A Sprig of Mint

Translated by Marvin Najarro

It was eleven thirty in the morning when, after the rain had stopped, Sabina got a whiff of fresh mint, and of freshly cut sprigs of cilantro wrapped in a tortilla fresh from the comal; the taste of tomato juice dripping from the corners of her lips, made her miss her native Olopa, Chiquimula, Guatemala, immensely, as well as her childhood years when the family was together.

It is a hot day at the beginning of May, a rare thing, since summer arrives in June with its dog days and heavy rain. The hot weather makes her travel back in time to the dusty trails of her native village, El Carrizal, and to her peasant childhood. In those emotional ups and downs, Jacinta experiences again the dry soil caressing the soles of her feet, and the meadow’s characteristic aroma where she used to pick chico zapotes, mangoes, palmitos, malanga, yuca, and enjoyed the rows of cilantro and mint that she along with her sibling used to grow.

Of the twelve siblings, only one remained in Guatemala, the rest are scattered throughout the United States. Sabina has not seen them for twenty years, they are undocumented immigrants like her, and spend their time between home and work. While waiting for an immigration reform, they mourned their parents’ death in their jobs as brick layers, cooks and maintenance workers.

Although they’ve been living in the same country, they have not been able to get together, just as it happened to their mother and her siblings, who scattered throughout Guatemala during the dictatorship. It was not the lack of love as many people have said, it was due to the circumstances under which her generation had to live, explained her eldest son, an anthropology student at a university in Boston, where they live.

Without being physically present, Jacinta met their nephews who as grownups went to visit Olopa for the first time, and also their uncle who stayed behind.  The always return grateful with their parents for the decision they took to emigrate and provide them with a different life than that of their countrymen, who look among the stones for something to eat, in the drought-stricken areas of eastern Guatemala.

There’s not much left there, her youngest son tells her after visiting his grandparents grave, the house where his mother, uncles and aunts, grew up, and the village that has deteriorated over the years. Jacinta, in spite of everything, during the hours of hard work in a pig slaughter house, where she washes the blood with a hose, imagines the good times, when the fruits of the rainy season came into sight, and she remembers the meadow, the cilantro rows, and the peculiar aroma of the mint sprigs before dropping them into the free-range chicken soup, boiling in a pot on the clay stove at the house where she grew up. It is only in that way, in the ebb and flow of Jacinta’s life, that she can cope with the three shifts at the slaughter house, where she toils to provide for her three children.

She would like to tell her parents how hard is the life of an undocumented immigrant in the United States. She will do that someday, when she gets the papers, and goes to visit them at the campo santo.

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Ilka Oliva-Corado @ilkaolivacorado

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