The Omen of Two-Heads

by Scott Russell Duncan

Evil omen one happened ten years before the chalk-white men with beards and thunder in their hands came:  a flaming ear of corn shot in the sky and glowed like a wound in heaven. The second omen: the House of Authority burst in flames.  The third evil omen was the straw temple of the god of fire got struck by lightning.  The fourth: fire streamed through the sky on a sunny day.  The fifth: wind lashed Lake Texcoco into a flood.  The sixth evil omen was the weeping sound night after night crying, “My children, we must flee!”  The seventh: fishermen caught an odd bird, ash colored with a mirror in its head that showed the night sky. They brought the bird to emperor Motecuhzoma Xocoyotzin.  He looked in the mirror and saw a vision of the war of pale men riding deer. He looked once more and the odd bird was gone.

The eighth omen was me.

A two-headed man was seen in the streets of Tenochtitlan.  The seers said that he was deformed. That he was an oddity. They took him to emperor’s zoo of human curiosities and eventually to the Casa Denegrida–the room with no windows painted all black in which the emperor meditated in darkness on what the seers told him. When Motecuhzoma Xocoyotzin came to the Black House to see him, this evil omen, Two-Heads had disappeared.

More recent scribes write that the Mexica scribes, who recorded the omen of Two-Heads decades after the conquest, must have been alluding to the formation of the new race, the mestizo. And today, when you see me with my two heads creeping around the streets of California, it is still an omen.  The pocho, the Anglo-Chicano, the coconut. The coming again of the mixed blood, mixed culture of European and Native American.

The American scribes have already foretold this through their haruspication of population science and census projections.  Aztecs called these omens evil, and likewise the American scribes portray the Anglo-Chicano with xenophobia, as a crisis to be solved, a Mexapocalypseomen of the end times of Anglo privilege. Behold the terror of the future.  Two-heads, the coming of the mestizo, the looming exotic native norm. Being led into the Casa Denegrida of your mind at night, into your dreams of who you are and what you will be.


Scott Russell Duncan, a.k.a. Scott Duncan-Fernandez, recently completed The Ramona Diary of SRD, a memoir of growing up Chicano-Anglo and a fantastical tour reclaiming the myths of Spanish California. Scott’s fiction involves the mythic, the surreal, the abstract, in other words, the weird. Scott received his MFA from Mills College in Oakland, California where he now lives and writes. He is an assistant editor at Somos en escrito. See more about his work and publications on Scott’s website, scottrussellduncan.com.

Images in this post are from the Florentine and Mendoza codices. 

Editor’s Note: When the Street Lamps Glow

There is a statue near the border of Nogales, Arizona of a small boy. Every time my mother, brother, and I would walk by she’d turn to us and say that if we misbehaved or did not follow her instructions we would become a statue just like that small boy. My mother was always aided by folk tales or myths to scare us into thinking that if we deliberately disobeyed her, consequences would arise.

My mother is from Nogales, Sonora, Mexico. Molded by a culture full of folk tales and old proverbs, she passed on generations of stories to my siblings and I.  My mother shared the legends of El Cucuy, the Mexican boogeymann and El Chupacabra, a goat-like creature the size of a small bear–its spines reaching from its neck to the base of its tail–that haunts the desert. She also told me about La Llorona.

La Llorona is told as a cautionary tale to children to make them behave properly. Different versions of the story are told depending on the region. Some say the story focuses on Maria, a woman so beautiful that all the men in her town attempted to woo her each time she walked by. Maria, with a sense of self absorption, believed she deserved the attention. She would flirt with the men but vowed only to marry the most handsome and wealthiest man she could find. The only problem interfering with her lifestyle? Her two sons. So she decided to drown them.

Other versions of the tale say Maria married a wealthy man and they were happy. She bore him two sons. After a time, the man would go away for long periods of time and when he returned, only focused on his sons. One day, he returned with another woman at his side and left again. Enraged, Maria drowned her two children in the river. Maria became deeply remorseful and wandered along the banks hoping her sons would return. It is said that when she finally died, her weeping spirit wandered the land, crying, “¡Ay, mis hijos!”

One day when I was five, my three siblings and I were playing a game of freeze tag on my grandma’s patio. Our dogs chased and barked at us. The daylight was quickly vanishing and the street lamps were turning on. As the sun set, my mother called out to us and yelled it was time to return inside. We didn’t listen. She yelled out, “¡Si no regresan ya, los va a agarrar La Llorona!” which roughly translates to, “If you don’t return now, La Llorona will come get you.” My brothers stopped playing and ran inside. I didn’t understand who my mom was speaking of because I was the youngest and had not heard the tale. I stayed outside for another five minutes and when I decided to go back, I found the door was locked. My mom on the other side said it was too late and La Llorona coming. Panicking, I begged to go inside. She hesitated. I said I was sorry for not coming back when she asked. The door unlocked and I ran inside.

I sat on a rusty old stool as I listened to my mother explain the importance of La Llorona. A weeping women all dressed in a white dress and her face covered by a white veil. She wouldn’t rest until she found her kids. That’s when my mom uttered the word: “Unless…” I stared at her, tightening my eyebrows. “Unless she finds other children, children who misbehave, and takes them instead.” I felt my skin lose its smoothness and small bumps started forming from my forearm to my shoulder. “La Llorona will come as soon as the lights on the street start turning on. Make sure you’re inside when the street lamps glow.


This editor’s note was written by Tiny Donkey editorial assistant Gabriel A. Jiménez. 

Editor’s Note: A Border of Sky

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Borrando La Frontera

In 2011, artist Ana Teresa Fernández painted swathes of the Tijuana border wall pale blue. From a distance, these painted sections blended with the sky so well that the wall seemed to disappear: it ceased, for a moment, to be a barricade, a reminder that the Global North is fortifying itself against the Global South. Fernández’s work reminds me of the fairy tales of my childhood, where the edges of forests are boundaries between known and unknown worlds. In those stories, borders function as thresholds.

In Ambos Nogales, where I volunteer at el Comedor, an aid station and soup kitchen for recently deported migrants, the border wall starts outside of town. It’s a rust-colored snake that wriggles across the hill crests before descending into the city itself. It cleaves the broad avenues and beige-brick buildings of sleepy Arizona from the narrow streets and tumble of vendor carts and pharmacies of urban Sonora–cleaves city from suburb, Mexico from the US, “them” from “us.” On Sundays, families picnic along the fence, cousins with Mexican citizenship passing Coca-Cola and condiments to cousins with US citizenship, holding hands instead of embracing. The border here is porous enough for fingers, voices, shared meals; for lives to be lived across and between–but not permeable enough for whole bodies.

I’m a gring@ from north of the line; I live in a country where politicians and public intellectuals fuel fears that legions of people from Mexico and Central America are crossing north to take jobs away from US citizens and to, God forbid, speak Spanish while browsing the supermarket. In his poem “187 Reasons Why Mexicanos Can’t Cross the Border,” Juan Felipe Herrera writes, “CAN’T CROSS because ‘xenophobia’ is a politically correct term.” Secure borders! US conservatives scream, and Xenophobia! the liberals respond–a cloaked word that doesn’t sound quite as bad or honest as racist.

I also live in a country that just elected Donald Trump to the presidency–a man who once said, “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best … They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with them. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime.” But he’s wrong–those are not most of the people crossing north, and they’re certainly not most of the people I’ve met and talked to: undocumented millennials who grew up in the United States, were deported, and are trying to get back to Chicago, Phoenix, or California; families fleeing gang violence and economic poverty in Honduras and El Salvador; a Oaxacan university student whose visa application was rejected by the Mexican government because he looked “too indigenous,” and came from a family without wealth or social standing.

Herrera’s poem also includes the portentous line, “CAN’T CROSS because brown is the color of the future,” which hints at the dream that someday Mexicans, Central Americans, and other migrants will be able to travel north freely. Herrera and other writers and artists are making a new mythology of the border: Prefiguring what could be and should be, they transform the militarized line into a threshold. “I see a whole generation … wandering around // a continent without a name,” Guillermo Gómez-Peña writes in “Freefalling Towards a Borderless Future,”  “Standing on the map of my political desires // I toast to a borderless future // (I raise my wine glass toward the moon).” Queer, Chicana writer Gloria Anzáldua–who grew up in the borderlands of south Texas–considers the northward migrations a “return odyssey to the historical/mythological Aztlán,” the original Southwestern homeland of the Aztecs which, according to Anzaldúa, they “left … in 1168 AD,” bound for the Valley of Mexico. “This land was Mexican once, // was Indian always // and is. // And     will be again,” she writes in her poem El otro Mexico.

In October 2015, Ana Teresa Fernández and a group of volunteers painted a 50-foot section of the border wall in Nogales, Mexico the color of the sky. In April 2016, volunteers in the Mexican border cities of Ciudad Juárez, Mexicali, and Agua Prieta did the same. With each brush stroke, they enacted the project’s name, Borrando La Frontera. They offered those on the south side of the wall a vision of what they might someday see looking north–after the steel, barbed wire, and Border Patrol trucks that divide the two countries dissolve, there will be nothing but houses, schools, mountains, mesquite trees, clouds in a hot desert sky.


This Editor’s Note was written by Tiny Donkey Editor Wren Awry.


If you’re interested in supporting direct humanitarian aid to end migrant deaths and people of color-led pro-immigrant groups in southern Arizona, please consider volunteering with or donating to the following organizations:

No More Deaths/No Mas Muertes (Arizona)
Aguilas Del Desierto Inc. (S. Cali & Arizona)
South Texas Human Rights Center (South Texas)
Derechos Humanos
Protection Network Action Fund/ Fondo de Acción de las Redes de Protección
Mariposas Sin Fronteras
Southside Worker Center

Editor’s Note: Golden

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The Dodge Ram scrambles over rocks and rain-hewn ditches; water gallons and bean cans jostle  in the truck bed. I gaze out the window, stretch my pointer fingers and thumbs then hold my hands catty-corner to pretend I’m making postcards. Snap!—everything gold, gilded.

The sinking-sun landscape looks like one of those photo essays from Arizona Highways I leaf through in the library. The Altar Valley is amber with cholla and prickly pear, acacia and mesquite trees. The dusk casts miniature, scattered mountain ranges in vermilions and mauves. Baboquivari’s cuspate peak stands sentinel above it all, so backlit that it looks like its cut out of black construction paper.

Golden hour is seductive enough to lure me towards forgetting. I pull myself back, remind myself that the recent history of this desert is a catalogue of predacious desire for aurum, Au, the metal that shines like the sun:

1540: Coronado (arrogant, silver-plated) searches the Southwest for Cíbola, the legendary city of gold. He finds no such city but still plunders towns and villages, leaving death and destruction in his Spanish wake.

Pima County, 1774: Manuel Lopez, a Spanish holy man, forces a group of Tohono O’odham to extract gold from the Quijotoa Mountains. Thus begins gold mining in Arizona.

1877: White settlers open the Montana Mine in Ruby, Arizona. Until 1940, when it’s abandoned, residents extract gold, silver, lead, zinc, and copper from the mine.

(Ruby is now one of the two best-preserved mining ghost towns in Arizona according to Wikipedia, twenty-five-odd buildings scattered on a hillside below the gaping mine mouth. The mine is home to thousands of Mexican free-tailed bats that swirl into the darkening summer sky, going north-south-east-west in search of bugs, disregarding the nearby cattle fence that splits two countries like a wound.)

Then there’s my own white, middle-class childhood. 1994: I’m five, in a pink-painted bedroom just north of New York City, thousands of miles from this dusty border. My father reads to me from My First Book of Fairy Tales. The illustrations are full of golden objects–the giant’s eggs in “Jack and the Beanstalk,” Cinderella’s pumpkin coach. After he finishes a story, my father asks, “What’s the golden rule?” and I respond, well taught, “He who has the gold makes the rules.” It’s his favorite punchline. We laugh, oblivious to how it implicates us.

The princesses in the volume have locks so burnished they seem incendiary–like they might, at any moment, burst into flame.


This Editor’s Note was written by Tiny Donkey Founding Editor Wren Awry. Photograph by Margaret KIlljoy.

Interview: Michael Mejia

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I  first encountered Michael Mejia’s short story “Coyote Takes Us Home” last year, while reading Kate Bernheimer and Carmen Giménez Smith’s anthology My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me. As a story based on Mexican folktales that addresses the U.S.-Mexico border, it stands out in an anthology that–while excellent–mostly draws upon European lore. Mejia carved out time in his busy schedule (he teaches creative writing at the University of Utah, is the Editor-in-chief of Western Humanities Review, the co-founding editor of Ninebark Press, and the author of the novel Forgetfulness) to talk to me about “Coyote Takes Us Home,” the fraught landscape of the U.S.-Mexico borderlands, and the trips he took south of the border in an effort to learn about his Mexican heritage.

I live near the U.S.-Mexican border–in Tucson, Arizona–and I encountered your story, “Coyote Takes Us Home,” while writing about borderland fairy tales and folklore for the Fairy Tale Review blog. Why did you decide to write a newfangled fairy tale about crossing the border?

As with any good fairy tale, there are three knocks required to open this question.

The first reveals an answer you may already know. In my note following “Coyote Takes Us Home,” I mention having half-heard, some years ago, a news report about unaccompanied minors stowed in cars crossing the border, in a way we might expect with shipments of drugs. It’s fantastic, of course, and dangerous, and absurd, and real. Parents leave their children with relatives, come to the U.S., work to pay for the kids’ care, eventually putting aside enough to have them sent north, through a network of strangers, and smuggled across the border. Sometimes the parents will be forced to pay thousands of dollars more, a ransom, to have the kids delivered as much as 2000 miles away, to North Carolina or Pennsylvania, Washington or Chicago. Or the kids might get caught along the way and repatriated to a shelter on the Mexican side of the border. A phone call or a fax from their parents, a promise to send them home, to not to try again, can be enough to get them released, and that night they’ll be back in the Arizona desert.

The story got even more desperate in 2014, when more than 40,000 kids from Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala (far more than from Mexico) were fleeing gang violence and recruitment as well as poverty. They came walking, riding buses, and riding the tops of trains across multiple borders on their way north, with no family at all in the US.  Aside from finding these stories terrifying and sad—though if…when…the kids do make it across, I think we know there’s a real chance at something like a happy ending—I wanted to consider the issues of abandoning your home place, the socio-economic pressures that would make that place unlivable, the unexpected uprooting that occurs on that morning word comes that you’re to get in the car, on the bus, and the loss of cultural knowledge this journey represents. Which brings me to the second knock.

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