As the Incense Burns

Translated by Katrina Hassan Disiderio lights a candle for the altar he has at home in his living room. He has just come home from work. He lives in Colorado and works cleaning public toilets for the district’s parks. It has come to the end of the year in which his mother Modesta has died. She was the last survivor left from his family who were massacred by the military during their dictatorship of Guatemala. His parents would tell the story of how they and other families went into hiding, in the jungle, for months, in order for them not…

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Rue Leaves

Translated by Katrina Hassan Jesusa walks along the edge of the sidewalk as she admires the yellow colors emanating from the sunflowers that adorn people’s houses. In August, the heat makes the wildflower petals burst in bloom and it seasons the wild grass in the meadows. The smell of lavender makes the last days of summer unforgettably beautiful. The time when the sunflowers bloom is Jesusa momentarily forgets about all her aches and pains.  She eats watermelon, cranberries and peaches. Jesusa makes a salad of avocado, basil and lime and makes lemonade with mint. She sets out her rue leaves…

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The Freeloaders

Translated by Marvin Najarro For twenty-seven years Sabina sent parcel boxes full of clothes and gifts for her four children in Guatemala. She was an undocumented immigrant whose spinal bones suffered as a consequence of excessive cleaning of bathtubs and toilets; bleach and other chemicals had her hands cracked. Sharing an apartment with seven more people, Sabina worked three jobs at day; cleaning bathrooms in restaurants, office buildings, shopping malls and homes. No doubt, she knows how dirty people is inside and outside their homes. Widowed with four children, she decided to emigrate so that she would be able to…

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The Pine Tree’s Bark

Translated by Katrina Hassan Valerio has been working in the California fields for 37 years. He knows them like the back of his hand. He is familiar with the grape, plum, strawberry, mango, coriander, radish and celery fields. His body is finished and his soul is destroyed, much like the rest of the undocumented immigrants in the country. Valerio is Tarahumara, a native of Chihuahua, Mexico. He identifies himself as Rarámuri. When he left his native land, the illegal deforestation of the Tarahumara forests had already begun. The marijuana and poppy cultivation were increasing in popularity around the Eastern Sierra…

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Cecilio’s Sadness

Translated by Katrina Hassan Cecilio prepares a cup of coffee while his bean tamales are warming up in the microwave. He takes out a little tub of vaseline from his backpack and rubs it on his fingertips. They are cracked and bleeding because he cuts cherries all day long for a living. He buys pain relieving balms in the Mexican supermarket near his house. Cecilio makes six dollars per tub of cherries. When the tubs are full they weigh fifteen pounds. He hangs one tub around his neck and one around his waist so he can make twelve dollars in one…

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Silvestre’s Labor

Translated by Katrina Hassan Silvestre switches on the grass cutting machine. He feels as if he is atop a tractor, but is an industrial grass trimmer. He had never been atop a machine like this before in his life. In the United States, he has had to work in fields that have nothing to do with his master baker job he had back home in Nayarit, Mexico. Now he works as a gardener. He is in charge of working the grass cutting machine because of 20 years of experience on the job. The newbies start off by blowing the cut…

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One Sunny Day

Translated by Katrina Hassan Begoña wraps herself in a blanket that she takes from her sofa and goes down the stairs of her building. She lives on the 3rd floor. She starts her car and comes back to her apartment. She puts 4 spoons of coffee in the coffee machine and two cups of water. She takes a shower in order to wake up properly while the coffee is ready. The clock says 3:15 a.m. It is Saturday, the beginning of spring. She is expected at her restaurant job at 4 a.m. She puts her wet hair into a ponytail,…

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Lost in The City

Translated by Katrina Hassan It is June, around lunchtime and the heat is infernal. I observe the labourers from the window facing the street as I go upstairs at my place of work. Their bodies are drenched in sweat. With a pick, they open the earth to dig a trench all along the side the house in order to fix the plumbing. In the morning, the owner of the company, a Polish man of about 60 comes to show his face. He gets in his latest model double traction pick up truck and leaves. I serve two glasses of ice…

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The Return of Yeyo and Papayo’s Grandkids

Translated by Katrina Hassan Yeyo grew up watching his dad break his back from carrying so many green banana bunches on those infernally hot tropical days in Chiapas. He saw his mom fill her arms with burn marks as she cooked potato turnovers to sell on the outskirts of the farm. Jacks of all trades, they juggled what they could to survive, being undocumented in Tapachula, Mexico. They always worked in precarious jobs, badly paid, without any benefits. They crisscrossed the state but the pay and treatment was always the same. They worked during the picking season on the coffee…

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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…

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Every Day That Passe, She Misses It Less

Translated by Katrina Hassan The only times that Nía Chenta’s daughter Caya had ever heard the sound of horse hoofs over cobblestones, were the nights she would stay at the pharmacy owner’s house to keep her company while her kids were away in the capital. The pharmacy lady asked Nía Chenta as a favour to let Caya stay the night until her kids would come back. This is how Caya first heard the sound of water running through the PVC pipes, she saw her first toilet, bath and a refrigerator. She also saw the electric iron, TV, remote control and…

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The Echo of Roosters’ Calls

Translated  by Katrina Hassan She takes her son Yeyo, wraps him in her shawl and puts him on her back. On the table, Isaura sets down two changes of clothes, her barrette, the baby’s talcs, a pot of face cream and a pair of shoes with broken soles. She believes she can fix them when she arrives to her destination. She also has an envelope with pictures, and a few scraps of t-shirt that she turned into diapers. In a kitchen towel, she gathers a bag with a handful of salt, some pishtones, fat tortilla like patties filled with beans, she…

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French Pears

Translated  by Katrina Hassan I am in a hurry. I am only buying the utmost necessary items at the Mexican supermarket. I go to the cash register and am surprised to see long lines at every register. It is Thursday evening and the weekend starts for a lot of people. Although for the undocumented Mexican, any day is a taco and beer day. More beer than tacos, the poor man’s medicine. I notice that the man in front of me in line has as his only purchase a bag of prickly pears. In Guatemala we call prickly pear or cactus’ fruit…

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