Lands of Corn

Maria Sanchez Martinez

© Copyright 2018 by Maria Sanchez Martinez

Photo of cactus and corn.

 My ancestors were the people of the corn. My hometown is surrounded by corn. So much of my familyís early life revolved around corn. This is the main subject of my story, a telling of a journey with corn as the epicenter. All that remains now in our lives are the few stalks of corn we plant in the backyard, a long ways away from what once such an important part of our everyday life.

Iíve seen a lot of corn. On our road trip to Kansas. Some of it in the distance on the way in to Greeley for a college visit. Our own little bit of corn stalks in the backyard. A corn maze that one Halloween we went out and got super scared. None of these carry the weight of that image in Mexico, eighteen years ago, with a misty, thick fog and shuddering cold in the air. Iím standing on one side of the road, on a dirt area off the main paved highway designated as a bus stop. On one side is just grass, some of it tall and some it chopped awkwardly. On the other side nothing but corn for miles and miles. You can see the dew on the green stalks, the moist life almost vibrating as it sways in the gentle breeze as the day awakens.

Our grandmother had bid us farewell earlier. In her nightgown she ushered us with our luggage and gave us firm hugs, her boney strength the only indication that that particular hug was different from any other. We walked by the back of our small ranching community, passed the five-room middle school, passed the little Virgen de Guadalupe altar, and out through the fields of corn onto the highway. It was cold and damp, our voices getting caught in our throats the few times we tried speaking to each other to ask if someone could see the bus. Every dot that appeared on the highway from afar we hoped was our ride.

I donít remember how long we waited but eventually the bus came. It was run down and sounded broken. The seats were torn, the engine load and grumpy, the door creaked, and the speed so slow cars passed us seemed like running cheetahs.There were a few people on board, only those going to work in the next town over or the early birds wanting to get first dibs at the fresh produce at the market. We sat at the very back, all six of us with our big luggage and small bags, out of the way from the other passengers. It was my mother, two brothers, two sisters, and I. We were going to meet our father and two eldest brothers in America, our new home.

I looked thru the tinted window, through the scratches and graffiti on the pane, out to the corn fields. Tall and thriving of life those corn fields would never have a new home like us. Those corn fields would grow and be harvested and give life and food to those in our communities. It would be planted again next season and the cycle would continue. Those corn fields knew nothing of migration, nothing of a new language that my sister was never told was spoken in America, nothing of the discrimination we would face, nothing of the tears and pain we would experience, and nothing of the sacrifice our parents were making. That image has never left me, I equate corn fields, specially vibrate green and full of life corn fields, to my home in Mexico. That memory is the exact moment that there came to be a before and an after, from that everything has fallen into those two categories. Life before we moved and life after we moved.

While I looked at those corn fields I was thinking of my grandmother. I didnít quite understand why we had to leave her alone behind. I was praying that she would be alright, that we would see her again soon. That bony hug of hers kept me warm on that dewy morning in July. A warmth that travelled with me and still remains in me to this day. With that strength we made it to the other side. To the North, to the land of opportunities, to the possibilities of the American Dream, to green money and better education, to always having work and food on the table, to being able to be whatever we wanted to be. The warmth of her hug made us survivors of the land of America.

There was another old lady along my journey north. It was on the last bus, the one that brought us from El Paso, Texas to Denver, Colorado. It was night and I was sitting in an aisle seat, dangling my body to the side onto the passway trying to see up front through the windshield at the pretty lights and passing cars. I canít remember if she sat in front or behind me, but the old lady somehow caught my attention. She was trying to throw away some trash in the bag that hung from my seat. She couldnít reach with her short arm so I grabbed the trash from her and threw it out. She gave me a big smile then took a small bag of peanuts from her bag and offered it to me. I took them from her with joy, my own bag of peanuts! It was a wonderful night. The smell of that old ladyís perfume still lingers in my memory from time to time, a fading scent of roses, not strong but still memorable, her white face and red lips with wrinkles almost a mirage now all these years later. When we had arrived to Denver to the two bedroom apartment the nine of us were going to share with two others I sat on the couch, happily eating my bag of peanuts that no one could take away because they were given to me especially by that nice old lady.

I was seven years old when I immigrated. Iím twenty-five now. Iíve made that 36 hour bus journey both to and from my hometown in Mexico many times since that first time. Every year, once or twice, we would return to visit. I would see my grandmother again, for another nice times before she passed. Itís never been the same of course. There is too much of a distance between the before and after that nothing in between can blend together. There is too much definitness to those things. In recent years weíve flown but the 36 hour long journey has always been my favorite. You get to truly feel the distance between both worlds. You see a large amount of the land of Mexico and some of America along the way, you literally experience the change between the two through the sights and the sounds and even the smells. The sense of familiarity to both sides exude such strong emotions. A lump forms in your throat when you get close to physically crossing the border both ways, you silently pray a thank you for being allowed to return to the land that gave birth to you but also a sigh of relief when youíre back on the land of your future.

Now that I see my nieces growing up deeply Americanized I reflect on the struggles we had, struggles that in those moments donít seem as such. One simple thing is homework. When my eldest niece, a sixth grader now, has homework she has my sister readily available to help her. Itís a pretty simple and easy thing. For my own mother it wasnít so simple or easy. My mother doesnít have a completed education, she was only able to attend part of first grade when she was eleven in Mexico. She can barely read and write in Spanish let alone in English. When we were in elementary school here in America what did our mother do when we asked for help as is natural of a child to do? ďIíd tell you to ask your teacher the next day,Ē she has told us when I have asked. I donít remember it, of course, it was so long ago. One thing I do remember is having to translate my own parent teacher conferences all throughout elementary school. I was a good kid growing up so there was never anything bad to report, but it still seems so meaningless when you have to translate your own praises from your teachers. Simple things like these that come so easy to my nieces were once so hard for us growing up. This is what success is: the growth of the next generation thanks to the struggles we once faced.

As long as I continue to see corn I will always be reminded of my upbringing as an immigrant. Not fully Mexican but not fully American, but one hundred percent proud of both. Despite the harsh experiences and some painful memories I would never exchange that fateful day in July when we journeyed north in our move to America. The cycle of corn, the growth and life it gives to the most humble and to the most rich of people, will always be unchanging and non-discriminatory. It is the one thing that remains both in the before and in the after, a constant to remind me that I donít have to chose, that I donít need to be more of this or more of that to be accepted. It has always been the same and will continue to be so.

 I was born in a farming community in the state of Guanajuato in Mexico. I am the sixth of seven children. I currently reside in Colorado and have been here for eighteen years.

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