I replied, as I placed the hosts
in my pocket, and followed my brother to the backyard
I wish I knew the boy's name.
He paid tribute to my dad,
a man I'm sure he didn't know,
as we left St. Joseph’s Church on
19th Street and headed to Holy Cross Cemetery.
The boy looked about ten.
He was sitting on the porch of a
house that also served as a
beauty shop for this
and former neighbors
who now lived far and wide
on Corpus Christi’s Southside.
He was playing checkers
with an old man, probably his grandpa.
The boy looked up from the checkerboard
as our funeral procession passed, removed
his baseball cap, and ever so slightly
bowed his head.
I think back to the rituals at the church and the
cemetery that helped us pay tribute to a man
whose life was full and heart so big.
The little boy who effortlessly lay his head bare with
a willful nod brought the most comfort to my sad heart.
In my mind he joined the procession, and his presence
gave me the resolve to keep going, follow the road,
stay on 19th Street until we reached
that place where we lay the man down
to enjoy his final peaceful rest.
Elizabeth N. Flores taught government/political science for 43 years at Del Mar College and was the college’s first Mexican American Studies Program Coordinator. Flores earned an MA in Political Science at the University of Michigan and a BA in Political Science at St. Mary’s University. She was awarded the LULAC Council 1 Educator of the Year Award (2014) and the Del Mar College Dr. Aileen Creighton Award for Teaching Excellence (2013). Flores retired from teaching in 2022. Writing poetry about family, memory and culture is her current area of interest.
Emma Helene Guerra grew up in the Rio Grande Valley. She works daily on her writing to promote the representation for women, the Hispanic community, and the LGBTQ+ community. More about Emma Helen Guerra at the end of this section.
I can feel my teeth rotting inside my mouth.
Brown-grey cavities jutting out in mangled bone
piercing my gums.
My tongue licking up the bitter taste of blood mixed
with saliva, my spit turning a burnt orange against the
porcelain sinkstained with mold and hair dye in shades
of black and blue.
A bruise on the delicate skin of emotional stability.
I remember how jealous I was of my younger
brother who left each dentist appointment with a
clean record, not racking up hefty bills for
pulled teeth and silver molars. His brush
remaining dry. Nightmares consumed my mind
of each delicate tooth falling from its spot,
my tiny pink hands unable to hold it all.
Every word equaled another sacrifice
as I pay close attention to not swallow one,
it would cut up my insides and I would simply
die. Soon enough, the pile would overflow
into the black void of no return
from the thoughts I could not control, and the
harm being inflicted upon myself. All by myself,
but I did not want to die. Letting go was not an
option like the strangers online told me it was.
Despite the warning sign, physical and verbal,
my issues often went ignored and forgotten.
Brushed under the tethered rug of academic
achievement. Perfection was the unsaid bar I had
expected myself to reach, a bar that a child’s
hands cannot touch. My brother did not feel the
need to reach that same height. I wonder if my
parents just heard his screams better
since they did not sound like mine.
I remember how jealous I was of my younger brother.
The house I lived in was different than the other houses across
two main streets in my small town.
One story, I watched its development from foundation to completion
in the memories of my five-year-old mind.
in the backyard my brother and I grew up in.
turning to mud while water sloshed out of a faded green hose.
It stuck everywhere just below the knees,
a cool relief to the sweltering days of early spring.
The garden itself never producing more than tomatoes and jalapenos,
the right ingredients for pico de gallo.
The front yard
lingers with Christmas lights hanging fresh on a Bird of Paradise tree
beginning to wake up after a bitter cold snap
36-95 degrees in a matter of hours.
The house across the main road on the right
established with a dripping AC clinging out the side of a window.
Maps labeling this area as a
I see it as history.
Two cars in the driveway,
one on the street.
Three generations of a family sharing a single bathroom.
Traditional charm in a different sense.
Chipped teal blue covers the wooden shingles
still as vibrant as the first coat in the 80’s.
Young children play soccer with one another behind a rusted chain-link fence,
dust devils emerging from their steps.
Grandmother’s watchful eye keeping them safe
from themselves and other.
The light on the porch always on, humming a soft yellow hue
only broken up by the tapping of a moth hitting its bulb.
The house across the main road on the left
brings a wave of new development as my small town becomes a city.
Polished stone exterior covering both stories,
a miniature mansion in the making.
Concrete being poured over the soil fertile enough
to hold the livelihood of an orange orchard.
16 years of that memory gone within a week.
Before the houses
Came towering concrete fences in an earthy pink paint,
keeping the secret of development inside for only those who can afford it.
The children in surrounding neighborhoods now excited
for this upcoming Halloween in hopes of the “good candy”.
They see it as a positive for now.
Layers of fluorescent green grass clutters each yard.
Beauty, and sophistication.
A lawyer, businessman, major could live here.
the Elote man doesn’t even drive by them.
But such is growth.
The house I lived in was different than the other houses across
two main streets in my small town.
The memories, though, stay the same.
all we seem to know
is how to count coins in the dark.
blind to where they come from,
blind to where they’re going.
we support those who speak the loudest,
it doesn’t matter the message that echoes,
the vibrations guide us none the less.
a dollar in penny’s clothing,
we think them as one of us.
although, our voices never did matter,
just the sound of pockets flowing into another.
big sounds, big words, empty promises,
like birds trapped on their telephone wires in search of spring,
we move one way in hopes of prosperity, growth.
when you turn on the lights,
we never moved at all.
and those pennies, nickels, and dimes?
I searched for another's love
but i couldn’t love myself. i
wanted a man to hoist me, all 200 pounds, away, i
wanted a woman with the touch of a goddess to heal me.
touch reverts to sweet hunger pains, causing my body to ache
for that physical sensation of another’s presence. something
my hands could not
where has she gone? that
woman who opened her heart so freely. i’ve
left her back in that year. she grew too heavy with
the weight of the night to bring her with me. i
simply do not have the strength.
my true companion. notes hitting a minor key.
Emma Helene Guerra is a current student at Texas A&M University – Corpus
Christi studying English with a minor in Women and Gender Studies. She grew up in Edinburg, TX within the Rio Grande Valley. Growing up within the RGV gave her a unique aspect on culture, traditions, and her Mexican-German heritage. Guerra was able to release her first book of poetry in July of 2019 titled “a singular experience: the love, pain, and life of a young adult” which detailed her experiences with newfound freedom after moving away from home and the rocky transition into becoming an adult.
She works daily on her writing to promote the representation for women, the Hispanic community, and the LGBTQ+ community.
Esther Bonilla Read writes on a variety of subjects: her family; school; and of various incidents that have occurred in her life. She has two books: From the Porch Steps and After the Blessing. More at the end of this section.
Mother and Daddy came from Mexico, and after they met and married, followed the Mexican protocol in raising their families. My father was the head of the family and made all decisions relating to home and family, and Mother seemed quite happy with the arrangement. In fact, in school when a teacher said, “I’ll speak to your mother about it.” I always wondered why she didn’t say, “I’ll speak to your father about it.”
In addition to the obvious cultural differences Mother and Daddy practiced, there were other differences they must have noticed, such as the lack of ingredients necessary to make Mexican food. There were no avocados at the stores, no large peppers, no corn tortillas, and no masa needed to make corn tortillas or tamales. In Calvert, our hometown located in central Texas, no remnants of the culture they left behind were to be found.
I had noticed an odd thing on our back porch for some time that someone had given us or abandoned on our back porch. It was a rectangular stone that sat slanted toward the two short legs in front. A taller leg in the back completed it. A separate oblong-shaped stone lay on top it, all made of speckled stone. Lava stone, someone explained to me.
Mother said it was a metate (may-tah-tay) an antique used in Mexico and other countries in central and South America to grind corn, a staple eaten in all of the Americas. A “mano” was another part of the process used to grind corn. It was the oblong object you pushed to do the job. You would mash the corn, and a receptacle sat near the two legs to catch the ground-up corn. The metate was never used by anyone. It sat all alone on the back porch year after year, suffering the anger of the wind, rain, and snow. The fig tree lost leaves and found themselves nestled in the metate, that is until the rain came and bathed it and waited for the sun to dry it out.
My father, who operated a service station seven days a week, knew everyone in town. In addition, his place of business was a sort of way station. People would stop and sell him fish, eggs, vegetables, apples, oranges, or whatever they had to sell. If he found a good deal, he brought it to our home, which was full of boisterous children.
Mamá Grande or Grandmother, who lived in a small town in south Texas, came to visit us in Calvert about once a year in the summer. She had deep wrinkles on her face and wore dresses down to her ankles, and she put up with nothing from us. She sewed beautifully and made the girls nice dresses. Mother was delighted to have her mother visiting us. We had to admit having her around was a very good thing.
Daddy walked in one day with a grocery bag full of fresh corn, exclaiming, “Look what I’ve got!” Mother was happy, and we thought we would eat corn on the cob with butter I churned made from the cream from our cow. It was all a happy scene.
At that very moment, I think the cosmos conspired by bringing together my grandmother, the corn, and the metate. How else could the following have occurred?
Grandmother put her hands on her hips and, looking at my father, said, “Ruben, I can make tortillas de maíz (corn tortillas) with that corn, and I’ll use the metate.
The next morning Grandmother arose and, wearing an apron over her long dress, prepared everything she would need to convert the corn to masa. She had prepared the kernels and then washed and cleaned the metate and the mano. All in all, she was ready for the task. I stood to the side, ready to run any errand she might need.
She set up the metate on the porch and placed a shallow bowl at the front of the metate. Meanwhile, she kept a large bowl with the prepared corn near her. She placed a folded towel on the porch, sat on her knees, and began the grinding process. Pressing down and pushing. Pressing and pushing. After a while, she had an ample supply of ground-up corn or corn masa (dough).
She brought in the masa and placed a griddle on the stove to heat. She made balls out of the corn dough and then moved the individual balls from hand to hand in a slapping motion until she had a fat corn tortilla, something we had never seen in central Texas. She placed one on the hot greased griddle and, after a few seconds, flipped it over with a spatula. She continued until she had a nice stack of hot, homemade, thick tortillas de maíz on a plate. The smell of the toasted tortillas caused my mouth to water.
Meanwhile, Mother prepared lunch and placed the homemade salsa in the molcajete (like a mortar and a pestle) in the middle of the table beside the vermicelli and ground beef bowl. Daddy came in, took a whiff of the aroma, and smiled. All of us sat at the table and enjoyed a most unusual meal. Daddy said to her mother-in-law, “Mamá, these tortillas are wonderful!” And looking toward my mother, added, “I hope María will make these when you leave.”
My mother, all four feet-eleven-inches tall, stood up and exclaimed, “I shall never do that!” We turned to look at Daddy, who laughed it off, perhaps just to save face. And that is how we learned that Mother could stand up for herself. And Mother never did get down on her knees to grind corn. She only got on her knees to pray when we went to church.
It was right before Christmas, and we fifth graders in Mrs. Pietsch’s classroom were an excited group of chattering students. WWII was over. It was now peace time, and it was a time to be happy.
Most students in our school didn’t have an abundance of material things, but we didn’t know that. And the students who had the least were the children of itinerant or sharecropping farm workers. Some came to school barefooted. Others wore the same clothes over and over. No matter how much starch the mother used before she ironed the girls’ dresses, they were the same ones worn week after week.
Suddenly midst the chatter we heard our teacher Mrs. Pietsch raise her voice. She told us to be quiet as she had an announcement. She asked, “Who took a five dollar bill out of my purse?”
Everyone was quiet. We looked at one another with questioning faces. Only the voice of two students walking down the hallway could be heard. Some students in our class whispered to one another. Two or three chairs scraped the floor. Then one boy laughingly said, “Ben took it.” I knew my brother Ben didn’t take anything from anyone. He never would.
Mrs. Pietsch recognized it as a joke. Nonetheless, she responded, “He didn’t take anything. His father used to work with my husband, and he is an honest man.” That put that suggestion/joke to rest.
Again quietness. Mrs. Pietsch continued with her Civics lesson. Still, I couldn’t get it out of my mind. A five dollar bill; I had never even held one in my life, and I think very few students, if any, in my class had experienced that either.
Mrs. Pietsch didn’t mention it again. Eventually, a friend told me which classmate had taken it. She left school during our lunch hour and walked to town with the money to buy her little siblings toys at Kress, our local Five and Ten Cent Store. It seems because it was winter the farmers had little work for their sharecroppers and money was hard to come by. The girl hated the thought that the little ones in her family would wake up and have nothing on Christmas Day. Thus, she had taken the money so the little ones would have toys. She wasn’t thinking of herself, but of them.
Although I wondered how the problem would be settled, we followed the teacher’s lead and never mentioned the loss. Through that incident I learned much from Mrs. Pietsch. You can be strict but compassionate. There comes a time when diplomacy and gracefulness are to be used, and this was one of those times.
It could be that the student might have brought the teacher a dollar a month or something like that to pay her back. However the issue was resolved, we continued at school as though nothing had happened. But I can’t help but think back to Mrs. Pietsch.
Yes, Mrs. Pietsch taught us a great deal, and the lessons did not always come out of textbooks.
My mother was a product of the Great Depression. People of her era know exactly what I mean. For those of you who are younger, allow me to elaborate.
Mother knew what it was not to have one cent in the home. She knew what it was to have a husband come into the home and say, “I lost my job, and so did everyone else at the business.”
Not only did Mother know what it was like not to have any money, but she also experienced having hungry children waiting to be fed and not understanding why a bowl of oatmeal was not forthcoming. She had neighbors who were also hungry.
But, she told me, she had friends (comadres) who lived out in the country and came into town in wagons from time to time and brought her vegetables and some meat from a recently slaughtered pig. My mother and father even moved out to a farm for a while during the Depression to try to make a living out there, but Daddy, a former city boy, couldn’t tolerate it.
And in a few years the Depression lifted like a dark cloud that mysteriously disappears.
Daddy was called back to work and life became normal for the small family. Then the war came and again, items were scarce, but at least everyone seemed to be employed.
But my mother never forgot her experiences. She saved all things every opportunity she had. And she was resourceful. She made her own lye soap. She saved feathers when a chicken was slaughtered and made pillows. We were taught to mend clothes. Everything was used and then recycled before we knew what the word meant...
Several years ago a nice woman wrote something like the following in the newspaper: Why do women argue for Equal Rights? Men place them on pedestals and there is no need to fight for equality.
Well, Folks, I have searched high and low for that pedestal, and I have never located it. Like the elusive "Fountain of Youth" for which Ponce De Leon searched and didn't find, so it is with me and the pedestal.
I am through looking.
copyright Esther Read
Esther Bonilla Read was born and raised in Calvert, Texas, a small town in Central Texas. She graduated from Baylor University and began teaching school in Corpus Christi, Texas. This became home for her and her husband Nolan K. Read and their four children. She writes on a variety of subjects: her family; school; and of various incidents that have occurred in her life. She has been published by various newspapers; Chicken Soup for the Latino Soul and several anthologies and magazines. Her Book From the Porch Steps is available on Amazon
F.E.I. prefers to write in an open room as if the stories emerging from the
process demand physical space. More about F.E.I. at the end of this section.
It reaches over
Hands me a golden apple
would soon wipe its
Sins and return it full blooded.
My car radio speeds
Amidst the brief
Toward the hero’s clamor:
This is for progeny.
The sea charges her crescent bay
The wind hollows the emerald mine
As I tear every breath clean from shore
Burning heart swims in deficit
Flying past the ambitious brow
History roped me in reverse
Knotted on familiar posts that
Assuage my ancestors and my birth
As swiftly as the opium loaded cannon
To the black ship gliding beckoning
The dignitaries, where carriages
Scattered the sparrows in tandem
The years towed the open current
Slicing through with breathing swords
Raised a thin line of pelican
To an increasingly diminished return
F.E.I. prefers to write in an open room as if the stories emerging from the
process demands physical space. Of all the places she has lived,
literature and philosophy remained her constant spring. After moving to
Corpus Christi, she found that it has more space than she had hoped. Her
educational background is in finance.
Frank Rodriguez is from Mathis, Texas. He is a full-time college stodent
That smile, that dang demented smile. It looms over the crevices of my soul. Shrouding the depths of my vision, blinding my reasons of existence. Why does nobody see it, what if I am going mad, mad as the devil. Am I yielding my tools of survival, and surviving off the sanity of my nemeses?
I know my thoughts and expressions appear disorderly, and that’s because they are. I cannot find an acceptable way to disclose what my eyes witness, my ears attend, or what my head assumes. There is nothing rational about it. I have not laid out entirely what I have endured and that is mainly due to recognition. I am scared of what I might face. An outcast, that is exactly what I am. There is no other way to label my existence, for it is unnatural and forbidden. I have kept these emotions and images to myself. If the world knew the reality of my unpleasant intellect, my world would simply perish. That’s it, my friends, my wife, and my children would disown the very depths of my existence.
I arose in the night, shivering in sweat, drenched in the memories created by fear of that smile. Closer, and closer, and closer. Footsteps approached. I closed my eye, my heart thudding, the steps closer and closer the. The question that looms over me is if I have in fact gone crazy or is my mind indeed playing tricks on me? What am I to do? If it comes out that I'm seeing this, it’ll be my end. What has become of me and why of me, and not anybody else.
Do the neighbors see the teeth? Perhaps I should ask, for me to know I am not going mad. What will they think? What if they think I am crazy? They must believe me. They have been my neighbors for years. They are like friends to me. They are my closest confidants. I do indeed trust them with my life, our kids' friends raised together. They must believe me.
Why do they not believe me? I am not going crazy. They have not talked to me since that day I told them. What if they told someone? No, they would not. They're my friends. They would not dare tell anyone. For they mustn't tell anyone; if my family finds out who knows what they
would do to me. If my wife was here, she would believe me. I do miss her dearly.
My kids found out, my friends have betrayed me, they betrayed the trust I had in my closest friends. I’m not going crazy. Why does anyone not believe me? Have I gone mad? What is happening to me? Why must my mind play tricks on me? My kids say I need help but they don’t understand no one does. I am alone.
The rambling of my mind reflects my loss. It is something I cannot contemplate. My family put me into this hospital, they said help is something I need but I know now that I am truly alone. As I talk to the therapist, I am forcefully told to talk too I see these big men coming towards me as I beg for my kids help I realize I am going away as the therapist suggested this to them.
Am I scared to face the fact that I need help? And if so, what am I doing to myself? As I talk to the counselor at the hospital, he asks me what I see, I cannot explain the horrors of the smile, because I do not know or understand. No matter how hard I try to admit I do indeed have to get help but to admit to this is hard for me.
I awaken to another day in the hospital cold and alone, isolated from everyone else. I ask the Doctor “When can I go home?”. And he tells me, “It is entirely up to me and my progress which at this rate won’t be soon”. Have I finally gone mad?.
Fredrick Gonzales has called Corpus Christi, Texas home for over 20 years. After earning his Masters in Secondary Education he began his career as a teacher. More about Frederick Gonzales at the end of this section.
The day we left was the saddest day of my life. We lived in a small village outside of Chihuahua. My three older brothers, my aunts and uncles, and even my cousins were there, but only Marisela and Rosita and I would cross. My brothers couldn’t go because my father needed their help in the fields. I could speak English good enough to get by, and this was important because you could never trust gabachos. The coyotes would only take us so far, and then they usually handed you over to another gabacho who would then take us the rest of the way. My mother said to stick close to Marisela, who had crossed before but gotten caught and sent back.
I had learned a little English from Miss Galindez. She told us that she graduated from the university in Mexico City. My mom called her 'la angelita de las montanas" because she was so pretty and because her face would always light up around kids. My mother and Miss Galindez both said I was the best hope our family had of someone actually doing something special. My father would not look at me. When he’d paid the coyote his life's savings, I could tell he was dying inside, his body was hard and thick and his hands rough and cracked like the dry creek beds in around the village was indifferent. At least he would have one less mouth to feed.
We had all heard stories about the lawlessness around the border. Some girls were never heard from again. They say that they were either raped or killed around the cities of Nogales and Juarez. My stomach felt queasy and I felt like I might throw up, kind of like when I see that boy Ramon.
My grandmother gave me her rosary, a beautiful black heavy cross with a silver image of Jesus Christo on it. I put it around my neck.
Just to be safe I asked my brother Miguel if I could have his knife. At first, he said no, he had made it himself and it was his keepsake. He thought the better of it and gave it to me with my mom's raised eyebrow and blessing. It had a beautiful handle made from a deer horn onto which he had carved a panther and an eagle. It was beautiful, but deadly and he sharpened it every night. I could hear him sharpening it as I lay on the floor of our home. The sound of the rock used to sharpen his blade sounded like the claws of a demon. An imagination like that was usually how our bedtime stories would get started, but my mom's rendition of La LLorona (Wailing woman) was the scariest. She had just drowned her kids, and I was scared she would come after me.
I climbed into the bed of an old pickup truck, along with myself, Rosita, and her sister Marisela. I had just turned seventeen and Rosita was my age, Marisela was about twenty-five which seemed old. I had never really spoken to her, but me and Rosita always talked at school about going to America, and about boys, especially Ramon. The day turned into night and as we all lay curled up in the bed of the pickup, I heard the hoot of a lechuza and poked my head out of my blanket. It had the head of a woman, and she was crying, this was a bad omen. I reached for my brother's knife and wrapped my other hand firmly around mi Jesus Christo. It was so dark, and we all at one time or another, fell on each other. I could see every star ever made, and it was so clear that you could see where the angels lived—if you tried really hard. But the lechuza kept coming back into my mind, and I knew it was only a matter of time until this trip ended badly.
The next day was spent travelling. As it was getting dark, I could tell we were getting closer because the chatter in the cab had increased. I could make out words in English like “property” and “drugs” along with "El Malito,” the sickly one, and "bitches," which I had never heard. We went off road for what seemed like miles and miles. It was really dark when we stopped. Somewhere off in the distance I saw the glow of what must have been the border towns of Juarez and El Paso. Mari told us to be ready for anything, so I stayed alert for any key words the gabachos used. I asked Mari who "El Malito" was, and she turned as white as the lechuza I had seen. They told all of us to get out of the truck, and I held on to Rosita's hand. Another truck drove up with its headlights turned off, and all we could see were shadows. I could make out the exchange of what appeared to be money and large packages being transferred from one truck to the next. The gabacho who had been driving walked up with a smile on his face, his face skinny and weathered with a scar on his left side that ran along his jaw. "Mr. Mah lee toh is going to be very happy with you all," he called over to the other guy in a squeaky voice. "Jonesy come on over here let’s get some free samples before we go dump these bitches off."
“Garner you know ‘El Malito’ don't like that shit and he'll kill me, and you, if his precious cargo got messed up.”
“Aw, a little fun ain't going to hurt none.”
Jonesy insisted that they had their dope and money, and that we were there to be delivered, no questions asked.
“Hey, you know these bitches are a dime a dozen, we can replace 'em in no time.”
“Hey, it's your funeral,” Jonesy answered.
Garner rested the barrel of his rifle on his shoulder, Mari gave me a look. Rosita whimpered. I pulled her behind me with my left hand and grabbed my brother's knife with my right. Garner grabbed Mari from the back of her hair and wrapped his forearm around her throat. He tossed his rifle towards Jonesy who wasn't expecting it, and he juggled his rifle and Garner's, and both rifles fell to the ground, one went off and shot the bed of the truck, which must have scared Garner really good because he let go of Mari, and started toward Jonesy, calling him a “dumb son of a bitch!”
Using Mari as cover, I gutted Garner right across the stomach, just like my brother Miguel had taught me to gut a deer. His insides poured out and he fell to his knees. Mari ran towards Jonesy and started clawing at his eyes. Both me and Rosita ran for the rifles. I had never used a rifle before and neither had Rosita, but Mari had experience, so we gave her one of them. Just like a wrestling “Lucha Libre” team on the T.V. we switched, and me and Rosita proceeded to claw away at Jonesy as Mari aimed the rifle and yelled for us to move, We did, and she shot Jonesy right in the crotch, and all the while Garner was trying to stuff his insides back in his gut. Mari turned around and shot him in the same area as Jonesy. We dumped all the drugs and grabbed some of the money. Mari was the only one that knew how to drive, so we all hopped in the cab, screaming and crying, and somehow laughing at the same time.
"Vamos,” I yelled even though I had no idea where to go.
We crossed that night into El Paso, where Mari met up with some contacts. Later we were given food and water and a hot bath. I had never slept on a real American bed before. The lady who took us in was Maggie Galindez the sister of Miss Galindez. She helped get us into El Paso, and gave us direction as to how to start a new life in America. That summer with help from Maggie, I got a job at a local grocery store. My only hope is that my children and someday grandchildren will be real American citizens. They say there's no place like America. My name is Maria Helena Hernandez and I've made it.
I couldn’t believe how many people came to see us go. The streets were all lined up with American flags. I climbed onto the bus and got a window seat. I could see all of my family. My mom and my brother, my little sister, even my grandmother was there waving her little American flag. My dad was the only one that didn't show up, he was against me joining from the beginning, that it was a man's job and a girl should be at home. Well Grandma Helena, as I called her said, “that a woman is much stronger than a man in many ways,” and I blamed her, for me joining the “Guard.” She was always telling me stories about how she was the fastest girl, and how she used to embarrass her brothers.
Yeah, it was the National Guard, but not one person in the unit ever thought that we would ever get deployed—especially to Iraq. There weren’t that many women in our unit considering it's a combat support unit. I worked in communications, but I also carried a S.A.W. (squad assault weapon). It's a light machine gun and I loved it; I could have it field stripped and reassembled faster than some of the guys.
Three weeks later, I was in Kuwait at a staging area for the 36th Infantry Division, getting ready to cross the border into Iraq. Me and Smitty, her real name was Angela Smith, joined straight out of high school, we went through basic training together. She was my driver, I was the gunner, and Sergeant Sanchez was our truck commander. Sgt. Sanchez was deployed during Desert Storm so we called her the old lady, but not to her face. Me and Smitty were just privates, fresh recruits. But we sure didn't lack motivation. Inside the truck, I stood between Smitty and Sgt. Sanchez; I had to stoop down just to talk to them, since my head stuck out of the cab of the truck we were in. We were mainly carrying communications equipment and some supplies. In front of us were Dominguez and Martinez, the fuel tankers, right behind us are the medics, Hernandez and Johnson, with the recovery vehicle and the last gun truck covering our rear. I wouldn't admit it to Smitty, but that was the most scared I'd ever felt in my life.
I looked around at the convoy and I saw the welded pieces of metal strategically placed to deflect the blasts from IEDs and RPGs. We'd already learned that they were using roadside bombs to target convoys. Someone said some contractors had been caught and killed in Baghdad, then hung from a bridge. The command to move out came over the radio, Sgt. Sanchez yelled to Smitty, "Let's Roll!", and we let out a whoop! whoop!, excited and scared of the unknown. Three days was the estimated time to get to our F.O.B. Badger just outside of Baghdad.
We trailed into the hot Kuwaiti desert, eyeing caravans of camels as we trudged on at 30mph. I was so excited, I yelled, “I want to shoot one!” I was just kidding of course, Sgt. Sanchez told me to "at ease the bullshit!" and scan my sector for enemy activity. I told her there's nothing out here but sand and sun. Just then out of the corner of my eye, I spotted a dead camel with a vulture feeding on its insides. When the vulture popped up its head to see us, it had the head of witch; her face was full of blood. I told Sgt. Sanchez to pass me up a cold bottled water out of our ice chest—the heat was really getting to me. That night I looked up at the stars and I wondered if my family back home looked at the same constellations I looked at. We moved out early that morning. I don't even know when or where we crossed into Iraq, but the sand started to kick up, and I was scared we might have a brown out (sandstorm). We made it into a little town, and it seemed every local was a potential enemy; you could hear, "we got a guy on the overpass! keep an eye on him!" Sgt. Sanchez told me to lower my silhouette in case of snipers. I continued scanning the roof tops, it was eerily quiet and once we reached a certain part of the town all the locals disappeared. All of a sudden, I heard Sgt. Sanchez yelling, “contact left! contact left!” My first instinct was to duck down although I didn't hear any gunfire. Just then our truck was rocked from the left side, and I was thrown to my right. It was an RPG. I felt my ribs crack, and dark smoke filled the cab. I somehow managed to keep my firing hand on my SAW, and I stood up to see the trigger man running down an alley, so I lit him up until I saw dust, and a pink mist where his head used to be. The pain in my ribs was terrible. I noticed we weren't moving, and I yelled at Smitty to "move out!” I looked down and yelled “Smitty, get us out of here! Move out!" but she was lying on her side; looking up at me, unblinking a look of surprise on her face, and with her mouth wide open. I yelled, “Smitty! Smitty!” She just stared, unmoving as if she were playing a bad joke. I looked over at Sgt. Sanchez slumped forward, her helmet all out of place. I looked up and the tanker in front of us had jack-knifed, there were three more explosions, and small arms fire from the rooftops, and windows. I swung my turret around and started firing blindly into the buildings. I could see Doc Johnson and Doc Hernandez maneuvering the wheeled ambulance into position, to get Smitty and Sgt. Sanchez, so I gave them as much cover fire as I could. A projectile with a line of gray smoke behind it fired right over the truck's hood and hit a donkey cart on the other side of the road, which sent the startled donkey screeching and trotting. The donkey was hit by one of our trucks coming around to provide cover. It seemed like a bad dream. I grabbed my SAW and tried to take it off the turret, but the pain in my ribs was too great. Just then the chalk that was ten minutes behind us was fast approaching. Their commander had luckily called in some Apache helicopter gunships, which proceeded to demolish the buildings that housed the enemy. My ears were ringing so bad I didn't even hear Doc Hernandez yelling at me to get off the truck. I barely remember being medevac’d out. They told me Smitty didn't make it, and that Sgt. Sanchez had a severe concussion, a broken jaw, and three cracked ribs, tough old lady, and as for me? Besides the cracked ribs, I had third degree burns all up and down my lower legs, I didn't even know it, but the burns were bad enough to send me to Brooks Army Medical Center in San Antonio. All I could think about is that I've got to get back. I got to get back to my unit. My name is Maria Helena Dominguez, I am a third generation Mexican American and I am proud to be called an American.
Fredrick Gonzales has called Corpus Christi, Texas home for over 20 years. After serving in the active duty Army as a Combat Medic in West Germany, he settled in Corpus Christi in October of 1989. There he joined the Texas Army National Guard and after more than 20 years of service and 2 tours of duty in Iraq he retired from the Guard in April of 2013. While serving in the Guard he pursued and earned several degrees from Del Mar College and Texas A&M University in Corpus Christi respectively. After earning his Masters in Secondary Education he also began his career as a teacher. In the summer of 2019 while taking an advanced children’s literature course in pursuit of his Doctoral degree he decided to write a children’s picture book. He also wrote a short story titled “Crossing Borders” based on different generations of Mexican American women, who crossed different borders in relation to becoming and being an American citizen.
Grady Hunter had a varied career in executive management positions around the world for government, military and industrial organizations. He is a member of the United States Coast Guard Auxiliary and has received several commendations for activities related to search and rescue missions while coxswain of boat crews on Coast Guard orders. Grady enjoys putting pen to paper expressing his life adventure in prose and poetry.
My experiences as a widowed and somewhat-senior male when venturing into a kitchen challenge gain little sympathy from the ladies.
We can agree that some experiences could befall even the most experienced homemaker. But when they befall the independent male, it somehow serves us right.
For example—Pureed Asparagus.
I receive many suggestions from well-meaning friends about all the things that will assure my living beyond my life savings—and—in such great health and vigor that younger men will wonder and younger ladies will note my entrance.
Certainly I am vain enough to accept the admiration and warmth of ladies who note my skills on the dance floor, but in reality appreciate my competency behind the wheel after sunset.
So, when the benefits of pureed asparagus were sent with assurances the aching knees or lagging libido might magically repair, I dutifully added the contents to my shopping cart.
And when I emptied the simmered contents of two cans into the blender, added some exotic spices (salt and pepper) and punched the switch, a few stalks on the bottom began to disintegrate into a really nasty looking mess.
A serving spoon moved the escaping upper mess about—and then the phone rang.
Today, I know the choices I will make in future efforts.
Let it ring—that's what the answering machine is for; or
Turn off the blender; or
Take spoon with me to the phone.
The option of dropping the spoon into the operating mechanism is not practical.
A full day of cleaning the kitchen, laundering clothes, washing out eyes, and washing hair did little to take the aroma away. And months later, I am still finding specs and globs of asparagus in unbelievable locations.
Yes, I returned to the challenge and have been enjoying asparagus-cured knee joints and lagging libido for months.
Which now brings me to Yams.
Two of them have awaited me in a basket on the counter for two months. I thought it cannot be too difficult to heat one up and enjoy it for lunch with my thawed out leftover Kentucky fried chicken thigh. A chuckling neighbor lady told me, just cut one into quarters, heat it to soften it in the microwave, then cook for a few minutes in a frying pan.
I will save the second Yam, and bring it with me to Sam's club where I hope to see the man who demonstrated those knife sets that slice tomatoes paper thin, or cut through the heaviest food can with equal effort. Yams do not yield to the effort.
No knife in my drawers would do it, I am sure. I gave up after about an hour with the blade firmly stuck midway into the thing. I actually carried it out to my table saw, having dismissed the chain saw option when I spied a green asparagus spear on the ceiling fan blade.
Does anyone know the difference between a sweet potato and a yam? Perhaps it was discussed in a Lou Costello episode. And by the way, make sure you turn off the ceiling fan before you attempt to remove an asparagus spear.
Grant Mays is an electrical engineer. An ardent sci-fi fan, he started randomly writing this unnamed journal
14:30 Hours 2:30.
Doesn’t matter that it’s well into day planetside in N.A. To Eric 14:30 felt as shit as 04:30 would. The dull hum and vibrations, creaks and lurches and occasional flickering of light, the ship felt like 04:30 no matter the hour.
Of course, in space, the day/night cycle isn’t set by the stars but by the duty roster. The wonder of humanity’s greatest accomplishment was marred by its faults; its propensity to place the human in a situation so estranged from its evolutionary comfort zone that they almost lose sight of what it means to be human.
Eric sighed. Another shift (not day, shift). After 14 months they blurred so completely that the Magna Soviet–Fed border was more clearly defined.
Mr. Sardan’s thoughts weren’t this articulate; a blip intuitively understood and processed but lacking the specificity that this articulation gives.
Time for caffeine.
14:31 hours, Engineering Specialist II, Petty Corporal Eric Sardan, Serial No. 1823947265-C12B,
Federation Frigate operating under Federation Charter §18.104.22.168, research and exploration in sector Archimedes, onboard the vessel Leibniz. Nothing going on today.
Eric Sardan got a kick out of sounding overly formal in logs, only to be followed by the inevitable nothing that permeated this region of space. Much like most of space, actually. Maybe that’s why they call it space? Either way, little quirks and bits of sarcasm kept him sane.
Eric slipped into his fatigues. He put on his larger pair. I look like shit in these, he thought. Actually, I always look like shit. But the more form-fitting ones look less shit.
Conduct of Federation Personnel While Deployed
Comradery & Fraternity
§22.214.171.124 To foster community and comradery, personnel shall take First Meal prior to beginning shift.
§126.96.36.199 Further, personnel shall—
(because, according to the psychological Board, attaché to the Grand bitch Admiralty, Personnel on extended deployment are at risk of developing mental health issues to monotony, confinement, and general boredom)—socialize during First Meal to alleviate psychological fatigue.
Did they consider that sitting with Jacob—with the charisma of a fucking goat—and Armando, who only seemed to talk about the faults of the Pan-Solar Soviet, or the Primary Gladis, or the latest nutjob theory lost colony ships that were stolen by monastic radicals, or football.
God, fuck football.
He was seated with extremes from the platonic spectrum of shitty table conversation.
Of course, Jacob, when he did chat, only ever talked about the latest human rights violation of the Pan-Solar Soviet.
Mr. Sardan recognized the benefit of organized society. Processes and procedures pertaining to the minutia of society kept the bacteria out of the Verts, and made sure another Hercules doesn’t happen.
Sure, he had opinions on politics. On what humanity should aspire to (such as leaving him alone), and recoil from (i.e., table conversation with Armando and… fuck… who – Jacob. A man almost as easy to overlook as one’s own flaws), but he had little interest in the ideologue minutia.
He felt he was neither unprincipled, nor overzealous, just reasonable!
The irony of this self-praise, that everyone probably sees themselves as the sole practitioner of reason, and the lack of introspection that required, was not lost on him per se, but was an ugly thought he was cognizant of for a flash, before subduing and rationalizing his thoughts.
I want to shit, but don’t want the hassle of undoing my fatigues. Does the ship smell funny, or am I having a stroke? Nah, probably burning insulation. Maybe that will give me cancer? Fuck, maybe space radiation will. Maybe Rebecca’s a bitch. Maybe Rebecca’s bitchiness will give me cancer –
“ENGINEER SARDAN! THAT INSULATION IS BURNING!”
Oh shit, that was burning insulation.
Usually the fire alarm goes off if shit’s burning, although his curiosity regarding the lack of an alarm was superseded by the burning shit.
Okay, at least this is an easy fix. Ship’s power provides anywhere between 28 VDC and 75 VDC, which requires buck regulators to step down the voltage to power the mess hall subsystems. But, there is a manual cutoff—fortunately, it’s easily accessible (Per AN-1083, §188.8.131.52, manual cutoffs for all power supplies powering secondary subsystems must be readily accessible by authorized personnel and conform to §184.108.40.206 of AN-1011 PANELS AND EQUIPMENT INTERFACES), so I can just cut power to the mess subs.
Eric jogs over to the corner of the mess, keys in his 8 digit PIN, and disables power to the mess subs.
The insulation is still smoldering, but since the overtemperature condition in the circuit which caused the insulation (which, he now notices, was not regulation but a shitty repair. Probably Jack. Or Uladzimir?) to burn has ceased, the insulation cooled and –
Eric collapsed to the ground, his lungs filling with the foam from the extinguisher that Jacob was now bravely operating.
That fuck. That boring fuck.
Eric passed out, his last moments of consciousness lamenting the lack of air in his longs.
What a shit day for Eric.
Heather Twardowski hails from Houston, Texas and came to Corpus Christi to pursue both her B.A and M.A in English at Texas A&M University- Corpus Christi. While in the M.A. Program, she worked as an instructor for the university’s First-Year Writing Program where she showed students that everything they knew about writing was wrong. She has also traveled quite a bit, visiting places such as Scotland, France, and England.
Heather can be defined in three words: Writer, Dancer, and Cosplayer. A dedicated dancer, an avid writer, and a big anime fan, Heather brings her passion in whatever she does. The genres she is most interested in are dystopian, sci-fi, mystery, and supernatural. She is currently working on several projects, including her debut novel, Rebel Fire.
If you asked the young Will Powers where he thought his life would go, never would he imagine himself in an old, ritzy estate in the center of Scotland. Or himself incarcerated in an old, ritzy estate in the center of Scotland. Or himself incarcerated in an old, ritzy estate in the center of Scotland, forced to solve murder cases with an ex-art thief, an ex-Mob boss, an ex-terrorist, and ex-murderer.
Nope. He would not think that in the slightest.
As it begins, Will had a run-in with a bit of legal trouble back in his home of Stonehaven. Without going too much into detail this early in the story, Will had faced several accusations of causing a woman to disappear, as he possessed the slightly undesirable trait of sociopathy...
It’s funny how quickly things can change. You get so used to routine that it seems impossible to be anything different. That’s what I thought as I gazed out at what was left of the once-flourishing town which had bustled with merchants selling ripe fruits. Sensational smells of pumpkins and cranberries had filled the alleys and roads, weaving throughout the mahogany shops and stands. Children played their innocent games of tag until the sky blazed a brilliant red and orange…
…Now nothing even remotely recognizable stood from that quaint town.
Soot and ash littered the rocky soil, dyeing it a black that resembled the call of death. My eyes glanced over to the shambling splinter of the town hall that used to stand proudly in the center; a building that symbolized the power and strength of our struggle.
Symbol of strength?
More like a mark of stubbornness that came crashing down because of its ego.
I counted the steps it took me to reach the outskirts of the former town. The crystalline river that once drifted peacefully and housed so much aquatic wildlife, now transformed into a wretched field of mud and decay. I remember marching down to the bank with my adventurous brother and sister to see how many of the rough-skinned critters we could capture. I remember our little dances that inevitably came about while we sloshed through the mud and grass, before the more klutzy member of our group unexpectedly stepped into a fish hole and graced us with a shower. My eyes lay on the spot where a branch used to reach out over the water that held our rope swing.
Spanish Jews fleeing the Inquisition arrived in New Spain as early as the 16th century, were founders and settlers of Monterrey and other settlements. They were the ancestors of many South Texas families. Herb Canales, a former Director od the Corpus Christi Library System, is researching this.history
My interest in family history placed itself within historical context to create a broad narrative when I was in high school. My mother one day commented that a lady at work would go to La Retama Library in Corpus Christi at lunch time to work on her family tree.
I found that fascinating and wanted to do the same. So, one summer day, with time on my hands, I boarded a bus at Louisiana Avenue and Alameda and headed down to the library. Arriving in the Local History room I located just one relevant book – “The Romance of Spanish Surnames,” by Charles Maduell. That was it. The rest of the genealogy collection consisted of works of Southern ancestry and English heritage. Understandably so, as the library depended largely on donations for its genealogical collection.
Also, as I would find out later, works on Hispanic genealogy were literally few and far between. The research and publishing boom had not begun, the Internet was decades away, and what little that had been published in Mexico was difficult to acquire.
The next point of inspiration was the series “Roots” which ran on the ABC television network in 1977. Who can forget LaVar Burton’s portrayal of Kunta Kinte? At the time the series ran, Alex Haley, author of the book upon which the series was based, but not without controversy, appeared on the Johnny Carson Show and presented Johnny with a genealogy of the Carson family which had been compiled by the LDS Library in Salt Lake City. Intriguing!
But still, it would be years before I would be able to advance research, one among others. That opportunity came in 1985 when Corpus Christi City Manager Ed Martin appointed me as director of the Corpus Christi Public Libraries. That was a critical time as a new library to replace La Retama Library was in the planning and construction stages and would open the following year.
To expand and create a Hispanic genealogy collection I enlisted the support of Dr. Clotilde P. Garcia, otherwise known as Dr. Cleo, sister of Dr. Hector P. Garcia who had recently been awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Ronald Reagan. She provided financial support which helped acquire a growing body of work.
Dr. Cleo also funded the computerization of 18th and 19th century records from early border settlements, the culmination of a sort of Oregon Trail, but in this case from south in New Spain (Nueva España) to the frontier at or near the Rio Grande. This is where many South Texas Hispanic families originated.
From this research we learned of early land grants of vast acreage of as much as 8,000 acres in elongated strips north of the Rio Grande that our families were awarded by the King of Spain as early as the mid-18th century. They brought traditions with them as vaqueros that would later be adopted by the mega ranches of South Texas. This was history not taught to us in Texas history classes.
Since the time I began to build this collection so much has been published. What might have remained hidden history, i.e., the land grants representing the earliest land ownership in present day South Texas, received ample and official treatment in “New Guide to Spanish and Mexican Land Grants in South Grants,” published the Texas General Land Office under Commissioner Jerry Patterson. Thus far I have personally found five ancestors who owned lands as early as the 1760s in South Texas.
But history is not straightforward. It can be inspiring, fascinating, messy, horrific – sometimes all at once. Such is the case of the Sephardic Jews of the Iberian Peninsula. The word Sephardic is derived from the Hebrew word for Spain, Sepharad (and variations). In 1492 the Catholic Kings of Spain, Ferdinand and Isabel, chose to expel its Jews, who had arrived very early on following the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem by the Romans in the first century CE. They could remain if they converted and would be called conversos or New Christians. Portugal would be pressured to follow suit.
I am researching the arrival of these Jews in present day northeastern Mexico who were founders and settlers, but hiding their heritage, in the 16th century of Monterrey and other settlements – right next door to us in South Texas.
This story is, as I said earlier, fascinating.
Of what befell Luis de Carvajal y de la Cueva, a converso, and his sister’s family, Crypto-Jews, that is secret Jews, is indeed tragic. His story began with him as a rising star at court in Spain and would end with his death in prison, and with his sister’s family executed in Mexico City for relapsing to Judaism, or what the Spanish called, observing the Law of Moses.
Carvajal was born in Mogadouro, Portugal near the Spanish border around 1537 and was educated and partly reared in the home of an aristocrat in Spain. So thorough his education must have been that he learned to speak the Castilian of the upper classes such that he could function at court in Spain and later granted access to King Phillip II of Spain.
In 1579 the king appointed him governor of the newly established province of el Nuevo Reino de Leon, today, Nuevo Leon, with Monterrey as its modern capital.
This province included large areas of Texas and New Mexico as well as the modern Mexican states of Nuevo Leon, Tamaulipas and Coahuila. And because his post included Texas I submit that he should be considered the first governor of Texas.
It should be noted that Carvajal as a New Christian, would, under official policy, be forbidden to enter the new colonies in the Americas and would much less be given a high position. The concern of the crown and the church was that new converts could not be trusted not to return to their Jewish faith, settling in the hinterland, as they came to do. Only Old Christians were officially sanctioned.
But there was a pressing need to settle the northern reaches of New Spain, Christianize the natives and seize treasure. Carvajal convinced the king that he was the man to do it.
At the same time of the appointment the king authorized Carvajal to raise cattle. As many settlers would have some cattle for their personal needs this would seem to have been for the purposes of establishing a large operation, thus requiring the king’s signature and seal. Many cattle would over the centuries become free-roaming and be gathered by later settlers. Thus, the genesis of the cattle industry.
Also unusual was that in authorizing Carvajal to recruit 100 families to colonize the new province that no questions would be asked of them, such as their status as Christians, by Spanish officials. This can only mean that many who arrived in the Carvajal flotilla at Tampico, 300 miles south of present-day Brownsville, were either New Christians or still of the Jewish faith, officially barred.
Included among the colonists was his sister’s family.
By all accounts Carvajal carried out his assignment thoroughly. But as with many leaders he engendered envy and resentment even among officials. Some may even have suspected that he was a New Christian, again, forbidden in the Americas. But they could not pin anything on him. That he practiced the Catholic faith, at least outwardly, was unquestioned.
But that did not hold true for his sister’s family as the case unfolded. Francisca de Carvajal and her children Luis the younger, named for his uncle, Isabel, Leonor and Catalina were arrested in Mexico City on the charge of being Crypto-Jews, secretly practicing Judaism. They underwent years of trial, release following contrition, re-arrest as a result of new accusations, and were eventually executed in 1596. Years later, two other daughters, Mariana and Ana would be executed on the same charges.
Carvajal’s crime was that he did not report his sister to the Inquisition. He died in prison in 1591.
His heir, Luis the younger, has received attention recently. He kept a journal with religious thoughts and prayers. That provided the evidence needed to convict him. Decades ago, the journal disappeared from the Archivo General de la Nación in Mexico City. In 2017 it showed up at auction in New York. A collector of Judaica purchased it. Once realizing from experts what it was, he had it digitized by Princeton University where it can be downloaded free, and then had it repatriated to the Mexican archive.
This is one area of my research which will hopefully result in a book. I am studying other families and tracing Sephardic Jews from Spain and Portugal to New Spain, as well as their ancient story in Iberia. Suffice to say now that many South Texas families can trace their lineage to these Sephardic Jews, victims in Iberia and New Spain of religious intolerance of the worst kind.
I can trace my interest in this history to one individual who I met in graduate school at Columbia University in New York – Jackie Kamerow, now Ben-Efraim, a linguist and librarian at the American Jewish University in Los Angeles. She introduced me to Sephardic history of which I knew nothing about. As it turns out she was correct in that I, and I must say, many others, share this lineage.
Spanish Jews fleeing the Inquisition arrived in New Spain as early as the 16thcentury, were founders and settlers of Monterrey and other settlements. They were the ancestors of many South Texas families. Deep research in family history will lead you there.
I followed the whims of my mind and found myself walking down a sidewalk in an area of Houston that has always fascinated me. A fresh north wind nudged my backside as I passed the street sign marking Kelvin Drive. At the far end of the street I viewed the big red half-circle sign emblazoned with a distinctive script that read Mi Luna. The colors and aromas of freshly-bloomed bedding plants, the sounds of traffic and scurrying shoppers, the sights of trendy shops all delightfully filled my senses as I walked in the springtime atmosphere of Rice Village. A flash of red caught my attention. I turned toward the opposite side of Kelvin Drive and there she was. Ankle-length full-flowing flamenco-styled red dress; long black hair gathered to the side adorned with a red rose, walking with a very determined pace. My breathing stopped as her name wafted through my mind--Maria. But how could that be? Maria is a child of my imagination. Of all the characters my imagination has gifted me Maria is closest to my heart, an outwardly exquisite raven-haired beauty, inwardly beset by a troubled and horrific upbringing. After years of struggling, she finally shed the emotional shackles of her childhood and made herself into a successful adult, although violent outbursts were never far away. And now, there she was walking down Kelvin Drive. She can't be walking down Kelvin Drive. I rubbed my eyes. She was still there. A conflict between the right and left sides of my brain began to emerge. The left side held the opinion that there is a girl dressed as a flamenco dancer walking on the opposite side of Kelvin Drive and that is all there is to it. The right side countered, "Yeah, and her attire is very appropriate for Maria. So that must be Maria." I love my imagination. But, where was it taking me? My attention shifted back to the big red half-circle at the far end of Kelvin Drive. Through my research in developing Maria's character I knew Mi Luna periodically featured flamenco dancers. My Maria is of gypsy heritage and an avid flamenco dancer. In the novel I even toyed with having her perform at Mi Luna. My right side chimed in, "You see, Mi Luna features flamenco dancers. The girl is dressed as a flamenco dancer, looks just like Maria and is headed toward Mi Luna. I'm telling you, that girl is Maria."
"No", my left side reiterated, "Can't be. Maria is a figment, remember."
Then the strangeness of the situation only deepened. As the taps of her flamenco shoes clicked against the sidewalk, I realized no one else seemed to take notice of this sultry Andalusian beauty. My heartbeat quickened and my breathing escalated. Crossing Amherst Drive, now parallel with the girl, I got a good look at her. A shiver ran up my backbone. She looked exactly how I pictured Maria in my mind. I realized the right side of my brain was right. That is Maria. The left side chided, "No No, let's stay focused. You cannot know that girl, much less her name. But it does seem like there is more going on than meets the eye. Look around and see if you can figure out the opportunity that is being presented here." I slowed and felt the sidewalk under my feet, took in the sights of Rice Village, watched the girl dressed as a flamenco dancer walking towards the Spanish Restaurant and Tapas Bar called Mi Luna. As I began to contemplate the facts before me the right side whispered, "Oh Jim, there's a lot more going on here than that. Use your feeling to figure what opportunity you are experiencing."
"Quite Righty," interjected the left side. "We don't need any of that Wu Wu stuff of yours," Going with how society has programmed me, I stuck with the visual evidence. I then knew where my imagination was taking me; to this very spot and time. In finding this girl in her flamenco outfit I knew where to gather invaluable resource information with which to flesh out the Maria of my novel.
I never would have had the nerve to approach such a beautiful stranger and introduce myself. But the desire to write Maria bolstered my nerve. I decided to just ask what time her performance started. I would be able to at least experience the atmosphere of what my Maria's flamenco performance would be like. And with any luck, the rest of the dancers wouldn't mind if I hung around to learn what a flamenco dancer's life is like in today's world. Excitement coursed through my veins as I turned to take a step towards the girl. To my surprise, she suddenly stopped and faced me. From across the street I saw her deep brown eyes staring into mine and stood still as stone. Seeing her perfect ruby red lips move, I gasped as her soft sweet voice whispered in my ear, "Jim, you have to write me. You're the only one who understands." With a start she turned and resumed her determined pace towards Mi Luna. I said, "Whoa Toto, we ain't in Texas anymore."