In front of the hut, Román had turned a rusting refrigerator carcass on its side and used it as a kitchen counter. As afternoon turned to evening, Román stood before it, gutting fish and dropping them into a cast-iron pan encrusted with years of fish dinners. Román’s large hands scaled and filleted as his eyes scanned the lagoon. He handed the heaping pan to his twelve-year-old daughter, Liliana. “You’re the woman here, so you have to cook,” he told her.
I never had to cook. On visits to villages, I often was seated at a table with only men, while all the women waited in the kitchen. Was this because I was more guest than woman? Or because foreign women are given more power, and therefore access to male worlds?
Whenever I left my home in Matías Romero, I was unfailingly attended to, cared for, and respected beyond what anyone had reason to think I merited. I often wondered what position I occupied in my hosts’ and friends’ visions of the world. I could not catch a fish, plant a cornfield, or even make an edible tortilla. I tripped often on the uneven ground, turned bright red after just moments in the sun, and couldn’t squat without wobbling. I needed translation whenever the conversation wasn’t in Spanish and asked the most dumbfoundingly uninformed questions. My most useful skills were driving a car (something few women could do) and taking photos of everyone’s children with my huge camera (something few could afford). But cook? Never.
Liliana heaved the pan over the fire pit coals and poked at the frying fish. The men prepared for the night’s work. Or, the other men prepared and Román settled into a chair. “My job as a fisherman is better than an office job,” he said to me. “I usually only sleep about six hours a night, but I sleep when I want.”
“And you pee when you want to,” one of others said. Everyone laughed. “That’s important!” the man insisted.
Román told only half the truth about his schedule. He could fish or not, as he chose, but he didn’t set his own hours. The starting time and length of the Huave fishermen’s workday (or, more accurately, worknight) changed with the season and moon phase. Those things controlled the shrimp’s migration, and that migration controlled Román’s work schedule.
The men talked about what else they might do for work, if they stopped fishing. The conversation turned to migration, as it often did. “It’s better to drown here than to die in the desert up there,” Román said.
Excerpts from No Word for Welcome have appeared in Blue Mesa Review; Chain; ColorLines: Race, Culture, Action; NACLA Report on the Americas; Texas Observer; and The (New York) Daily News. For more infomation about the book, contact Wendy Strothman, at The Strothman Agency, LLC.