The Plum / by Ilka Oliva Corado

Chronicle of an indigenous undocumented immigrant in the United States.

Guillermina leaves the grocery bags on the table and hurriedly takes out a plum, washes it and takes a bite. The juice drips from the corner of her lips. She closes her eyes and savors its sweetness slowly. She is grateful for the hands that cared for it since the seed of the tree was planted. Since she was a child, her campesino grandparents taught her to be thankful for the labor of those who work on the land.

She was from Parramos, Chimaltenango, in Guatemala. When she arrived in the United States, she was speaking only her mother tongue, Cakchiquel. She knew some Spanish words, here and there, but had never heard English. She spent 20 years working as a domestic worker in New York. She learned to travel by train.

The first time she got on a train and saw the great number of people in the station, she was surprised by the technology and by the many people traveling in this way. In Guatemala she never saw a train. All she knew was the song “The Railroad Way Up High” (La Ferrocarril de los Altos), which her grandparents liked when they heard it on the radio.

She remembers that they told her that in Guatemala there was once a train that was the most famous one in Central America. Guillermina left Guatemala with her brother Jacobo to help her parents raise her younger siblings. Her story is no different from that of thousands of Guatemalans who find themselves forced to emigrate without any papers. She was on the eve of her fifteenth birthday when she left her indigenous clothing behind and packed two pairs of pants and two T-shirts in her backpack that she bought second-hand in the market. Her coat for the trip was her mother’s the only sweater.

She doesn’t know what happened to her memory. But she managed to block all recall of the journey after they arrived in Tapachula [in Chiapas, Mexico]. Her brother Jacobo remembers everything clearly, but he loves her so much that he would be incapable of recalling for her the sexual abuse they both endured for twenty days at the hands of the coyotes who later on would dump them off in Tijuana. After that, Jacobo has never been able to sleep a single night in a row; nightmares wake him up early in the morning.

He works three jobs. Every Friday they collect their money so that Guillermina can send off the  remittance. Neither of the two will allow their younger siblings to emigrate. At home, in Parramos, they work the land of their grandparents, but Miguel, the youngest, didn’t listen to them and emigrated with another group of friends. He wanted to leave to help his older siblings in dealing with the economic burden of the house. Now he’s been missing for three years.

Guillermina bites into the plum that takes her back to remembering the bean fields, shade from the avocado and orange trees, and furrows in the cornfields. It was there she saw her younger siblings beginning to walk while her parents were working.

Plum juice drips from the corner of her lips. Guillermina offers thanks to the hands that cared for her ever since the seed of the tree was planted. But tasting the fruit that Miguel loved so much sets off the pain that for three years has been knotted in her throat and she begins to cry inconsolably.

It was in the supermarket that she received the call from Jacobo. There is news of Miguel, finally. A forensic team did tests and they have confirmed his identity. A humanitarian rescue team searching for a missing migrant woman months ago found his bones in a dry river in Sonora. Her parents will be able to bury their young son in the town cemetery, finally.

Source: La ciruela – Rebelion, Translated by Tom Whitney

Ilka Oliva Corado ( Author’s blog: )