Page 19

DESERT EXPOSURE

JULY 2017 • 19

SOUTH OF THE BORDER • MORGAN SMITH

The Death of Chago Palomas, families, take care of one another

“M

organ, Morgan,” cried out this weeping woman. Who is this person who is calling me on the phone at 1 a.m.? “It’s Reina, Morgan. Chago has died.” I feel a harsh pain. Santiago Márquez Torres, known as Chago, a friendly old man, was always sitting outside Reina Cisneros’ house in Palomas, Mexico. Chago, his nose flattened from too many fights when he was young, veteran of too many beers, was abandoned by his family, lived on the streets, without a bed, a house, friends or food. Reina saved him more than eight years ago. He lived in her house with Manuel, her husband, her daughter, Adrianna and Adrianna’s four kids. It was like he was a member of the family. They gave him a room, had him sit at the dinner table with them, did his laundry, all because he was in need and they were kind and generous. That’s what I see so often in the tiny and very poor town of Palomas (pop. 4,500) as well as in the enormous city of Juárez (pop. 1.3 million) some 60 miles to the east – a sense of caring. We Americans not only depend on government services but often assume that whatever our needs, there will be a program there for us. These basic government services don’t seem exist in Mexico; therefor

Santiago "Chago" Marquez Torres

communities depend on people like Reina and her family who will step in and help. I see the same with the orphanage, La Casa de Amor para Niños, where the volunteers are from both Mexico and the United States, with the work of Border Partners, or with Maria Lopez, the former Mayor or “Presidenta Municipal” of Palomas who continues to care for a number of older women or “abuelitas” who live alone and in poverty. Chago’s death wasn’t a surprise. Every time that I visited during the recent months, he would talk about dying. But it wasn’t a complaint or a matter of fear and it was always in the context of the family situation he was living in at Reina’s home. Immediately I decided to go to

Community members pitch in to dig a grave for Chago. (Photos by Morgan Smith)

Palomas not just to attend his funeral services but also because I wanted to speak during the ceremony – to talk not only about the life of Chago but also about the circumstances of his rescue by Reina and the sense of family that she, Manuel, Adrianna and her children gave him for so many years. And more. May 2 was the birthday of my wife, Julie who died a year ago, a very difficult date for me. I was going to speak for her as well. First, I went with Reina and her family to the funeral parlor called Capillas de Velación where Chago’s body lay in waiting. His face clean shaven he didn’t seem like the same whiskery person I had known. Two relatives came from New Mexico and seemed over-

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come with grief, part of which, I believe, was the realization that they hadn’t helped him during his last years. We then formed a sad little caravan to go to La Iglesia la Hermosa, the little church where the service was held. The pastor or “pastora” was named Olga. She sang and her son, Samuel, played the guitar – very sad music, very powerful even though they didn’t know Chago personally. It was then my turn. I’ve spoken at many funerals but never in Spanish. It was easy, however, talking briefly of the importance of having a family, of the miracle of Chago’s salvation by Reina and her family, of his smile, and his last years living in Reina’s house, pos-

sibly the happiest years of his life. I spoke about him but I was really speaking about Julie because the message of being surrounded by and loved by a family was really the same, even though she had a family whereas in the case of Chago, Reina had to create one for him. Reina was the other speaker and you could see through her words and the reaction of her daughter and grandchildren how important Chago had been in their lives. Then we went to the cemetery, our little caravan moving slowly through the streets of Palomas with a local police car in the lead. It was 96 degrees and there was swirling wind and thick dust. Reina spoke again with a fierce eloquence and then the casket was lowered into the huge grave. About twenty of us took turns – six at a time – shoveling dirt into the hole. I was at the end of the line, downwind and almost swallowed up by the dust. It was a surreal experience, as if with the heat, wind and dust, the poverty of this little town, and sense of mourning, we had come to the end of the world. What shown through most of all was the love and affection that Reina and her family had provided to this battered and abandoned old man. It was an honor to be there.

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