Catalino Sixto’s Yearning

Translated by Marvin Najarro

It is 11:00 p.m., they have spent 16 hours amid the waste; mountains and mountains of it, looking for copper, glass, cardboard and plastic scraps. When they are lucky, they found packs of cookies and candies, which even if they get intoxicated, as has happened may times, they eat them in one bite, since hunger is stronger. That’s the waste picker’s life, ponders Calixto Sisto, who has also heard his parents and his neighborhood’s neighbors say the same thing. His hands and feet are covered with scars as a result of the many wounds caused by glass shards when looking for scraps to sell. The rainy days are the hardest ones because the water in the waste makes it hard for him to see the shards, and besides that he often gets athlete’s foot and also gets sick with the flu because the stagnant water reaches his ankles. During the rainy season the dengue fever affects many people in his neighborhood and many newborn babies die as a result. The smell of the garbage dump is impregnated in his skin, it does not matter how often he bathes he cannot get rid of it; he is used to it; he has spent all his life there. He has seen how avalanches in the landfill have disappeared entire families.

His parents are migrants in Guatemala City, but he and his 8 siblings were born there with the help of neighbors who were midwifes in their villages but now, like them, live in the Anexo Manuel Colom Argueta and spend their time as waste pickers. Most of the people who live in the neighborhood are waste pickers too, but there are other people who work in gardening and in maintenance of houses and shopping centers. There are many indigenous people who, like their parents, have migrated to the capital. Catalino Sixto’s father is from Todos Santos Cuchumatán, he speaks Mam; his mother is from Chisec, Alta Verapaz, and speaks Poqomchi, they both learned to speak Spanish in the capital. His father arrived in the capital at the age of 16, to work as watchman looking after an auto repair shop at night; and his mother arrived at the age of 12, she along with other girls from her village were hired to make tortillas in a restaurant in the Centro Histórico. She was the first one to arrive to the neighborhood where she and the other girls rented a room. She later worked as a housemaid in one of the houses alongside the road to El Salvador, until she was fired for getting pregnant. She was 14 years old and had fallen in love with one of the gardeners who worked in the area; he disappeared when he learned that she was pregnant. Catalino Sixto’s father is not his biological father, and he is the oldest of 9 siblings. His mother stayed in the neighborhood and went to work as a waste picker in the landfill where she almost gave birth to him. She was looking for plastic scraps when she went into labor, with the help of the other female waste pickers she was able to get home; he was born there, a few meters away from the landfill, which marked him for life, as well as other children who were also born there.

The man who would be his stepfather came in when he was two years old, by that time he no longer worked as watchman; he was cleaning onion in La Teminal market, and also working as a helper in one of the grain warehouses: unloading the trucks that arrived loaded with sacks of corn and beans. It was in that place where he met people who came from the landfill with bundles of cardboard and coils of copper extracted from electrical cables. They told him about the waste picking business and how he would be his own boss, that’s why he moved to the neighborhood where he rented a room, which he shared with 11 more waste pickers who had come from Guatemala’s different departments, all of them migrants like him, and who also had ended up as waste pickers.

Neither his mother nor his stepfather ever attended school; they too are the oldest siblings and began to work at very young age to contribute to the household expenses, that’s how they helped to raise their siblings. He repeated that story: with 8 more siblings he had to quit school in third grade, although he began to work at the age of 5, looking for cardboard and plastic scraps together with his parents. He is 16 now, the same age his stepfather was when he emigrated, and like his stepfather he also thinks about emigrating, but further away. He is sick of enduring hunger, and of the long hours of work. During the day he works as a garbage truck helper — for a long time he had shouted garbage, garbage, until losing his voice; feeling himself like garbage too. What can he aspire to, he always wonders, if wherever he goes he is excluded: for his smell of waste, his indigenous features, the tattoos in his arms, the way he speaks, his old, though, clean clothes, his worn out shoes; what can a waste picker aspire in Guatemala, he and his friends wonder while they wade through the mountains of waste, looking for copper, which is the scrap that pay the most: 30 quetzales per pound. They sell the copper in La Terminal market, but it takes up to four days to get one pound as they have to rummage through mountains of waste in order to find the electrical cables that contain it, most of the time they suffer wounds caused by glass shards and open cans. While they try to find the copper, they pick cardboard, glass and plastic bottles, which they sell too, though at a lower price, which may affect they earnings because the size of the loads increases the cost of transportation to the market. They have not been able to build their house, which like most of the houses in the community is also made out of pieces of sheet metal they have found in the landfill.

Many of his friends were killed, others killed themselves playing the Russian roulette because what kind of life can someone who survives from the garbage he collects, who smells like garbage, and feel himself like garbage, aspire to. They always thought that the best thing that could happen to them was to shoot themselves in the temple and die in an instant. Guns proliferated, as well as the selling of drugs, there were many drug sellers, and others worked with groups of children begging at traffic lights: keeping an eye on them so they cannot steal the money. Many others spent their days sniffing glue, losing the track of time; of reality and memory, it was their own way of disappearing. After all they never existed before.

It is not only the hunger, the sleeplessness, the exhaustion; it is also his stepfather’s lack of affection, who every time he manages to sell copper scraps gets drunk and comes home to beat his mother and siblings. He used to beat him too, but since the day he stood up to him and punched him twice, he stopped. He didn’t want to do it, but he had no choice, his stepfather got on his nerves and in a second, he responded; he was beaten harder than everyone else, with the belt buckle because he was not his son; he was no related by blood to him, and was the opposite to him.

This is Catalino Sixto’s life, and of the three thousand more people in the landfill in zone 3 of Guatemala City, without taking into account the dozens of children that, like ants, swarm about the waste. Of the families that have been living in the Anexo Manuel Colom Argueta, very few have all their members alive, while some of them were swallowed by the landfill during the rainy season, others were killed or disappeared; others killed themselves; and others migrated, and that’s what Catalino Sixto wants to do: to leave, to get away from that country that only discriminated and humiliated him. He wants to live in a place where nobody tells him that he smells like shit, where he isn’t discriminated because of his indigenous features; that’s why he will leave together with a group of friends. None of them will say anything to his parents, just leave, and as soon as they get there and start working, send dollars so their families do not pick up garbage anymore. They dream of building their houses with cinder blocks; they should be beautiful and durable with cement columns, and if life is generous with them, put a roof terrace to hang the laundry; buy a big container to store water, which is available once in a while and only for a couple of hours. They want their houses with a window and a small balcony so their mothers can hang the pots with flowers because, as you should know, the landfill is full of pots with flowers that people discard. It would only be a matter of picking them up, treat them with love so they can burgeon.

It is 1:00 p.m., it will be the last time he picks up garbage. He and his friends will leave for Tapachula in the early hours; they would cross the Suchiate River, and then, they would get up on the back of La Bestia; they would get to Sonora, Mexico, and from there they would manage to cross to the United States where a friend from his neighborhood, who emigrated years ago, is waiting for them; he would take them to work in the same factory where he works assembling metal containers. They have heard about the criminal gangs and what they do to the undocumented migrants in Mexico, but for them there is not greater danger than to die buried in the landfill where they have spent their lives, all they have to do is to take a chance, there’s nothing to lose. They have no dreams; they feel like trash; smell like shit and have been discriminated since they were born; what does it matter to them if they die in the attempt.

They manage to get to Tapachula, Chiapas, Mexico. In Tenosique, Tabasco, they climb on La Bestia, never in their life have they seen a train; nor so many migrants, who like them, were fleeing poverty and hunger. He was not surprised to see the great numbers of Mexican policemen going after them, as if they were criminals. He has been hounded all his life by violence, poverty and misery; he was not going to allow himself to be defeated by some policemen. He was no defeated by his stepfather, let alone by some men in uniform who didn’t know anything about his life and his struggles; nor he was scared when the rustlers armed with large caliber weapons chased them on the roof of the train; he has seen death since he was a child, so to see dead people under those circumstances was for him, part of the journey. It didn’t hurt him, what it really hurt him, was to see his friends die playing the Russian roulette; to see entire families of the neighborhood disappear every year during the rainy season avalanches in the landfill; to see how people held their noses when they arrived in the truck to pick up the garbage; to see his drunk stepfather beating her mother and his sibling every night, that hurt him so much that it hardened his soul to the point that he never felt neither pain, nor sadness, nor love again.

After a week riding on the roof of the train they made it to Sonora, and immediately went into the desert. They had survived the avalanches of waste in the landfill in zone 3 of Guatemala City where they had spent days and nights picking up plastic, cardboard, glass and copper scraps. Catalino Sixto and his friends could not survive the scorching temperatures in the desert; they had only a gallon of water for the three of them, and the shared desire to reach the United States, which they had been told was a place where dreams come true. He was the last to die; while he was dying under the shadow of a nopal, Catalino Sixto, in a desperate act of resistance, smelled his clothes: they didn’t smell likes shit anymore, and that was the most important: he had overcome the landfill’s smell, no one would ever call him dumpster because of the smell of his clothes and skin. Dying there or here, he thought, was the same, but that was the least of it; he had had the guts to attempting it.

If you share this text in another website and/or social media, please cite the original source and URL:

Ilka Oliva-Corado @ilkaolivacorado

Deja un comentario

Este sitio usa Akismet para reducir el spam. Aprende cómo se procesan los datos de tus comentarios.