This is the complete text of a work in progress. It is our translation of a book. It has been published in installments.
We are only translating the text from its original language (Spanish) into English. We are not responsible for the ideas expressed in the text.
Posted on April 10, 2019:
ONCE UPON A TIME IN SAN JUAN
“No, you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear” said my aunt Consuelo, as she shook her head when she heard about the cow disaster.
I never knew if she really believed what she had just said, which would make her the most irresponsible person I’ve ever met in my life, evading her own faults and blaming others, or if she was simply trying to make others believe that she had nothing to do with that or any other disaster.
For us, on the other hand, this matter of the cows marked an important change of life, and in my case it meant that I and my children were now in the category of poor relatives. Those kind of relatives who do not get invited with much desire, but that have to be received with warmth and devotion when they come. In short, annoying.
I was born in the Hacienda San Juan, inherited by my father in the municipality of Estanzuelas, a small town that God could not have forgotten for the simple reason that God never knew that Estanzuelas existed.
In the time of my grandfather, Víctor Monteverde Catalán, his Hacienda was a prosperous plantation of indigo. That’s why my father, Víctor Manuel Monteverde Castañeda, was educated with the care of a prince, because he was going to take charge of an empire: La Hacienda San Juan de los Monteverde.
Posted on May 1, 2019:
The farther away his small empire was from the big cities of the time, the greater it seemed, in the absence of proportions and comparisons. My grandfather had been the director of people’s lives and estates in San Juan; and his son, naturally, would be too. For that reason, my father was sent to study. First he attended high school in San Salvador where he obtained his High School diploma, which was an uncommon achievement at the time. Following that, he attended the University of Guatemala. This was such an achievement at the time that it was equivalent to obtaining a doctorate today.
Later, a couple of years attending the Universidad de la Muy Noble y Muy Leal Ciudad de Santiago de los Caballeros de Guatemala, turned my grandfather into a Graduated in Philosophy and Jurisprudence, a title that seems all the university graduates of that time used to exhibit.
Posted on May 15, 2019:
In any case, that was the education my grandfather wanted to give my father. My grandfather had the belief that a literate person knew how to manage property better than a non-literate person. This was a mistake that in the case of my father was downright terrible.
The years as a student taught my father three fundamental things that always accompanied him on his way through life: a taste for politics, carousing, and literature. They were all absolutely useless when it came to caring for cattle or sowing a few hectares of indigo. His sisters, however, lived each and every one of the problems of the Hacienda.
The end of the 19th century was full of political turbulence and significant changes. Indigo or añil, also called xiquilite in the Nahuatl language (a native language), had been the export crop and the blessing in my grandfather’s life. San Juan was a relatively large hacienda but with a quality of land that was not suitable for cereals. It was arid and stony, but this made it suitable for the cultivation of indigo or xiquilite. Alternatively, it was land destined to extensive cattle raising.
Posted on June 10, 2019:
When Europe and the United States needed indigo, hacienda San Juan and my grandfather’s fortune prospered. Unfortunately people in Europe invented synthetic aniline at the end of the XIX century. This came to be something akin to a coup de grace to an economy that had always been, and still is, shaky in the international markets.
Thus, the new century found my grandfather and his children at a crossroads. They had to change their way of making money. They had to change the product that had made them rich for something they did not fully understand. This entailed the risk of making mistakes and then falling into poverty.
On one side of the hacienda were the huge pools, called obrajes, in which the macerated shrub that gave off the valuable blue dye was deposited. The whole town worked in these pools. Up to that point in time, for some years now, indigo had no demand in the international market and the little that could be sold was consumed by the national textile industry. Sadly, in this part of the world a crop that does not generate foreign exchange is a crop that makes you lose money, not earn it.
Posted on July 14, 2019:
My aunt Consuelo, the older sister, never went to school. This was because her presence in the house was always required. Her mother (my grandmother), Prudencia Castañeda de Monteverde, declared herself sick ever since her third daughter, Emilia, was born. This birth happened at the same time her unmarried sister, Dorotea Castañeda, who lived with them also had her son, Domingo Castañeda. His father was unknown. This circumstance “forced” my grandfather to build a house for his sister-in-law at the northern end of the hacienda and to visit her regularly with provisions and clothes for her children.
Dorotea Castañeda had six children. All her children were blond and of unknown, but suspected, fatherhood. Every time a new son of her sister’s was born, my grandmother got a little sicker. Such eternal illness did not stop her from having twelve children while she was in bed between one baby delivery and another.
Every time my grandmother was pregnant, my grandfather moved to Dorotea’s house, period after which, Dorotea resulted also pregnant, a circumstance that my grandfather used to return to my grandmother’s house.
Neither my grandmother nor my aunts ever spoke of such a singular arrangement, nor was it ever mentioned who the father of Dorotea’s children was.
Posted on September 17, 2019:
My grandmother was considered an exemplary and loyal Catholic woman. She had a total of twelve children, nine of which survived: Consuelo, Víctor Manuel, María del Carmen, Prudencia del Pilar, Fidelia de Jesús, Antonia, Purificación (also called Purita), Emilia and Virginia. She always considered her duty to her husband to give birth to as many children as God, her Lord, sent.
Her loyalty reached levels that perhaps could’ve earned her the title of saint.
When someone mentioned the imputable paternity of my grandfather, whether it was in relation to Dorotea’s or any-of-the-many-beautiful-hacienda-girls children who happened to give birth to a blond child, my grandmother was quick to find thousands of reasons why her husband could not in any way be the father of the happy child and not satisfied with that, to make a thousand theories about the putative parents, with whom she found amazing similarities. It was fortunate for my grandmother that the discovery of DNA properties only became known a century later.
Posted on October 6, 2019:
Grandma Prudencia always showed enormous respect for her husband. Such respect resulted in absolute blindness and deafness when confronted with the numerous shortcomings of her “better half”. It resulted in such obedience that even Moses would envy. All these attributes were considered normal characteristics of a regular wife, together with cooking and being complacent in bed. She never expressed any criticism towards him, and if anybody questioned any of his orders she limited herself to saying, “Whatever the master says, it is well said”, which more or less meant, “this is not to be doubted, we have to obey it”. To her, my grandfather always was Mr. Victor Manuel or Sir, and she never spoke to him on a first name basis. This happened throughout their life together. When they got married she was only 15 and my grandfather was 36. According to family legend, they always lived in harmony and without complications. Grandma Prudencia was a model wife, chaste and obedient; she was an example for future generations. Such an obedience from the wife was a normal thing in my grandparents’ time. It never crossed anybodies mind to think that such a situation was anomalous or reprehensible, but that was the way God wanted them to be.
Posted on December 16, 2019:
They lived in a massive square shaped house. The house was built out of huge adobe bricks. It had an inside center square, called the yard. All the different rooms were lined up around this huge center square. In the inside perimeter just out of the rooms there was a hallway paved with terracotta bricks. The hallway started and ended in a cobbled garage. This garage stored all the work carts or “carretas” and the carriages for the lords and ladies of the house. Along the hallway there were hanging pots with huge ferns, providing the necessary freshness for such a hot climate.
Life in the house started happily each morning when those huge ferns were watered. The water spilling out of the pots was used to wash the hallways. The “wet soil” smell this produced made you associate it with a countryside morning. It also made you relate the smell with happy memories of wood fire together with the smell of freshly made tortilla mixed with clay-pot-cooked beans. All these smells lived there next to the fire, which was used to cook regular broth that later became concentrated broth, so precious for our peasant palates which loved them together with tortilla and fresh cheese.
Posted on: February 4, 2020:
In front of the house, a grand amate tree provided the glorious shade that dissipated the tremendous dry season heat; under its branches people’s admiration and love affairs blossomed. This was a stunning, majestic tree, capable of surviving centuries and countless times of misery. People would convene here in the afternoons to tell stories, chat, talk in confidence or simply to be among friends.
The house was built by my great grandfather in the 19th century. He was a young Spaniard who came to the land in search of a better future.
How he arrived at such a remote location like Estanzuelas is beyond me. He came late to the Americas, therefore his opportunities were far and beyond. The only thing I can think of is that the few benefits would have been enticing enough to make him come to such far away place where others had already taken what was available. What was available at the beginning was plenty but later there was not much. In any case, he found Estanzuelas. There, he married a native lenca girl, and from that union I descend.
Posted on: October 15, 2020:
In this country, where colonization is fresh in our memory, people willingly wish to be counted as “white”. For this reason, all my relatives have invested every minute of their existence in stressing their white, European origins and to preclude the fact that we also have native blood.
But the fact that we are of mixed blood has given arise to many odd situations. For example in one family it is common to see white, blue-eyed children with blond hair and also dark-skinned, black-eyed children with dark hair. My aunt Consuelo looked like the latter. This brought important consequences into their lives. In some tales about our family life; being white is related to refinement and kindness of heart which in turn is related to the undisputed nobility of being white. It is a kind of systemic, cacophonous, and provincial racism. And racial prejudices have always been indisputable truths in the Monteverde family.
Posted on: January 25, 2021:
One day, when my grandfather was paying some wages to his colonos (indentured farmers), one of the colonos, Manuel, together with his step daughter, Rudecinda, who was a beautiful and exciting mestiza (mixed blood) came to see him. Ever since my grandfather saw Rudecinda, he was restless. He used to call her to his presence and ask her a lot of pointless questions which the blushing girl would answer while keeping her eyes on the ground. At the same time, my grandfather would not stop looking at her bra-less bosom.
Some people would say that Rudecinda was her own father’s lover ever since she was eight years old. This man was really her step father. My whole family used this fact to qualify her as a bitch, more bitch than a dog. In reality she looked more like a cow than a dog due to the size of her breasts.