“I had no idea what awaited us in Cadiz, but I could sense Rainy’s growing anxiety. She was normally a quiet woman, but quiet in a calming way. Her silence, as we followed the dry bed of the San Gabriel, was different, and her dark eyes, as they considered this landscape so alien to all I knew, were alert, watchful, as if she was aware of some danger here that she hadn’t shared with me. I thought again of the killing she wouldn’t tell me about. She’d said it was long ago in her history. I was beginning to wonder just how long.”
“The fence,” Rainy said. I’d read about it. Hadn’t everybody by now? But I’d never seen it. The structure was often referred to as a fence, but along the line that separated Coronado County from Mexico, it was a tall, stark metal wall. Like a scar follows the shape of a body, the wall followed the contour of the land. And that’s exactly what it looked like—a dark, ugly scar. I thought it was probably not unlike the wall that had once divided Berlin. Except that this one had been erected to keep people out and not in. From what I understood, it wasn’t doing a stellar job.
“Your Native blood doesn’t show, Cork. You don’t get looked at twice. To be Indian anywhere, and to be Mexican as well, especially here, can you imagine how difficult that is?”
“Do you know the Ojibwe word ogichidaa?” “Warrior,” he said. “That’s one way to translate it. I prefer the more complex interpretation. One who stands between evil and his people. I think in your heart you’re ogichidaa.”
“Mexican family responsible for most of what crosses illegally along the border here with Coronado County. A cartel, more or less. They call themselves Las Calaveras. The Skulls. Carlos Rodriguez heads the family. Enjoys being called Lagarto. Lizard. Something like a hit, that would come from orders handed down by Rodriguez.”
“Sulfur Creek divides this town. Have you been south of the creek yet?” “No.” “Go south of the creek. You’ll see.” “What will we find?” “The maids, the cooks, the service people for Cadiz, the hired hands for the ranches and the vineyards. People doing the jobs white folks don’t want to do for the pay that’s being offered. It’s a nice little community south of the creek. The housing’s not so great maybe, but it’s affordable. You’ll hear Spanish more than English. And good luck ever catching Britney Spears coming out of a boom box. Folks north of Sulfur Creek call it Gallina Town.” “Gallina? Chicken Town?” Rainy said. “If you go, you’ll see why.” She smiled at me. “Don’t worry that you’re the only white faces there. Being white south of Sulfur Creek is a whole lot safer than being Mexican north of the border.”
“Trust. An easy word to say. One syllable. Comes readily off the tongue. Also a thing easy to believe in, to advocate for, to hold in lofty regard. But putting it into practice? Good luck with that one. You share your life, your body, your dreams with another human being. You tie your fortunes together with sacred vows. But the truth is that you always keep some deep part of yourself separate from all that. You hold a place inside that’s only for you and that you never let anyone else into. Hell, after she died, we found out even Mother Teresa had secrets too dark to share.”
“There is a word in the Ojibwe language: ogichidaa. It means “one who stands between evil and his people.” Long ago, Henry Meloux had told me I was born ogichidaa. It was my purpose and my fate. I couldn’t escape it. As I drove toward Jocko’s ranch house, with one eye constantly on the rearview mirror, I knew in my heart I was prepared to kill again, if it came to that, not just to defend myself but to protect the people who were my family, the people I loved.”
“What other criteria would you use to enforce such racially motivated fears? I’d seen it in Minnesota all my life. If you looked Native, if you looked like Rainy, you caught the eye of white people, and many, many white people thought things about you that were absolutely untrue. Often, the laws that white people ignored without a second thought were the ones that got flashing lights and a siren on the ass of someone of color.”
“I drove south out of Sulfur Springs, up to the El Dorado, and parked shy of the mine itself, on a high, cactus-covered flat where I could see the land sloping down into Mexico and the long, dark line of the border fence.
A lesson from my earliest memories of my grandmother Dilsey, who was true-blood Iron Lake Ojibwe: Land is not insentient; it is possessed of spirit. Gazing down, I couldn’t help feeling that the fence and all it represented was a great violation of the spirit of the land. The mind-set that gave rise to the fence was a great folly, the idea that a thin wall of steel and the imaginary line it demarcated could stand against the tide that swept across the desert, which was the tide of time and changing circumstance. Politics were of a moment. Sentiments shifted. Nations rose and fell. Steel rusted and crumbled. But the desert and the flow of life across it would continue after that fence was nothing but scattered rubble among the cacti and the fear that built it was long forgotten.”
“I could see all the way to Gallina Town, and I was struck again by the profound difference of everything south of the narrow bridge, which felt in so many ways like its own, separate community. I thought about the music I’d heard playing, the dancing in front of the taqueria, the brightness with which the homes, even the shabby trailers on cinder blocks, were decorated. Many of these people worked hard at jobs that no one else wanted and were poorly paid, I was sure. But it seemed to me that there was something resilient in their spirit, some essential quality that kept the music and the dancing and the color alive. I thought about the people of my own heritage, the Anishinaabeg, who’d been lied to and cheated and herded onto reservations, who fought against poverty and all the ills that came with poverty. But the Ojibwe I knew well, my family and those I counted as friends, had in their spirits the same resilience I saw reflected in Gallina Town. And I thought, as I had so many times before, that what’s important to a human being, any human being, isn’t the wealth that comes from money, but the richness that comes from community, a sense of connectedness to family and to friends and, as Rainy and Henry would probably have said, to the spirit of the Great Mystery that runs through all creation.”