CHAPTER 4

THE GIFT

Beto Rocha

 

In the course of David’s stay in Tracy California, he had had few chambas working in the fields. Y llego la ocasion que una maĖana le toco ir al tomate, y montandose atras en la troca agarro asiento entre los demas que iban a camellar. De pronto echo andar la maquina el troquero y salieron rumbo al campo para la pisca del tomate.

     Finally, early one morning, David, who had been mostly unemployed during that summer, was selected to work with a crew of campesinos at tomato harvest time. And climbing on, he settled himself down onto the rough and worn, wooden floor of the stake truck, and with most of the sitting space reaching its limit, some workers stood during the ride. The truck slowly made its way out of the quiet town, and then onto a two lane, country highway, and headed to the fields.

 

     The workers at the field were made up of men and women of all ages, from the very young to the old. Some of the women wore long, full-length dresses, others were wearing baggy, loose fitting jeans with patches sewn on the knees, which afforded some protection from pebbles and small stones, and soon got soiled by the earth as did the knees of David’s blue jeans. The men, for the most part, wore straw hats, the much sweated hat bands showing dark brown stains at the crown. Others wore cachuchas [baseball cap type headgear]. Some of the women wore faded red or blue bandanas for head cover, and none of them, as he recalls, looked like the young, pretty woman depic- ted on a popular box of raisins, a smiling, light complexioned

 

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lass, wearing a sun bonnet, and holding a basket of grapes.

 

     They, both men and women were in reality peasants of the New World; persons of races of all kinds: Naturales [Meso-American Indigenous] of pure and mixed blood, Arabs, Palestinians, Persians, Italians, Irish, English, Spanish, Basques,

a few Blacks, called ‘los parnitas’ [partners], Koreans, Filipinos and at least one, almost full blooded Jew; David belonging to the tribe of Judah, although he didn’t know it at that time [su mama, who had been approached recently, in a Fairfax Avenue fruit market, by a lady insisting in speaking to her in Yiddish, couldn’t understand why Rachel didn’t respond. David tried to get mama to recognize herself in racial terms, telling her that she was of Jewish and Indigenous decent, but she fired back at him, saying, “Yo no soy Judia, yo no soy India, Yo soy Mexicana!” and David said no more on the subject, and thought to himself, “Pues, si eso dices tu, mama, eso mismo digo yo de mi.”]. She had told him many times, her papa had said to her, que su mama, “era una Indita (Cora de Nayarit) de ojos verdes”.

     David had tanned to a great degree that year, the dark color of his skin was due in part, to the fact that he had run cross-country during the spring semester at high school, the melanin having already been given a headstart, and his skin darkening even more when he labored in the fields giving him a rich, dark brown color, which he displayed in the tomato field. …”Behold I have seen a son of Jesse the Bethlehemite, that is cunning in playing an [musical] instrument, and a mighty valiant man, a man of war, and prudent in matters; a comely person, and the [Spirit of God] is with him. I am black but comely [handsome]

 

 

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O ye daughters of Jerusalem”. . . “look not upon me because I am black, because the sun has looked upon me”. . .  1 Samuel 16:18, Song of Solomon 1:5.

    

The superficial colors of the skins of all those humans work- ing in the field, varied from un-tanable bright red [hueros], to bronze [morenos], to deep red-brown and dark yellow-brown [prietos], -- faces smooth, and faces wrinkled – countenances shiny in the sun, because of the sweat of their labor showing on their brows. And almost everyone of them a Mexicano/a  be- cause of language, culture, and appearance: Hadn’t one seen plenty of Hollywood film depictions of Mexicans? Take a Cua- casian actor looking a bit Latin, for instance, behind the scenes he puts on a white but soiled, south of the border type costume consisting of trousers or calzon de manta, a torn shirt or camison adorned with a multitude of patches with hardly any of the original cloth extant, puts on a pair of huaraches [every- body knows what those are, but don’t pronounce the h], and places a colorful, broad striped sarape over one shoulder. And, lets say, this outfit was handed to him from the costume dep- partment by Edith Head [she changed her name from Cabezas to Head, meaning the same thing, in order to hide from la migra: U.S. Immigration authorities], as she was an illegal alien when she worked in movielandia. An ironic twist that, eh? And the maquillaje completed the stereotypical appearance by applying enough dark makeup, and fixing on a large, black mustachio under his nose. The nose had most likely been mod- ified with a bit of wax, sculpted to exaggerate the shape of it, hooked or broken perhaps? The actor finally, donning a wide brimmed straw sombrero [psalm-brea-roe], and ‘voila’, guess who? Adam was the human father of all mankind, “From one

 

 

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single stock”. . . God “created the whole human race’. Acts 17:26, Genesis 4:5, 5:1, 10:1.

 

But far from the romantic description of those hardworking souls in the tomato field, David observed in the not too far distance, a line of stationary boxcars on a rail spur that had been brought into the field along with a contingent of farm workers, some with their families before he had been hired. David could see children not old enough to work running about, & cook smoke coming from the stacks rising above the flat roofs of the wooden cars. Wash hung from the horizontal slats on the sides to dry, & people could be seen moving within; a woman resting at the entrance leaned against the side of the large opening of the cattle car, & persons leaving the cars heading his way to join the work party.

 

The tomatoes were mostly green & not at all ripe for eating, but were ready to be picked for market. David knelt on the earth gathering tomatoes & putting them into a small flat box of white wood, & when full, took it to the contador, had his ticket punched, took another empty pine flat, & went back to picking.

During a short work break, se comio el lonche que traia in a little brown bag, se lo habia hecho su kindly landlady – he ate his lunch that the Christian woman had provided him. But, after many hours having gone by, he began to hunger, & now remembers the joy he felt then at finding one humongous, ripe

tomato laying on its bed of grey brown soil. The tomato was in an open space, its parent aged & no longer able to support the weight of its progeny, had died. The dried remains were scattered around the huge, red-orange jewel that it had pro- vided sustenance for when the plant was green & thriving.

 

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David asked an older worker who was an overseer, was it all right, if he could eat it? & got the O.K. from the campesino,

Whose response came with a mirthful grin, como queriendo decir, “Pues cometelo chavalo comelon, y pa que me preguntas?

[sure, he said]. “You shall not muzzle the ox when he treads out the corn.” Deuteronomy 25:4. Whereupon David, wiping the soil off his hands on his shirt & on the back pockets of his jeans as best he could, lifted the large, oval orb, almost bigger than, to his face & made the tomato disappear, never having tasted such richness before, the juice of the fruit quenching the dryness of his thirst wonderfully on that hot day.

 

AĖos despues, el autor al recordar todo esto al fin tuvo enten- dimiento de esa palabra ruda ‘camellar’, una palabra

jerigonza del que va a jalar en el campo y a que se refiere.

The author, recalling these prosaic events, finally had an understanding of the slang word ‘camellar’ [kaw-may-yahr],

which means to work like a camel. But, why the reference to a camel? Well, the camel has a reticulum, a natural internal water bag that keeps the creature supplied with H2 O, so the animal suffers no thirst while trudging about on the sand dunes. But a field hand toiling under the sun suffers. It’s a bit of reverse logic, get the picture?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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