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Tuesday, September 14, 2010

El Fil

My father is going back to Mexico to die. His American experiment is over; he says he just wants to go home.

My mother called me, hoping I could talk some sense into the man. If anyone has a chance, she insists, it’s me. “Tell him to get a job—he still has a mortgage to pay!” He’ll listen to you, she says.

She has a point. If my father will listen to anyone, it would be me. I am his oldest son. But more importantly, I am the reason why he’s persisted in this country for as long as he has. Now that I am self-sufficient; now that I’ve gone farther down the well than he; now he can leave, and be satisfied that he did something right--whatever that is: raise me or keep me from dying. He can leave comfortable in the thought that all of it was not in vain.

But he will not listen to me. Not this time. We talked about this moment many times before: I’ve encouraged it! His spirit is crushed, and the only way to repair it is to go return to origins—where there is life and, necessarily, death.

I call him anyway. “What about mom?” I ask. But my father is not worried about my mother. Not that he doesn’t care. He cares. It is just that they have grown apart over the past 35 years—miles apart, even if they still live in the same house. Seldom do they argue; never do they kiss. I have never heard him say “I love you,” nor has she. He knows that my sisters will take care of her—she knows that she will take care of herself.

But the mortgage! My father is assuming that my brother, R, who lives at home, will pick up the slack. Or the oldest of my sisters, A, who moved in this year after her husband deployed to Afghanistan. Or my youngest sister, P, who, in her early twenties, should get her life together any day now. No one depends on Jenny.

There’s nothing I can say. My arguments are formulaic and I don’t feel the need to change his mind. There is no reason for him to stay here. After 40 years of working the fields of California’s Salinas Valley, he has lost his job, his benefits, and at 59 years of age, his opportunity to start over. He tells me that he gave it his all. The blood is on the dirt, he says. En el fil. In the field, scattered in drops here and there over thousands of acres, hundreds of seasons, millions of tons of produce, and billions of dollars, pennies of which he has never seen. I can’t replace the blood or the sweat, he says. But I can spill the rest en mi tierra—in my land. I can’t argue with a poet of his stature, with a philosopher of his depth. So I don’t.

Of course, I’ll miss him. But the Valley wont. He is replaceable. He knows this and feels betrayed, scorned, by the land which took his blood, by his own dreams, by himself! I can see it in his eyes. They’re done pretending.


  1. I really like this post and have really enjoyed your writing--please continue!


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