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Patricia Preciado Martin
Pricia Preciado Martin is the author of The Legend of the Bellringer of San Agustin, a bilingual children's story (1980), Images and Conversations: Mexican Americans Recall a Southwestern Past (1983; Virginia McCormick Scully Award for best book by a Chicano or Native American writer), and Songs My Mother Sang to Me: An Oral History of Mexican American Women (1992). "The Ruins" is from her collection of short stories Days of Plenty, Days of Want (1988).
Oral folklore is an important part of Mexican life; for most Chicanaslos, stories told to us by our familia helped shape us. Legend provides the basis for many stories about the haunting of particular places. Embedded in "The Ruins" are traces of the legend of Atzlan--a promised region where racial injustice, poverty, and old age do not exist.
Martin says of the role history plays in her work: "My memories of growing up Mexicana are very powerful and have been a strong influence as well as a source of inspiration for my writing. We lived in a small mining community south of Tucson for a few years, and the desert and open spaces were my playground. This instilled in me a love of nature and the land. We lived with my grandmother in Barrio Hollywood for a couple of years, and the images there are still very vivid in my mind--my abuelita's garden, the raspada vendor, the family gatherings, the devotion of my grandmother to her santos. The stories of my grandfather's ranch in Mexico became a minilegend in my family and explain for me my strong ties to the land. My mother was a great influence in mylife--education was most important to her. We are a very close family--this strong sense of familia comes from our growing-up years--the required Sunday visits to my abuelita who didn't speak English. I am proud of my rich culture; it has made my life varied, interesting, and full."
It was getting so that almost every day Alma was going to the ruins on the riverbank. Not that her mother knew, of course. She was expressly forbidden to go there. It was a place, her mother Mercedes warned, where winos went on occasion, and young lovers, frequently. One never knew what kind of mischief or carnal knowledge one might come upon or witness. When Senora Romero spoke like this--of the proximity of temptation or occasions of sin--she would finger the large gold medallion of the Sagrado Corazon that she wore around her neck and invoke protection for her oldest daughter from the phalanx of saints with which she was on a first name basis. The image of the Sagrado Corazon was fortified on the reverse side with an engraving of the Virgen de Guadalupe, and Senora Romero wore the medal like the medieval armor of a crusader prepared to do battle with the infidel. It was a pose Alma saw her mother strike with frequency--inspired by the worldliness promoted by newspapers, television, popular music, protestantes, and errant in-laws.
(She was not being disrespectful, Alma had convinced herself, when her mother would begin her pious sermons, to imagine Dona Mercedes, a fury on a rearing stallion--lance raised, mail clanking, banners aloft--routing unbelievers and sinners from the cantinas and alleyways of South Tucson, until they knelt trembling and repentant at the vestibule of Santa Cruz Church. Sra. Romero mistook Alma's dreamy unwavering stare for attentiveness, and so these periodic encounters left all parties satisfied. In reality, Sra. Romero never behaved in any manner that would have called attention to herself decorum, simplicity, and moderation were the measures by which she lived her life and by which she ruled her family.)
It was easy enough for Alma to keep her afternoon sojourns secret from her mother. The excuses were varied and plentiful: extra homework in the library, a dance committee, an afterschool game or conference with a teacher. In truth, there was never anything or anyone at school that attracted Alma's attention or detained her there. She was a solitary and thoughtful girl--dutiful in her studies, retiring in her behavior, guarded in her conversation--and so she went unnoticed by her teachers and ignored by the giggling groups of friends that gathered in animated knots in the halls, in the cafeteria, and on the school grounds.
(Alma seemed plain to the casual observer. Her dress was modest, almost dowdy, created from cheap fabric by the nimble fingers of her mother on her Singer treadle sewing machine. She wore no makeup or jewelry, in contrast to her peers at school: with their brightly colored clothes and lips, patterned stockings and flashy plastic accessories, they swarmed through the halls like flocks of rainbow-hued wingless birds. But it could be said that Alma had a certain beauty: she was slim and muscular and lithe, with dark, serious eyes and coppery brown curly hair that obeyed no comb or brush or stylistic whim of her mother. Sra. Romero had long ago given up trying to tame Alma's unruly locks with ribbons and barrettes, abandoning these efforts to dedicate herself to other pursuits that were more pliable to her will.)
Alma always made sure that she arrived home from school at a reasonable hour--in time to help with supper chores or to baby-sit her younger siblings if needed. Sra. Romero never questioned her tardiness or investigated, satisfied that the delay of an hour or sometimes two, was taken up with school activities. A growing family, household duties, and spiritual obligations kept Sra. Romero busy enough. It contented her that there were no calls from the principal or teachers, and Alma's excellent grades were testament enough to her industriousness and trustworthiness. All was well.