a window on their lives and work
[es] Author Francisco Antúnez Corrales lives and works in what is, according to international security experts, one of the most dangerous places in the hemisphere. The valley Francisco calls home, in Mexico’s southwestern state of Guerrero, is known to the locals as “Tierra Caliente” or, The Hot Land.
Several of the country’s most brutal drug cartels operate in Tierra Caliente. Locals say these well-armed groups dominate almost every aspect of life in the region, controlling the populace with an implacable combination of bribery and terror – such as the disappearance of 43 students in the nearby town of Iguala in the fall of 2014.
Iguala is just 30 minutes away from Francisco’s town of Teloloapan, and he lives daily with the threat posed by organized crime in his own community.
And yet, somehow, in the midst of firefights, beheadings, and abductions, Francisco continues to work. Perhaps the many writers in the U.S. and Europe who find it so fashionable to complain about how cell-phone and Internet distractions keep them from writing can take a lesson from Francisco’s example. The threat to writerly concentration posed by Facebook updates or the sporting news pales when compared to the random gun battles and the constant fear of cartel repression that writers like Francisco must endure.
In his most recent book, A Flower for Lucero, Francisco tackles the thorny dilemma of women’s rights and education in Mexico. A former teacher himself, the author draws on real-life experiences to render the pitch-perfect voice of a high school girl struggling with violence, poverty, and the deeply entrenched “machismo” culture.
The book reflects “the crude reality of our education system in Mexico,” says Francisco, when I meet him at a restaurant in Teloloapan. Waiters and other diners all seem to recognize him, bowing and calling him “Profe” as they pass our table.
“These problems still persist,” says Francisco, who also runs an athletic club for at-risk youth. “The sad truth is that most women suffer in silence.”
Out of his determination to give a voice to the voiceless – in part as an homage to the struggles of his own mother – Francisco has produced a compelling portrait of a teen on the edge of the abyss. Lucero’s humor, resilience, and moral outrage will remind readers of Tess D’Urberville and Elizabeth Bennet — even as she faces dangers those brave young heroines could scarcely have imagined.
As for the many girls and young women like Lucero who suffer through daily terrors in so many parts of Mexico: “Nobody cares,” says Francisco, “and nobody does anything.” – Jeremy Kryt, March 2016
Translation by Paloma Fernández Sánchez and Carol Polsgrove
In the town there were very few stores, but there was a stationer’s shop where they sold newspapers and magazines. One day when I passed there with Luz, I saw the headline: “Husband kills his wife,” and it caught my attention.
I went closer with fear, or it could have been more my curiosity, and now when I was face to face with this image that gave me a chill, I began to read. Her husband had killed her for jealousy, and when he committed the crime he was drunk. I could see that before killing her he beat her until he disfigured her face. Poor woman! Did she have children? What would they think? What was going to become of them? Poor little ones!
Suddenly I felt my legs tremble, my God that could have happened to my mother, my father could have killed her in one of so many beatings that sad bastard gave her, yes, I totally remember every helpless moment, it stayed all too well fixed in my mind, the damned man was enjoying beating her, maybe he didn’t kill her physically but he killed her self-esteem. . . Her soul! I hope she’s happy, maybe that’s why she abandoned me, she wanted to pull out by the roots all that reminded her of my father, she wanted to abandon that dark past completely, and now I too wanted to know nothing, to forget him and forget everything that would remind me of him.
—Chola . . . Chola! What are you thinking about? You’re off in space,you popped a pill. Or did you go off on a binge last night? You’re hung over and didn’t sleep, right?
—Nothing like that, fricking Luz. You’re crazy! Hurry up, or we’re going to be late.
How to explain to her my tormented thoughts, how to talk about my troubles. . . about being abandoned? How could Luz understand my life when she had a home, a family? I didn’t get why the mess of my life appealed to her, since in her house she had it all, or at least that’s how it looked to me.
—Now here we are, Chola. Look how many guys there are! We have to find partners here for the school’s anniversary party this afternoon.
—Sure – do you remember last year? It was amazing, especially those little drinks with tequila. We couldn’t stop dancing! How about that, hunh?
—Don’t remind me of it, fricking Luz. You went too far. You got really drunk, but you never told me why you got shit-faced. Why’d you do it?
How many young people live an active alcoholic life and, at home, their parents never find out, always thinking their children are little angels, not knowing that they’re already caught in the claws of alcohol and that they will escape it only with difficulty. Some find out when it’s already too late, lamentably many times it ends in tragedy when they drive drunk. How do they manage to fool their parents? How do they manage to hide it?
—Hah! I argued with my father, he still doesn’t understand me, he’s fed up with me, always worrying about me. “My child, come over here.” My child this, my child that, enough already, it’s too much, he just worries about me too much, I’m not a little girl anymore, I’m a woman, I want to live my life, I want to be left alone! Above all when he tells me his boring story: “I don’t want you to suffer what I suffered!” What do I care? That was his life, it’s not my fault, I’m young and I have to live. . .
Luz went on talking about her father but now I wasn’t paying attention, I was concentrating – reflecting on my life. They cared for Luz, protected her, fought with her so that she would have a promising and fantastic future: they loved her! Nobody worried about me, only grandmother, who spent her time insulting me for my bad behavior in school or because I arrived late, in fact at dawn and drunk, my life all twisted in free fall and Luz throwing all the affection of her parents in the trash. Fucking world is crazy, like we’re never content to live with what we’ve got, to enjoy and be happy with what we have. Only in my case, I had nothing! Suddenly I came back to reality and Luz had not stopped complaining.
—Say I’m late getting home – they’re angry or they’re calling me on the cellphone. “Where are you? Who are you with? What are you doing?” The little goodbye kiss! The farewells. Take care of yourself! They hassle me, Chola. Are you paying attention to me?
—Sure, amiga, but now give it a rest, you’re complaining about everything; look at that guy, he’s so hot, any minute you’ll see he can’t resist my charms.
—Go, Chola, go! – he’s all yours.
Beauty is a punishment. They all see me in that way, I believe that it’s the only thing my mother bestowed on me, I think, in the future, I’ll dedicate myself to modeling, I like it, I’m very feminine and sexy, I know I’ll make it.
In the end all turned out well, we found what we were looking for – other guys like us ready to bust out of bounds, ready to have the time of their lives on our anniversary. And so it was, the day of our school’s anniversary party was here; and just as we’d planned, we danced the whole anniversary night without stopping, but the party didn’t stop there. After the dance came the best part, with the whole gang, we went home with a girlfriend whose parents rented a room for her to study in, they didn’t want her to work in the field, so they ordered her to study. That night there was everything, beer, alcohol, drugs and a lot more. . . I didn’t get home until the end of the next day. Nobody looked for me! Not even grandmother noticed it.
—Young people. Did you bring your homework ? Because it’s your turn for group presentations, and remember: that’s the grade I’ll use to evaluate the entire semester.
The teacher missed class many times and he would always do the same thing, he’d evaluate us with a single exam or piece of work, and when he didn’t have anything to evaluate us with, he gave us the same grade as the last period, and once he himself told us: You know what, guys. . . I lost my gradebook! So that this semester what do you think?. . . You all have a 10!
—And you, Chola – got your homework?
—No, Luz, we have to make it all up . . . The teacher knows nothing about the topic, so he lets us investigate, he’s satisfied that it looks nice, he never evaluates the content or the effort.
While classmates did presentations we left the room with the excuse of going to the bathroom. Nobody noticed our absence, or maybe they had already become used to it, we were the invisible students, nobody saw us! Since the teacher had already called roll, we were now marked present, so we took off for the cybercafe to chat, listen to songs and watch some porn, later on we would hand in an assignment to the teacher, I knew he would like it, he always gave me a 10 even if I wasn’t in class, I think he gave me 10 so that I wouldn’t be in the room distracting my classmates, mainly those that, yes, were interested in learning, I only was going to school to party – or maybe for some other reason, but he evaluated me well, and on one occasion I surprised him looking at me in a dirty way. I felt him running his eyes over my body, above all the way he embraced me, weird and deliberate, it wasn’t affection or fondness, the way he touched me when he embraced me, putting his hand on my shoulder, it wasn’t with the intention of giving me support, caring or protection, but I didn’t care, I knew that at the end of the period I would have my 10.
He made a good pretense at being a serious, even timid teacher, his friends all had an idea of him as a calm teacher, nobody knew him well. He was sickly with a pious face. But he couldn’t be trusted. One of my friends confided in him that she wanted to kill herself because she had been raped for a long time by her own father, her own father! Turned into a monster. She told the teacher that she was the girl who came out in the newspapers with the headline “Young girl tries to kill herself because boyfriend left her” – her boyfriend wasn’t her rapist, it was her father! And the teacher, laughing sarcastically, told the story to our whole group, fool – how would we confide in someone like that? Someone so immature, who’d never caught on to what his noble work was as a teacher, who didn’t understand the damage he’d caused my friend, who from victim went on to be the joke of the whole class. The institution had nothing to do with achievement, or with producing qualified and excellent students capable of confronting adversities and conquering the world. He was who he was and only he was the one responsible for actions for which there was no justification, much less guilty ones. Only he.