Following the Wind: The Comcaac of Punta Chueca, Sonora, MX

 

Punta Chueca winds upward alongside the Sea of Cortez, the unfortunately named gulf that separates Baja California with the mainland Mexican state of Sonora, just north of a flipper-shaped peninsula that points away from Kino Bay fifteen miles to the south. The town itself is peppered with brick and concrete buildings spread about on a strip of land nine blocks long and three blocks wide divided by dirt roads. At its westernmost tip stretches a two-thousand-foot sandbar that angles back in towards town creating a triangular emerald-colored lagoon. The sandbar is much like an arrow that points to the unavoidable land mass just a mile and a half away from shore called, Isla de Tiburon. There are lots of small fishing boats up along the coast and inside the emerald lagoon with brightly colored nets made with green, yellow, and orange threads. These boats take the people of Punta Chueca to Tiburon daily as stewards of the island and its inhabitants. The Comcáac take this job seriously, a point well-outlined by the bullet-riddled road signs declaring the area “Seri Land” and forbidding any trespassers or outsiders. Seri is a name given to them by outsiders and recognized by the Mexican government its true definition or origin is unknown to ethnographers and anthropologist, but they call themselves Comcáac which means, the people.

Dawn Punta Chueca
Author’s photograph of Punta Chueca at Dawn.

Sand from her Claws

The Comcaac origin story differs only slightly depending on its orator. According to Francisco Morales Herrera, High Council of the Comcáac Nation, in a (2011) interview for Conversations with the Earth the story is as follows:

“At the beginning during the creation of the Earth this happened: The being who was above the waters gathered the spirits of the animals and asked them to search for a dry place where life could prosper, but all the spirits returned with the news that the Earth was covered by water. Then he commissioned the spirits of the marine animals, but they all returned, one by one, and nobody was successful. Finally, only the spirit of the Caguama (Loggerhead Sea Turtle) was left. He ordered the turtle to dive and bring sand from the bottom of the sea. So, the Caguama submerged and the days passed on. All the spirits of the animals waited eagerly. they did not know the fate of the Caguama but on the third day, she emerged, pulling off [sic] cheers of joy. She brought with the claws of her flippers some grains of sand, which she handed over to the being, who formed with the continents with the small amount of sand. By this way, the spirits of the terrestrial animals could materialize and this was the reason why life could prosper in the world.” (www.conversationsearth.org)

My grandmother, Maria Jesus Ruiz Ayon, told the same story with two subtle changes. In her version of the story the Caguama was under water for three years, not three days, and as she traveled from the sea floor to the surface little by little she lost more and more sand until when she arrived she had no more to give the “Earthmaker,” but he inspected her flippers closely and found the sand he needed at the base of her claws. Earthmaker in Cmique Iiitom is Hant Caai. My grandmother couldn’t speak Cmique Iitom, the language of the Comcáac, but she remembered their stories and the land she was from. She also partially raised me and retold the stories of my grandfather’s (her husband) people, the Ópata. Sadly, they are considered an extinguished tribe. Long before my grandmother passed away she would beg me to visit the Comcáac south of us in her home state of Sonora, but I never went. After she passed away I got a call from my great aunt, Nana Pancha—my grandmother’s sister—who told me she would take me, but she passed away before she could. As an ode to both of them, I took the journey myself.

Punta Chueca
Author’s photograph of the road to Punta Chueca.

The road into Punta Chueca, which the Comcáac call: “Socáaix,” is mostly barren and made of sand. A series of hand-painted signs warn trespassers in Spanish that the road is under surveillance by vigilantes from the Seri nation. As mentioned previous, no one knows where the word Seri came from. Some blame the Spanish, others blame neighboring tribes such as the Ópata (a claim my grandmother refuted), or the Yaqui. It doesn’t truly matter because the Seri don’t call themselves that. They refer to themselves as the Comcáac and only refer to the name Seri when they are speaking to outsiders or foreigners who find their real name difficult to pronounce. The Comcáac’s language, Cmique Iitom is also untraceable linguistically and can be considered wholly unique as Stephen A. Marlett published in 2011. Marlett notes, “It has been suggested, but not shown, that this language is related to Yuman languages, and by extension and hypothesis to other so-called Hokan languages. The absence of adequate published evidence of any proposed relationship has led to the more conservative view that Seri is a language isolate.” (Marlett: 2011). Marlett also expresses his findings on the etymology of the word Seri, “The etymology of the name Seris has been the topic of speculation by numerous writers. None of the proposed, or asserted, etymologies has [sic] any foundation in fact so far as I have been able to determine. The various speculations are taken up in chronological order. None of these speculative etymologies is pejorative, but none of them seems to be plausible either.” (Marlett: 2011).

Another known researcher of the Comcáac, Gary Paul Nabhan, seems to agree with Marlett’s research in his (2003) book Singing the Turtle to Sea: The Comcáac (Seri) Art and Science of Reptiles. Nabhan mentions the “vitality” of the Cmique Iitom language and its “vast” use in the “majority of homes in Punta Chueca and Desemboque, in tribal meetings, and even in schools.” (Nabhan: 35). The language lives on as central to the people of Socáaix even though Spanish provides them with an agency to trade and find work in the larger cities and towns of Sonora it does not supersede Cmique Iitom, merely taught and implemented alongside.

Comcáac Ecology

To the Comcáac, the land and water surrounding Socáaix is the physical embodiment of their tribal Cosmo-vision. In fact, depending on how detailed the version of their creation, every animal, plant, and landform plays a part in the story. Even a creature as seemingly insignificant as the Daddy Longlegs, Hant Cmaa Tpaxi Iti Hacáatax which means ‘One Forced to Venture onto Freshly Formed Ground,’ was a primary player in the creation of the world. According to Nabhan’s research, he was asked by Hant Quizin, ‘He Who Toasts the Land,’ “to ensure that his work had made the mud firm enough for Hant Caai to walk upon.” (Nabhan: 44).

Socaaix
Cosmo-Vision map of Punta Chueca (Socáaix) and surrounding areas. The importance of the Caguama is correlated to Tiburon Island’s centrality to the Comcaac homeland, it is not, however, to confuse the creation story with other Native tribes as a reference to “turtle island (a common euphemism for the world, North America in particular).  Photo Credit: Jonathan Alonso

All of these participants illustrate the attachment the Comcáac have to the land and the relative good fortune they have as a tribe to have lived on the land of their birth since the beginning of time. There is a misfortune however in their having inhabited their land for so long. They have seen the drastic changes global warming, tourism, and commercial fishing has wrought onto their homeland and their social isolation has made it difficult for many to hear their call. Environmental research does exist, but for a tribe just a day’s journey south of the United States border, little help or attention has come to aid them in the protection of their environment. Keeping and protecting the land hasn’t always been easy. The Comcáac have a long history defending against Spanish and later, Mexican government encroachment. Isla Tiburon was only recently declared Comcáac communal land in 1975 according to a 2012 Spanish-language newspaper article entitled, “Un Nomadismo Silenciado: La Sedentarización Comcáac,” for La Jornada del Campo that details the politics of the tribe. (Jornada.unam.mx: para. 7). And different Pacific varieties of Sea Turtles are still mostly endangered as are other plants, reptiles, sea life, and mammals due to lack of rains, toxins in waters, and natural climate replenishment.

The Leatherback sea turtle is a supreme example of the changes the Comcáac have seen over the years. According to a (2006) article for Los Cabos Guide, “the Seri regard the leatherback turtle as a sacred embodiment of their ancestors, to be revered and protected. Years ago, on the rare occasion, a leatherback was captured, the Seri would hold a four-day ceremony to provide protection for the turtle before it was released, unharmed.” (loscabosguide.com: para. 7-8). In a sad twist of fate, the article goes on to mention, “it has been over 20 years since the Seri have performed these ceremonies, as no leatherbacks have been encountered in the northern tip of the Sea of Cortez. Only 2,300 adult female Pacific leatherbacks are thought to remain, making it the world’s most endangered marine turtle.” (loscabosguide.com: para. 11).

The sea turtle itself being the reason all terrestrial animals could live is a major symbol to the Comcáac. It is a “staple of their annual New Year celebrations from June 30th to July 1st” according to a (2014) article for Cuidad Obregon, Sonora titled, “Caguama, Animal Sagrado para Los Comcáacs.” (obson.wordpress.com: para. 2). The decimation of turtle population has gotten so bad that a very important ritual of eating Sea Turtle during certain celebrations such as female puberty rites documented by Nabhan in his book has reportedly ceased taking place. According to Romelia Barnett D, the leader of Grupo Tortuguero Comcáac (a sea turtle conservationist group), claims that “in these times it is not necessary to eat Caguama meat anymore and we are motivating our community to conserve it.” (conversationsearth.org).

The Cosmo-vision of Comcáac original lands and current home is based on balance. The balance of human influence on the land and its inhabitants. They keep this balance by protecting the land from outsiders, climate change, commercialism, and politics. Without this balance, the Comcáac risk breaking their relationship with their place of origin and flora and fauna that make up their community.

The Land as Nutritionist

In the very beginning, my father knew nothing about Ironwood. One day he had a quarrel with his wife, and he went to the mountains. He laid on a piece of wood and fell asleep. He dreamt that someone spoke to him, but he never knew who it was. This unknown man told him, “See, make good use of this tree. You will be able to make figures out of the wood for this tree. You can sell them and support your family with the money you earn.” – Amelia Astorga (Seri People: Live by the Desert and the Sea, 2015)

Jose Astorga made the first ironwood carving in 1963. In the 2015 film, Seri People: Live by the Desert and the Sea, Aurora Astorga, his daughter, remembers it was “a viper snake and his second figure was a caguama sea turtle” (Seri People, 2015). Desert Ironwood (Tesota Onega) is native to the Sonoran Desert and one the highest-growing species of tree there. Some plants can reach a height of up to 10 meters. Ironwood grows slow and is evergreen even in the dry season. The harsh desert environment makes their wood very dense making it ideal for woodcarving. Ironwood also burns consistently, making ideal for cooking and heating with. Over-logging by Mexicans and climate change has decreased the population of Ironwood trees around the Comcáac homelands forcing them to “travel farther to collect ironwood” (Seri People, 2015). Its recent economic benefit to the community is just another example of how the land has helped the Comcáac adapt in relation to ecological and social changes. These changes are among the survivalist roots that have helped the Comcáac subsist in a place most people could only hope to last.

According to various ethnographical sources, including the Comcáac themselves, they were historically a nomadic people who followed the migration of fish and wildlife along the central coastline of the Gulf of California, from Puerto Lobos down to Guaymas Bay. Currently, they are mainly settled in El Desmboque and Punta Chueca. Still, the land surrounding the entire coastline contains four main rivers, not including various rivulets, that drain into the sea beginning with Rio Colorado to the North and ending with Rio Matape to the South. Additionally, the Comcáac have “at least 40 named springs, seeps, and water holes on Isla Tiburón, and dozens more on the mainland” as of 2003, according to Gary Paul Nabhan (Singing the Turtles to Sea, p. 56). Unfortunately, many of these water holes have dried due to climate change, but Tiburón still houses a few the Comcáac currently protect. In his article for the Journal of the Southwest, David Bruckhalter reports, “potable water is trucked in daily to Punta Chueca from the tourist town of Kino Bay” and “the more remote Desemboque has its own well and pump to supply village taps” (Seri Indians Today, 2000). Still, Nabhan notes that the Comcáac’s oral history has “accurately recorded…scarce or even hidden” water hole “resources necessary for ultimate survival” (Singing the Turtles to Sea, p. 52).

watershed
A color-coded map of Comcáac food and water systems. Water holes are not marked, there are at least 40 named water sources according to Nabhan in Singing the turtles to sea (2000).

Cactus fruit is also harvested and used for hydration as well as nutrition during the warmest months (July and August). The highest of to reach belong to the Saguaro cactus. The Comcáac use a long pole with a knife affixed to harvest the fruit without being injured by the Saguaro’s long spines. In the raw, cactus fruit provides natural sugars, but they are also sliced and dipped in honey. The Comcáac also make strong wine from cactus fruit, to serve it during celebrations (Seri People, 2015). Unbeknownst to foreigners, the Sonoran Desert provides the Comcáac with an abundance of flora. According to Bruckhalter, common plant species that paint the landscape are, “red -flowered ocotillos, yellow-blossomed palo verde[sic] trees, mesquites, ironwoods, stands of huge cardones, organpipes[sic], lobed senitas, and sprawling pitaya cacti, diced with orange mallow and golden-flowered brittlebushes, (that) rise high into the mauve palisades of the Sierra Seri to the east” (Seri Indians Today, 2000).

Ironwood and Mesquite seeds have long been used as flours for Comcáac flatbreads and tortillas. According to R. S. Felger and M. B. Moser, the seeds were harvested during the months of May through September. Unfortunately, many Comcáac cannot collect the seeds anymore once again due to over-logging and climate change. According to Bruckhalter, many Comcáac “have become dependent on processed goods high in fat and sugar. Instead of gathering and eating nutritious mesquite beans, edible roots, cactus fruits, and eelgrass nuts” (Seri Indians Today, 2000). Bruckhalter avoids addressing the possible reasons for this diet change, but most sources acknowledge the impacts logging and global warming have had on the Comcáac. Still, the community continues to make flatbreads and tortillas with wheat flour when mesquite and ironwood seeds are unavailable. These flat, disk-shaped bread are fried or baked over a round oven tops and eaten plain or with hot sauce (Seri People, 2015). My grandmother used to cook them, tear open one of their dough bubbles, and slide a sliced jalapeño inside. I would devour at least four of these never minding the tingling sensation over my tongue and mouth from the chili. The bread/tortillas are also served alongside fish, prawns, or crabs—when available—to complete the meal. Otherwise, the bread is consumed plain or accompanied with seasonally harvested desert fruit.

The sea provides the Comcáac with their primary source of sustenance. Even eelgrass seeds are collected during the months of January through April. Specifically, April is known as Xnoois Ihaat Iizax or ‘when-there-is moon’ and the eelgrass grain is ready for harvesting (Moser & Marlett, 2010). Traditionally and according to Richard Felger and Mary Beck Moser, the Comcáac knew the season of eelgrass was upon them when “‘Xnóis the foreteller’…a certain species of duck which dives to feed on the plant” was seen diving offshore. (Eelgrass in the Gulf of California, 1973). However, like Burckhalter mentioned, this type of nutritional food is less-often a staple of the modern Comcáac diet. Seafood has long been the Comcáac staple diet. Mollusks have long been an important food source for the Comcáac. According to Melida López and Debora Perales, Comcáac ancestors “were always looking for how to survive, somehow they discovered that most of the mollusks are edible, and they used the shells of some as utensils and toys” and “strung some of them on necklaces” (Twelve Mollusks in Twelve Months, 2015).

The Comcáac are known for their fishing skills. So much so, it became their primary source of income for a time. According to Bruckhalter, “During the late 1930s, Roberto Thomson Encinas helped the tribe establish a fishing cooperative…Seris entered into Mexican and international markets by selling shark livers used in making vitamins A and D” (Seri Indians Today, 2000). Although this is still the case, commercial fishing began “out-fishing” the Comcáac in the sixties, and they began to rely on trading handicrafts and small amounts of tourism to provide for their families and communities.

According to Bruckhalter, there have been long records of Comcáac carvings using the wood from “red elephant trees” called, “Santos” (Seri Indians Today, 2000). However, the contemporary craft of ironwood carving has proven more economically sufficient. The Comcáac are also known for their basket weaving skills and according to one weaver, the original basket weaver was a man. In Seri People: Live by the Desert and the Sea, Berta Estrella, regarded as Desemboque best basket weaver, tells the story:

The first basket was in fact made by a man, not a woman, but one day this man did not want to continue making baskets. He appointed a fifteen-year-old girl and told her “you will be my successor, and you will continue making baskets from torote to support your family from the money you make by selling the baskets.” Since then, we women weave and make the baskets. It is a source of income for my family.

Comcaac baskets are weaved with a flexible type of wood found in “a certain kind limber bush we call torote” (Seri People, 2015). Desemboque is more accessible to tourism, particularly at the end of June/beginning of July when the village celebrates the new year. Many families make wood carvings and baskets to sell to visiting tourist as well as seafood. The Comcaac also use this opportunity to promote their culture amongst visitors. Though their life in modern Mexico may not be ideal, the desert land of the Comcáac protects and supports them. The Comcáac have adapted to many changes. Once a community where sea turtle meat “accounted for 25 percent of their diet” (Bruckhalter, 2000), they stopped eating it to protect the endangered sea turtle. As Ironwood, Mesquite, and Eelgrass seed grain became scarce they turned to wheat flour. These choices are not preferred but are decisions made to protect the land and its inhabitants. The Comcáac have always put the ecosystem first and perhaps that is why they have endured. Like the land itself has adapted to change, so have the Comcáac, who regard the land and all of its inhabited species as their immemorial teachers. Teachers they have respectfully learned to live off of and alongside, no matter the season and no matter the change.

Follow the Wind

To the Comcaác, singing is a spiritual tool valued for its medicine, recordkeeping, storytelling, and expression. The Comcaác have many songs for the different features of life. They have songs for celebration, for mourning, for storytelling, and for navigating the troubled and unpredictable sea waters they call home. One of these songs, according to Laura S. Monti in her dissertation on “Seri Indian Adaptive Strategies” for The University of Arizona, is a song sung by the Spirit Woman of the island of San Esteban—Coftécöl to the Comcaác. The song is called, Haa Quiti, or Go with the Wind and it is sung while traversing the “area of rough water” that exists between the islands of Coftécöl and Tahéjöc (Tiburon) “where shifting stronger winds, currents, and large swells begin, heralding the onset of the upcoming wave fields” (42). To the Comcaác, the onslaught of shrimp farms and commercial fishing and the overharvesting of local resources near their homelands may require a song of faith and resilience in navigating the rough waters of an uncertain future for their ecology, cosmology, and traditional way of life.

Tiburon
Author’s photograph of Tahéjöc (Tiburon).

One of the biggest eco-threats, second only to global warming and climate change, to the Comcaác, is commercial fishing and aquatic farms. In the Spring 2006 issue of Earth Island Journal, Winona Laduke mentions the Comcaác’s current ecosystem “faces threats from potential tidal energy-generating plants and shrimp aquaculture” (LaDuke 2006). Currently, no tidal energy plants are operational, but the northern coastlines of Sonora and Baja California are still potential places for Tidal Energy plants according to a public relations website for Tidal Electric, Inc. (Tidal Electric 2013). Shrimp aqua farms do exist however and are currently operating near Comcaác land up the coast of the Sea of Cortez, from Puerto Peñaso to Guaymas—Hasoj Iyat. According to a “2015 Final Report on Shrimp farms in Northwestern Mexico” published by Aquaculture Magazine, Shrimp production rose from 12,874 tons in 2013 to 60,000 tons in 2015 and is “expected to grow by 87,000 tons” from 2016-2017 in Sonora and Southern neighboring state, Sinaloa (Aquaculture Magazine 2016). This is disconcerting news for a community that not only lives off of many of animals found in their shoreline but considers themselves ecologist and caretakers of the land and the sea south of Puerto Peñasco to Hasoj Iyat.

Commercial fishing has been a detrimental factor to the Native ecosystems in the region since the early 20th century. According to Conrad J. Bahre, Luis Bourillón, and Jorge Torre in The Seri and Commercial Totoaba Fishing (1930-1965), an article published in the Autumn of 2000 by the Journal of the Southwest, commercial fishing in the Gulf, for a whitefish called totoaba, “began about 1910 in the coastal waters south of Guaymas” (564). According to the same article, Comcaác fishermen likewise participated in the booming industry even though they were paid “less for their catch than other fishermen” (569). The once prominent totoaba dropped significantly in population during the sixties due to the shrimp and sardine industry in the area. The authors note that according to Antonio Robles, a Comcaác elder, the totoaba population dwindled because the shrimp and sardine industry took away their food which used to be “abundant in the Canal del Infiernillo,” the sea channel between Tahéjöc (Isla Tiburon) and the mainland known to the Comcaác as Xepe Coosot and Xepe Heeque (Bahre et al. 573). Considering these factors, it’s clear the interconnected ecosystem in the Sea of Cortez is fragile enough for certain populations to be “overfished” or overharvested within a few decades.

The Comcaác aren’t the only ones who are highly aware of the fragility of their shared ecosystem. According to Luis Bourillón-Moreno in a dissertation published by the University of Arizona titled, Exclusive Fishing Zone as a Strategy for Managing Fishery Resources by the Seri Indians, during the seventies an Exclusive Fishing Zone (EFZ) was established by the Mexican Government in the Infernillio Channel as a social and cultural protection for the Comcaác and their way of life (Bourillón-Moreno 79). The Mexican fishing industry responded to the exclusion by creating shrimp farms along the coast and fisheries outside of the EFZ (Bourillón-Moreno 129). Depletion, something the fishing industry seems to shrug off policy-wise, is distressing to the Comcaác community of caretakers to their home: land and sea.

Currently, there is a still a massive push on behalf of Comcaác conservationist groups, such as Grupo Tortuguero, in conjunction with other environmental groups to protect the local sea turtle population and bring back their numbers. In her article for the Earth Island Journal called, “Sex, Sea Turtles, and the Seri,” Winona LaDuke reports one method the Comcaác are incorporating is tagging and tracking sea turtles “in an effort to nurture their restoration” noting that for the first time in many years, turtles are returning to Comcaác territory to nest (LaDuke 2006). Not only has commercial fishing affected sea turtles negatively by increasing their risk of being trapped in commercial nets, poachers have been illegally harvesting sea turtle eggs to sell as virile supplements on the black market (LaDuke 2006). Tribal efforts to counteract the effects of the fishing industry include adjustments in the Comcaác’s own fishing habits and opening their land to tourism in an effort to educate tourists and raise awareness on these important ecological problems.

Overharvesting is not solely a sea-based problem. Another valuable resource for the Comcaác is the Desert Ironwood tree (Tesota Onega). Traditionally, the Comcaác harvest the seed from Ironwood pods to grind and use as a flour for flatbread. They also use the wood of the tree for fuel and to make intricate woodcarvings they sell to tourists. Currently, the Comcaác have had to adjust their own harvesting of ironwood due to over-logging by the Mexican lumber and charcoal (ironwood and mesquite charcoal are valuable Sonoran exports) industry forcing them to turn to processed or enriched flours for their flatbreads and travel far to collect ironwood for carving (Seri People: Live by the Desert and the Sea, 2015). These factors carry life-changing consequences for the Comcaác as they struggle to adjust to living sustainably.

Most industries process raw materials for public (capitalist) consumption. In Spanish consumer means to take up all of something. The end result of any industry is the complete consumption of whatever raw materials it processes. In the case of the fishing, logging, and charcoal industry in Sonora, the only resistance to their full consumption of local sea-life and Ironwood is the government support of Comcaác communities in charge of these lands. Without the EFZ and government sanction of Comcaác territories, there is little doubt much of the local ecosystem would exist in its current state. Ironically, a significant factor in the Comcaác’s ability to protect the area is the decision to open up Haxöl Ihom (Desemboque del Sur) and Socáaix (Punta Chueca) to tourism. Just 8 years ago, I experienced the guarded isolation that defined the Comcaác way of life. According to research, it seems that much of that has changed. Once again, the Comcaác have adapted.  The tragedy is that without policy implementation by the Mexican government regulating the use of Comcaác land and sea, the industry is not interested in adapting to the environment. The burden falls on the Comcaác communities of Haxöl Ihom and Socáaix to adapt to these changes. Much like the song they sing as they travel the troubled waters of Xepe Coosot, the Comcaác continue to “Go with the Wind” as industrial practices alter the world around them. The winds of time continue to shift bringing stronger currents and deeper swells to signal the onset of upcoming waves and the Comcaác patiently sing to the wind for safe passage.

You are welcome. You are welcome here.

Upon arrival, I was greeted with curious stares from villagers. I pulled up to a group of elders near a cooking fire preparing for a meal. I got out and spoke Spanish to greet them and one of the elders nodded to a man seated in the center of the group. He introduced himself as, Antonio Robles Astorga and said he was an elder. He asked me who I was and why I came. I told him my story. He said he didn’t know my family but he would look for their names in the tribal record first thing in the morning. The sun was fading and he invited me to have a meal and stay the night. I humbly accepted and shared with them the little bit of food I brought. One of the ladies, Amalia Astorga, took very quickly to my bag of beef jerky. By the time evening had come I was ushered to spend the night in the schoolhouse by its teacher, Humberto. Humberto took me inside and gave up his cot for me to sleep on. I immediately refused but there was no denying him. As I was getting my blankets ready I was interrupted by Amalia Astorga, her sister Maria, and a little girl, Griselda. Griselda came and inspected my digital camera and brought me her puppy to play with. She gave me a shell necklace she made herself as a gift. Amalia, who was thankful for my having shared my jerky with her made Maria sing me a song. Maria sang and I wept. I was honored to have these women welcome me in such a way, they reminded me of my grandmother and great aunt, I felt awful I had not found the courage to come before. Humberto came in shortly after and shooed the women away. He told me about his tribe and his students. I listened and then I slept.

Griselda
Author’s photo of Griselda in the village schoolhouse.

The next morning, we found the records and I was asked to stay another day. Unfortunately, my time was limited and I had to apologize for my short stay, but I needed to return to Kino and then, home. They asked me to return again so they may get to know me. I was overwhelmed with emotion, but I agreed. Humberto wished me off and asked if when I returned I could bring some books. I said I would. I thanked him again for his hospitality. He said, “You are welcome. You are welcome here.”

We embraced and I drove back down the desert road into Bahia Kino. I still have not returned to Socáaix, but the intense heat of my ancestral lands and the embrace of my people keep me warm. Though I do not understand the words, I hear Maria’s song from time to time and I see Griselda’s smile. They remind me that I’ll be welcome when I return, someday.

 

Written by Jonathan Ayon Alonso.


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