Ramon came in, stamping the snow from his feet, and shook the snow from his jacket before closing the door. The sun was low in the eastern sky behind him as Lupe moved up and hugged his leg. He smelled of sweat and manure and soured milk, but she didn’t mind. She had hugged him this way every morning for as long as she could remember, and he always smelled the same. For Lupe, the smell was as familiar and welcome as his cold fingers on the top of her head.
Every morning Ramon rose before the sun was up, and left the house. His daughter greeted him when he returned hours later, and saw him off again in the afternoon. She was usually asleep when he came home at night.
It is hard work milking cattle twice a day, and the pay is low. The cattle march in from the muddy lots to take their turns in the stalls, where fast moving men attach the milking machines. The cattle resent the process and the workers have to move quickly to avoid having their hands caught against he stanchions. It goes on for hours, in heat or cold, beginning every morning before daylight, and continuing again every evening until long after dark.
Lupe stepped aside to make room for her mother. Today she seemed worried; her voice was unusually sharp as she asked, “What did he say?”
Ramon said, “I didn’t tell him.”
I translate, of course. Every word was in Spanish.
“You got your money for the week?”
Lupe’s father nodded, “I told him I needed it today, to buy things for Christmas. I was afraid to tell him the truth. He is a good man, but it seemed best that he should not know.”
Lupe’s sister came out of the single bedroom with a cardboard box in her arms, tied up with twine. Lupe looked up with interest. It was not wrapped in paper, but any box is interesting so close to Christmas. Carmella put the box down on the floor and returned a moment later with blankets and bedding, also rolled up and also tied up with twine. Lupe asked what she was doing, but Carmella ignored her.
Her father carried the box and roll outside. Her mother came out of kitchen with a box of food, and that began a procession of boxes, coming from various parts of the house and out to the car. Lupe’s mother and sister had gathered their possessions during the pre-dawn, while Lupe slept.
Now Lupe dragged at her mothers leg asking questions, but she was ignored until Carmella pulled her aside and said, “We are going away.”
“I wish I knew Lupita. I wish I knew.”
“It’s only a month until he becomes President. Everyone here knows who we are. We have to go away, somewhere where people don’t know us.”
“But why? I was born here. This is home.”
“So was I, Lupe, but mother and father were not.”
When they pulled out an hour later, Lupe stared back at the little house where she had spent her whole, short life, until it disappeared around a bend. Then she looked out the windshield, past her mother and father’s silent heads. It was a long road, wet with melted snow. Her father would not leave the house tonight before the sun went down and go to the cows. There would be no more money, no more warmth, no more little house. It would be again as it had been, before the job at the cows, before she was born. Lupe knew what that was like from hearing her parents talk. Now it would be like that again.
* * *
Is Lupe real? She was born from the hundreds of little Mexican-American girls I taught over twenty-seven years. How many were undocumented? I never knew. I never asked. I didn’t need to know.
Is she real? She is as real as heartache. She is as real as fear. She is as real as dislocation, cold, hunger, and injustice.