Uno Propone Y Dios Dispone
One Proposes, God Decides
by Juan Alanis
Long, straight black hair. Pitch black. Falling around her head, perfectly. Caressing her face almost. Running along the curves of her neck. Placed neatly behind, straight down the middle of her back, in a simple ponytail. Her eyes, wide and young. No sign of wrinkles. Just hope. A smile on her face. The same one she wears now, every once in a while. Not nearly as often as she did back then. Crooked. But refined. Measured. But welcoming. Warm.
No makeup on. Just a much thinner face. Defined cheekbones. Glowing.
In most of these pictures she’s wearing plain colored shirts. Grays, blues, blacks, cream colors, even some reds. Pants, with bellbottoms. Dresses, with very thin matching belts wrapped around her waist. Always with child in arms. Straddled between her knees. Sitting on her lap.
Like looking at a complete stranger, my mother in her youth is unrecognizable. There’s strength in her eyes; confidence in the way she stands; attitude, carelessness and defiance in her soul. All this I can tell by looking at her old pictures. Boxes worth, piled in stacks, both here and in Mexico, like the love letters of yesteryear, to her from my father, bien guardadas, where they won’t be destroyed, but not to be displayed in frames for everyone else to see. They are her memories, only to be shared with those closest to her heart.
In one picture, we’re standing outside, my brothers and me barefoot, all wearing track shorts, Chuy without a shirt, my older sisters, one on each side of us, Tina holding an infant Irma, facing her towards the camera, lined up side by side, a pyramid of various heights, all around my mother, in the barren sandy ground, outside of our barb wired fence, a few hundred feet away from the white, chocolate brown trimmed house we all shared. In this one she looks more like herself. Less carefree. More troubled. Stressed about feeding a family of eight. Worried about her husband’s drinking. Nervous about the looming threat of those green and white trucks pulling into our driveway one day, knocking on our door and telling us it’s time to go back to El Sauz.
My mother today is still as feisty as ever: Yo tengo boca por eso hablo. El día que ya no tenga pues ya no hablaré, pero hasta entonces voy a decir lo que quiera. A mi nadie me va detener. A mi nadie me va callar. Only now she’s lived long enough, through enough, to know defiance is useless against life.
Still, at the crossroad of her life, in these earlier pictures, my mother was all courage. That’s why a lot of them are now stacked in boxes in my own house también.