for Maria de los Angeles
La Cristiada (1926–1929) was a widespread struggle in many central-western Mexican states against the secularist, anti-Catholic, and anticlerical policies put forth by the Mexican government after the revolution. Known as ‘las jovenes,’ young, revolutionary women transported munitions from town to town, often risking their lives in federales’ revision checkpoints.
Carmen used to run guns for the rebellion, but Angela didn’t know that. All Angela knew was her tall, slender cousin, dressed in a dark green dress with deep red lips and a glistening white smile, was taking her and her sister on a picnic.
The first time Carmen surprised the girls with a Sunday picnic was in early April 1927 and the tradition quickly took hold. Every Sunday, after mass, the girls would wait eagerly for Carmen to drive up in her father’s roadster, the black one without a roof and new leather seats. Angela and Nina would sit in the back seat as the wind blew through their hair and the sun warmed their skin, while their lovely cousin drove them to a familiar spot alongside Volcan de Colima to lunch and play.
Often Carmen would meet her lover and leave the girls alone on their red blanket to sneak back to the roadster. Angela and Nina would snicker about what they were doing just out of sight. They felt their suspicions were reaffirmed when Carmen would reappear and swear the girls to secrecy. At the time, the girls did not know what they believed was hanky panky was actually a quick and ritualistic removal of guns and ammunition which were stored under those shiny new leather seats.
On a hot October day in 1927, Carmen picked up the girls to take them for their Sunday picnic in the foothills. There was nothing unusual about the occasion and Angela and Nina were in high spirits. The girls were in the backseat playing cat’s cradle as Carmen drove up the dusty road toward their familiar picnic area. But on this day, as Carmen rounded the familiar bend in the road, they came up to a road block. Dark men dressed in military attire with rifles strapped to their backs approached the car.
Carmen stopped the car as the men approached. Angela and Nina were playful and curious.
“¿Quien es ese hombre, prima?”
“¿Son esos policías?”
“¿Por qué nos detuvimos, Carmen?”
Carmen stiffened and whispered sternly, “Callate.”
She cleared her throat, adjusted her green dress to reveal a little more cleavage, and flashed a bright smile toward the men. A large older man with a full beard approached her and smiled gently in return.
“¿A dónde va, señorita?” he asked.
Carmen’s dark hair shimmered in the sunlight revealing a red tint both girls hoped they would inherit when they reached her age.
“El domingo vamos a jira en el volcán,” she replied smiling, white clean teeth against her red lips. “Vamos todos los fines de semana,” she continued. Angela thought she heard her cousins voice quiver a little.
From the backseat, Nina asked loudly, “¿Que está pasando?”
“Si,” said Angela, hoping to take the attention from her cousin. “Hay una revision en la carretera.”
“Primas!” Carmen said sharply, and the sisters sat down restlessly in the backseat.
The man smiled at the young girls and then returned his attention to Carmen.
“Si, es un mal día, podemos hacer picnic en otro lugar,” she said already shifting the car into reverse.
“No, no señorita,” the man said. He returned to his men and exchanged a few words. Three men then returned to the car and began to look inside it and around the carriage. The girls continued to ask them noisy, meaningless questions.
“¿Qué estás haciendo?”
“¿Qué estás buscando?”
The men were kind in their responses. Carmen tried to quiet them, but the bearded man was demanding her attention. He was leaning in close to Carmen and talking to her softly.
Angela heard her nervously laugh a couple of times. She wondered what the man was saying to Carmen that was making her so uncomfortable. But when the man pulled away from the car she laughed and flashed her bright smile. He smiled back at her and then called his men from the car.
The men went to the blockade and lifted it out of the way.
“Que disfruten su picnic, señorita,” he said. “Pero la próxima semana, es posible que desee encontrar otro lugar. Las colinas se están poniendo peligrosas.”
Carmen smiled and waved, moving all four fingers in a flirtatious fashion, then she drove on. But she was tense and silent the rest of the way.
It was that moment that Carmen realized, in her willingness to fight for her cause, she was not willing to sacrifice these children. Her cousins did not choose, nor volunteer, nor ask for the risks she placed on them. These girls, whom she needed as nothing more than cover, could have been arrested or hurt or killed. They had no concept of La Cristiada or the rebellion or the political protests which she agreed to risk her life.
They were innocent. In her passion to act, she took their choice and they didn’t even know it.
When they stopped to picnic, she took the girls away from the car. She did not meet her lover that day although he came to the car as usual. She did not leave the girls for a moment, but sat beside them, watchful and protective.
“Estás bien, Carmen?” Nina asked. But Carmen only nodded.
They cut their picnic short that day. Soon after they ate, Carmen gathered the girls into the roadster and they sped back to their house.
When the girls got out of the car, Carmen caught them and hugged them. This was unusual and the girls exchanged a confused glance as their cousin clung to them. The material of green dress draped around them. Then she started to cry, smearing her red lipstick across white teeth.
“Que esta mal, prima,” Angela asked softly.
But Carmen did not respond. She just held them and sobbed, occasionally murmuring,
“Lo siento, lo siento, perdóname, perdóname.”
When the girl’s mother came out, she made eye contact with Carmen who then released the girls. “Vayan con su mama,” she said and the girls, confused and scared, ran into their house. Their mother stared at Carmen harshly and then followed the girls without a word. Carmen then climbed in her car and left.
Angela didn’t know it would be the last time Carmen would take the girls to picnic. She didn’t know that for the last few months, her and Nina had sat atop a pile of rifles with each trip to Volcan de Colima. She didn’t know that Carmen needed to be stopped and searched to realize just how much danger she was putting herself and her young cousins in.
It was fear and heartbreak that shook Carmen up and made her realize the risk she was placing on her young cousins. The guilt which must have accompanied the act. Carmen no longer took my grandmother or her sister as cover on her runs, but the runs continued until the day her lover’s head swung from a rope along the railroad.
“La Joven de La Cristiada” is previously published in Manzano Mountain Review (2016).