Colonization Isn't Over
The second Monday of October is still listed as Columbus Day for many. The second Monday of October is proclaimed as Indigenous People's Day for some. The acts of colonization by the West are not done, BUT neither are Indigenous People's gone.
"We are not myths of the past, ruins in the jungle, or zoos. We are people and we want to be respected, not to be victims of intolerance and racism."
CAPTIVE-Excerpt from Tzi'
I am a captive, again. There is food and water in my cell. Food had been scarce and so I clean my bowl, and then curl up in the corner of my cage away from the wire squares that border the one next to me. The first time I sold myself to get close to what I wanted, my books. Then, I was sold to Sera. And this time? No one benefited, as far as I could tell, except for the rules, Bagel’s rule. No papers, no chip, no tag, no freedom.
“Zoo people,” the Lord’s mutterings jangle in my head. “They like looking and they like being looked at. Bars are easier than responsibility. Everything is better for them, closed in.”
Being looked at. Being looked after? Not better for the creatures in the cage. But, did that apply to people frozen in the guidebooks too? I survey my resources, and that appears to be only the shivering, skinny dog in the next cage over. Frantic howling down the hall sets a beat to my own unrest. I consider my offering of chickens to the coyotes. I pray to the Powers that Be. I brace myself. I wait, barely peeking out from my ears slumped forward. The mesh of wire can’t leave a visible mark through my fur, but the pattern is there, the same pattern linking all of my stories. I listen for footsteps, voices, anything.
I curl my tail under me. The world shakes. I steady myself.
Capitán opens the bars as the ship wrenches to one side. His hand is held out to me as he slips. I don’t move. I don’t deserve to move. Footsteps thunder above deck. The rib bones of the ship crack. Wood splinters. Men of wood who could not properly recognize their hearts were sent away by the Powers that Be. But, I wasn’t sent away. I left. The open door slams closed again. A wall of full barrels tumbles. The captain doesn’t see it. He does not get up. The keys still hang on his belt. They clink like coins. I shake my entire body in disbelief. He let me go.
In the commotion I climb above deck towards his quarters and his chests. I am bound, but I walk. I try not to smell the wetness on myself. I can see my wrinkled skin, but I’m not old. I won’t be old. I am a boy with a brush in one hand and a knife in the other. They are bound together with slippery rope just at my waist. The sea is too deep. It had been too deep.
Water sweeps away salt, away blood, away ash until it’s fresh. Fresh water.
I wake up. My mind feels dry as if days and days have gone by without water. They haven’t. The dirt underneath my paws would be fluffed and cracked. It isn’t. Food hasn’t come again so little time has passed. The smell of mold, dampness leaves my stomach unsettled. The nausea rolls against the sides of my stomach. I tap my paw on the lowest row of silvery divisions. My nails click and my rough, dark pads hang briefly before thumping onto the false bottom of the cage. The little creature jumps. I forgot about him. He is jittery, like Bagel. Maybe that means he is a talker too. The more I know, the better my chances of breaking out, even if my exit is through the front door.
“Sir.” It barely comes out. I take a sip of water and tried again. “Sir. Boy? Excuse me.”
The tiny, spiny dog turns its pointy ears around.
“My name is Solo. What’s yours?”
“Do you mean my breed?”
“No. Your name. Who you are.”
“You don’t know your name.” I start, “How do you not kn-” but don’t finish my question. It was my old neighbor’s question that colored the burning garbage smoke slinking through window bars. Instead, I ask, “Where did you come from?”
“Don’t remember any place but here.”
That response is eerily familiar to how I used to feel Rafa’s boat. Before Sera taught me a name for myself. Her name for myself. Before the Lord showed me Guatemala on a map. Before the memories and the visions. Before I had blank canvas. Before I realized I still could write. Before my assigned name was the last metal lock on the chest protecting all stories.
I slump closer to the edge of the cage. I smell the little dog’s anxiety as breath through his teeth. “Tell me in your words. What breed are you then? Tell me anything you know about yourself.”
“Oh. That I know. The humans told me that. That they can tell just by looking.”
I perk my ears forward. “So?”
“Chihuahua. My cage says it.” He cranes his neck proudly to look at the rectangular sign facing outward.
I do the same with my neck to pull the red rectangle into view. It faces away from me. What could it say? No tag. Not Solo. No chip. Not Wisconsin. “Can you read? Can you read mine?”
My heart sinks. “Then how do you know what the paper says?”
“The people that come to look say it all the time. I’m skilled at remembering what humans say more than once.”
Like Bagel. Perhaps something I could learn from her. Should learn from her. “Do you think you could copy the shapes?” I hear my mother’s encouragement, my real mother.
“Anyway, your plastic sleeve is empty. What breed are you?” the Chihuahua returns the question.
No sign. No breed. No name. I want to answer this little guy, and I can’t. Except, no sign, no breed, no name given to me by someone else. I can name myself. “I’m Quiche’.”
“Huh?” I draw my head back.
“That’s what Tasia says when I sneeze.”
Even though all my words sound the same to everyone, I continue, “And, I’m a writer.” I pause and add, “Dog.” My other possible names are interrupted by a clattering and a click. A warmer glow of light from outside splits the hallway into triangles. All the animals in the cages leap to life, including my neighbor. He prances back and forth in his cage. “What?” I ask.
“The lady with the soft eyes and feathery hair. Tasia, the other humans call her. But they are not as kind as her. She is new. Her words are like the birds.”
“How would you know if you’ve never left here?”
“I don’t for sure, but that’s what others say. Some here have met all kinds of breeds of humans with different sounds.”
“That doesn’t even make sense.” Before I finish my words, I hear the Lord’s naming of Bagel’s barks as grunts, a pig grunting.
“Why?” The chihuahua’s voice shivers under his skin.
I pause. I don’t have an answer. My mind is also caught and spun back to the idea of bird sounds and the light language Sera used to direct at me each time we set out upon another walk to the market. Lidia’s teacher. The “what were first only” squawks of Capitán. Each one taken into a mouth like a new bone. If words were bones, I would have warned with a rumble from my throat. Hair straight and jagged thrust upward. Another Tecun Uman. Muscles on guard against any who would steal the bones thinking I would forget, that it would cease to matter, so anyone could take it from my mouth and make it their own. I start to drool imagining so many bones I would take into my teeth. But, also the shaper I changed with my teeth. The bones I took. The bones I gave away.
The woman is quickly in front of us with an empty cup in one hand and a crumpled bag in the other. “Ya te has despertado mi dulce. Me alegra. Pobrecito, tienes que ser el querido de alguien.”
“What? What?” the Chihuahua thrusts his nose through the holes in the cage.
“Relax. She just said that I woke up and that she’s happy about it.” I keep to myself the sweet words, wanting to pretend that they were from Sera’s lips instead of a stranger’s. “You’re a Chihuahua, don’t you speak Spanish?”
“What’s Spanish? Is it a place? Is it my place?” He scratches.
“Could be. Chihuahua’s are from Mexico.” I remember the marks next to Guatemala on the map, but that didn’t mean this puppy and I would understand each other. Sera had many maps folded in the car and marked in her books. The lines shifted from one to the next.
I wait for him to stop digging in his ear to speak again, “I guess not.” I considered my own difficulties deciphering the meaning of other animals. “Not if someone never spoke it with you.” I remember Bagel’s yearning to speak with Little Dove. “There are lots of kinds of words.”
“Which do you speak? Tasia’s sounds are pretty. She’s pretty. Don’t you think?”
“Not the sounds. It’s her way of saying them,” I think aloud. My legs wobble as I approach the woman still offering food. I take the treat gingerly with my teeth, head upright but shoulders low out of respect. I smell the food held out to me before swallowing. I remove each torn bit with my lower jaw from her outstretched fingers. I will not fight for a crumb, but I can accept what is given. Her shirt has writing, the slants and loops are both foreign and familiar. What happened to the Maya I think I read correctly through the bars that insert themselves in my view. It’s not the right question. They’re not the right words.
“Why did you grunt at Tasia’s clothes? What are the words?”
“What happened to the Maya?: It doesn’t matter. It isn’t the right question.