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Excerpt from Children of the Land by Marcelo Hernandez Castillo, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Children of the Land

by Marcelo Hernandez Castillo

Children of the Land by Marcelo Hernandez Castillo X
Children of the Land by Marcelo Hernandez Castillo
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2020, 384 pages
    Paperback:
    Sep 2020, 384 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Karen Lewis
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About this Book

Print Excerpt

22.

The ride to the border checkpoint was quiet. The driver, too, must have known what had transpired, given where he picked us up from and where he was taking us to, and the silence between us. At the bare minimum, he knew we'd had to leave someone behind. He kept his eyes locked on the road.

Even though it was December, it still felt hot in the middle of the day, so I cracked open the window. Traffic was backed up for about half a mile at the checkpoint. We inched forward, unbearably slow. Either Juarez was tugging us back, not wanting us to leave, or El Paso was pushing against us, not wanting us to enter.

Walking down the lanes were street vendors with their merchandise hanging from hooks on large boards. Others carried large sticks with plastic balloon animals, cotton candy, popcorn, newspapers, and toys, so many toys. Their bright colors against the hazy sky made me want them as if I was ten years old again but knew better than to ask for a toy when there wasn't any money.

One of the vendors approached the window and asked if I wanted to buy a rosary.

"Here, el Cristito, so you can cross safely," the man said as he reached his hand through the cracked window. It was colorful and refracted the light inside the cab like a spiraling disco ball, tossing small triangles of God's supposed holiness onto the stained upholstery. I knew I could cross on my own, I knew I didn't need God anymore.

I entered Mexico much the same way as the light entered the rosary, and when we departed the corridors of its prisms, we did so no longer wholly intact either, a little broken.

I wanted something to remember the trip, to hold something that could stand for our time there, and burn it later, perhaps mail it to a friend and have them burn it and describe it burning to me over the phone. Unfortunately I didn't have any money, either pesos or dollars, since I gave it all to Apa.

"Rubi, do you have any cash left over?" I said.

"No, I don't. I gave it all to you," she said, still searching through her purse.

I handed the rosary back to the man, and the light scissoring through the cab faded away, leaving only the stains behind. "Andale, I'll give it to you cheap, here," he said as he pushed it back to me, insisting that I buy it.

"No, I'm sorry, I don't have anything left," I said, and took out my wallet to show that it was empty as I gently pushed it back into his palm.

"Andale pues," he finally said, and took the rosary back, along with all its holiness. It would help us cross, he had said, but it was too late for that; we weren't the ones who needed help. If only we had met him hours before to wrap the rosary around Apa's neck, bursting open like sharp flowers.

*

The drivers in the other lanes looked bored. Some of them played their radios loud, and others looked as I imagine we looked—defeated. In the air, through the lanes, I heard the soft beat of a cumbia song. More vendors reached into the cab to hand me things I could not buy as they walked down the lanes. I wanted to get out of the cab and run, I wanted nothing to do with Juarez anymore. Not the vendors, not the embassy, not the miles and miles of open land, not the city with its incessant motion—none of it.

"You're going to have to get out and walk through the checkpoint on foot," the driver said. "I'll meet you on the other side."

"Why, is everything okay?"

"Yeah, everything is fine—it's just company policy that you have to cross over by yourself, and I'll meet you over there by the sidewalk." We grabbed our suitcases and walked.

The building was small, and there was hardly anyone inside. Ahead of us was a man in torn clothes with no shoes and disheveled hair. He chatted with the officers for a minute before handing them his card. They were friendly toward him, as if they saw him every day and knew him by name already. Their voices had an air of worry and care, and they kept nodding their heads at the tattered man as if saying "Take it easy, you're going to break your mother's heart." They gave him back his card and waved him on, a worried smile on their faces, as if he were a high school friend who had seen better days.

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Excerpted from Children of the Land by Marcelo Hernandez Castillo. Copyright © 2020 by Marcelo Hernandez Castillo. Excerpted by permission of Harper. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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