Excerpt from The Hummingbird's Daughter by Luis Alberto Urrea, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Hummingbird's Daughter

By Luis Alberto Urrea

The Hummingbird's Daughter
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  • Hardcover: May 2005,
    512 pages.
    Paperback: Apr 2006,
    528 pages.

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Mexico. Mexico.

The pain in her belly kicked Cayetana Chávez over. She dropped her cup. She felt a cascade of fluids move down her bowels as the child awoke. Her belly!

It clenched. It jumped. It clenched.

At first, she thought it was the cherries. She had never eaten them before. If she had known they would give her a case of chorro . . .

"Ay," she said, "Dios."

She thought she was going to have to rush to the bushes.

They had come for her the day before. The Chávez girls were known by everybody. Although Santana Ranch was divided into two great lobes of territory—crops to the south and cattle to the north—there were only fifty workers' households, and with the children and grandparents added up, it made for fewer than 150 workers. Everybody knew better than to bother Cayetana's older sister, Tía. Good Christ: the People would rather move a rattlesnake out of their babies' cribs with a stick than go to Tía's door. So when they came from the northern end of the rancho with news that one of the Chávez sisters' cousins had killed himself, they'd asked for La Semalú.

Ay, Dios. Cayetana was only fourteen, and she had already learned that life was basically a long series of troubles. So she had wrapped her rebozo around her head and put on her flat huaraches and begun her slow waddle through the darkness before the sun rose.

She wondered, as she walked, why the People called her Hummingbird. Was it because she was small? Well, they were all small. Everyone knew semalús were holy birds, carrying prayers to God. She also knew she had a bad reputation, so calling her Semalú was probably some kind of joke. They loved to make jokes. Cayetana spit: she did not think anything was funny. Especially now. Her poor cousin. He had shot himself in the head. Her mother and father were dead, shot down in an army raid in Tehueco lands. Her aunt and uncle had been hanged in a grove of mango trees by soldiers that mistook them for fleeing Yaquis near El Júpare. The men were strung up with their pants around their ankles. Both men and women hung naked as fruit. Some of the Mexicans had collected scalps. She sighed. Aside from her sister, she was alone in the world. She put her hands on her belly as she walked along the north road. It was three miles to the cattle operation. The baby kicked.

Not yet, not yet.

She didn't mind being called a hummingbird.

Hours later, she pushed through the shaky gate of her cousin's jacal. He was still lying on his back in the dirt. Someone had placed a bandana over his face. His huaraches were splayed. His toes were gray. The blood on the ground had turned black. He didn't stink yet, but the big flies had been running all over him, pausing to rub their hands. A rusty pistola lay in the dirt a few inches from his hand.

The neighbors had already raided her cousin's shack and taken all his food. Cayetana traded the pistola to a man who agreed to dig a hole. He dug it beside a maguey plant beside the fence, and they rolled the body into it. They shoved the dirt over him and then covered the grave with rocks so the dogs wouldn't dig it up.

Copyright © 2005 by Luis Alberto Urrea

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