Thursday, October 18, 2012

Adriana Páramo's "Looking for Esperanza"

Adriana Páramo is a Colombian writer, born in cold Bogotá but raised in Medellín. She is the producer of Tampa Bay's Reading Series: LOL, Life Out Loud.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her award-winning book, Looking for Esperanza: The Story of a Mother, a Child Lost, and Why They Matter to Us, and reported the following:
A few years ago, I embarked on a journey to track down a Mexican woman who crossed the border to the USA on foot with her four children in a desperate attempt to create a better life. When her youngest daughter died of dehydration halfway through the desert journey, Esperanza, whose name means “hope,” strapped the body of her child to her own and continued on.

Looking for Esperanza chronicles not only my fieldwork across Florida, in vegetable fields, citrus groves, ferneries and packing houses, but also the anonymous voices I encountered while looking for the mother in the story. It also yields the heartbreaking reality of life for these unvalued women who put food on our tables.

Page 99 relates an interview I had with Rosa, a Mexican farmworker, who after being in contact with pesticides while working in the strawberry fields when she was pregnant, gave birth to a sick baby boy. At four months of age, he had been diagnosed with a heart condition, pulmonary stenosis, malrotation of intestines and multiple spleens. He also had a history of seizures, and a stroke among many other ailments. On page 99, Rosa hands me her son’s most recent interdisciplinary assessment from the Children’s Hospital in the hope that I can help her understand her own boy’s health condition. It is written in English and she doesn’t understand a single word. Unfortunately I can’t help her either because the assessment is written in medical lingo, a hodge-podge of technical terms that include single ventricle with dextrocardia, proximal LPA branch, interrupted IVC, MCA infarct, attenuation of the parietal globe, and more.

Ford Madox Ford’s statement is true and applies to Looking for Esperanza. Rosa represents the underground subculture of deaf and mute undocumented women. Her boy has medical problems and is given treatments she doesn’t understand. She has surrendered the baby to the system and this, I believe, captures the complexities of the women’s immigration issue in very human terms.
Rosa looks puzzled. I see a sneer under the overgrown bangs that cover one side of her face. I must look like a sham to her. She jokes that I tricked her. That I’m not as smart as I look. “I know he had a hole in his heart and then a piece of blood went to his brain and that’s why his left side is weak. Don’t worry,” she says. “Leave those chinga big words for the doctors.”

“What do you think is going to happen with Camilo?” I ask Rosa. She squints as if I were the sun shining in her eyes.

“He’s going to wake up and I’m going to change his diapers.”

“I mean, what kind of life do you think he is going to have?”

“If I listen to the doctor, Camilo won’t make it past his fifteenth birthday. But I know he’s going to make it. He’s a little boy, why would God want to take him away so soon?”

Camilo wakes up and smiles, looking at the ceiling. As Rosa sits him back in the car seat, I notice that his left hand is curled into a permanent tight fist. I reach out and try to unfurl his tiny hand. It doesn’t respond.

“What’s wrong with Camilo’s hand?” I ask.

“The bad one?” Rosa asks and I wonder if she is trying to be funny.

“Yes, Rosa the bad one.”

“I don’t know,” she says with a deep shrug of her shoulders. “He wasn’t born like this,” she says forcing her finger into his fist. “That happens to all children that have surgery. That’s the problem,” she says.

“Who told you that?” I ask.

“The doctors,” she says. “Well, not the doctors, but the translator.”

An awkward silence follows. Camilo coos and giggles and every giggle tilts his body more and more to the left. I straightened him again.

“Are we done?” Rosa asks and her question takes me by surprise. I wonder the same thing. Am I done? Will I ever be?

“Do you know a woman by the name of Esperanza?” I ask.

“Who is she?” Rosa asks. “An actress?”

“She is a farmworker. She lost one baby crossing the desert. Have you heard a story like that?” I ask.

“You hear stuff like that but you turn the other way.”

“Why?” I ask.

“Because we all carry our own cross and the last thing you want is to wind up carrying someone else’s on top of yours,” Rosa says. “Too heavy,” she adds and does a wobbly walk of bent knees and uneven shoulders. She laughs hard, then asks me to leave. Rufino will be back in no time at all and he doesn’t like her sharing her cross with strangers.
Learn more about the book and author at Adriana Páramo's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue