Pico de Orizaba

Pico de Orizaba
Taken from Huatusco, Veracruz, the closest town to Margarita's family's ranch.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Sexism, Alcoholism, Negligence, and the premature death of Angelina

Angelina Cruz de Robles during her 81st
birthday August 2, 2011
7pm, Monday December 9th, Margarita was informed that her Grandmother (Angelina) died that morning. We quickly packed our suitcases and began an 18 hour journey travelling on 3 different buses to get to her family's ranch on the other side of the country in the mountains of Veracruz. The funeral and the funeral/community rituals ended on Friday the 20th. We began the trip back yesterday Saturday December 21st at noon and are back home in Guadalajara at 8am Sunday...

My mother wrote, "Hope the family has many good memories to remember Margarita's grandmother by. But the end of life is always sad, so sorry."

They have many good memories of Angelina (a very strong woman). However, they also have a very sad memory: which is that the relatives responsible for taking care of her and her husband Oligario (Angelina was blind the 11 years I knew her, and still cooked for Oligario and invited people to eat in her kitchen until she no longer could perform those duties) didn't give her food or water the last few weeks of her life... You've gotta understand that two of her sons, two of her daughter's-in-law and their 15 children (some with children of their own) lived within 100 feet of Angelina's house. My brother-in-law Willy's wife Indez mentioned one day visiting Angelina that Angelina said to her, "Please stay with me. These people don't give me water"... 

Someone said that, the week or so before Angelina died, upon helping her change her house dress, they noticed abrasions on her back and a bump on her head. One of the daughters-in-law said that she had fallen from the bed. Another mentioned that on another occasion, Oligario was found grabbing her hands or arms forcefully and yelling in her face... bringing up the question if Oligario had the tendency towards violence... bringing up the topic of violence in the ranch... bringing up the topic of extreme alcoholism in the ranch and those consequences... My mother-in-law, Angelina's only daughter, and the only child of Oligario and Angelina who was truly responsible towards her parents (but for the past 3 years the care taking of
Angelina with her Husband Oligario
and her daughter Paz

Oligario and Angelina has been divided between Paz, her 4 brothers and her four sisters-in-law [one week one person, one week another person living with Oligario and Angelina]) also mentioned that her husband, my father-in-law Roberto was violent with her (Paz). 

Alcoholism, extreme Male Chauvanism (also taught by the mother's to the sons and daughters, also taught by Paz to her children [preference is always towards the male children], and the extreme unwillingness to reason, limiting the ability towards creating progress in a community extremely controlled by classism and no-regulation of prices), was the constant topic of discussion the past 12 days... Topic of discussion with whom was found talking with me...

My mother exclaimed, "How very sad that a person's life can end in such an unloved way!"

But she was loved... I believe she was greatly loved... (at least by my wife (her grand daughter Margarita) and greatly respected... However, when the mind is tired or strangely undeveloped or undernourished or overstressed or also malnourished, or subjected to alcoholic demention, or alcoholic depression (speaking of the children or the wives of the alcoholics) and they try doing things in a democratic fashion... or in a just way (meaning that Paz and Roberto can't be the only ones looking after Paz's parents, especially if there are 2 families [one of them very large] living next door, while Roberto and Paz live a few miles away...) a great risk is created that someone will overlook an important detail or not consider an important point: that not everyone is responsible or caring or considerate or sympathetic or diligente and another person will be negatively affected:  Angelina died of malnutrition and everyone must live with that truth.  

Wednesday, December 11th, I found myself the driver of the "hearse" since the blood relatives can't move the body of the deceased... I was the head of the funeral procession from the church to the cemetary with the community walking behind the pick-up truck I was driving... Needless to say, I wasn't exactly thrilled with the responsibility... After the funeral, eveyone returns to the house of the deceased and the men generally dive into their drinking.... Wednesday, December 11th was that one day of 365 where I found I could drink alcohol with those who invited me... I found myself drinking Mezcal with Margarita's uncles and some of her brothers. Late in the afternoon, one of Margarita's uncles (Aquiles "Chayo") invited me to take a drive in his car (I thought he needed something from the store and we would return rapidly). One of Margarita's other uncles (Lourdes "El Negro" [blackie]) who had been in the circle of drinkers and who was in the middle of a deep conversation with me in the midst of his tears wanted to go with us, but "Chayo" said, "You no. Get out of the car. You, Ross, sit in the front. Lets find a fresher space"... And he took me to drink in 3 different places, the last one with a group of his drinking buddies, who had also been drinking earlier at Angelina's house... The first two occasions I refused, since I had been refusing beer the whole day. The third occasion I refused, but Chayo insisted and sent one of his buddies for a bottle of Mezcal... Every few minutes Chayo would say to me, "don't worry. We're free"; meaning that we didn't have to answer to anyone (the wives)... until someone (I believe it was my brother-in-law José Francisco) became concerned about my disappearance and went on an unfruitful search for us... But finally, one of Chayo's sons found us and said that the family was looking for me... During that last drinking "session" one of Chayo's drinking partners (also his cousin) "Wicho" mentioned that he knew he shouldn't be drinking since it harms his abdomin, but it is his conscious decision to ignore the health consequences. Of the Morales Robles Cruz family, Wicho is the largest land owner and main coffee producer. His father was one of Angelina's brothers and who inherited the majority of the land holding's of Angelina's father... Angelina inhereted land. But, being female, it was very little... 70 years ago, Angelina's marriage to Oligario was considered "marrying down"... and was frought with all the socio-political consequences of marrying an "undesirable"... I'm writing with a very tired head and a headache... 

It is impossible for me to ignore the question of how different would have been the trajectory of Angelina's life and that of her children and then grandchildren and great grandchildren if her parents believed that she deserved the same inheritance consideration as that of her brother who inherited almost all of her parents' land.  

20+ years later, Paz would repeat the same experience of her father Oligario, since my father-in-law's marriage to Paz was considered marrying down.  Roberto became orphaned as a boy and had been taken care of by one of his aunts who never married.  At the time Roberto decided to marry Paz (16-years old and 17 years younger than my father-in-law) his aunt was considered a major landowner in the ranch.  With her death, Roberto would inherit all of her land.  However, when she learned that Roberto planned marriage with Paz, she sold the land and moved to the city of Cordoba...  Probably knowing how the Morales-Gonzalez family viewed the Robles-Cruz family, Roberto's future father-in-law refused to participate in his daughter Paz's wedding.  Had Roberto's aunt not "disowned" him, Margarita and her brothers would have grown up much different than was their actual experience.
There is a phrase, supposedly dating back to the "American" Revolution but revived frequently after World War II: "A Man's work is from Dawn to Dusk; but a woman's work is never done"... Some people change the word woman to that of Mother... 

 Margarita's family claims that Oligario began drinking after the death of two of his children (two died one after the other; 4 died in all)... In order to find "decent" paying work, Oligario would take the family with him to "the city" of Cordoba, Veracruz. While there working for a British or American man, one of the daughters became ill. Supposedly she became ill after seeing the branding of horses and hearing their whinying... she would have nightmares of those horses whining for days afterwards. One day she started asking to be taken back home. I believe Oligario ignored her cries to return to the ranch. I'm sure he had no idea that she was as ill as she was... and she died. Oligario has always been an incredible worker. And, at the age of 86, if no one is observing, he will just up and go... and walk for miles and miles. The concern is that he will get lost in the canyons or woods or fall... He is now diagnosed with Alzheimers... (I don't like that diagnosis because of his age; Alzheimers is Pre-senile dementia. So, I ask, at what age does one qualify for non-pre-senile dementia?)

Angelina had 9 children. And she also suffered the death of those 2 boys and 2 girls. And then she suffered the horrible alcoholism of the 4 remaining sons and that of her husband Oligario. In the words of Margarita, "How many Friday or Saturday nights would Angelina be seen standing infront of the house till the wee hours of the morning waiting for the drunken return of Oligario and her sons? and she always had food waiting for them." But, back to the abrasions on Angelina's back and the bump on her head leading to my question to Paz if Oligario had a violent tendency: Angelina would wait outside the house until the wee hours of the morning and her husband would return... and he would pull out the pistol he carried or guarded in the house, point it at her or shoot at the ceiling or shoot one of her prized geese or ducks or turkey... And I asked Paz if Oligario was physically violent with Angelina. And Paz said, "just in words, in yelling..." And she quickly slid into the commentary that her husband/my father-in-law Roberto was physically violent with her (Paz)... And Margarita wonders why her mother suddenly slid into that commentary when the three of us were driving to the nearest "city" of Huatusco for buying of groceries and flowers, plates and spoons for the ceremony that ends the 9 days of praying the following day.

Is there a quote about daughter's seeking men similar to their fathers or their brothers...?

This is part of my memorial to Angelina. I visited her house the 9 days of prayer ceremonies... But I didn't pray. Pray for Angelina's soul? Absolutely not. It doesn't need my prayers... She doesn't need anyone's help. She's fine. Who needs those prayer's? The community needs those prayers... But, it doesn't matter how much one prays. Nothing will truly change... I'm not a pessimist. I'm a realist. I have my eyes wide open and have seen and heard plenty during the 11 years I've been visiting the ranch with Margarita, sometimes we stay with her parents for up to 3 months.

Angelina... such a witty woman until the last few months of her life... never had a problem with my accent or the way I spoke Spanish and often explained to others, much younger and better educated than she, what I had just said, since many Mexicans hang onto my accent and don't allow themselves to hear my words... How can a person trapped in so many types of darkness be so witty? How can that person be so appreciative of the presence of others who later on would starve her to death?

But, let's continue with my mother's comment that she must have been a hard worker and my response that begins with "...a woman's work is never done..." 

 The men sat outside drinking and saying stupid things and the women were in the kitchen preparing the giant vats of coffee or hot fruit punch (Pinapple and Apples with raw sugar cane and/or mollases) or hot chocolate... organizing the flowers, cleaning the floors... etc...

No, that is not my true continuation... Angelina's son Aquiles (Chayo) could be the president of Mexico or the Governor of Veracruz or the Mayor of the municipality of Sochiapa. He is tall, light-skinned, stands straight as a board, demands everyone's attention and is openly egoistic. He has been heard saying, "Soy el más chingon", which means, "I'm the best of the best, the strongest here..." When he achieved parenthood of his 12th child, he said to his brother-in-law Roberto (my father-in-law) "I reached your mark..." (But he didn't surpass it).

What do you do with 12 children when you have them? What did my maternal great grandparents do with theirs? I don't know, since my mother's mother (#12 of 12) died 10 years before I was born... But, maybe my mother has an idea... But this isn't about Russia or New York City or my "American" life.

Maybe I should ask, "why would you have 12 children?" What causes you to have 12 children? But, does anyone truly think who is it who had those 12 children? My mother-in-law Paz had 13 children, but one of them died not long after birth...

Chayo's children grew up very skinny. His sons are tall or semi-tall but too skinny... Why?

Margarita says, "If it weren't for Angelina..."

Chayo's wife didn't cook. Why not? Why did Angelina's grandchildren come to her house to eat? Because she always had food ready for the appearance of anyone... But, she didn't say anything to her son Chayo about his alcoholism and about his not feeding his 12 children.

Margarita and her brothers remember that Angelina ALWAYS had something for their stomachs; they could always count on her.

When Margarita and I were watching over Oligario one of these past days and I was painting the house, since it hadn't been painted in 35 years, a 95-year-old woman (Lydia) visited and sat with Margarita who gave her coffee and a plate of food. Lydia had passed the house earlier walking as would a healthy and energetic 20-year-old woman on her way to visit someone and returned... actually, she walked as Margarita and I would walk briskly for exercise in the Metropolitan Park here in Guadalajara. What a woman with her face covered with wrinkles, much like famous photos of elderly Native Americans. While painting, I listened to her conversation about her "comadre" (Comadre is the equivalent of Godmother of the other's child)... Lydia was with Angelina 20 minutes before Angelina died. The last words Lydia heard from Angelina were, Co-madre, forgive me if I have offended you or disrespected you for any reason over the years..." Lydia was walking back to her house when my brother-in-law Gabriel ran to her to inform her that his grandmother had just passed away. Lydia returned to the house to bathe Angelina's body, clothe her correctly and showed Gabriel how to change the crooked expression on Angelina's face by slowly pouring water into her mouth and how to close her eyes by pulling on one of her toes ...

"Whenever I passed my comadre Angelina's house, my comadre would say, 'come in comadre and have a cup of coffee' and she would always offer me something to eat... my COMADRE no longer is here! OH COMADRE!" and the poor elderly woman of incredible strength and beauty cried in lamentation...

What can you do? Change the world? Who changes the world? Do you think that when I write or when I speak I believe I am changing the world or that I can or will change the world?

One could say, thank god Oligario didn't shoot Angelina or that he wasn't physically violent with her... And I wonder if she truly fell from her bed or that Oligario truly grabbed her hands violently and yelled in her face... Those days I talked to various people about the concern in the United States about Elderly Abuse and I always wondered "Who in god's name would abuse elderlies!!!???" But, if there is the concern, there must be the documentation... I imagine if I were writing a scene for "Law and Order", the police would have visited Angelina's house and investigated her death as a crime... But, even if the daughter and grandchildren of Angelina know that she died of negligence, none of them would wish for an investigation... Would I? I don't believe you would appreciate one of my responses: "It is just par for the course"... Margarita would also say that Angelina taught her daughter and her daughter's-in-law to be submissive towards their drunken, negligent and possibly violent husbands... The best thing Angelina said to her daughters-in-law and possibly to her daughter Paz was, "Before your husband leaves the house, do something for them that would decrease the possibility of them being with other women..." The commentary has much more weight in Spanish than in English... something to the tone, "If you want to prevent your husbands becoming hot with other women..." But, she never told her daughter or daughters-in-law how to prevent their husbands from spending all their money in rounds of liquor with their "compadres" that caused the children to grow up malnourished and even deformed in some form or another... The men are kings and the male children are princes... the women are breeders, cinderellas (never to be saved by their prince in shining armour) and, although their brains aren't destroyed by alcohol, as are those of the men, the men claim that only the men have intelligence...

You may ask, "what do you mean, brains destroyed by alcohol?"

If you do any research into the effects of alcohol on the body you will find that of all socially or culturally acceptable that we ingest, alcohol is what causes the most destruction within the body; more than sugars/carbohydrates, cholesterol from animals, trans fats, preservatives and colorants, sodium... Here is the list of how alcohol damages the body from greatest risk to lesser risk:

1: Nervous System-dementia-"craziness"--nervio-muscular disorders

2: Diabetes

3: Cirosis of the Liver

4: Heart Disease...

It's interesting that it is more probable that the alcoholic will die of Diabetes-related disorders before dying from liver disfuntion. The sad thing is that the community will blame his death on diabetes as an inevitable hereditary disorder and not know that what killed him was his alcoholic habit...

Paz is diabetic. Angelina and Oligario aren't diabetic, nor are any of Paz's brothers or uncles... Oligario didn't drink as a father with young children. Word has it that it was his sons who brought him into their drinking circles later on... So, you can remove the hereditary question from the issue... Granted, if everyone drinks to excess and the drinkers insist that the newcomers drink every time their bottle or glass is empty and no one has the courage or strength to say, "no, I don't want to drink..." In Mexico, all politics and male friendships revolve around beer, tequila or aguardiente (Rum/Whisky)... if you are a male and you don't drink you find yourself without friends or political/business partners... Is it hereditary or is it cultural?

The day of the funeral I decided to drink and my body allowed me to and then I said, no, although I still received the glass of mezcal, finally to leave it on the table untouched. I remember Chayo saying to me, "there is nothing more offensive or irresponsible than leaving a beer or a glass of liquor unfinished..." He didn't say that to me because I had just left my mezcal untouched. His commentary occured much earlier in the day. And it was clearly a warning to all listening or it was just a warning to me as a newcomer... So, when do you stop drinking? When the leader stops drinking or when you are falling on the ground. This isn't hereditary. This is socio-political. For some reason I never felt drunk and never lost control physically or mentally. The drinking that day didn't affect my sleep and I awakened the following day as if I hadn't drunk the day before. I received aguardiente or mezcal various veces the following 9 days. Took a sip and left the glass where I had been standing... I was always cordial with "Chayo" and his brothers "Fego", "El Negro" and Gregorio "Gollo", but never found myself drinking with them again. Saturday, the day of returning the cross to the grave, I stayed "home" finishing Milan Kundera's "La Despedida" (The Fairwell Party). I was under the impression that it was a brief ritual and that Margarita would return a couple of hours later, hopefully giving me enough time to finish the book, shower and leave for Mexico City or Guadalajara. It was the only day of the 12 days at the ranch that I didn't go to Angelina's house. Margarita returned 7 hours later. All the men, including her father, became horribly drunk. Margarita stayed to help her mother and her aunts with all the work and the clean-up.

The night before they celebrated the end of the 9 days of praying when they kill a pig and invite the community to participate in the various ceremonies...Carnitas (Pork boiled in lard with herbs, orange juice and wine) and fried pork rinds, red rice, 400 tamales, lots of cookies, hot pineapple-apple punch, hot coffee. That night I entered into a conversation about the alcoholic tendency with Gloria, the wife of Margarita's uncle Lourdes "el Negro". Gloria commented that they only drink during fiestas... And since this is the holiday season. And then she asked me, "are you saying that Lourdes is alcoholic?" I responded that I couldn't know, since I don't spend much time with him... However, that night I had mentioned to "el Negro" that I couldn't eat the pork, since for some reason it makes me horribly sick... And he responded, "Of Course! You've gotta drink Aguardiente (sugar cane whisky that, with a different process becomes Carribean Rum) or your abdomin will become incredibly distended!" Anything to justify the drinking of alcohol...

The following day, they would get smashed again... Is it because of the holidays? Were they drowning their sorrows? The night before only the women cried. Were they crying because of the loss of Angelina? Were they crying because they caused the premature loss of Angelina? Or were they crying because they live an unescapable suffering and that the only escape is in death?

What can you do?

The only thing I can do is think and re-think and try to feel when maybe I'm not feeling, respect what is respectable and share my concerns with others... I write every-once-in-awhile. But, I've gotta manage a business to pay our lives that enables us to hop on a bus or in the truck and make journeys like this past one and help support the economy of my in-laws ranch (I've offered to pay for special schooling for Alin (Alejandro Jr 13-years-old); the first child of my oldest brother-in-law and the first grandchild of Paz and Roberto who scored #1 in state exams for rural/ranch/farmer children. However, the state and federal government that decided to test all Mexican children at a certain age for their intellectual levels and who published the findings and the names of the children in all of the newspapers and even invited them to Mexico City for special ceremonies, didn't offer to place these children in better school systems, meaning that these children will just squander in the same messes in which their parents and aunts and uncles squander.

In one of my conversations with Alin, I mentioned my concern that the Mexican government doesn't place children like Alin in better educational programs and he responded that he felt the same, which greatly surprised me... The following night, his father Alejandro visited me drunk, but strangely lucid because he wanted to talk to me about giving his uncle Gollo a chance to work with us... But, I can't offer work to an alcoholic, even if he is momentarilly dry. I didn't say that to Alejandro, since he wouldn't understand... Later on I asked him if he would have a problem with Alin leaving the ranch to study in a private school. Like Alin, Alejandro surprised me by saying that there was a school an hour or so away where the wealthy and powerful sent their children. A school created by a German educator and that there was the possibility of Alin being able to get a government grant... That this school led to study in good Universities and to study abroad... The only question is would they accept Alin and what is the cost... I told Alejandro to do the research and inform me if there was anything I could do. I looked at Margarita to see if she had a problem with the offer and she said she was in agreement... Alejandro surprised me a second time as the only Mexican male adult who said, "I don't want to see my sons grow up living the life I've live. I don't want them to work as brick masons, carpenters or as taxi drivers" (he's all the above, but the last 7 years drives a rural taxi that has led to horrible back problems)... and he looked at his three sons who were watching tv with Margarita and I at the time of Alejandro's arrival... What I had been hearing from various fathers or about various fathers was, "Isn't enough doing what I do and what your ancestors have always done? You think you're better, more intelligent than me?"

Maybe this is the only thing we can do... give someone else a chance to live better. And don't get me wrong. We're not wealthy. We are far from owning our own house or from having economic security. Infact, upon returning to Guadalajara, the Mexican equivalent of IRS sent Margarita a letter informing her that the "rules" were about to change, meaning that I will have some strange administrative headaches beginning in the near future.

Alin is the first great grandchild of Angelina, and Alejandro (Alin's father) who has always helped care for Angelina and Oligario, taking them to the doctors, bringing groceries or medicine to their house and encountering Oligario during one of his long walks away from home, offering him rides in the taxi etc, was the first of their grandchildren... Maybe this is what Angelina would want for her great grandchildren... and hopefully I can help Alin make better decisions than what the adult males of his family and community tend towards making. The last thing I said to Alin yesterday morning before leaving for Guadalajara was:

"I don't care if you become a wealthy businessman or the governor of Veracruz, what I wish for you is that you become truly intelligent." The comment has much more power in Spanish...

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