Dateline – Tlaxco, Tlaxcala, Mexico
August 3, 1998
COLONIA SAN JUAN
The Hacienda San Juan de Tlaxco
Night-shadows play over the weathered stone markers in the small abandoned graveyard. A soft breeze rustles the leaves of the tall camphor trees like spirits whispering in the darkness. Last night the ghost of Don Miguel was sighted again on the other side of the ravine. He sat motionless on his black stallion, moonlight reflecting from his silver spurs and the silver decorations of his ‘charro’ dress.
Darkness and moonlight outline the thick, tall adobe walls that encompass the roofless, crumbling, adobe buildings of the deserted hacienda. Hinged to the arched stone entrance, massive wooden doors groan as they are occasionally moved by the breeze.
Neither adults nor children come near this foreboding place at night. There are terrible stories about the elderly and lame being fed to the hogs when they become useless. Leg-irons were used to confine the peons who displeased their master. During the day, the more daring children play among the ruins, but never alone.
Don Miguel was one of the richest and biggest land owners it the region. He was known as the ‘burro de oro’ because he was illiterate but very rich. His main hacienda was in Xalostoc, a nearby village, but he seemed to favor San Juan as a place to store his produce.
Don Miguel had requested that he be buried in San Juan, not in the walled area that included the house, the small graveyard and the main chapel, but alongside the ravine where he had constructed crude houses for his peons and a smaller chapel. Across the ravine were the well and a large shade tree. In a manner similar to his ancient ancestors, he had requested that he be buried with his pistols, the leg irons he used to discipline his peons, and his horse. He wanted to be buried dressed in his ‘charro’ outfit. So, his horse was shot and his last wishes were fulfilled. This account was related by his surviving ‘pistolero’ who died some six years ago.
A small burro clips along at a brisk trot over neatly interlocking reddish cement paving blocks. Far back on its rear sits the bulky form of Julian. The ride is surprisingly smooth and Julian gazes straight ahead as though not taking notice of anyone or anything he passes. Yet, he sees me at a distance, I wave at him and he returns the gesture. He is on his way to the nearby sawmill at the outskirts of Colonia San Juan.
Julian is corpulent. He is poorly dressed, unshaven, and his face glows reddish, a characteristic of those who frequently partake of pulque. His four sons work at the sawmill. They are all good-humored, hard working brothers that work well together. They muscle the logs around for trimming, saw them into rough lumber and do whatever else that is required of them. Julian is sort of a handyman. He also owns the business. He probably has $100,000 (US) invested in just rows of piled logs.
The whole family is unpretentious. I don’t think anyone owns a car because I often see them traveling around in a rubber tired wagon pulled by a horse. Yet they very generously support activities in the colonia, such as Christmas Posadas, the Festival of San Juan, and Easter celebrations.
Celestino is probably in his early fifties. He is quite handsome and has a ready, charming smile. He also is usually grubby and has a barnyard odor from caring for his sheep. Though he has very little formal education he did learn to read. He reads everything he can get his hands on. Sometimes we have interesting conversations about government and politics and the plight of the farmers in Mexico.
Celestino’s wife died relatively young and he assumed the responsibilities of both mother and father in caring for their various children. They live in a shambles of an adobe house on a lot shared with their sheep. Celestino now has a small grandson. I frequently see them sitting together in the late afternoon, outside the house, on the sidewalk curb. Sometimes, in the morning I see the little boy riding on his grandfathers shoulders as they herd the sheep to pasture. Celestino is building a nice commercial building up on the highway for his daughter.
Colonia San Juan.
A ‘colonia’ is something like a subdivision in the U.S. Colonia San Juan is perhaps the smallest and nicest ‘colonia’ in Tlaxco, a town of about 13,000 residents. It consists of six blocks; three blocks wide and two blocks deep. It is unique in that it is completely surrounded with open space and probably has the best streets and sidewalks in Tlaxco. Its boundaries are pretty much the same as the walled portion of the old hacienda whose walls and other structures were razed to the ground some 20 years ago. Nothing remains to be seen of the old hacienda but occasionally, when digging for a cistern or well, one uncovers an old stone foundation for a wall which may extend six feet into the earth and may be three or more feet wide.
The Soccer Field.
Colonia San Juan also has the principle soccer field in Tlaxco and the surrounding area. It’s right across the street from where we live. Our little colony experiences an influx of visitors on weekends when the soccer games are played.
It serves many other functions as well. When the circus comes to town they always set up in the soccer field bringing another influx of visitors. This year, my little daughter, Citlali, who had just turned two years old, fell in love with the circus. She was constantly trying to persuade someone, anyone, into taking her over to see the animals. Her favorites were the monkeys. One night the whole family clan, which represents about ten percent of the colonia, attended the circus, and poor Citlali was sleeping by the time the monkeys performed.
The soccer field serves as a landing field for Tlaxco when the governor or some important politician arrives by helicopter, creating a huge cloud of dust. That attracts a lot of attention. And when the truckers parade in honor of their patron saint they line up their newly polished, shining vehicles in the soccer field and the priest comes out to bless each and every one of them.
Four or five years ago Colonia San Juan began building a chapel. Most every colonia has its own chapel apart from the principle church on the plaza. It started out as one room with walls made of ‘costeras’, or the waste strips from squaring off logs. The roof was sort of a heavy corrugated tar paper material and it had a dirt floor. It served as a place where good Catholics could meet and say their Rosary etc. Not being Catholic, even though my wife and children are, I’m not real familiar with what goes on.
Vandalism is rare in Colonia San Juan but a few years ago someone entered the chapel and did a good job of breaking up things. I was called over to take pictures of the mess. Solemn faced men, women, and children viewed the wreckage and spoke in whispers. Tears rolled down the cheeks of Don Joaquin, the local grocer, as he looked down at the shattered glass in a frame which held a picture of the Virgin Mary. Jack, a visiting friend from Oklahoma, helped me replace the door and install a padlock.
Now the old building has been demolished and the walls of a new building are up, as well as part of a poured concrete roof. Bells have been donated and installed and are rung every morning and evening. The priest has been out to bless the construction and in a few years it should be completed. It is being financed solely by private donations. Every Sunday it is someone’s responsibility to go from door to door collecting donations, regardless of how small. When enough money is accumulated more work is done. When it is finished it will be one of the nicest chapels in all of Tlaxco. In the meanwhile it serves as a center of local religious and community activities.
Maximino is a small, thin man who works as a mason. He did a lot of work on our still unfinished house. His wife became mentally ill and her health was failing. Maximino took her to a renowned ‘bruja’ to free her from the evil spirit but nothing seemed to work. Apparently the ghost of Don Miguel regularly appeared to her at night. Because they were poor he even offered to show her where he had buried his treasure. Maximino would have no part of it. He finally sold his house and they moved out of Colonia San Juan. He had unknowingly built his house over the burial site of Don Miguel.