By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
My mother was from a large family who lived at the next ranch. They had lived in these hills since the beginning of time. A branch of her family were the Garcias. [Like all names in this chapter, a pseudonym.] The head of this clan was Juan Garcia, the oldest of five brothers, a mean bastard, full of hate. He pretty much controlled the Garcia clan. What he said his brothers did without question. He hated us because we had the finest ranch on the mountain and my father was a man who worked hard, was honest and had the respect of the people. It galled him that my mother had gone against the wishes of the family when she married my father. In our part of Mexico marriages were often arranged by the parents from birth; for them to go against the family tradition was unheard of.
Juan Garcia was determined to drive us off the mountain, and it didn't matter to him if we left dead or alive. It wasn't even a blood feud--revenge was not called for, we had not killed any of their family or insulted them publicly. If it had been a blood feud the people would have understood and stayed out of it, but this was only from envy and greed. A blood feud has to develop over the years, it might start over cattle or money but usually over a woman or an insult, but it has character and the people understand that revenge is sweet. At first it galled Juan because they had to pay rent to my father for land to graze their grubby cattle, and he hated us because the ranch was the most beautiful in the area and he wanted it for himself. When the marijuana and opium growers started coming to the mountain looking for places to grow their crops he could see a quick way to make a great deal of money with very little effort.
The opium growers were represented by a smooth operator named Jesus Mendez. He had everyone fooled, except my father.
Jesus Mendez made the rounds from ranch to ranch, looking for takers in this get-rich, can't-miss opportunity. When Jesus Mendez first came to the mountain, he used the excuse that he was selling sewing machines. In reality he wanted to get friendly with the people so they would lease him land and help him harvest the opium poppies he was planning to grow. He was very clever, he gave the women bolts of brightly colored cloth, thread and needles to sew with. He sat and drank mescal with the men and treated everyone with great respect.
After a few weeks on the mountain, Jesus Mendez told the people who owned land that he wanted to lease their fields to grow lettuce. Most of them believed him because we had no experience with marijuana or opium and didn't suspect anything was wrong. The planting season took place in early February, and before long the fields were covered with flowers that turned the countryside a beautiful burgundy color.
Mendez continued his rounds from ranch to ranch, passing out candy for the children and cheap cotton dresses for the ladies. Most of the campesinos thought planting the fields with lettuce was going to be good for the economy, and almost to a man went along with him.
On the morning of La Fiesta de Santa Cruz, Trini Garcia, one of the younger brothers of Juan Garcia, came to the house to invite my father and my uncle Julian to celebrate the feast day with them. Trini was a compadre to my father, having baptized one of my sisters. Of all the Garcia brothers, Trini was the only one my father and Uncle Julian really liked and trusted. Trini was very convincing. He said they knew Rafael was alone and they felt the family should be together and spend the day with them in peace. Then he told him to be sure and bring me along. At first my father didn't want to go. He was suspicious of their motives. But then, if Trini said it was all right it must be so. He didn't believe that Trini would betray him. He thought about it all morning and I knew he was considering the invitation from every angle. It was mid-morning before he made up his mind.
"Miguelito," he finally said, "go up into the pasture and bring my palomino and your donkey. We are going to go to the fiesta." I was elated because I really wanted to go to the fiesta and see one of my cousins, who I thought was a beautiful girl. We really had a crush on each other. I gave his horse and my donkey a good bath and brushed them until they were shiny. My father put his best saddle and trappings on the palomino stud, the saddle with the silver and gold inlay that had been left to him by his father.
Then he put on his finest charro suit; it was the traditional suit the Mexican cowboy wears when he goes to town to show off. Like his saddle, the pants and vest were adorned with silver buckles and braids. The legs of the pants were tight and flared at the bottom. Uncle Julian would be wearing something similar, and he would meet us at the fiesta. For this occasion I wore my new denim shirt, khaki pants and huaraches.