Brown Puerquitos: A Failed Love Affair
Part I – Savior
I must have been seven or eight years old when my mother had an affair with the pastor of the church. He was also the town baker and lived in a small room above his panaderia in Tuxla Gutierrez. I remember his hands were always white with flour. His clothing smelled of vainilla y canela. My mother walked in asking for pan dulce and walked out with the baker’s heart. She had never been religious but that night she burned all her Julio Iglesias albums and swore she would never listen to “that devil music” again if only God made guapo from the panaderia stick around for a while. Senovia, my mother, met Ramiro on a Tuesday, gave up Catholicism on Wednesday, and by Sunday, she was being baptized at one of his tent revivals. She was not going to let this one out of her grasp. He was endorsed by the Holy Ghost!
Before Senovia accepted Jesus Christ as her Lord and Savior, she was very disco. Shiny lycra pants hugged her petite frame and the platform shoes she favored made her look almost 5’4”. She had the most beautiful mane of curly hair that she styled in a very Amanda Miguel kind of way. The song “El Me Mintio”, made Amanda Miguel a star and became my mother’s anthem for all her failed love affairs. It was played on radio stations every 20 minutes followed by indignant female listeners who called the radio station to vent their frustrations about all the lies men told to seduce women. Senovia’s problem was never a shortage of attractive men fawning over her. Her problem was that she could not keep them. Senovia believed with her entire soul that every man who promised to marry her, to build a life and a family, and to adopt her little daughter, would actually make true on that promise. After two or three months of trying to fulfill the promise, the men walked out. We both thought Ramiro was different. He owned a business. He loved Jesus. He loved Senovia. He loved me. We did not see an end to our fairy tale with him. We only believed.
I liked Ramiro. Well actually, I liked his pan dulce. I didn’t even tell him which one was my favorite. He took one look at my chubby brown face and knew what I liked. He handed me a perfectly made puerquito wrapped in a cloth towel. The piglet shaped bread was still warm. He said he had made it especially for me. Mom and I looked at each other knowing we had caught a good one. None of her boyfriends had ever won me over so quickly. I did not know it then but Ramiro was the closest thing I would ever have to a father.
“Soy de El De Efe,” he said to me, “I came to Tuxtla Gutierrez because my wife was crazy, loquísima. She is Catolica.”
“What is Catolica?” I asked while my chubby hands slowly turned the cookie looking for the best bite.
“Catolicos, like my wife, are hypocrites!” he said, pounding the dough with his fist, startling me into biting the puerquito’s hind legs.
His spit filled with anger and resentment. I was too young to know what he meant but my mother liked the fervor with which he said it. Four years after arriving he founded a small non-denominational church because he hated Catholic hypocrites like his wife. La Iglesia Sinai held services in the bakery on Wednesday and Sunday nights. I am not sure if it was the Holy Ghost that moved everyone or the smell of baked goods.
Ramiro came into our lives at a time when my mother was determined to turn her life around. She was living a life that she was ashamed of. She was twenty-something, unmarried, unloved—a single mom, working nights at a nightclub as a fichera. She was paid to entertain the men who came in to the club for a drink. The more she entertained, the more money the club made. My mother entertained a lot. She was one of the favorites. She wanted a family for me but I suspect it was for her too.
“I don’t remember my mother’s face,” she often said to me, “she left before I could see myself in her.”
Why she left has evolved into chisme. Some say Senovia’s mother left because she wanted an education and her husband wouldn’t let her have one. Others say she left with a man. Senovia never bothered to learn the truth. She moved in with her grandmother—the cruelest of cruel women. Or, Mamita Santos, as she was called by the children that she raised who were also abandoned by their mothers. My mom and aunts are forced to remember their childhood when they count the scars on their backs and legs from the beatings they received as kids. Where were the men, the fathers? My mother met her father only once. He made her uncomfortable by insinuating he’d pay for her college education if she let him kiss her. She never saw him again and she never did go to college.
Perhaps this is what made Ramiro so appealing to her. Married men, in general, had the most appeal. Before Ramiro there had been four, no, maybe five, married men that she had affairs with. She would not like it if she knew I was telling you this. She does not know that I know. For her, married men were foolproof. They made a commitment already and so all she needed was that commitment transferred onto her. My own father had been married when she met him. She carried on a love affair with him for almost a year before she met his wife. The statuesque brunette with red lipstick rushed into his office one day. My mother quickly gathered the blue dress that lay in a heap at her feet, pushed it past her mane of wild curls, squeezed it past her breasts, let it fall on her hips, and walked away. A few weeks later, she was pregnant and alone. I never met my father or his statuesque wife.
Ramiro taught me how to make my beloved puerquitos. I learned about the molasses and hint of spice that flavored them and I poured the dough over the pig shaped cookie cutter until I was sure they would come out fat and moist. My mother joined us from time to time but her puerquitos came out skinny and flavorless. Her specialty was making the designs on the conchas. She used a knife to cut lines through the chocolate, vanilla, and pink frosting on top of the shell-shaped breads. She developed a knack for it. She started to get creative with her designs and soon she could draw Frida Kahlo’s face or La Rosa card from the Loteria game. They were edible papel picado designs and the customers loved them.
When she was not making the fast selling papel picado conchas, my mother was busy moving us into Ramiro’s small apartment above the bakery. We lived across the street in a small room she rented for the two of us. Whenever she came home from seeing him, she was always missing an article of clothing or a shoe. She did not notice until I pointed it out. Eventually more than half her wardrobe was at Ramiro’s. Whenever she needed something, she would walk across the street and change into the dress or skirt she had conveniently forgotten at Ramiro’s apartment. When Ramiro finally asked her to move in, we only had to move the bed. Everything else was already there.
Part II – Possessions
The single most important occurrence that made Ramiro decide to have a tent revival was the incident with Marta. She was a local woman that everyone called La Trastornada. She had owned a beauty salon that she operated from the living room of her home until she went a little crazy. Without regard to their choice of haircut requests, Marta started shaving everyone’s heads. The men did not mind it so much but the women ran out of her salon crying and headed to the local wig shop. Soon after she lost her business and her home and began roaming the streets yelling “Si no tienes pelo, no tienes pecado!” She walked into the bakery/church during a Wednesday night service. Ramiro had been in true form that night. He was inspired by a verse he read in The Book of Revelations. Ramiro always preached from Revelations. He believed that all the other stories in the Bible were not as important as getting ready for the end of times. He was doing his part to ensure every soul made it into heaven. He preached that the only thing people needed to know about Christianity was that every one of us was a sinner. We would all die in the pits of hell unless we turned to God and asked for forgiveness for the evil in our hearts. He was loud and thunderous that night and little drops of spit landed on the parishioners sitting in the front row with every word he spoke.
Marta, La Trastornada, walked in right off the street and slowly made her way up to the altar where Ramiro was busy being moved by the Holy Spirit. Man, woman, and child fainted as she passed them. You see, Marta had been homeless for a few months now. She absolutely refused to take a shower even though many offered her access to one. The parishioners who attended services that night have still not recovered from the stench of her presence.
Ramiro quickly deduced that Marta was possessed by the devil. He ordered the entire congregation to start praying. He took a step back and called upon the power of the Lord to give him strength. He raised his hands in the air and they came crashing down on Marta’s forehead.
“Fuera demonios en el nombre de Dios!” screamed Ramiro. Marta thrashed.
“Fuera demonios!” Ramiro screamed again and Marta crumpled to the floor in a heap.
The congregation leaned forward simultaneously and tried to get a glimpse of the endemoniada but Ramiro said, “Sigan orando hermanos! El diablo todavia esta aqui! Sigan orando! The church continued to pray and some even started speaking in tongues.
This is when the second thing that made Ramiro want to have a tent revival happened—I started laughing. Uncontrollably. Big, loud guffaws that made my eyes tear up and made me want to pee. I could not help it. I do not know if I was nervous, scared, or uncomfortable but I do remember that listening to everyone speaking in tongues was the most incredibly hilarious and ridiculous thing I had ever heard.
“How could everyone forget their español?” I thought to myself.
I kept laughing because whatever language they were speaking sounded so made up. It was as if they had taken a word in Spanish and jumbled it up to make gibberish. A word like “sanala” was said like “sanalasanalasanalasanala” and “cuidala” sounded like “cuidalacuidalacuidalacuidalacuidala.” It sounded so silly and it just made me laugh to see them so serious when they spoke in tongues. Even Marta thought so. She started laughing with me. Nobody liked that.
My mother was crying. I looked towards Ramiro and he touched my forehead with his hand and prayed. I was now the one possessed. I tried to explain that I was fine but they insisted on laying hands on me. At the end of the service, Ramiro announced that a tent revival would take place to ensure that all demons had been cast out from both Marta and me.
Part III – Exodus
The tent revival took place on a huge plot of land owned by one of los aleluyas. It was a rainy December. I positioned myself on a makeshift chair made of discarded wood and watched the tent go up. The water falling from the edge of the white tarp looked like the lace veils the women wore during church services. The Bible pages wet and dripping ink revealed that they were bought on the cheap at a mercado in the nearby town. The mud stuck to your feet like clay and the water rushed through the mismatched chairs, benches, tree trunks, and truck tires that served as pews. The downpour’s symbolism was not lost on anybody. The Lord created this tremendous storm to carry away any sins you may have walked in with. Los aleluyas walked around with an appreciative look, never complaining about what a tremendous nuisance all the rain and mud was. They tried to look dignified in wet clothes.
The altar consisted of several wooden tables and a piece of carpet someone had donated to cover the dirt beneath. A blue tarp hung overhead and attempted to protect the worship instruments: a drum set without skins, a guitar with three strings, and a bullhorn instead of a microphone. Ramiro did not want to be electrocuted while delivering his Jesus inspired sermon.
The tent revival’s purpose was to cast out any remaining demons from me, and anyone else holding on to them. Ever since my laughing fit, people had been looking at me strangely. As if they could not quite believe the exorcism had worked. I gave them every reason to think I was still possessed. I stuck my tongue out at anyone who tried to approach me and laughed uncontrollably from time to time for good measure.
Ramiro and I were not on speaking terms ever since the demon thing happened. I stopped eating his puerquitos and stopped visiting him at the bakery. I barely spoke to my mother. The only physical contact we had was when she brushed my hair.
“Why hasn’t Ramiro married us yet?” I asked.
In response, she yanked my hair harder and made my ponytail tighter, which gave me a headache and worsened my mood.
The first night of the tent revival was also the last. Before Ramiro’s sermon, los aleluyas sang and worshiped and yelled, “Bendito sea el señor!” while I sulked in a corner. My mother was embarrassed. Ramiro cut the worship short and launched into his sermon. He preached from Revelations. Again.
“The Lord has given me the power to cast out demons!” he said. Then he said a bunch of Hallelujahs and Amens and Glory-Be-to-Gods. Ramiro then ran to me, grabbed my hand, and placed me at the altar. Front and center.
Ramiro preached, “I’m going to place my hand on her forehead. Hallelujah! God is going to work through me and as soon as my hand touches her forehead…hallelujah, hallelujah… the Holy Spirit is going to fill her soul and she will drop to the floor! Hallelujah!” but nothing happened.
I didn’t drop to the floor. I didn’t feel the Holy Spirit. I did not hear the gates of heaven opening. Instead, what I heard was a loud commotion coming from somewhere inside the tent. I opened my eyes and saw shock on Ramiro’s face.
A woman was rushing through the middle of los aleluyahs and headed straight for Ramiro. The woman was his wife. She yelled things like sin vergüenza and canaya and hit him over the head with her purse. Ramiro protected himself with his Bible while the woman continued to pummel him good. I now understood why Ramiro called Catholics hypocrites. His wife was wearing a black dress and heels. Every inch a proper woman. The words that came out of her mouth, however, were not proper at all. She called my mother a puta, despreciada, idiota, estupida, una roba maridos. I looked at my mother and saw tears in her eyes. She was losing Ramiro. She grabbed my hand and rushed past los aleluyahs who had instantly traded in their worship for chisme.
It took my mother four hours to remove all traces of us from Ramiro’s apartment above the bakery. Unlike our moving in, which had been slow and unintentional, our moving out was fast and definitive. He would have asked her forgiveness but his wife stood guard at the door of the apartment to make sure my mother didn’t take anything with her that wasn’t hers, including him.
Los aleluyahs had deserted him. La Iglesia Sinai was finished. He was now just a panadero and no longer the pastor of an evangelical church. His wife had already hung a sign on the door of the apartment that read, “Este hogar es Catolico”.
I walked up to Ramiro and told him I was not possessed by demons and that I was mad at him for thinking I was. He handed me a puerquito, touched my chin, and told me he was going to miss me. I took the puerquito and said nothing. At least I had my mother back.
Three days later, my mother and I boarded a bus bound for Tijuana and then further to California. My mother took Ramiro’s Bible from his apartment and never spoke about him again. Puerquitos are no longer my favorite pan dulce. Many men came and went after Ramiro but every time another relationship ended, my mother would pull out his Bible. She read from The Book of Revelations, “Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near,” and wondered when her time for familial happiness would finally arrive.
Fanny García is a non-traditional, commuter and transfer student of English. Fanny was born in Honduras, and raised in Mexico and Los Angeles. She is the Founding Editor of pLAywriting in the city, an arts journal based in Los Angeles. She has written several plays including Portrait of Ten Women, which chronicles the lives of Latina women living with HIV/AIDS. Her play, The Rosalila received a workshop production directed by Luis Alfaro in 2010. She’s currently working on a collection of short stories. You can follow her on Twitter: @GirlWryter.