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also see Kate Gray's review of Chicano Chicanery

Godoy Lives

Juan's cousin wrote what he knew of the dead guy. He was from Jalisco. Not married. Some called him maricón because they suspected he was gay, but no one knew for sure.

The age of the man was the same as Juan's, 24, and the picture on the green card strikingly similar, sunken cheeks, small forehead, tiny, deep-set eyes that on Juan looked as if everything scared him, but that on the dead guy looked focused, confident. "You could use this to come work here," his cousin wrote.

It was perfect, Juan thought, if not for the name written on the green card: Miguel Valencia Godoy.

Godoy? Juan wasn't even sure how to pronounce it. His wife Maria held the green card in her small, work-gnarled hand and she looked at the name, then at Juan.

"Goo doy," she said.

He tried: "Guld Yoy."

Patiently she took a breath. "Goo doy."

He practiced and practiced. It got so the entire family was saying it: Maria, their four year old boy Juan JR, and even the big eyed baby girl came close with "goo goo." Only Juan couldn't say it. Some nights Maria kept him up late, pushing him awake as he dozed off, until he said it correctly three times in a row.

When the day came for him to leave, he kissed her goodbye, shook his son's hand like a man, and kissed the baby's soft, warm head. The treeless dirt road stretched into the barren hills, reaching the nearest town seven miles away where he would catch the bus to Tijuana.

"I'll be back," he said to Maria.

"I know you will," she said.

"I'll send money when I find work."

"I know you will," she said. She placed an open palm on his face. "You're a good man, Juan. I know you'll do what's right."

He looked into her eyes, disappointed that he could not find in them a single tear. She smiled sadly, like a mother sending her child off to school.

"Go, Juan," she said. "Don't make this harder than it needs to be."

"I can't help it," he wept. She hugged him in her strong, bony arms. She smelled of body odor.

"Don't do this. Be a man," she said firmly.

He pulled away from her, wiped his tears, and said, "I'm going."

Even their skinny shadows, cast on the dry dirt, seemed sad, facing each other, their noses, their outstretched arms, clearly saying good-bye.

"Again," she said.

"Duld Woy," he sniveled.

"Goo doy. Again."

"Goose boy."

"Juan, if you don't get it, things will be bad."


At the border, he nervously stepped across a red line painted on the sidewalk. He stepped past warning signs that ordered people to turn back if not able to enter the U.S. Inside the building, big and bright as an indoor sports stadium, he was surprised at the number of Mexicans waiting in line to get to the U.S. side. Still, most of the people were white, holding bags of souvenirs, colorful Mexican blankets, ceramics, bottles of Tequila. He looked at the heads of the lines to see which U.S. immigration officer he should approach.

People who knew had told him that the worst immigration officers in the US were the ones of Mexican descent. Pick a white officer, he had heard, because the Mexican-American, the Chicano INS officers had to prove to the white people that they were no longer Mexicans. He had heard that they would beat people up in the mountains or sick vicious dogs on them, laughing as the bloody flesh flies in all directions.

There were three open lines, three officers, a white woman, and two white men. He chose a young man with a shaved head whose line moved fast because he barely looked at the I.D.s held out to him, just waved everyone through, bored, like he didn't want to be there.

Juan knew that this would be easier than he had imagined. With a confidence he had never felt before, he said to himself, slightly out loud, in perfect pronunciation, "Godoy."

When he was two people from the front, something terrible happened. A tall Chicano officer tapped the white agent on the shoulder and said something. The white guy smiled, stood up, and left, leaving the tall Chicano to take his place. This Mexican-American was mean looking, well over six feet tall, with massive shoulders and legs thick as tree trunks. His green INS uniform stretched like a football player's. Set below his flat forehead, above his chubby cheeks, were small black eyes that darted suspiciously from face to face. His hair was cut short to his head, sticking straight up, and he didn't smile.

Juan wanted to get out of the line, but he was next.

The Chicano looked down at him. "Why should I let you through?" he demanded in English.

Juan didn't understand a word except for "you" which he believed meant him, but he assumed the officer had asked for his green card, so he held it up.

And smiled.

The Chicano looked suspiciously into Juan's eyes. He grabbed the card from his fingers and looked closely at the picture, then back at Juan.

"What's your name?" he asked in Spanish.

Juan took a deep breath and said, "Miguel Valencia Goo poo."

"What?" asked the officer, chest inflating with air.

Juan was sure he'd be grabbed by the collar and dragged out.

He tried again: "Miguel Valencia Godoy."

"What's that last name?"

Sweat trickled down his back.

"Godoy?" he offered.

"Where are you from?"

"Jalisco," he remembered.

The officer put the I.D. card on the counter and said, with a big smile, "Cousin! It's me!" He had said it in Spanish, but the words still had no meaning to Juan.

"I'm your cousin. Francisco Pancho Montes Godoy."


"Don't you remember me?"

"Oh, Pancho, of course," said Juan, weakly.

"You lying son of a bitch," said Pancho. "You don't even recognize me. Come on," he said, coming around the counter. "I know what to do with guys like you." He picked up the duffel bag as effortlessly as if it were a purse, and led Juan across the vast floor of the building, through crowds of people, into a little room with chairs, a TV, and magazines in English. Pancho dropped the bag, turned around and said, "Un abrazo" holding out his long and thick arms. He hugged the breath out of Juan. He smelled of freshly cleaned laundry. Then he held him at arm's length to get a better look. "You haven't changed. You wait right here. When I get off, I'm taking you home. You can see my wife and kids." He started to walk out, but something struck him. He turned around. "Oh, I just thought of something."


"Really. It just occurred to me."

"What did?"

"I have a special surprise for you, Miguel."

"What surprise?" asked Juan.

"You'll see," said Pancho. "A surprise."

Juan waited about three hours in that room. One time he tried to escape, but when he opened the door, Pancho, from behind the counter, looked right at him and winked.

At last, Pancho opened the door. He was now dressed in street clothes, 501 jeans and a T-shirt with a faded image of Mickey Mouse. He looked like a giant kid.

"Come on, cousin," he said. "I'm taking you home."

Like a lamb led to the slaughter, Juan followed through the parking lot, looking between the rows for an escape route, Pancho’s shadow stretching across the hoods of several cars. Pancho grabbed him by the arm with a strong grip and escorted him to the passenger's side of an over-sized Ford Pickup. Juan pictured Maria wearing a black dress and veil, standing over his grave, not weeping, just shaking her head, saying, "Dumb, Juan. Why can't he do nothing right?"

He climbed up into the cab, using both hands and feet, like a child climbing a tree. He had to get out of there quick, find his real cousin, the one who had sent him the dead man's green card, and work his ass off so he could send Maria money. She needed him. His family needed him.

They drove through town, the truck so high off the ground Juan thought that surely this must be what it was like to be on a horse. He held on to the rim of the seat.

"Hey, cousin. Listen to me," Pancho said. "You'll never guess the surprise I have for you."

"What is it?" Juan asked.

Pancho laughed an evil laugh, an "I got you now" laugh.

"You'll see," he said.

"Can you give me a hint?"

"You won't be disappointed. So, tell me, where have you been these last years?"

"I'm not married," Juan said, remembering another detail about Godoy.

"Oh?" Pancho asked.

"Never found someone I loved," he said.

"Well, here, you'll find plenty of women here. Lorena has a pretty sister. Lorena turned out to be the greatest wife in the world."

Juan wanted to say "no," that Maria was the greatest, but he couldn't.


He had seen her at an outdoor dance in the zócolo of a nearby town one sunny Sunday afternoon. She was the prettiest girl there, wearing a white dress that fell just above her knees, her cinnamon colored legs smooth and shapely. She was 17. All afternoon guys stood around around her like giants, boys with large shoulders, black cowboy boots, and white straw cowboy hats that shined in the sun, while Juan watched her from behind the balloon vendor, a skinny, sickly looking boy barely 18. Still, Maria noticed him.

As was the custom, the unmarried young people walked in a circle at the center of the plaza, girls in one direction, boys in another, and although several girls were available, most of the boys eyed Maria, and when they passed her, they threw confetti in her long black hair, or they offered their hands to her, but she walked by each of them, looking at Juan the entire time. He, in turn, looked over his shoulder, at the tiled dome of the cathedral, convinced she was looking past him. Since she was rejecting so many others, he decided it wouldn’t be so bad when she rejected him, so he was determined to throw some confetti in her hair. When she was right beside him, he raised his clenched hand, but when he opened it, he realized he had nothing. What a fool I am! He cried to himself. But Maria brushed out the confetti already in her hair and offered him her hand. So excited, he wasn’t sure with which hand to take hers, extending one, withdrawing it, extending the other, so she took control. She grabbed his arm and led him away from the circle.


Pancho pulled the truck into a gravel lot lined by a three-foot tall chain-link fence that surrounded a large front yard and a small house. Two dogs barked at the truck, a German shepherd and a big black lab. "Here we are, primo," he said. "This is home."

Pancho opened the fence and the dogs jumped on him for affection, but then they stopped and seemed to wait for Juan to enter the yard, their tongues hanging out, tails wagging, whining as if unable to contain their excitement.

"Do they bite?" Juan asked.

"Don't worry, they only bite strangers," said Pancho.

"That's good," Juan said. The dogs surrounded him, sniffing his crotch, his legs, the Michoacán dirt caked to his boots.

The men entered the house, which had purple shag carpet and a velveteen couch and love seat. The painting above the TV was a velvet likeness of the Aztec warrior with the dead woman in his arms. The place smelled of beans cooking.

"Lorena," called Pancho. "He's here." Then he looked at Juan. "I called her and told her you'd be coming."

Lorena, a strikingly handsome woman in a jean skirt, which came above her knees, and a white T-shirt that hugged her voluptuous body, walked in, wiping her hands on a dishtowel. Standing next to each other, she and her husband looked like the perfect couple, him tall and broad-shouldered, a little chubby around the middle and on the face, and her, tall, big boned, wide hips. She had a long jaw like an Indian, long black hair tied in a ponytail, and black eyes.

"I don't believe it," she said. She ran up and gave Juan a big hug. Her flesh was soft and pillowy, and she smelled of fresh onions. She held him at arm's length. "This is such a wonderful day. Imagine." She said. "Just imagine."

"Imagine," Pancho said, his hands on his hips, smiling big.

Juan wasn't sure if Godoy had ever met Lorena, so he wasn't sure what to say. He said, "Imagine."

"I have your room ready for you," she said. "Do you want to wash up or rest?"

"Later," said Pancho. "First he has to meet the girls."

He led Juan down the hallway. Framed family pictures lined the walls. At one metal frame with multiple photos, Pancho stopped and pointed to two little kids dressed like cowboys, holding toy guns and trying to look mean. "You remember that?"

It was Pancho and the dead man as kids. Juan looked close. The similarities between that child and how he remembered looking as a child were so great that it spooked him, as if he had had all his life two lives that went on simultaneously. He almost remembered that day playing cowboys.

"That was in Jalisco," Juan said.

"That's right. On grandfather's ranch. Remember that ranch?"

Juan pictured acres of land, a stable with twenty of the finest horses, and a garden where the family ate dinner, served by Indians, on a long wooden table. "Do I," he said dreamily.

"And all those horses," Pancho said, sadly delighted. "Oh, well, come on. We have plenty of time to reminisce, but first I want you to meet the girls."

Juan expected that he was referring to Lorena's sisters, but when Pancho opened a bedroom door, two little girls, five year old black-eyed twins, sat on the floor playing with dolls. They looked up at their father. "Hello daddy," they said in unison.

"Come here, sweethearts. I want you to meet someone."

Obediently they rose and came to their father, standing on either side of him. "This is your tío Miguel."

Both girls ran to Juan and hugged him. "Hi, tío. We love you."

They smelled of baby powder.


Lorena insisted he go to bed early because of his long journey, so after dinner—chile verde with fat flour tortillas—she led him into the extra bedroom and clicked on a table lamp, an arc of light appearing like a holy apparition across the white wall. Their shadows were so tall that their heads touched the ceiling. She showed him the shower and where they kept the towels. When she bent over to explain how to use the stereo, her T-shirt hung open, exposing her cleavage. She slowly kissed him on the forehead, soft, wet lips, and she left him alone. As he lay in bed he felt himself aroused. As much as he tried to picture Maria, he couldn't stop seeing Lorena, nor could he help but fantasize what her sister looked like. He reached in his underwear and felt for himself, but on the high part of the wall, above the shadow of his horizontal body, in the arc of light, he saw an image of Maria wearing a veil, shaking her head. He turned off the lamp.


The next day Pancho woke him early and said it was his day off and he'd show Juan around.

"And tomorrow I'm calling in sick. We have so much to do."

As they drove through the city, Juan said, "I need to work, primo. I need a job."

"What are you going to do?" said Pancho.

"I have some connections in Fresno," said Juan. "I thought I'd go there and pick fruit."

Pancho laughed. "That's wetback work."

"I am a wetback," Juan thought. But he said, "I'm not experienced enough at anything else."

"Miguel. Miguelito," said Pancho, shaking his head. His chubby cheeks were slightly pockmarked from acne as a teenager. "I got it all figured out, primo. Don't worry."

They drove out of town onto a narrow, two-lane highway lined by tall pine trees, until they reached a clearing, a vast green ranch set in a glen, beyond which the ocean lay over the horizon like a sparkling blue sheet. They entered a white gate with the name of the ranch, Cielito Lindo, and drove on the paved driveway until they reached a three-story Spanish style hacienda.

"What is this place?" Juan asked.

"You'll see."

A white man in his 50s walked out of the mansion. He wore tight jeans and a flannel shirt tucked in and was in good shape for his age. His gray hair was balding on the top. He smiled as he approached Juan, extending his hand. "Welcome, Miguel. My name's BD. Pancho told me all about you and the funny thing that happened at the border." Although he spoke with a U.S. accent, he spoke Spanish well.

"Yes, it was very funny," Juan said.

"What are the chances?" BD said.

BD led them around the mansion to the stables, white wooden buildings with so many doors extending on the horizon that it looked like a mirror image of itself. People led horses in and out of the doors. They entered one and saw horses proudly standing in their stalls, white and black Arabians, their nostrils flaring as if aware of their own worth. A Mexican man was brushing one of them, and as he stroked her silky neck, he cooed how beautiful she was.

"Memo," BD said to the man.

Memo looked up.

"This is Miguel Godoy. He's going to join our team."

“It’s very nice to meet you,” said Juan.

"Guillermo Reyes." the man said, extending his hand to Juan. "Godoy you say? Is that a Mexican name?"

"Of course it is," said Juan.

"Well, the name itself isn't," said Pancho. "But our family is pure Mexican. Although we're the first generation of American," he said, proudly putting his arm around Juan.

Memo's eyes scrutinized Juan. "Are you from Michoacán?"

"No, hell no. He's from Jalisco," said Pancho, offended by the thought.

"You sound like you're from Michoacán," Memo said.

Over iced tea under a white gazebo, BD explained how he became part owner of the ranch when he was Pancho's age, 25, and he had invested money in the land with four other partners. Over the years they built the country club, the stables, and bought 20 more acres on which their customers rode the horses. Some of the horses they took care of for the rich and famous. BD, who worked as an INS officer with Pancho, would retire in a few years a rich man. "I'll spend all my time out here."

"See, cousin, that's the secret of success. You spend your lifetime investing. Right now I'm thinking about buying into an apartment building. We'll invest our money together, cousin, and we'll be rich."

"What money?" Juan asked.

"'What money'," Pancho repeated, laughing.

Juan's job at the ranch, BD explained, was to take the horses out of the stable for the customers, make sure they got mounted safely, and then when they return them, turn the horse over to Memo or another stable hand.

"But I don't speak English," Juan said.

"What a great way to learn," Pancho said.

"I don't know anything about horses," Juan said.

"He's being modest," Pancho said. "He has a gift."

When BD told Juan how much he'd be earning, Juan had to hear it again to be certain he had heard right.

"And the best part of it is," said Pancho. "Tax free. Cash."


That evening Lorena's sister, Elida, an eighteen year old with light brown hair and golden eyes, had dinner with the family. She was so beautiful that Juan couldn't stop sneaking looks at her, and she frequently looked at him and shyly smiled, which made the little black-eyed twins put their tiny hands over their mouths and giggle. When Pancho broke out with the stories about Miguel as a child, how brave he was and how everyone knew he'd be a great man, how girls used to follow him around, about the fights he'd get into with older and bigger boys, Elida looked at him with a stare that bordered on awe. Juan relished the stories, picturing it all and almost believing that he had done those things. After dinner, while the family was drinking coffee and the little girls were munching their desert, Juan stood up and said he'd like to get some fresh air. He looked at Elida and asked if she would join him.

She said she'd love to.

On the patio they sat on the swing. The full moon shone like a cross in the black sky and reflected in Elida's large eyes. Her face was smooth. The sweet smell of her perfume rose like curls of smoke and swam into his nose, reaching so far into him that they massaged his heart. "Can I touch your face?" he said.

"My face? That's funny. Why for would you want to do that?"

Her Spanish wasn't that good, but she had probably never been to Mexico.

"Because it's the most beautiful face I have ever seen."

She lowered her eyes. He kept looking at the smoothness of her skin, down her thin neck--a birthmark at the protruding bone. At her breasts.

"Okay," she said. "You can touch."

He looked up.

He reached out his hand, opened his palm, and as if he were touching something sacred, he slowly felt the warmth of her face. Passionately, she pressed her cheek into his hand and she closed her eyes and sighed. "That's nice," she said, opening her eyes and looking into his.

Lorena called them inside to watch a movie they had rented. Side by side on the love seat, they glanced as often at each other as they did at the TV. When it was over, Elida said she had to get home. Juan walked her to the car. She opened the door, but before she got in she turned around, bit her bottom lip, and peered at him with eyes that spoke of desire. "I guess I'll see you later," she said.

"You will."

He watched her pull onto the street and her taillights disappear into the darkness.

When he went back into the house, Pancho and Lorena were waiting for him, standing side by side, big smiles on their faces.

Although it hadn't been two days, these two seemed so familiar, so much like family. It occurred to him that he could keep this up for a long time, maybe forever. They would never know. Juan, quite frankly, was having a good time.

What was the rush to work in those hot fields, making less in one month than what he'd make in a week at the stables? He could still send Maria money.


She didn't even cry when he left. She was proabably glad he was gone.

"Well, cousin, tell us," Pancho said, as if he couldn't stand the anticipation. "What did you think of Lorena's sister?"

Juan laughed, heading toward the hallway to his bedroom, and he said, as if the question carried its own answer, "What did I think of Lorena's sister."


Life was great.

He made plenty of money, much of which he spent taking Elida to restaurants, he was beginning to learn English, and Pancho wanted them to invest in real estate together, as a team. When Juan reminded him he didn't have much money, Pancho assured him it would work out. "I don't think that'll be a problem," he said. One day at work, feeling good after a night with Elida, wherein they went further than they ever had, although not all the way, he was friendly and joked with the customers in English. Around midday, he got this urge to have lunch with someone, to click glasses with an old friend. In the stables he searched for Memo but couldn't find him, not in the bed and breakfast or walking around the grounds. Finally, as he was walking around the back of the stables, he saw him on a picnic table eating lunch with what must have been his family, his wife and two kids, a little boy and a little girl. They weren't talking as they ate. They just ate, but it was a such a picture of happiness that for the first time in a long time, he thought of his own kids, Juan JR, the baby, and he felt a great loss for his Maria.

What was she going to do without him? The right thing to do would be to take the money he had already earned, perhaps earn a little more, and send it to Maria. Wherever she was at that moment, whatever she was doing, there was no doubt in her mind that he was going to come back. He had to quit seeing Elida.

Later that night they were walking along the pier in San Diego when he was going to tell her it was over between them. He said, "I think you should know something." Elida stopped walking and looked at him. Her eyes filled with love and hope. Anticipation.

"I love you," he blurted.

They kissed.

Later that night in her small bedroom plastered with glossy Ricky Martin posters, they made love. Her parents were out of town. Afterwards, as he held her smooth body in his thin arms, the smell of her perfume mixed with the scent of the peach candle flickering on her nightstand, he told her that he never wanted to be without her. And he meant it. He was in love.

When he got home, Pancho was sitting on the couch waiting for him, his big legs crossed, his arm extended across the back of the sofa.

"What's up?" Juan asked.

"Remember that surprise I told you about?"

"What surprise?" asked Juan.

"When I first saw you at the border. I told you I had a surprise for you."

"Oh yeah," said Juan.

"Well, tomorrow I'm going to let you have it," he said, standing up.


When Juan woke up the next morning, Pancho had already left. He found Lorena in the kitchen cutting a melon into bite-sized slices. She told him that Pancho went to get the surprise. As she served him a plate of the melon and a cup of strong, black coffee, she saw the concern in his face. "Don't worry so much," she said as she sat at the table opposite him.

He remained silent, worried.

"You do like it here with me and Pancho, right?”

He was distracted, but he still said yes.

"Look," she said, feeling sorry for him. "I think what Pancho's doing is wrong. I told him so. If you're not prepared for it, things could be difficult."

"What are you talking about?"

"The surprise. I told him not to do it this way, but he wouldn't listen. Sometimes he doesn't think things out fully. This is one of those times."

"What's the surprise?" asked Juan.

"Okay, I'm going to tell you," Lorena said. "But only because I don't think it's right what he's doing."

Pancho went to the Greyhound bus station, she said, to pick up Godoy's mother who had been living in El Paso. He was bringing her here so she could live with Miguel, her only living son.

The world fell on him. It was over. A mother would always know who was her son. "Don’t worry,” said Lorena. “She’ll be so happy to see you. She never stopped being your mother.”

After eating a couple of pieces of melon and drinking coffee, Juan said he wasn't feeling well and wanted to lie down. When he got into his bedroom, he quickly pulled the dirty duffel bag from the closet and started packing everything that would fit. He grabbed the cash he had already earned and stuffed it at the very bottom of his socks and then pulled on his boots. He had to be gone before Pancho got back. He would lose out on a few days pay, but better that than lose his life. He was ready to go, when he heard a knock on the bedroom door. He stuffed the bag in the closet and jumped into bed, pulling the covers over his body. "Come in," he said.

Lorena walked in, disturbed. She pulled the chair that was leaning against the wall and scooted it close to the bed. "There's something else. And this is it. I mean this is really it. This is why I'm telling you what Pancho's doing. I think you need to be prepared."

"What?" he said.

"It's been a long time since you've seen her." She paused, as if the words were too difficult. "Miguel, your mother is getting very senile."

"How senile?" he said, perking up.

"She forgets things sometimes. People sometimes. And . . ."

"What? What?"

"After your father disowned you—and she still doesn't believe the story."

"The story?"

"About you and that other boy. She doesn't believe it. None of us do."

"Uh, that's good."

"But after he disowned you, she never gave up on you. She knew she would see you again. She's been saving things for you. After your father died, he left, well, quite a bit of money."

"How much?"

"A lot, Miguel. You don't even have to work if you don't want. She's been saving it for you. I only tell you this because I want you to be prepared. I told Pancho it wasn't a good idea to not tell you first. But he was just so excited about the, you know, the . . . Well, he wants you to be happy."

"What if she doesn't recognize me?" he asked.

"She's senile. It just means we'd have to . . . What am I saying? She will."

Juan sat up on his bed. "Well, then, I'll look forward to meeting her. I mean, seeing her again."

Lorena left the room. Juan paced back and forth with a burst of energy. When he heard the truck pull up into the gravel, he said to himself, "Here we go." He looked at himself in the mirror. He saw staring at him Miguel Valencia Godoy. Clean-shaven, handsome, lean bodied, confident. But then he glimpsed at something that bothered him, a dull gleam in his eyes, something that didn’t belong to him. Insecurity. It was Juan. He shook it off and went out into the living room to see his mother.

Printed in the Spring/Summer 2000 issue of CLR

Daniel Chacón

Daniel Chacón has had stories appear in such journals as ZYZZYVA,The New England Review, Quarterly West and The Bilingual Review. His first book is a collection of stories called Chicano Chicanery (Arte Público Press). He currently lives in Minnesota where he teaches at Southwest State University in Marshall.

You can find Daniel Chacón on the web at:
—  New York Times
—  Denver Post
—  Chicano Chicanery
—  Amazon
—  Barnes & Noble

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