Jan 22, 2009

The Savage Detectives, Roberto Bolaño

In El Cubo. To get from Nogales to El Cubo you have to take the highway to Santa Ana and head west, from Santa Ana to Pueblo Nuevo, Pueblo Nuevo to Altar, Altar to Caborca, Caborca to San Isidro, then take the road to Sonoyta, on the Arizona border, but turn off onto a dirt road before you get there and go about fifteen or twenty miles. The Nogales newspaper talked about "his faithful companion, a devoted teacher in El Cubo." In the town we went to the school, and one glance was enough to tell us that it had been built after 1940. Cesárea Tinajero couldn't have taught here. Though if we dug around under it, we might be able to find the old school.

We talked to the teacher. She teaches the children Spanish and Pápago. The Pápagos live in Arizona and Sonora. We asked the teacher whether she was Pápago. No, she isn't. I'm from Guaymas, she tells us, and my grandfather was a Mayo. We ask her why she teaches Pápago. So the language won't be lost, she tells us. There are only two hundred Pápagos left in Mexico. You're right, that's not many, we admit. In Arizona there are almost sixteen thousand, but only two hundred in Mexico. And how many Pápagos are left in El Cubo? About twenty, says the teacher, but it doesn't matter, I'll keep teaching. Then she explains that the Pápagos don't call themselves that. They call themselves O'Odham and the Pimas call themselves Óob and the Seris call themselves Konkáak. We tell her that we were in Bahía Kino, in Punta Chueca, and El Dólar and we heard the fishermen singing Seri songs. The teacher is surprised. There are seven hundred Konkáak, she says, if that, and they don't fish. Well, these fishermen had learned a Seri song, we say. Maybe, says the teacher, but more likely they fooled you.