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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  • First Published:
    May 2005, 512 pages
    Apr 2006, 528 pages

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"It goes without saying, caballeros. Bandits!" said Enríquez. "Besides, we have already started the rural police program here in Mexico to accost our own outlaws."

"Gringos! They have copied us again," Tomás announced.

"Los Rurales," Enríquez continued. "The rural mounted police force."

"To the Rurales," Tomás said.

They raised their glasses.

"To the bandits," said Segundo.

"And the Apaches," Enríquez said, "who keep me employed."

They drank the hot brew and pissed out the back door and tossed coins to the women to keep them dancing. Tomás suddenly grabbed a guitar and launched into a ballad about a boy who loved his schoolteacher but was too shy to tell her. Instead, he wrote her a love note every day and tucked it in a tree. One day, while he was placing his latest testimonial in the tree, it was hit by lightning, and not only did this poor boy die, but the tree with its enclosed epistles of love burned to the ground. The teacher ran to the tree in time to behold this disaster. The ballad ended with the melancholy schoolteacher, lonely and unloved, brushing the ashes of the boy's unread notes from her hair before turning out her lamp and sleeping alone for yet another night. The naked dancers covered themselves and wept.

Early the next morning, the men left the thunderously hungover barkeep and dancers behind and began their long ride inland, to where the hills started to rise and the iguanas were longer than the rattlesnakes. They began to forget the color of the sea.

Cayetana greeted that dawn with a concoction made with coffee beans and burned corn kernels. As the light poured out of the eastern sea and splashed into windows from coast to coast, Mexicans rose and went to their million kitchens and cooking fires to pour their first rations of coffee. A tidal wave of coffee rushed west across the land, rising and falling from kitchen to fire ring to cave to ramada. Some drank coffee from thick glasses. Some sipped it from colorful gourds, rough clay pots that dissolved as they drank, cones of banana leaf. Café negro. Café with canela. Café with goat's milk. Café with a golden-brown cone of piloncillo melting in it like a pyramid engulfed by a black flood. Tropical café with a dollop of sugarcane rum coiling in it like a hot snake. Bitter mountaintop café that thickened the blood. In Sinaloa, café with boiled milk, its burned milk skin floating on top in a pale membrane that looked like the flesh of a peeled blister. The heavy-eyed stared into the round mirrors of their cups and regarded their own dark reflections. And Cayetana Chávez, too, lifted a cup, her coffee reboiled from yesterday's grounds and grits, sweet with spoons of sugarcane syrup, and lightened by thin blue milk stolen with a few quick squeezes from one of the patrón's cows.

On that long westward morning, all Mexicans still dreamed the same dream. They dreamed of being Mexican. There was no greater mystery.

Copyright © 2005 by Luis Alberto Urrea

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