“Oaxaca” by Anneke Garcia was a finalist in the 2012 Four Centuries of Mormon Stories contest. It was originally published online at Everyday Mormon Writer on October 23, 2012.
The first potluck of the Oaxaca International Branch was going to be a disaster. Hermana Gaona was in charge of the music, which meant she would be having her son play from his computer, which meant nothing but Dominican music all night. Hermana Rodriguez had tried to suggest gently to Hermana Gaona that she should ask around about members of the branch and who had music collections and maybe ask some of the white people if they could bring some songs. She had couched it in terms of making Hermana Gaona’s job a lot easier but had hoped that her real message, “Don’t let your son play Dominican music all night,” had gotten through. It apparently hadn’t.
As far as the potluck foods, Hermana Rodriguez was hoping that those would be a little easier to arrange, but just this morning she had overheard some of the white ladies complaining about food availability and was panicking that they would show up with a begrudging offering of tortillas and tomatoes and then sit around and pick at their plates like martyrs all night because nobody could bring anything they recognized and liked to eat. It didn’t help that wheat flour hadn’t been available for months and that hardly any families in the branch owned ovens.
“The white cheese they have here doesn’t even melt right,” one of the sisters had said morosely to her friend as they sat shucking corn in the corner of the zócalo that the Mormon ladies had claimed. Hermana Rodriguez grew up in Houston – wondered if the white ladies remembered that when they commiserated in English in earshot of her all the time – and understood a little bit why they were feeling so out of their element. Most of them had been here for at least a couple years, but import foods were a little harder to get these days with all the trouble in Central America and times had been getting tighter. She reminded herself that it was her job as the president of the Relief Society to love and care for all her sisters, but sometimes she just wanted to sit them down and tell them the way she’d tell her kids that food is food and we’re grateful for it.
With all of this on her mind, she was on her way to talk to the branch president and wondered how she could help him see the gravity of the situation. The best would probably be to walk up and say dramatically, “The potluck is going to be a total disaster.” She knocked briefly and, without waiting for a reply, opened his office door.
“¡Hermana Rodriguez! ¿Cómo está?” President Buckley greeted her with his too-formal language that belied his lighthearted personality.
“Muy bien, muy bien,” she answered, forgetting her introductory statement was supposed to be dire. “And stop calling me usted, you’re not a missionary and we’ve known each other for like five years.”
“You will always be an honorable doña in my mind, dear Hermana,” he laughed. “Plus, every member is a missionary.”
“Yeah, they really like to hear that all the time too. Maybe you should bring it up again in church, Presidente.”
“Maybe I will,” he smiled. “How can I help you Hermana? How’s the preparation for the potluck going?”
“Oh yeah, that’s why I came. It’s going to be terrible.”
“How terrible is it going to be? Did we run out of tripas?”
“We never run out of tripas. All we got here are dead cows. Used to be a Gucci store down on the corner, now it’s all full of dead cows.”
“To be fair, the Gucci store was full of dead cows before, they were just all sewn up into purses. Anyway, I bet it will be delicious by the time you’re done with it all.”
“I’m worried about getting everybody to enjoy it, though,” she said as she sat down across from President Buckley. “I can’t even get the ladies to talk to each other, you know? And it’s not because of language barriers – you know all the Hispanas here are ones who lived in the States before. Mostly born there. But now all a sudden they no hablan inglés anymore because they don’t want everyone to think they’re used-to-be-rich refugees.”
“With the political climate we’re in right now, I hardly think we need to imagine why.”
“Yeah, well politics aren’t helping either.”
President Buckley smiled and sighed at the same time, and paused a little too long before he fixed Hermana Rodriguez with his light brown eyes and started to speak in a quieter, steady voice. “How often do you get to see any international news, Hermana?”
“You know, every couple weeks when someone finds something and sends it around. I don’t even like the normal news, though. Skip through all those or turn the volume off.”
“Well, there’s new reports coming out just this morning that look pretty legitimate and I think our branch members are going to be particularly hard hit. It’s only a matter of time until Mexican media starts reporting it too. While we’re all still protected under refugee status, of course, it looks like the US government has finally ceded control of the capitol.”
“Dios mío,” Hermana Rodriguez sighed. “Oh, sorry. You know.”
“It’s OK, I think a lot of us are going to be talking to Him these next few days. Anyway, while I know a lot of us have had a pretty realistic sentiment of what was going on for quite a while now, I think it’s going to be really hard on a lot of the members of the branch and I want to help them through this and any sort of panic they might be thrown into. There are quite a few of our members who really believed that their home country was unassailable – that the government they’d grown up with was as solid and invulnerable as the Church they’d grown up with. And it’s a hard leap of faith to make when that turns out not to be the case.”
“That’s the thing, President, a lot of my worries for the sisters come out of the fact that they’re not necessarily having the easiest time assimilating or even trusting each other. I’m afraid that especially the Norteamericanas, sorry I don’t want to offend anyone or your wife or anything, but I think a lot of them still feel like this was all a race war and that in a way they’re living in the homeland of the enemy.”
“I have no doubt that some of them feel that way.”
“So what do we do?”
“Well,” he began, and his years were really starting to show on his brow, far too young, really, she thought, “I think we start out with potlucks. But I think we really have to communicate and understand what our community here is and what our role to each other needs to be. I think we learn the hard way why we needed to be home and visiting teaching the way they were always telling us to. I think we learn really quick how we’re supposed to mourn with those who mourn.”
Hermana Rodriguez pinched her lip and tried to hold back the tears at the corners of her eyes. “How do we do that, President?”
“You and I need to be prayerful enough to teach each other the answer to that very question. But I believe that you have the strength, even if I feel like I don’t,” he said, and grabbed her hand warmly.
She nodded and squeezed his fingers in return.
“And maybe just for this one party,” he said, smiling bitterly, “we can go easy on the Latin music.”
About the Author: Anneke Garcia graduated from Montana State University in French and Graphic Design. She served a mission in Japan and is currently finishing her Ph.D. in Educational Psychology and Second Language Acquisition at BYU. She was married this year and she and her husband currently live in Nanjing, China.*
*Author information as of the publication of this story.