This series has tried to present the excursion of a group of us kossacks to visit with farmworkers in Watsonville, California as it appeared to me (& in no way meant to speak for others in our group). Each of us brought a unique perspective that I expect will be revealed with time. BentLiberal already presented his, & I recommended checking it out.
Part I in this series addressed the migrant camp by the Pajaro river & the precariousness of their existence.
Part II in this series focused on a family managing to (just barely) survive together against the odds
Part III will bring the "curtain" down on this series.
Eyes of a child...eyes of a killer or of a victim.
Here comes a tough diary...written under the duress of feeling morally obligated to write it, but with the full knowledge that I'm do not have all factual details to portray it as it really is for the people who are living it. I can only read the signposts, spot the clues, & then rely mostly on personal experience to translate them.
Part III is the hardest part of the tale to tell. It is a tale involving a non-religious "demonic possession." A harrowing story of a house & family haunted by a malignant presence that, I cannot help but fear, is slowly killing both.
After leaving Doña "Martina" & Don "Arturo's" home (& only after he found us battery cables) we drove around in left-leaning circles for a while seemingly goaded by a procession of "No left-turn" signs into turning left & left until a police car passed by right before another left-turn against the grain. The officer didn't spot us, & we couldn't tell if it was the same one who denied us help earlier (when Don "Arturo" came to our aid instead).
Eventually...we parked in front of our destination & got out. The street was filled with the type of tiny single-family houses to be found in here in the ghetto-ized areas of Oakland & Richmond (CA). Looking at the Victorian-esque lack of true 90 degree angles of the structure made me realize that whoever the absent owner was, she/he hadn't the resources or interest to fix it up. Much more unsettling were the curtains that hung in the windows. I'll try to explain why this usually insignificant detail unnerved me, & how my instinct in this case sadly turned out to be correct.
I've stood before a 1000 residences of impoverished immigrants (documented & undocumented) & homes of the very poor here. I've stood before homes of friends in favalas in Brazil, "huts" in the Peten, Guatemala, & adobe homes of family members in Mexico, & I've never seen curtains such as these. Being soiled & torn didn't speak specifically to poverty. As poor as any family may be, each that I've encountered, has above all else tried to present to the outside world a face other than that of despair & hopelessness. The curtains, whether of cloth or paper, always appear clean from the street...if not also colorful.
The only times I've seen curtains in a similar condition was when visiting elderly shut-ins who had lived alone for a very long time & were all but abandoned by the outside world...& in turn had largely abandoned that world as well. So I walked 30 feet up the street & looked at the curtains of the other houses. None were in even a vaguely similar state of disrepair.
The curtains spoke to a despair inside that we hadn't seen that day yet. The people at the camp we visited earlier lived with violence at their backs. They were cold at night & subject to almost any type of bully who came along. They were there at the river, but they were not anchored there. They all would move on at some point, not necessarily to a better place, but at least a different one.
The curtains whispered eerily to me that those inside the house were trapped, exhausted, & felt abandoned to their fate. No one in the house had the physical or emotional strength to clean them with a rag. That's not poverty. In the worst favalas in Rio you'll see bright & clean curtains in every house, even when the water must be carried in buckets by hand miles away. Anywhere that there is a fammily inside that isn't both mentally & emotionally crippled, you'll see curtains that at least pass for clean from a distance.
As we tried to enter the house, we had to skirt around a young boy (of 5-7) who was playing carpenter with the lock of the open door. No one seemed to care that he might damage it in the process. I told him he was a caprintero chingon (a top-knotch "adult" carpenter). Unlike any other child I've ever called a chingon, he didn't even crack a smile. He just stared blankly back at me.
Cold & dark, the house inside mirrored the despair reflected to the outside world by the curtains. It was as though somewhere there was a vampiro sucking the lifeblood out of this family...and indeed, there was.
The unheated front room was cold & dark. A bulb had to be brought in from another room to provide light. Plaster from the walls had been chipped off in a thousand places, & no one had bothered to apply even a homemade cure. The scars on the walls weren't even hidden with decorations or photos. Again, that is something not specific to poverty.
Doctor Lopez introduced us all to the mother, the young "carpenter", & another son of about 12-16 years of age. One person was left out of the introductions because he wasn't present. The "man" (read vampiro) of the house wasn't there, but his influence was far from absent.
The older son dutifully sat behind his mother, & initially faced us all as we began the discussion. The mother spoke with an obviously heavy heart of some of her circumstances. She explained about the field work she had done in the past, about not being able to find work now, & about being several months along in another pregnancy. Sitting there in front of her children, she didn't talk about the "man" of the house who was physically abusing her. We only knew of it beforehand from Dr. Lopez.
The mother had that special exhaustion marked in her face from fighting battles that were stupid, useless, never lead to paying bills or putting food on the table, take up the dark hours of the night, & then leave participants tired and useless in the mornings. Arguments that begin with "where's my jacket" then move on to "don't ask me why I came home late" & then not infrequently to physical violence. The actual physical violence is only part of it though. The larger & more oppressive force is the omni-present theatre of ritualistic anger, apology, & denial that surrounds the outbreaks of violence...and of course the soul-numbing daily knowledge that the threat of violence hangs in the air.
Combine that violence & its daily threat with poverty, "illegal" status, unemployment, & the absence of a social network of a family that is largely 1000s of miles away, & you'll have at least part of the explanation for the mother's exhaustion. Listening to her try to struggle with our visit, I felt as though the love that bathed the family in the last house, of mis compadres Don "Arturo" & Dona "Martina", was being siphoned out of this house at a slow & constant rate.
I felt ashamed of myself, and felt the sense of shame in mother's voice, that I was seeing something abominable...and had no remedy for. The affliction of a bad relationship, of a destructive one, can be all powerful even when one's resources aren't stretched beyond the breaking point. However, when there are children to be raised, when work is impossible due to pregnancy, when social services are nil because of lack of documentation, then the presence of a vampiro is deadly...and I've yet to see anyone being easily talked out of such a relationship...until distance is somehow created, whether by intervention or by reaching the bad side of statistics.
Not too long into the discussion I noticed that the young teen had turned his back on both the visitors & his mom. He had turned his chair around & was no longer dealing with what was happening. As much as I was transfixed by what the mother was experiencing, I yet began to worry about the older boy.
As we all stood up to leave my mind raced for a way to bring up the older boy that wouldn't be offensive. I saw that two portraits were prominent in the otherwise mostly bare living room. The smaller portrait was of a light-skinned man in his 70s or 80s. He was the mother's grandfather. The far larger of the two was in black & white & of a young man whose features were those of an indio (Indian) of Purhépechan (Tarascan) heritage. He was the older boy's father.
When I asked about the portraits it seemed the mother's tired eyes awoke for a moment at the recall of better times in a distant land. She herself was from La piedad, Michoacan, & the older light-skinned man was her grandfather. The older boy's father was the indio from Jalisco. His premature death, & the subsequent appearance of a vampiro, is proving disastrous for the family.
As we drove away I began to think more & more about the older boy who had turned his back on both us & his family. I know this boy. He's absorbed every blow dealt to his mother by the vampiro. More than likely, he's absorbed some of them directly. His young face has stayed with me, & I know where I've seen it prior. His expression betrayed the despair of being "lost" to a world of pain, & where being "found" is too often only realized in the ultimate violence of being either a victim or a victimizer...such as those below.
Photo above is of a Watsonville17 year old accused of murder.
Photo above is of a murdered Watsonville youth From July of this year.
At the time of his death, Duran was reportedly recovering from stab wounds he received June 19th in downtown Watsonville. The earlier attack was also gang motivated. Duran attended Cabrillo College, & worked at a retirement community.
Also from July
WATSONVILLE -- A man shot and killed in the Target parking lot Saturday evening was 20-year-old Gustavo Diaz Saragoza of Prunedale, investigators said Sunday, while expressing shock at the daytime shooting of two. Police believe it was a gang-related slaying.
Watsonville police detective Morgan Chappell said he believed that Saragoza was a fieldworker who was in town simply to shop. He was with his girlfriend and another man, and all are from Prunedale, he said.
As MB said to me elsewhere...
-it was "a very chilling visit to Watsonville."
Doctor Lopez (in photo below) knows that chill well. She knows these families well. Anything you can do, donate, or even read, would be much appreciated by her...& by families for which she is a lifeline.