THE GOMEZ SALINAS FAMILY
Miguel Hinogoza Salinas, age 35
Maria de Jesus GOmez de Salinas, 28
Francisca Hinogoza Gomez de Salinas, 8
Maria del Jesus, 1
The ranchitos of the tiny hamlet of La Praesita lie scattered on the scrubby desert plain. The stone walls have absorbed the coolness of the desert night, and the houses enclosed within enjoy temporary relief from the day’s blazing sun.
In the yard of one ranchito some thirty hens and chicks leave their tree and begin scratching around for some grains of com. Finding nothing, they make their way to the house and discover the door, mistakenly left open. The chickens pour in. Irritated cooing noises indicate that the invaders have awakened the house’s pigeon which flies down from its perch and joins the hungry legion. Hens, chicks, turkeys, cat, and kittens surround the beds, noisily demanding their breakfast. Maria de Salinas pays no attention to the cacophony that has become her morning alarm clock. Nonchalantly she prepares her baby’s bottle. Furious at this lack of attention, the animals redouble their squawks and cries. Suddenly Maria’s patience is exhausted. She shoos them outside with energetic kicks and latches the door.
7:00. It is still cool in the stone house, and the children stay snug under the covers. School has been canceled because of a teachers’ meeting. This doesn’t particularly please the two older children who just started school last week. Francisca and Humberto amuse their younger brothers and sister by showing them pictures in their new school books. Their baby sister nurses on her bottle and immediately goes back to sleep.
Maria takes advantage of the children’s quiet to go to the mill. Every night Maria boils dry com. In the morning she rinses the kernels and takes them to the mill to be ground. In the course of the day Maria will make at least a hundred tortillas for her family.
On her way back from the mill, she stops at one of the four tiendas (small family stores), which is owned by her in-laws. Her husband, Miguel, is sure to be there. Up at dawn, he heads for the pasture and brings his cows back to the ranchito and milks them. Then he visits with his brothers until Maria has prepared breakfast. Maria buys a piece of sausage, picks up her pail of cornmeal, and returns home.
8:30. Surrounded by hungry children, Maria prepares breakfast at the table. Her sister Ana arrives and distracts the children for her. Maria is diligent but moves quite slowly and is consequently sometimes overwhelmed by work. Her family often come to her rescue. Now she plugs her mixer into the hanging light-bulb socket and grinds a batch of fresh chilis for salsa. To save time, she cooks the first batch of tortillas on the gas stove. The rest will be cooked in a traditional stone oven built in the kitchen wall.
The children take their places at the table without being asked. Three-year-old Adriana is the greediest. A bit more sauce to finish off the tortillas and then one more tortilla to finish off the sauce. In her infant walker, little Maria de Jesus wheels around the table begging a mouthful from everyone. Mexican babies are familiar with the taste of peppers long before they can walk.
10:00. Miguel has returned and eaten his breakfast and now he leads the three horses to graze under the trees on one of his five scattered pieces of land. The coarse, dry grass that grows among the huge cacti is sparse and hard to find. Miguel cuts it and takes it to his horses, who stand tethered in the shade of small desert trees.
Meanwhile Maria lights the wood fire in the stone oven. Seated in front of the hearth, she cooks the rest of the tortillas for the day, to the accompaniment of Julio Iglesias’ melodious voice over the radio. The dogs and the cat are asleep at her side. But her moment of tranquility is soon shattered. The heat of the day has driven the children inside and they are arguing loudly. As always, it’s seven-year-old Humberto who is the culprit. “You’re going to get it,” threatens his mother. A familiar refrain.
1:30. The whole family gathers for the main meal of the day: a stew of beans, tomatoes, and wild summer squash. The family garden does not yield much. “The seeds are expensive,” complains Miguel. “The rainy season drowns the vegetables; the dry season dries them up. Too much effort for too little result.” After lunch, eight-year-old Francisca helps her mother straighten up while the other children play. She is an accomplished housekeeper and sweeps up the garbage that her mother dumps outside the door. When her pile is big enough, she buries it in a comer of the yard.
3:30. Maria has made cheese from the morning milk and now, escaping the shrieking noise of her children, sets off to do the laundry. In this dry climate, the dust permeates everything, and the clothes must be washed every day. Maria sets up her tin tub and washboard by the tap in the yard. In another tub under the How of tepid water the baby splashes beside her. Primo and Carlos want to cool off, and when their mother leaves to hang the wash they jump into the vacant tub. Their “bath” for the day is more entertaining than cleansing.
5:30. Maria, followed by her brood, returns to her in-laws’ store for a bucket of prickly pears and to see the next installment of Guadalupe. This popular soap opera’s heroine has so many fans there is no more room in the store. On her way home Maria stops at her mother’s house. These family visits are daily occurrences. The heat and the harsh conditions of the land deplete people’s energy quickly, and much time is spent simply sitting around and exchanging small talk. The children are restless, and Humberto is once again on the warpath. Maria’s threats are ignored, but Miguel, just returned from taking the cows back to the fields, gives the boy his inevitable spanking.
6:00. Leaving his son sobbing in the yard, Miguel heads for Mariano Vasquez Square, where the men of the village congregate, holding their horses by their bridles. The oldest of them remembers the square’s hero, who was assassinated for having fought against the landowners. It was due to his efforts that the peasants came to own their own land, and every year there is a celebration in his memory.
7:00. The air has finally cooled down. The mosquitoes have reappeared, and the hens have settled down in their favorite tree. Around the table, the children drink hot chocolate before going to bed. Humberto and Francisca chase two recalcitrant chickens out from under the beds. The little ones are excited and continue to play, but once in their room they collapse. Maria finds them asleep in a heap. She tucks the boys into one bed and the girls in another. The pigeon perches on the frame of his favorite picture: the Lord’s Last Supper.
8:00. Maria washes the dishes, boils the com for tomorrow’s tortillas, makes up the night bottle for the baby, and puts a great cauldron of water on the stove to sterilize it for drinking. Miguel sits near her and makes book covers out of newspaper to protect his children’s school books. The mariachi band sing their hearts out on the radio while the two adults finish their labors under the harsh light of a single bulb. The gate of the ranchito faces Mariano Vasquez Square. The small hamlet’s elders remember the hero, whose fight against the landowners has enabled peasants like Miguel to own their own land today In her infant walker, little Maria de Jesus goes around the table begging a mouthful of chili tortilla from everyone. Mexican babies are familiar with the taste of